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Politics and Government

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

While the Turkish president celebrates his re-election, we can reason that the results point to a difficult future for Erdogan and his party, due, in part, to Erdogan’s rhetoric that emphasized personality over ideas and loyalty over concern for the nation. 


1. Erdogan’s party lost its majority. In the re-do votes of November 2015, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 316 seats. It only needed 276 seats to form a majority government on its own. It should be noted that during the earlier June elections, the AKP also lost the majority and Erdogan ordered a redo to regain it. This time, too, the AKP needed 300 seats to have a majority in the parliament that would back up decisions by the executive president. It secured only 295 seats. The AKP is now at the mercy of its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which won 11.1% of the votes, entitling it to 43 seats. This is a first for the AKP since 2002.

2. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), increased the number of its MPs from to 59 to 67. The pro-Kurdish people party, whose leader is imprisoned on “terrorism” charges is now the third largest party (based on the percentage of votes) in the country. It would be highly damaging to Turkey’s standing in relations to civil and human rights to continue to persecute its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş.

3. Despite the loss of majority, Erdogan managed to keep the AKP party together thus far. However, the loss marks a hard ceiling that the AKP cannot breach. During the past 15 years, the AKP benefited from the election law rule that allowed them to fold-in seats of political parties that did not reach the 10% threshold. But it never won a true majority. Now with the emergence of a second center-right party, the IYI Parti, it will be even more difficult for the AKP to win a governing majority on its own. Therefore, the future of the party will remain closely tied to the performance and standing of Erdogan.

4. The election results show that, while Turkish citizens are highly mindful of the importance of elections (86% turnout), Turkish voters are consistent in voting for their party. This fact should worry Erdogan because his agenda will be checked by the leader of the MHP. Although the MHP controls only 43 seats compared to AKP’s 295 seats, the
MHP party leaders are likely to ask for some key posts in the next administration. The health of this alliance can be checked by the outcome of the negotiations for cabinet positions.


5. Although the AKP remained united during this electoral test, there are signs that show that a strong Islamist party is likely to emerge in the future should Erdogan continue his erratic foreign and economic policies. While Saadet party performance was poor, the fact that it garnished 1.3% of the votes without fielding any of former AKP possible defectors signal the potential for the emergence of a plurality of Islamist-leaning political parties. We believe that that will be good for the health of Turkish democracy.

 

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Forced to choose between carrying out Saudi plans or quitting, Hariri quits

Forced to choose between carrying out Saudi plans or quitting, Hariri quits

After being summoned like a Saudi diplomat to appear before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Saad Hariri returned to Beirut to pack and say his goodbyes, then returned to Riyad, picked up the phone and called the Lebanese president to tell him that he is quitting. The bizarre process led President Michel Aoun to wait to see if Hariri return and inform him in person, and through the proper protocol, about the reasons for quitting before accepting his resignation. That might be a very long wait. 
Clearly, the Hariri’s decision to resign is not his own. After all, all the reasons he mentioned are not new developments: Lebanon is under the circumstances and conditions as when he agreed to the deal that brought him and Aoun to the offices of the presidency and the prime ministry. 

Among the reasons, real and fictitious, that forced him to resign, Hariri claims that he could be assassinated, that Iran in meddling in Lebanese affairs, and that Hezbollah is a destabilizing force because of its use of force against Syrians and Lebanese citizens. Before he agreed to the deal that made him prime minister, Hezbollah was doing whatever it is doing now, Iran was doing whatever it is doing now, and his fear for his life then was as much a risk then as it is now. Clearly there is something else that has changed: Saudi Arabia’s plan for the region. 
The summon is proof of that fact and it is also proof that Saudi Arabia is meddling in Lebanese affairs. Those who know Lebanese politics, know that many regional and world powers meddle in Lebanese affairs, so there is nothing new here. 
These developments are indicative of Saudi plans to escalate its efforts to further destabilize Lebanon, and country, whose stability is crucial to region given its geography, demography, and history. 

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Neither the announcement of a nominee for the supreme court vacancy nor any other event were able to push down the Muslim Ban from the national and global news headlines. Even the man sitting in the White House could not avoid it. Three of his tweets on Saturday will create more problems for his administration than solve existing ones.
First, in support of the Muslim Ban, he claimed that “certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban.” We did the research: Only two countries, out of all Middle Eastern countries, made statements that could be construed as an endorsement of the Muslim Ban, United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. 
 

