Assad Says It Enough; Maybe The West Should Believe Him

Bashar al-Assad sent sent a telegram Thursday to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to thank Moscow for its military support and vowed to accept nothing less than outright victory. Assad said the army was set on “attaining final victory.”

He noted in his cable that Aleppo has become like Stalingrad, promising that “despite the brutality and cruelty of the enemy, and the great sacrifices and pains, our cities, towns, people and army will not be satisfied until they defeat the enemy and achieve victory.

Now Assad has said this before — namely, that he is aiming for complete victory. So why does the West still persist trying to negotiate a political transition?

Assad sent the telegram hours before government warplanes fired four missiles at a refugee camp 10km from the the border with Turkey, killing at least 30 and wounding dozens.

You can read my full news report on this at VOA here.

Who Lost Iraq?

According to former US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey it wasn’t Joe Biden. Jeffrey’s tart piece in Foreign Policy is worth a read. And with some good tidbits, like”  “During my 20-month tenure in Iraq, Obama called Maliki just three times and met with him only once. Biden has been to Iraq 24 times.”

The thrust of his argument is that without Biden, things could be even worse in Iraq. Really? How much worse? You can read the full article here.

Dreams of the Caliphate — Brussels

Brussels suicide bomber Khalid El Bakraoui reportedly had ‘life-changing’ dream in jail in which he saw himself walking alongside the Prophet: he’s not alone among jihadists, dozens have said they were inspired by dreams. Worth reading again, I think, a report I wrote for VOA back in January on the dreams of the caliphate. You can catch it here.

Western intelligence agencies are taking increasing notice of dream accounts shared by jihadists on social media sites and in telephone and email exchanges, if only to provide pieces in the puzzle of the jihadist mind, say current and former intelligence officials.

Syrian Remembrance of Things Past

Form my dispatch today for VOA

“Her tears are shed for her now-abandoned house in Damascus, for the remembrances of things past, illustrated by the many photographs of family and friends, musical gatherings and dinners she swipes through on her cell phone. She talks of the dispersal of her family – a grandson and two daughters in Germany, another daughter in Switzerland, an economist husband in Doha…

And then, as she prepares a simple evening meal in her small, sparsely furnished apartment in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep, Raja Banout sings, doing what she is teaching other Syrian refugee women to do; to overcome pain and disorientation with song, to strengthen the soul with music.”

You can read my story on the all-female Syrian refugee choir here at VOA.

Euro Word Games

Interesting to watch how European leaders and diplomats are careful to avoid using the word “refugee” when it comes to the Aegean interdiction they are planning and hope to have fully operational by March 7. The word always used is “migrant.”

Also, they talk not about interdiction but “rescue” — they want to rescue “migrants”, not stop them going to Europe. Although that is what they will do, plucking them from the seas and depositing them back in Turkey.

And then, of course, the whole operation is about stopping “illegal migration” and combating “human traffickers” not about blocking Syrian and Iraqi war refugees. Perish the thought.

 

 

War, Refugees And Munich

Gaziantep

The news gets bleaker: at Munich the West appears to have fallen into a Russian trap, it seems to me. And Syrians can see that the Russian/regime noose is not only being tightened on Aleppo but that the West is preparing another noose for them. Soon they won’t have any place to go outside Syria with Turkey still determined to keep its border closed to the bulk of new refugees. NATO warships are to deploy off Turkey to try to stop war refugees already in Turkey from heading to Europe; and signs are increasing that Schengen may be suspended for two years to stop those who make it to the EU from moving around. Presumably their future is to be thrown back to Turkey — with the EU paying the Turks ever bigger bribes to take them back.

We are in essence deciding to “quarantine” the “Syrian contagion” and in the process certainly breaking the 1951 international refugee convention in spirit — if not the letter of the agreement. What a sad commentary on what Euro politicians like to call “European Values.” I understand the challenges and dangers of admitting and settling so many refugees, but if you want to avoid having to do so, then do something about the war in Syria. Because if Assad remains, the problem will get worse added to which a rising number of increasingly enraged young moderate and nationalist fighters will heed the siren voice of the jihadists.

Those are my personal views. Below are extracts from VOA dispatch today from the Turkey-Syria border.

Syrian rebels warn their five-year-long struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad will go underground, if they are deserted by Western backers or an attempt is made to foist an unacceptable political deal on them. They will wage a relentless guerrilla campaign against the Assad regime and “foreign invaders” from Iran and Russia, turning the war into a national liberation fight, rebel commanders and opposition politicians say….

With the partial cease-fire deal announced by the ISSG in Munich not including a clear commitment from the Kremlin to end blistering Russian airstrikes immediately — a key demand of the Syrian opposition — the rebels dismiss the idea that Munich represents a breakthrough in the search for a political solution to end the brutal five-year-long civil war that has left upwards of 250,000 dead.

