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International Affairs

Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?

Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?


Charred bodies of ISIL fighters suggest abuse
Over the last weekend of the month of November, Russian military leaders reacted to Western criticism of Russia’s support to the Syrian government to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups. They countered by accusing the U.S. and its allies of double standard. They suggested, essentially, that what the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo is not any different from what the Iraqi government is doing in Mosul. On Monday November 1, the State Department “slammed Moscow’s comparison”, calling it “ludicrous” and “insulting.” Curiously, it was actually a Western media outlet, The Independent (see below), from UK, that first made the comparison on October 21, in one of its lead stories, Compare the coverage of Mosul and East Aleppo and it tells you a lot about the propaganda we consume.
Explaining the reasons the U.S. administration felt that such a comparison is insulting, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: 

“I mean, in Aleppo you’ve got the regime laying siege to a city with the support of their biggest backer, Russia. In Mosul you have an entire coalition of some 66 nations who have planned for months, so with the vast support and legitimacy of the international community, to retake a city from Daesh over a period of months in support of Iraqi Security Forces.”

It must be noted that, anticipating Western criticism, Russia had suspended its airstrikes on the city of Aleppo weeks before the Syrian government forces and their allies started their operation in east Aleppo. The Russian military insisted that it had halted its airstrikes in early October, “to allow civilians to leave the city through six humanitarian corridors established by the Syrian government.”
Resisting the comparison is purely political as it serves no real purpose in terms of ending the tragedy the Syrian and Iraqi peoples have endured in the last five years. Those who reject the comparison are also behind the selective use of violent armed groups to achieve political goals. There is no doubt that both the Iraqi and Syrian peoples are subjected to horrific conditions, most of which are not of their own doing. Their suffering is the direct outcome of activities by regional and global powers who are using destabilizing these two countries to pursue geopolitical and economic interests.
The comparison is sound, and it should unite all thse countries who claim concern for the Syrian people to focus on ending this crisis. The comparison of the situations in Mosul and Aleppo has merits. Here is why.
Aleppo                                                              ||     Mosul
________________________________________________________________________
* Used to be the largest city in Syria                 || * Used to be the second largest city in Iraq
* Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims   || * Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims
* Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants || * Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants
* Being recaptured by government forces and    || *Being recaptured by government forces and  
allies including,                                                   || allies including,
# Syrian military units                                          || # Iraq military units
# Syrian security and police units                         || # Iraq security and police units
# Shia paramilitary units                                        || # Shia paramilitary units
# Palestinian paramilitary units                              || # Turkman paramilitary units
# Tribal paramilitary units                                     || # Tribal paramilitary units
# Kurdish paramilitary units                                   || # Kurdish paramilitary units
# Foreign governments’ military units                    || # Foreign governments’ military units
(authorized by the UN recognized Syrian            || (authorized by the UN Iraqi government)
Government                                                          ||
* Nusra and its allied control 225,000 civilians      || * ISIL controls 1,200,00 civilians in the city
in the city of Aleppo                                             || of Mosul
* US coalition not authorized by Syrian                || * US coalition authorized by the Iraqi government
government                                                           || but Russia not authorized by Iraqi government
* Civilians used as human shields by armed group || * Civilians used as human shields by ISIL
* Civilians are killed in the operation                      || * Civilians are killed in the operation    
* All sides might have violated international laws || * All sides might have violated international laws
governing armed conflicts                                     || governing armed conflicts
===================================================
The only difference between the Iraqi and Syrian situations is that, while there is a consensus among most world governments to support the Iraqi government retake its cities from terrorists, a handful of governments including current U.S. administration, the French government, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have committed themselves to overthrowing Bashar Assad by any means necessary, including the use of al-Qaeda derivatives to achieve that main objective. It is this political goal, and nothing else, that is prolonging the carnage in Syria, which is, now, having some affect on neighboring countries.
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Headlines reacting to comparing Mosul to Aleppo:

Welcome to Trump’s America!

Welcome to Trump’s America!


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Trump said many things that offended many people. Muslim Americans were among those offended by his comments on refugees, terrorism, and Islam. Now that he is elected to be the 45th president of the United States, should Muslims freak out?

To answer this question, I include this essay, which I drafted in June of this year in response to some of my colleagues’ comments. I said then that support for Trump was not a passing moment: Trump will be president. Here he is: President-Elect Trump and in about two months he will lead this country… to somewhere. I did not publish the essay then because it could have been perceived as an attempt to influence young voters, like the ones I have in my classes. Now that the elections are over, I will share it. It is still as relevant now as it was then. 