Saudi Energy Minster defending Muslim Ban

These countries are neither model democracies nor can their rulers speak in the name of the majority of the peoples of the Middle Eastern countries, let alone Muslims. 
It is ironic that this administration, given its emphasis on the need to fight terrorism, would rely on a country that is implicated in the 9/11 attacks and that is the subject of a legislation from Congress about its possible connection to terrorist acts that killed American citizens.

  

The POTUS’ tweet could explain why Saudi Arabia was left out of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the United States. Given the fact that Saudi Arabia falsely presents itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims and its rulers as the “servants of the two holy places,” the POTUS may have thought that he can call on the rulers of the kingdom to issue a fatwa decreeing that the Muslim Ban is not  anti-Muslim. Apparently, even the Saudi rulers could not burn whatever “Islamic capital” they may have left among naive Muslims on supporting an order that American judges reject. Which takes us to the other tweet.
 

This administration has accused those who protest its actions and platform as sore losers who are attempting to delegitimize a legitimate president. Reasonable position, indeed. However, when the POTUS uses language that is intended to delegitimize a judge appointed by a president from his own political party, all credibility is lost. 

 Calling a judge who was appointed by a Republican president and who was approved without a single dissenting vote “so-called judge,” gives others reasons and license to call him, the so-called president.
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http://www.amazon.com/Contesting-Justice-Women-Islam-Society/dp/0791473988?tag=a0645739-20

 

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:

Standing with Syria, Where The Black Left Should Be

Standing with Syria, Where The Black Left Should Be

The destruction of Syria
by Margaret Kimberley*

American and NATO aggressions must be opposed wherever they surface in the world. That statement ought to be the starting point for anyone calling themselves left, progressive, or anti-war. Of course the aggressors always use a ruse to diminish resistance to their wars of terror. In Syria and elsewhere they claim to support freedom fighters, the moderate opposition and any other designation that helps hide imperialist intervention. They label their target as a tyrant, a butcher, or a modern day Hitler who commits unspeakable acts against his own populace. The need to silence opposition is obvious and creating the image of a monster is the most reliable means of securing that result.


The anti-war movement thus finds itself confused and rendered immobile by this predictable propaganda. It is all too easily manipulated into being at best ineffectual and at worst supporters of American state sponsored terror.

For five years the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and Turkey have given arms and money to terrorist groups in an effort to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Some of those bad actors felt flush with success after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. They had high hopes of picking off another secular Arab government. Fortunately, Assad was hard to defeat and the barbarians cannot storm the gates. Most importantly, Russia stopped giving lip service to Assad and finally provided military support to the Syrian government in 2015.


American and NATO aggressions must be opposed wherever they surface in the world. That statement ought to be the starting point for anyone calling themselves left, progressive, or anti-war. Of course the aggressors always use a ruse to diminish resistance to their wars of terror. In Syria and elsewhere they claim to support freedom fighters, the moderate opposition and any other designation that helps hide imperialist intervention. They label their target as a tyrant, a butcher, or a modern day Hitler who commits unspeakable acts against his own populace. The need to silence opposition is obvious and creating the image of a monster is the most reliable means of securing that result.

The anti-war movement thus finds itself confused and rendered immobile by this predictable propaganda. It is all too easily manipulated into being at best ineffectual and at worst supporters of American state sponsored terror.

For five years the United States, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar and Turkey have given arms and money to terrorist groups in an effort to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Some of those bad actors felt flush with success after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. They had high hopes of picking off another secular Arab government. Fortunately, Assad was hard to defeat and the barbarians cannot storm the gates. Most importantly, Russia stopped giving lip service to Assad and finally provided military support to the Syrian government in 2015.

Obama didn’t start a proxy war with an expectation of losing, and Hillary Clinton makes clear her allegiance to regime change. The United States will only leave if Syria and its allies gain enough ground to force a retreat. They will call defeat something else at a negotiating table but Assad must win in order for justice and reconciliation to begin.

Focusing on Assad’s government and treatment of his people may seem like a reasonable thing to do. Most people who call themselves anti-war are serious in their concern for humanity. But the most basic human right, the right to survive, was taken from 400,000 people because the American president decided to add one more notch on his gun. Whether intended or not, criticism of the victimized government makes the case for further aggression.