They view it instead as another way-station on a road that will lead to an inevitable Western-backed negotiated political deal that they won’t be able to accept…

The biggest concern of rebel commanders in north Syria is that the Russian-backed regime will use the cessation of hostilities as a PR cover for a shift in battlefield focus, one Western powers will have inadvertently provided a stamp of approval for and won’t be able to object to later.

Read the full report here

A Fail Grade for UN Panel

Would the three panelists of the UN working group that found this week in Julian Assange’s favor pass a law exam at any serious law faculty?

Their reasoning is utterly shocking. They fail to note even the UK Supreme Court’s dismissal of his appeal against extradition, a rather reckless attitude to the rule of law and due process by the panel.

As to his current abode at the Ecuadorian embassy, they say this: “Placing individuals in temporary custody in stations, ports and airports or any other facilities where they remain under constant surveillance may not only amount to restrictions to personal freedom of movement, but also constitute a de facto deprivation of liberty.” They fail to note that no authority forced him to take up his current residence.

And then this astonishing statement: “It defeats the purpose and efficiency of justice and the interest of the concerned victims to put this matter of investigation to a state of indefinite procrastination.” Yes, and who was responsible for the procrastination?

The dissenter on the panel, Ukraine’s Vladimir Tochilovsky, deals with the embassy stay thus: “In fact, Mr. Assange fled the bail in June 2012 and since then stays at the premises of the Embassy using them as a safe haven to evade arrest. Indeed, fugitives are often self-confined within the places where they evade arrest and detention. This could be some premises, as in Mr. Assange’s situation, or the territory of the State that does not recognise the arrest warrant. However, these territories and premises of self-confinement cannot be considered as places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the Working Group.” Quite.

And So It Continues

Despite food and aid having been delivered earlier this month to Madaya, one of the many besieged communities in Syria, 16 people have died since. According to Doctors without Borders today there 320 cases of malnutrition, of which 33 are severe and will die unless they receive quick treatment.

“Following heavy shelling of the town last summer and a tightening of the siege on Madaya in the winter, massive restrictions placed on humanitarian assistance mean that essential medical supplies – including enough therapeutic food to treat the most severe cases of malnutrition – are not available for those living there,” the medical charity says in a statement.

The NGO’s medics are now reporting malnutrition in other towns in Syria, including in Moadamiyah, southwest of Damascus.

Looking into the Ghetto

Warsaw

I spent the morning at Warsaw’s Rising Museum, which was opened ten years ago in what was once the capital’s tram power plant to commemorate the tragic (and betrayed) 1944 uprising against the Nazis — the one the Soviets failed to support, halting their advance nearby while the Germans demolished the city, and the Western allies failed to assist.

As I have spent much of the past four years focusing on reporting on Syria, it his hard for me not to draw parallels with the awful plight of the anti-Assad rebels. The photographs of razed Warsaw remind me of the towns of northern Syria and a large portion of the historic city of Aleppo.

And in the museum you can read this editorial written by George Orwell complaining about the absence of support for the uprising offered by the Western allies. “The only thing they ask is, ‘Give us weapons,’ and when these weapons do not arrive, when their friends keep silent, they cannot understand. But there will come a time when they will, and we will pay the price for our deliberate, cold calculations.”

Orwell on the Warsaw Uprising

 

The price is already being paid when it comes to Syria: the refugee crisis impacting Europe is one price — and a costly one as it is ripping the European Union apart.

Another has been paid already: the prolonged conflict has become ever more sectarian, as was predicted by several reporters covering Syria, including myself, and it will have consequences not just for the immediate region but further afield.

Another cost has been to fuel recruitment among desperate Syrian fighters by hardline and al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias and, of course, the Islamic State terror army. Neglect allowed the rise of IS, as I and others predicted would happen, and the consequences of that are being seen on the streets of US and European cities.

In fits and starts, shaped by the day-to-day partisan battles back in Washington, commentators from the libertarian right and the non-interventionist left have argued there are no moderates among the Syrian revolutionaries. And this is untrue.

The claim is made by writers who have no authority, no first-hand knowledge, and who have not given the uprising against Bashar al-Assad the courtesy of ever bothering to find out on the ground what is going on. Syria is a dangerous place — as I know — but unless you mix with the fighters and their civilian supporters, how can you make the judgement call that they are all extremists?

Moderate is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Moderation is relative. But the rebel ranks are full of people I would describe as moderates. Yes, many, especially those who come from rural areas, are religious and cultural conservatives; their womenfolk may wear the hijab; their idea of democracy is sketchy at best. Their victory will not usher in a Western-style democracy. Aleppo won’t turn into Chevy Chase or Hampstead. But they are not jihadists and they have no truck with beheadings or bombing innocents in the West.

Their fight has been for human dignity — for the right to have some say about their governance. Their fight has been against the secret police and the pillage of the state by a ruling elite. Their fight has been for the right to be allowed to start down the path of change and reform and to develop. And our excuse has been to say it is too difficult.