I should add one thought since we now know for sure that Trump is elected president: He is the legitimate president produced through the system as is. But his election and the process should not and cannot be allowed to legitimize and legitimate racism. The task of resisting falls on the shoulders of civil society institutions as understood in the broadest sense possible. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions.

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Electing Donald J. Trump president of the United States of America
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
June 9, 2016
Thus far, Donald J. Trump used some of his own money to finance his presidential campaign and he thinks that his support comes from outside the political establishment. With such real or perceived autonomy, he was able to make some of the most outrageous comments that allowed him to be the lead story in every news outlet–for free. Some conservative commentators thought that his campaign will eventually collapse because Mr. Trump does not represent the Republican Party. To his credit, he is now the presumptive nominee and that did not come easy. 

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, for whom the field was basically cleared–a decision Democrats might regret later, she faced just two other contenders. Mr. Trump beat sixteen other candidates. He earned the Republican nomination. Still, some thought that since he is now the GOP nominee, he will stop making inappropriate and racist comments to widen his base of support. Last week, he suggested that Hispanic or Muslim judges cannot be partial because of their heritage, drawing rebuke from many Republican leaders, including the person who stands third in line to become president of the United States, Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

He replied to Mr. Trump’s reported comment saying that “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Then he added, “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him.” In other words, Republicans want to have it both ways: condemn racist comments and embrace racists. That is why many people, including myself, believe that racism in America is unique, deep, and systemic. Such racism, exceptional as it is, cannot be addressed unless the institutions that originated and have sustained racism are purged. The lack of thus understanding racism is the reason why, I think, Mr. Trump will be elected president.
I resisted interjecting into a crucial political context. However, when colleagues and acquaintances who rarely talk about politics approach me these days to tell me how sorry they were to see politicians like Mr. Trump feeding the flames of prejudice against and hate of Muslims, I felt that I should say something. Then, when politically active colleagues use Mr. Trump’s example to suggest that Muslims will be safer with a Democratic president, I was even more frustrated. To use fear to create a default political position for Muslims is just as offensive, in my mind, as Mr. Trump’s comments about ethnic, racial, and religious disempowered social groups. Today, Muslims are facing systemic racism the same way all other disempowered social groups have faced it since the founding of this Republic. This is not a Republican problem. It is an American problem.
It will not be the end of the world if Mr. Trump were to be elected president of the United States, and I think he will be. He may not be America’s worst president because, unlike party-favorite presidents, Mr. Trump will be heavily scrutinized by both parties and every other civil society institution in the country. A democracy is as strong as its civil society institutions. It is values and rules enshrined in the Constitution, unfulfilled many of them still, that provide comfort to citizens, not the person sitting in the White House. It is the distribution of political power and role of civil society institutions that curb the hunger to grab more power and use it to destroy opponents that would allow American society to weather corrupt politicians, authoritarian presidents, and zealots. The presence of dangerous men in power should empower activists and civil society leaders to collaborate more, to unite, and to take their role seriously to overcome the power and violence unleashed by the state, which is controlled by power hungry persons.
President Trump will be just as capable or incapable of carrying out his personal agenda as President Obama. After all, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, bring home the troops, stop bombing other countries, honor the Constitution respecting torture and extrajudicial killing, treat immigrants with dignity, insist on public option within a universal healthcare law, and rebuild the image of the country abroad. Eight years later, Guantanamo is still housing detainees. He sent more troops back to Afghanistan and Iraq. He played a role in creating two more failed and near-failed states–Libya and Syria, and he allowed corrupt rulers of so-allied nations from the Middle East to arm and supply Wahhabi genocidal fighters to overthrow the Syrian and Iraqi governments. He continued to appease and shield human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain. He carried out more drone-assisted extrajudicial killings of American citizens than his predecessors.  He deported more immigrants than his last three predecessors. And standing on grounds where the U.S. government dropped its weapons of mass destruction, he refused to apologize to the Japanese victims. 

This catalog of shortcomings were not due to a hidden agenda or his lack of trying to do the right things. They were due to the deep state that control the long-term strategic posture of the United States, slow moving wheels of bureaucracy, and the resistance from some civil society institutions, interest groups, and political expediency. 

So we expect a president Trump to fail to act on some of his threats the same way president Obama failed to deliver on many of his promises. If he succeeds, it is because civil institutions leaders and citizens failed to comprehend their role and act as a counterweight to those in power. It will be an opportunity to transform society and overhaul outdated institutions like the press, which has become a tool in the hands of the powerful, not a voice for the people.