The al-Nusra Front may change its name in a public relations effort, but it is still al Qaeda and still an ally of the United States. The unpredictable Donald Trump may not be able to explain that he spoke the truth when he accused Obama and Clinton of being ISIS supporters, but the anti-war movement should be able to explain without any problem. Cessations of hostilities are a sham meant to protect American assets whenever Assad is winning. If concern for the wellbeing of Syrians is a paramount concern, then the American anti-war movement must be united in condemning their own government without reservation or hesitation. 

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* Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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.
 

Context and consequences of the resignation of the architect of Turkey’s zero-problem foreign policy

Context and consequences of the resignation of the architect of Turkey’s zero-problem foreign policy


By Rahmat Hajimineh*

A recent decision by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, which was announced on May 5, to resign his post, can be considered as the outcome of a power struggle in Turkey’s political structure a review of which will not only be important in terms of typology of politicians’ behaviors, but also from the viewpoint of its consequences.
The first thing that seems to be important following Davutoglu’s resignation is the meaning and type of his resignation in political literature of Turkey. The development has been described as the “palace coup” by those opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party and outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the leader of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu. This term is used to denote that Davutoglu has been actually deposed from power by Erdogan.

Also, this reaction was aimed at highlighting Erdogan’s totalitarian nature as a person who will even victimize his old friend and close ally in order to pave the way for achieving his ambitions. This measure was also a sign of the opposition parties’ concern about more centralization of power in the hands of Erdogan and one may claim that Kilicdaroglu is trying to exploit political gaps within the Justice and Development Party in favor of his own party. At the same time, Davutoglu’s remarks on his decision to step down can be construed as compulsory resignation, which in political literature is a form of early withdrawal from a power post when the person occupying it left with no other choice.

Another important issue that should be taken into account for correct understanding of this resignation is the time when serious difference emerged between Davutoglu and Erdogan, causing Davutoglu to step down. The point on which analysts have consensus is that differences between the two politicians broke out after Davutoglu was appointed prime minister in 2014, especially following revelations about Turkey’s intelligence service, MIT, using trucks to smuggle weapons into Syria, the news of which was first released by the Cumhuriyet daily. The two politicians later came to loggerheads over trial of two Cumhuriyet journalists who had published the report. If Erdogan had seen or even felt this difference of viewpoints earlier, he would not have chosen this university professor, who had been his senior advisor since 2002, as foreign minister in 2009 and then as the leader of the Justice and Development Party and Turkish prime minister in 2014. Those appointments attested to Erdogan’s complete trust in Davutoglu, which despite existence of other seasoned and more influential figures in the party, it was Davutoglu who was first chosen as the party’s leader and then as Turkey’s prime minister through Erdogan’s direct support.
On the other hand, Davutoglu as senior advisor to president and foreign minister was not considered a serious option for rivalry against Erdogan in the country’s domestic politics and was mostly known in the foreign policy field, which only made him an affiliate of Erdogan as the head of state. However, as prime minister, Davutoglu found himself at the highest level of Turkey’s executive branch according to the constitution, but in practice, he was still overshadowed by Erdogan and was only seen as a titular official. Despite the shift in their roles, Erdogan expected Davutoglu to play his past role and considered any change in his behavior, even any silence or dawdling by the prime minister on any issue as a form of rivalry and this was a situation which made Erdogan distrustful of Davutoglu. This distrust had grown so deep that some party allies of Erdogan even tried to accuse Davutoglu of treason against president.
Although Davutoglu’s resignation took place without much hype and serious challenge, it will have consequences for Turkey’s both domestic and foreign policies. This is true especially under current conditions when Turkey is witnessing parliamentary tensions over a bill proposing to strip lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The country is also grappling with other kinds of tensions as a result of the ongoing war with Kurdish militants, increasing security threats as a consequence of terrorist attacks by Daesh within and without its borders, presence of over 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its soil, and the implementation of an agreement with the European Union to curb flow of refugees to Europe.
Inside the country, the most important issue is that after resignation of Davutoglu and appointment of a person close to Erdogan as prime minister, efforts will be heightened to change the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential system, which is the most important goal pursued by Erdogan. An evidence to the point is Erdogan’s remarks one day after Davutoglu’s resignation on May 6 when he said “the existing parliamentary system is cause of crisis. Therefore, a presidential system will be offered to people to endorse it.” These remarks clearly reflected Erdogan’s main concern about the existing conditions in the country. As for Turkey’s policies toward Kurds, it seems that after Davutoglu is removed from decision-making structure, Erdogan will mount pressure on lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkish parliament and continue the war on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and this situation will possibly continue in short term, especially before the time for next election gets close.
In the area of foreign policy, the most important issue under current conditions is the future outlook of the agreement signed by Turkey and the European Union over the flow of refugees to Europe, which has come to be known as Davutoglu’s project. Therefore, now that Davutoglu has left this game, the next prime minister is expected to take the initiative in this regard. What is more noticeable with regard to this issue is the non-European approach taken by Erdogan as compared to Europe-oriented approach of Davutoglu. As a result, when faced with pressures mounted by European countries on Ankara to make more amendments to its anti-terror law, Erdogan told Europe in a statement, “We’ll go our way, you go yours.” Since European countries need Turkey in their handling of the sweeping wave of refugees, this situation has put them in a difficult situation for curbing the influx of asylum seekers. Therefore, European political officials are expected to adopt a more lenient policy toward Ankara in order to protect themselves in the face of the ongoing influx of refugees.
On the whole, one may claim that resignation of Davutoglu from chairmanship of the Justice and Development Party and the prime minister’s post has been a result of the existence of important, but covert, differences that have emerged between Turkey’s two top politicians. These differences had gradually grown since Davutoglu became prime minister in 2014. This situation caused Erdogan to lose trust in his former ally and see him as a serious rival raised by himself. As a result, he tried to scuttle Davutoglu’s power for choosing party officials, thus stripping him of the executive power he had within the Justice and Development Party. Davutoglu was quick to receive the message of this measure and before facing more accusations from his own party, decided to cede power in a peaceful manner. His behavior will lead to establishment of Erdogan’s full control inside the country while in the area of foreign policy it will show a less resilient Turkey to the world.

