|US-backed SDF (yellow) are now face to face with Russia-backed SAA (red)|
On Sunday, the Russian defence ministry held the US responsible for the deaths of senior military advisor Lt.-Gen. Valery Asopov and two colonels who were accompanying him who were killed when their position was shelled by Islamic State (IS) forces in the village of Marat east of the Euphrates River. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov described the deaths as ‘the bloody price for two-faced American policy in Syria,’ adding that ‘the American side declares that it is interested in the elimination of IS … but some of its actions show it is doing the opposite and that some political and geopolitical goals are more important for Washington.’ The accusation was unprecedented, and led to a sharp rise in tension between the two sides.
The more damning accusation, in the view of many observers, is Russia’s claim to have evidence supported by photographs of collusion between US forces backing the SDF and IS east of the Euphrates. It also accuses the Americans of being behind the major assault launched last week by Hay’at Tahrir ash-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) from Idlib governorate, which they control, against government positions in Hama, aimed at slowing the eastward advance of Syrian and Russian forces towards Deir az-Zour and the oilfields.
On Tuesday, Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Moscow was still awaiting replies from Washington to questions about ‘whom US Special Forces in Syria are fighting with and against’. He referred to images of former IS positions that had been taken by American Special Forces that showed no sign of fighting or aerial bombardment having taken place, and which lacked the protective defences that would normally be expected, implying collusion between the two sides.
The US has had nothing to say about these charges, or about allegations by Iranian commanders that the US held back from fighting IS in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
One of the triggers of the Syrian crisis was that the government in Damascus turned down proposals to build a pipeline through Syria to carry Qatari gas to Europe. It did so partly at the request of Russia, which feared that the project was aimed at under-cutting its own gas exports to Europe. Now another ‘oil war’ seems to be looming in the east of the country.
|Syrian troops who took part in Deir Ezzor battle against ISIL|
For seven years, money and weapons were poured into Syria with the singular objective in the mind and in the mouth of all those opposed to the Syrian government: There is no place for Assad in Syria. That singular goal meant that all those opposed to Assad are lesser “threats” than Assad, including ISIL and Nusra. When Assad outlasted many of the heads of these anti-Assad governments, Like Cameron, Hollande, Davutoğlu, Hamad, and Obama, many realized that “No place for Assad in Syria” is not actually a political platform or plan.
The French president who replaced one of France’s least competent leaders admitted that much when he acknowledged that “there is no credible or capable alternative to Assad.” But even that view, accurate as it may be, does not represent the full truth.
Syria is not a one-man show kind of country that can be compared to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, or UAE. Syria, despite the fact that it has been ruled by a single party, is a nation of institutions and fairly sophisticated civil society. It has a professional military, very efficient bureaucracy, highly educated citizens, diverse and inclusive society, and durably functioning political process and more. That reality might explain the fact that, even during the times when the Syrian government’s hold on power was weakest, major Syrian cities remained loyal to the Syrian state.
So it is no surprise now that, when the Syrian government has regained control over nearly 65% of the country, that the political opposition groups are having hard time finding international sponsors. Even the UN sponsored talks that were routinely held are now less frequent, if not fully absent. The hubris of the opposition groups and its leaders perverted belief that undemocratic regimes like those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE would be reliable partners to help them establish a modern Athenian democracy in Syria are stunning. Their bet on self-interested and authoritarian regimes betrayed the hopes of the Syrian people for stronger Syria and produced a destroyed country that will need nearly half a trillion dollar to rebuild, and decades to heal from a war that touched, through death or injury, every Syrian family.
|Syria Control Map as of 09/05/2017|
|The Syrian government recently breached the 3-year old siege ISIL imposed on Deir Ezzor|
|Because of stories like this, Saudi Arabia wants to shut down Aljazeera|
Summary of the report:
A new report from The Henry Jackson Society, “Foreign Funded Islamist Extremism in the UK”, has highlighted the need for a public inquiry into the foreign-based funding of Islamist extremism. We report on a growing body of evidence on the considerable impact that foreign funding has had on advancing Islamist extremism in Britain and other Western countries. Our conclusions include: The foreign funding for Islamist extremism in Britain primarily comes from governments and government linked foundations based in the Gulf, as well as Iran. Foremost among these has been Saudi Arabia, which since the 1960s has sponsored a multimillion dollar effort to export Wahhabi Islam across the Islamic world, including to Muslim communities in the West. In the UK, this funding has primarily taken the form of endowments to mosques and Islamic educational institutions, which have apparently, in turn, played host to Islamist extremist preachers and the distribution of extremist literature. Influence has also been exerted through the training of British Muslim religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, as well as the use of Saudi textbooks in a number of the UK’s independent Islamic schools. A number of Britain’s most serious Islamist hate preachers sit within the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology and are apparently linked to Islamist extremism sponsored from overseas, either by having studied in Saudi Arabia as part of scholarship programmes, or by having been provided with extreme literature and material within the UK itself. There have been numerous cases of British individuals who have joined Jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria whose radicalisation is thought to link back to foreign funded institutions and preachers. Full report, below:
A summary of the demands submitted by the Saudis, Bahrainis, Emiratis, and Egyptians to Qatar through Kuwait:
1. Reduce diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. and international sanctions will be permitted.
2. Shutting down the Turkish military base in Qatar and stop any military agreements with Turkey inside Qatar
3. Announce the cutting of ties to “terrorist organizations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
4. Stop providing financial support to entities and individuals list on the list previously provided by the four nations.
5. Handover all persons accused of terrorists and seize their property.
6. Shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
7. Stop interfering in the affairs of neighboring states, stop offering citizens to persons from neighboring states, and provide a list of citizens of neighboring states who were offered Qatar citizenship.
8. Pay for all damages caused by Qatar policy and practices in neighboring states.
9. Assure full compliance with Arab decision and agree to honor the Riyadh agreements with Gulf nations of 2013 and 2014.
10. Submit a list of documents by and about opposition figures supported by Qatar.
11. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly (i.e., Arabi21, Rassd, al-Araby Al-Jadeed, and Middle East Eye).
12. Agree to all these terms within 10 days or it will be considered void.
13. the agreement shall consist of clear mechanism of compliance, including monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year, and annually for ten years thereafter.
Together, Saudi Arabian and Qatari rulers bankrolled armed rebellions that destroyed Libya, Syria, and Yemen. They offered political and military support to all armed groups that are willing to fight regimes they do not like. Their united front against their common enemies did nothing to remove their own internal problems. Now, they have to face those problems and from the first look, they shattered. Previously, the club of rich nations known as the GCC worked together to force poor Arab countries fall in line. They exerted their power to expel a founding member of the Arab League, Syria, out of the intergovernmental organization. When Qatar hosted the annual summit of the Arab League, it maneuvered to give Syria’s seat to some obscure figure from the Syrian opposition groups.
On May 22, while in Saudi Arabia, Trump met with about 53 representatives of government of Arab and Muslim nations to show a united front against what he called “radical Islamist terrorism.” A day after he left, media outlets from Saudi Arabia and UAE accused Qatar of undermining Arab unity by supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran. On the charge of supporting terrorism, Qatar essentially replied by invoking the proverb: the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed that sums it up: Saudi Arabia is the only regime that espouses the radical interpretation of Islam called, Wahhabi Salafism. They worked on promoting this creed around the world under the guise of Sunni Islam. Every fighter joining al-Qaeda or ISIL is a follower of this radical creed. So it is laughable that Saudi Arabia is accusing other governments of supporting terrorism while its rulers have provided weapons to Salafists fighting in Syria and Libya and used its resources and connections to spread Wahhabism through Islamic centers all over the world. Rulers of Qatar seem determined to resist its bullying neighbors this time. They activated their assets, mainly well-financed and well-staffed media powerhouse, Aljazeera, and members of and sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar might be behind the leaked emails of a diplomat from UAE. The emails show that the GCC states used their wealth to hire the best and most influential PR and lobbyists to influence policy makers and governments around the world and in the United States. One of the emails show how Gulf States’ diplomats promote one prince over others and how they work with journalists to raise the profile of individuals they like and raise concerns about groups and governments they do not like.
The coming days and weeks will reveal more since these two countries worked together to destabilize other countries. Each side will be leaking more emails and diplomatic documents that will show the extent of their involvement in creating shady alliances, destabilizing other countries, and using their assets to mask all their covert operations around the world.
On May 26, President Trump released a statement on Ramadan, the lunar month that Muslims spend fasting from sun-up to sun-down every day. Unlike statements by other U.S. presidents who used the occasion to recognize the presence and contributions of Muslim Americans, Trump used it to denigrate them and stigmatize their religion and deny the fact that they exist.