Muslim Americans will not move to Canada or return to their ancestral homelands. They will stay here, at HOME, in their country where they sweat and bleed everyday, and resist bigotry, racism, and discrimination the same way millions of other Americans have done before them.  
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. 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.

Why does the U.S. administration want its agreement with Russia on Syria to remain secret?

Why does the U.S. administration want its agreement with Russia on Syria to remain secret?

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) scheduled a meeting this week to create a legal frame for the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria. The meeting was eventually cancelled when France and several other permanent members of the UNSC asked for a copy of the actual agreement instead of being briefed about it by the two countries representatives. Russia agreed with France and expressed readiness to make public the agreement reasoning that they can’t expect their partners to endorse a deal they don’t know its details. After the cancellation of the meeting, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said:
 

“Most likely we are not going to have a resolution at the Security Council because the United States does not want to share those documents with the members of the Security Council. We believe we cannot ask them to support a document that they haven’t seen.”

The U.S. administration refused to make public all the documents contending that doing so could put some lives at risk and jeopardize the success of the plan since it contains sensitive “operational details.” 
 
In any case, the Obama administration finds itself in a very delicate situation. The main sticky point that delayed the agreement with the Russian government was related to Russia’s insistence that the U.S. and its allies identify and separate the so-called “moderate” rebels from terrorists so that a political solution can be negotiated. Ostensibly, the U.S. administration eventually agreed to do so and its military and intelligence officials have provided their Russian counterparts with a list of names, without indicating their locations. 
It is likely that the named groups are members of the loose collective called the Free Syrian Army—FSA—which, in reality, was mostly crushed by al-Nusra and ISIL about three years ago. What is left of the FSA is either isolated in and/or near Turkey (and Jordan) and the rest are mingling with al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Fath. Those still mingling with Jaysh al-Fath released a statement criticizing the agreement and rejecting the part of the agreement that calls for joint U.S.-Russian military action against Jabhat Fath al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. They considered al-Nusra a legitimate rebel group. 
The FSA currently consists of these armed groups:
 

Faylaq al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, al-Firqa al-Shamaliyya, Jaysh al-Nasr, Harakat Nur al-Din al-Zanki, al-Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad al-sham, al-Jabha al-Shamiyya, Jaysh al-Tahrir, al-Fawj al-Awwal, Jabhat Ansar al-Islam, Kata’ib al-Safwa al-Islamiyya, Liwa’ Suqur Jabal al-Zawiya, al-Firqa 101, al-Firqa 13, al-Firqa al-Wusta, Liwa al-Hurriya al-Islami, Jabhat al-Asala wa-‘l-Tanmiya, Failaq Hims, Liwa’ al-Fath, Tajammu’ Fastaqim kama Umirt, and Jund Badr 313.

 
Nearly half of the above mentioned groups are also members of other coalitions, some of which include al-Qaeda affiliated Salafists, like Fath al-Sham and Jaysh al-Fath. These complex networks and affiliations underscore the administration’s real dilemma.

The U.S. administration is reluctant because, one the one hand, revealing actual names and locations of groups it supports would make it easy for terrorist groups to accuse them of collaboration with the “crusaders” and kill them, as they did with many individuals and groups in the past. On the other hand, revealing the actual names could expose the U.S. administration’s support for groups that might have committed war crimes, such as the case with al-Zanki, whose members self-documented themselves slaughtering a sick child near Aleppo not long ago (just this July).

 
Given the  atrocities committed by many of rebel groups, affiliated with the FSA, the U.S. administration prefers to leave its connections to groups that might be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity secret to preserve deniability. However, the inking of the agreement with Russia made that task utterly difficult and the administration will be better served breaking any ties with groups suspected of committing crimes and working towards a solution that will stop the bloodshed and punish those responsible for some of the most gruesome crimes on both sides.
 