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* Rahmat Hajimineh is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Islamic Azad University; Tehran
Researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

The legacy of the illegal war on Iraq and the burden of befriending the Wahhabi rulers

The legacy of the illegal war on Iraq and the burden of befriending the Wahhabi rulers



A day after the couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in San Bernardino, CNN reported that Malik had made “a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” Subsequently, it was reported that Malik attended al-Huda, a religious institute whose funding and curriculum were decided by Saudi benefactors, and Farook visited Saudi Arabia and married his wife in that country. The connection between terrorists and Saudi sponsored religious institutions is well documented. The connection between ISIL and its derivatives, terrorism, and the civil war in Syria and Iraq must be properly understood and factored into any global strategy to combat terrorism and reduce violence around the world. Law enforcement officials’ reaction to the San Bernardino shooting–suggesting that the attack “may have been inspired by ISIS” but “not directed or ordered” by the group–shows that the connection between Saudi political/religious systems and terrorism is not properly made and understood.


Besides the usual claims of responsibility that ISIL releases after the fact, there is no evidence that the group ordered or directed any of the other attacks, including the most recent ones in Beirut, France, and Tunisia. Distinguishing attacks inspired by ISIL from the ones ordered by ISIL reveals a lack of understanding of the ideology and methodology of ISIL and an incoherent response that allow this group to carry out its genocidal agenda. This willful ignorance is present among federal law enforcement officials and political leaders, the main authorities that are supposed to formulate a comprehensive strategy to neutralize and eradicate such threats. Moreover, the occurrence of these brutal attacks in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim majority ones, underscore the link between the crises in Syria and Iraq and the spread of terrorism. It is now clear, that the longer the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars are allowed to continue the graver the threat of terrorism around the world. Therefore, defeating ISIL in Syria, Libya, and Iraq is necessary to protecting civilians in this country and elsewhere. These conclusions are based on a number of facts.

1. Once in control of territories in Syria and Iraq, and upon declaring himself “caliph,” al-Baghdadiordered, through his spokesperson al-Adnani, all his followers all over the world to carry out all kinds of acts of violence against anyone who disagrees with his interpretation of Islam everywhere—inside or outside Muslim majority countries. The order included specific and appalling instructions about murderous acts and targets. That order was meant to be open as long as the “Islamic State” is in existence. With that being said, the notion that ISIL did not order this or other attacks is factually untrue. 