As a statement of best wishes on the occasion of a religious event, the intended receiver is supposed to feel good about who they are and what they do. Instead, Trump’s statement made Muslim Americans feel demeaned and defamed. Trump’s statement connected all of Islam to terrorism and portrayed Muslims as people who are prone to violence. Not once did the president use the phrase Muslim Americans. Instead, he talked down to Muslims as foreigners who live in far way places everywhere else in the world, though he acknowledged that some of them–Muslims–live in the United States, but not as Muslim Americans.
If that offensive message was not enough, Trump’s choice for the post of the nation’s top diplomat emphasized the same attitude. On May 29, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, declined a request to host an event to mark Ramadan, breaking with a bipartisan tradition in place for nearly 20 years. Taken together, it is clear that this administration does not recognize Muslim Americans as full citizens of this country. This statement is not based on speculations, it is based in facts—the kind of facts that withstand legal scrutiny. Four courts and judges found Trump to hold anti-Muslim views and for that reason they ruled against his Executive Orders–widely known as the Muslim Ban–in the original and revised editions.
Muslim Americans will resist these odious speech and acts because their right to be recognized as full citizens enjoying all the due protections of the law and shouldering all the responsibilities are not bestowed by one person or by one administration. Muslim Americans exist as a matter of fact: they are 1% of the population, they are represented in all ethnic and racial communities, and they contribute to all aspects of life in the United States. They lead productive lives and they speak against the violent ideology and practices espoused by violent Wahhabi-Salafists. American Muslims are well aware of the double-edged sword of extremism and fanaticism: the absolute majority of victims of terrorism (82-97% of all fatal terrorist attacks) are Muslims and Muslim Americans are victims of domestic terrorism and hate speech disguised as acts of patriotism reacting to “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase made popular by Trump and many of his leading supporters and associates.
Trump does not seem to recognize that, upon taking the oath of the presidency, his primary responsibility becomes to uphold the Constitution—not pursue personal ideological goals. With his words, when he denigrates a specific group of citizens, he incites hate and violence. Muslim Americans don’t expect him to change his belief or convictions about Islam and Muslims, but he is expected to uphold his oath of office and stand for the Constitution and for the rights of all citizens, including Muslim Americans.
As a presidential candidate, he insisted on using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing that terrorism must be accurately defined for it to be defeated. He knows the power of words and he has used words as weapons against anyone or any group of people who stand in his way. Muslim Americans now insist that he acknowledges them as citizens by calling them by their proper name: Muslim Americans.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
Trump’s Statement on Ramadan:
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Ramadan
On behalf of the American people, I would like to say to my fellow Muslim Americans and all Muslims around the world, Ramadan Karim.
During this month of fasting, many Muslims will find meaning and inspiration in acts self-control, charity, reflections, and prayers that strengthen our communities. At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to care for the vulnerable, to forgive, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty.
This year, Ramadan begins while the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. The world mourns these victims as it has mourned tens of thousands of victims, 82-97% of whom were Muslim, killed in the last five years alone. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.
I extend my best wishes to Muslims everywhere for a blessed month as you observe the Ramadan traditions of charity, fasting, and prayer. May God bless you and your families.
The Saudi and Emirati owned satellite television station, Alarabiyya and Skynews-Arabic, reported that the Emir of Qatar issued statements defending Hamas and Hezbollah, refusing to confront Iran, and praising US protection of his country against countries that are known sponsors of terrorism (a reference to Saudi Arabia). The two channels aired extensive coverage of these unverified reports even after the government of Qatar refuted them and claimed that its news agencies’ websites and social media accounts were hacked.
The governments of Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia kept the pressure on Qatar, signaling that the crisis between them is deeper than a mere news report. In a coordinated action, they blocked 21 Qatari websites, including Aljazeera’s. Their main news outlets continued their attack on Qatar.
These events show that Saudi Arabia is leading an alliance that is at war with itself. Representative of each of the countries that attended these so-called summits with Trump had no idea what to expect. Some asked if there were going to be a joint statement and they were told that there will be none. Yet, after all the delegates left, the Saudi rulers released a statement in the name of all the Arab and Muslim leaders. Many countries felt the need to release separate statements emphasizing the so-called Riyadh Statement does not represent their official position.
Qatar is being signaled out because it is supposed to be, not only part of this fictitious anti-terror Islamic coalition, but member of the club of rich Arab nations— Gulf Cooperation Council GCC. That membership was supposed to force them to hold a united front against real and perceived enemies. The visit of Qatari foreign minister to Iraq, an ally of Iran, just days before Riyadh summits, must have angered the Saudi rulers.