Assad and Erdoğan said to be preparing for face-to-face meeting in Russia

Assad and Erdoğan said to be preparing for face-to-face meeting in Russia

Assad and Erdoğan in 2009
It has been reported for sometime now that Turkish and Syrian intelligence officials have met on many occasions. Now, some sources are revealing that those meetings were not just about coordinating efforts to combat common threats to both countries, namely the Kurdish separatist, but to arrange for political leaders to meet. 
Turkey broke all diplomatic relations with Syria mere days after the start of the peaceful protest movement in Syria. Because of the lack of open channels of communication, the two countries relied on third parties to reach out to one another when necessary.
Earlier this year, some media outlets reported that Algeria played a key role in opening a communication channel between Syria and Turkey. Now, new reports are suggesting that Russia, after the surprising meeting between Erdoğan and Putin, is working behind the scene not only to transmit information between the two countries, but also to arrange for a meeting that will bring together Assad and Erdoğan in Russia. Importantly, the meeting is significant in that it will be part of a plan that could end the civil war in Syria.
Reportedly, the plan is based on some ideas from the Geneva and Vienna meetings, but more specific in terms of the fate of Assad and his role beyond the transition period.
The proposed plan will call for a unity government that will include members of the “moderate” opposition groups, with Assad still in charge of key ministries during a transition period. After about 18 months, a period during which the constitution will be amended, new presidential and parliamentarian elections will be held, in which Assad may choose to run. However, should he run and win, it will be his last term. Some of the opposition fighters will be absorbed into the Syrian army and officers who deserted  but did not take part in the war will be re-instated. Assad must work towards reconciliation by declaring a new amnesty for these officers who are now residing in Turkey with their families.
These are extraordinary events should they actually come true. But given the steps taken by Erdoğan when he apologized for shooting down the Russian jet near the Turkish-Syrian border, it is not at all impossible to see him take steps to reconcile with the Syrian government. After all, given that his troubles with Russia were over Syria, his normalizing of relations with Putin will be meaningless without addressing the main issue that caused the crisis with Russia in the first place.
It is clear by now that Turkey after the failed July 15 coup is very different from the pre-coup Turkey, albeit under the same president.

Will Erdoğan abandon Islamist armed groups now fighting in Syria?

Will Erdoğan abandon Islamist armed groups now fighting in Syria?

It is established that the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the party he founded, the AKP, are primary supporters of armed groups fighting the Syrian government. The AKP-led Turkish government opened its borders for Islamist fighters from all over the world to join the war against Assad’s forces.  It provided them with training, money, and weapons. The Turkish government also hosted the families of the Syrian fighters. 
Although its support went to all groups fighting the Syrian government because it prioritized the overthrow of Assad over all other matters, including fighting terrorism, the Turkish government offered special support to Islamists including al-Nusra Front and ISIL. It did so for sectarian and ideological reasons, but also for practical reasons: ISIL and al-Nusra were the strongest fighting groups in Syria and Assad’s government cannot be ousted without them. 
Five years later, and when Russia threw its military weight behind Assad, the Turkish government came to the realization that Assad is, and will remain, for the near future at least, a “key actor” who would play a role in any political solution for the Syrian crisis. That is when Erdoğan decided to adjust his strategy and work with Russia, instead of against it, to preserve some level of influence over the future of Syria. 
Syria is important for Turkey because of their shared problems and concerns: the status of the Kurdish people in both countries forced them to work together in the past, and will force them to work together in the future. In other words, Turkey has no choice but to remain engaged in dealing with the Syrian crisis. 
Adjusting the Turkish strategy will necessarily have significant effects on Turkish relations with Islamist fighters in Syria. Will Turkey abandon them?
The answer can be drawn from Erdoğan’s history. He is a very skilled politician who is willing to sacrifice old alliances in favor of better ones. If his alliance with Islamists becomes a burden, Erdoğan will dump them. Consider his alliance with Fethullah Gülen for proof.
Part of the credit for AKP and Erdoğan’s rise to power goes to the role played by Gülen and his movement. Yet, a decade later, when Erdoğan wanted to consolidate his power, he took steps to control that movement and its institutions. Gülen became aware of Erdoğan’s thirst for more power and he resisted him covertly at first. Erdoğan decided to bring him home where he can better control him. So on June 14, while speaking at a public event organized by a Gülen organization, he issued a public invitation, telling Gülen “it is time to come home.” Gülen, perhaps aware of the risks, tearfully declined the invitation on June 16, saying, in essence, not yet.
Four years later, Gülen stands accused by Erdoğan of being the mastermind of the failed military coup. Had Gülen accepted the invitation then, he would be in prison now, without creating a diplomatic and legal crisis with the U.S. administration, which is refusing to extradite him at this point.
Erdoğan, is the kind of politician who knows how to survive and will do whatever it takes to not just survive, but reverse losses and thrive. For this reason, Erdoğan is not only capable of abandoning his Islamist fighters in Syria, he could launch a military campaign to eradicate them altogether, and throw their Turkish supporters in prison. Justifying such actions will not be that difficult either. Terrorist attacks, like yesterday’s, are enough to turn the Turkish public against all Syrian opposition fighters and create a new path toward reconciliation with a Syrian government with or without Assad.
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