2. Ideologically, every lone terrorist and every fighter in the ranks of ISIL and its derivatives, from the ones who carried out the 9/11 attacks to the ones who carried out the attacks in Tunisia, follow Salafism. Not all Salafists are ISIL terrorists. However, it is immanently true that all ISIL terrorists are Salafist. Therefore, terrorism cannot be defeated without confronting states that espouse, sponsor, and support Salafism and Salafist figures and force them to purge their educational and religious institutions from hateful and genocidal ideas.

3. The fight against combatant Salafist terrorists of ISIL and its derivatives must be constitutional and within the limits of international law. No government should imprison or kill Salafists based on membership, only combatants in the ranks of ISIL and its derivatives can be pursued so that the war on genocidal fighters is not turned into an ideological war against Salafism or Islam in general. Analogically, the KKK espouses a genocidal ideology not that different from ISIL’s but the US government does not arrest or kill KKK members just for being members. The same standards should be applied to Salafism and fighters affiliated with ISIL and its derivatives to prevent leaders of these groups from using real or perceived Western double standard for propaganda and recruitment purposes.

4. The US’s anti-ISIL coalition has failed to contain, let alone defeat, ISIL because it had embraced a strategy based on the faulty logic of equating the malfeasance of the government of Assad with the crimes of ISIL and its derivatives. The equivalency is factually false for a number of reasons:

4.1. Before and after the peaceful uprising of 2011, Assad’s government has not distinguished among Syrians on the basis of sect or religion. ISIL and its derivatives have.

4.2. During the peaceful uprising, Syrian government’s soldier did not blow up homes belonging to specific religious groups, destroy bridges and public buildings, kill police officers at checkpoints, execute them and chew on their internal organs, and enshrine rape and slavery. FSA and ISIL fighters did. Indeed, some Syrian security forces violently attacked protesters, arrested opposition figures, and tortured political prisoners–common practices among all Arab regimes–and perpetrators of such acts should be held to account. Those who took up arms and hijacked the peaceful uprising should be held responsible, too.

4.3. After the peaceful uprising and during the civil war, Assad’s government did not behead people because they were Christian, Shi`a, secular, or kafir; ISIL and its derivatives did and continue to do so.

4.4. The 250,000 thus far killed were not killed by Assad. They were killed by FSA rebels, fighters from ISIL and its derivatives, and government forces. FSA, which was initially the umbrella organization of all rebel groups including al-Nusra and ISIL, self-documented their fighter committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

4.5. The millions of displaced Syrians were not forced out by Assad. If they were, why haven’t they left before the civil war. They were forced out by ISIL and other armed groups that moved into their neighborhoods, towns, and cities, in violation of international law of war, bringing war to civilian areas. ISIL and its derivatives are the ones who attack communities on religious and sectarian grounds, purging area after area from religious and ethnic groups. Damascus and other cities still controlled by Assad are still inhabited by Sunni, Christian, Shi`a, and Alawites; Alawites, Shi`a, or Yazidisare not able to live in cities under the control of ISIL or its derivatives.

4.6. Assad’s government, as authorized by the old and current constitutions, did not and has not wanted to impose its version of the shari`a on all Syrians. ISIL and its derivatives have.

5. Removing Assad will not remove ISIL, it will strengthen it and here are the facts that support this conclusion:

5.1. In Libya, Qatar and its allies, backed by NATO planes, armed the rebels arguing that removing Qaddafi will end extremism and usher in democracy in that country. Qaddafi was murdered in 2011, yet, just two weeks ago, ISIL’s branch in Libya declared the coastal city of Sirte part of the “Islamic State”, in addition to its other stronghold of Derna.

5.2. In August 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration, was forced to resign after having had won the elections by a huge margin, so that ISIL is defeated in Iraq. Instead of being defeated, ISIL was able to take over more cities and provinces, including Ramadi, which lies just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

5.3. Before the Saudi war on Yemen, leaders of ISIL and its derivatives admonished their Yemeni followers for not building significant presence in Yemen. After Saudi Arabia and the coalition of countries under its economic sway bombed that impoverished country for nine months and after they sent Sudanese and even Colombian mercenaries to southern Yemen to push the Houthis and their allies out, ISIL and its derivatives moved in and are now in control of a number of cities and provinces in the south and east of Yemen.

5.4. In Syria, ISIL and its derivatives extended their control over areas previously controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other so-called “moderate” rebel groups. There is no evidence to suggest that “moderate” rebels were, are, or will be able to wrestle away territory from ISIL and its derivatives and hold it for long periods of time. Only the Kurdish fighters, who are not part of the rebel groups, are able to resist and even defeat ISIL, but only within Kurdish majority areas.

5.5. ISIL and its derivatives exist in countries with failed states. If the Syrian government is further weakened or were to collapse, ISIL and its derivatives will fill the void. Therefore, providing support for the Syrian government is the only sensible, practical, and legal option to defeat ISIL and its derivatives.

6. ISIL and its derivatives did not have the capacity to carry out threats around the world and control territory in Syria and Iraq without the political, financial, and military support they have received from individuals and countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The evidence presented by the Russian military about oil from areas under the control of ISIL being sold in Turkey is damning. Russia’s evidence, in fact, only confirms what NATO members had communicated to Turkey in September 2014, when they asked Turkey to “tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters passing through Turkey, and crack down on the oil smuggling from Syria that is financing ISIL.”

The US administration must push for a principled definition of terrorism and terrorist entities. Administration’s official focus on ISIL, and only ISIL, as a terrorist organization in Syria raises doubt about the US commitment to ending the violence in Syria and fighting all terrorist groups-not just ISIL. US rhetoric criticizing Russia for not limiting its airstrikes to ISIL distorts reality and gives comfort to other genocidal groups and their sponsors. 

When considering that ISIL’s leaders adopted three different namesin the past three years, looking at a name to identify which is or is not a terrorist group becomes absurd. Singling out ISIL as the only terrorist group that should be fought allows the latter’s members to join other groups like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are equally genocidal in their thinking and practices. After all, al-Nusra was al-Baghdadi’s original armed group in Syria before he had a fall out with al-Julani. Instead, of waiting for groups to self-identify as subscribing to al-Qaeda ideology, the world community must come up with an objective definition of terrorist entities taking into account the nature of the creed, practice, and connections of the group. This way, the name of the group would not matter. What the ideology it espouses and acts it carries out should determine if the terror label shall apply.

Should ISIL and its derivatives be allowed to continue to occupy and control cities in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, or Yemen and should the ideology espoused by ISIL fighters go unchallenged, the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris, Tunis, and San Bernardino will not be the last. The US must work with the Syrian and Iraqi governments, now, not in six or eighteen months, to defeat these genocidal fighters. Instead of continuing to send weapons to today’s moderate fighters who will be tomorrows ISIL soldiers, the US and its allies should send those arms to the Syrian government troops, the only legal force on the ground that can defeat ISIL and that can be held responsible for past and future violations of international law of war. If the international community has evidence that Assad or any of his generals have ordered the murder of civilians, they should pursue legal action and seek justice for the victims, not remove him by arming his adversaries in violation of international law. 

If the US administration wants to protect its citizens, end racist and hateful threats against American-Muslims, and stop the flow of refugees, it must develop a principled, not political, strategy to defeat genocidal fighters in Syria and Iraq. It should start by confronting regimes and individuals who provide moral, ideological, financial, and military assistance to ISIL and its derivatives. It is reckless to tolerate ISIL and its derivatives so that Saudi Arabia or any other country achieves some geopolitical goals. It is irresponsible for the US administration to continue to give credence to the bizarre Saudi logic that the presence of one man, Assad, created ISIL and its derivatives, and that his removal will result in ISIL’s defeat. ISIL and its derivatives have existed in many countries not ruled by Assad, and have existed long before Assad’s troops fired a single bullet in Syria’s cruel civil war. As a first step in fighting terrorism, stopping the civil wars that create the suitable environment for terrorism, and ending Saudi spread of hateful, genocidal ideology, Syrian and Iraq must be made whole again.
* 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.

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War


The peaceful protest movement that started in Syria in 2011 was transformed by foreign governments’ involvement into a civil war fueled by sectarian and ethnic dreams. Now, we can see that Syria is no longer ground for a civil or proxy war, it is scene of a world war. There are two sides in this conflict. Although each side prefers to frame its identify in appealing descriptors like Friends Of Syria, Anti-Terror Coalition, Preservers Of Legitimacy, and Pro-International Law and Order Nations, the two sides are fixated on one man: Bashar al-Assad. From the moment some Syrians began protesting, the US-Saudi coalition jumped on the opportunity and planned to oust Assad no matter the cost. The Russian-Iranian coalition did not want that to happen no matter the cost. Every other claim about Assad’s regime abuse of human rights, forcing a wave of refugees, denying his people democracy, committing war crimes, being authoritarian, and  lacking legitimacy are nice sounding slogans needed to disguise the real agenda. After all, any one of these nations that is directly involved in this crisis is guilty of the same offenses: they all have a record of human rights abuses, ill treatment of refugees, subversion of democracy, war crimes, and authoritarian behavior. Some of these governments never held even sham elections to test their actual legitimacy. Now, each side is undertaking military action to support its side achieve the one goal: remove/strengthen Bashar al-Assad. 

Russia’s direct military involvement should not surprise anyone: Russia’s leaders have been preparing for it for years. Now, parties of this international conflict are well known. On one side, we have the so-called Friends-Of-Syria or Anti-ISIL nations that supported, trained, and equipped the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which metamorphosed after 2012 into ISIL, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Fath, thuwar Suria, and other smaller armed groups. On the other side, we have nations that declared their support for nations’ sovereignty, Preservers-Of-Legitimacy (POL), as they want to be called. 

Over time, the coalition of FOS shrunk from nearly 100 nations in 2011, to merely seven nations today: UK, US, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. On Friday Oct. 2, these countries released a joint statement, saying that Russian strikes would “only fuel more extremism.”  But they did not explain why Russian strikes would fuel extremism but strikes carried out by FOS would not. 

In my estimation, Russia’s direct military involvement only escalated the proxy war into an open world war, which has emerged when the FOS began their strikes without UNSC authorization. Russia is now activating its own coalition, POL, which consists of Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. This coalition of nations that are willing to take military action in Syria and Iraq are politically backed by BRICS nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. While only three out of the seven FOS coalition are actually dropping bombs in Syria, four out of the eight POL nations are indeed in the battle fields. The BRICKS nations provide the political cover for POL’s military intervention in Syria (and soon Iraq).

Who will have the upper hand in Syria? The coalition with more reliable military presence on the ground is likely to achieve more of its goals. Given the difficulties faced by FOS in identifying appropriate “moderate” rebel groups who would fight both the Syrian government’s forces and ISIL, POL appears to have an advantage since the Syrian government and its allies actually have a formidable presence on the ground that can clear and hold territory.

The idea that there is a strong “moderate” FSA group that can defeat ISIL and/or the government forces is not supported by facts. Training and equipping rebel groups, whose loyalty cannot be ascertained will only prologue the war. The only paths we can see for FOS to match POL’s potential for success are: (1) send their own ground troops into Syria or (2) re-brand some terror groups, like al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Islam as moderate rebels, and use them on the ground. These two options, however, have significant security and political costs for FOS. Can FOS nations continue to ask Russia to restrict its strikes to ISIL without legitimizing other groups that are just as genocidal in their ideology and practices as ISIL? Are the leaders of FOS nations prepared to say that al-Nusra, the actual affiliate of al-Qaeda, is a good terror group while ISIL, which had created al-Nusra in the first place, is a bad terror group?

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* 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.

Proposition for ending the crisis in Syria: concurrent devolution of power regionally and military action against genocidal fighters nationally

Proposition for ending the crisis in Syria: concurrent devolution of power regionally and military action against genocidal fighters nationally


 

Syrians as refugees because of this level of destruction of their cities

Politics is the art of compromise. Successful politicians rarely give ultimatums because doing so would limit their ability to navigate complex issues. In 2012, President Obama underestimated the complexity of the crisis in Syria. He drew a “red line” for President Assad: the use of chemical weapons would have “enormous consequences” and would “change [his] calculus” on American military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A year later, someone used weaponized chemicals, killing hundreds of civilians. Although no investigation was conducted to identify the perpetrator at that time, the U.S., encouraged by its regional allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, accused the government of Bashar al-Assad. Just days before world leaders were to meet in New York, U.S. bombing of Syria was all but certain. Then two key events changed the course of history. First, Prime Minister David Cameron, initially supportive of military intervention, was restrained by the British parliament. As of September 7, 2013, the U.S. Congress was also set to not authorize the use of force in Syria, especially if it was not authorized by the UNSC. Second, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, made a “silly mistake”, to borrow the words of some observers.
 

On Monday, September 9, 2013, Kerry, then on his way to a meeting in Europe, made the gaffe that saved his boss. Answering a reporter’s question, he said that Assad could avoid an American attack by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” The State Department tried to take back Kerry’s comments by saying that he “was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.” Nonetheless, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, put Kerry in check:  Moscow urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. The next day, the Syrian government “welcomed” Russia’s proposal. The U.S. Senate, having scheduled a vote for Wednesday on whether to back a proposed punitive strike, postponed it. The U.S.-planned “surgical strike” against Syria did not take place. 
In hindsight, and given the abysmal results of the yearlong airstrikes on ISIL, the U.S. administration should be thankful for Russia’s intervention that allowed Obama to save face, while eliminating a dangerous weapon that could be used by the Syrian government or its opponents if storing facilities fell under their control. Above all, Russia’s plan for Syria’s chemical weapons was a lifeline for President Obama, who was headed for defeat, at least in the House, on his request for approval for military action.
Fast-forward to September 2015. Russia, once again, might be offering the U.S. and its allies a lifeline: an opening to chart a new course for its military and political plans in Syria. Clearly, U.S. bombardment of ISIL positions from the air is not producing any significant results, and the U.S. cannot find a reliable “moderate” partner that could hold cleared territory.
Since the start of the Syrian crisis, the U.S. and its regional allies—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey—have insisted that Bashar al-Assad must step down before they stop their support for rebel fighters. In fact, the AKP-led Turkish government has insisted that it would not fight ISIL unless it and its allies are allowed to fight the Syrian government troops as well. In other words, working with the Syrian government to combat terrorism is out of the question in the eyes of these governments. Russia, on the other hand, has insisted that fighting terror groups in Syria must be a priority and must be coordinated with the Syrian government.
There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the fact that U.S.-Saudi position is untenable. 
First, Turkey is now fighting its own war on terror at home. ISIL suicide bombers have killed Turkish citizens inside Turkey. The AKP government chose to re-open its war on Kurdish fighters and ignore the threats posed by ISIL. Some Turkish towns are now off-limits to Turkish government forces.
Second, the U.S. planto train and equip “moderate” rebel fighters and use them to fight ISIL on the ground in Syria has failed in a spectacular way: the first group of fighters inserted into Syria was immediately attacked by al-Nusra, killing many of its members and capturing the rest. Moreover, a leader of this U.S.-trained group declared that his fighters will never attack their “brothers in jihad,” which of course would include ISIL.
Third, al-Nusra has been reluctant to enter into open war against ISIL. Last week, al-Nusra’s overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, ordered the group to cooperate with ISIL, despite his rejection of ISIL’s declared restoration of the caliphate under the leadership of al-Baghdadi.
Fourth, Saudi Arabia has claimed that Assad lost legitimacy because he has killed civilians in Syria. Now that Saudi Arabia is bombing civilians in Yemen and siding with an unelected ruler of that country, they have lost that moral high ground. The Saudis, Qataris, Bahrainis, and Emaritis are all involved in an illegal brutal war. It is also possible that that Saudi Arabia will lose territory to the Houthis before the war on Yemen is over. The Saudi rulers themselves might face serious criminal charges since they stand accused of committing war crimes in Yemen.
Fifth, the refugee crisis is spreading to Europe, and the longer the crisis in Syria is made to last the more people will be leaving that country. Only an end to the violence and the creation of an international recovery plan could stop the flow of refugees. The countries that supported the armed rebellion are responsible for the humanitarian disaster and for recovery costs.
Sixth, even if President Assad were to step down or be removed, there is no evidence that members of the warring factions will stop fighting, lay down their arms, and go back to doing what they were doing before the crisis. Events in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen indicate that armed groups are intent on taking over and holding territories. These non-state actors are not wrestling away control over towns and cities from government forces only, but also from each other. These groups do not believe in the devolution of power, they want all power for themselves forever and through the gun.
The war in Syria is a classic proxy war going bad. Too many states have too many proxy fighters all fighting the Syrian state and each other. Relying on non-state actors to carry out violence against the state is a dangerous and destabilizing strategy that will affect not only the target country, but other nations in the region and around the world. Violence will reach neighboring nations like Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan and the refugee crisis will continue to affect Western countries. The war in Syria and Iraq must end in order to minimize the spread of violence and the increased number of displaced people. However, for the war to end, states party to this conflict must employ both military and political strategies concurrently—not just one or the other. 
The concurrent military and political solution is necessitated by the following facts:
1. The Syrian government will not be able to re-establish pre-crisis conditions. Too many people have died, too many people have been displaced, there has been too much destruction, and there is too little trust and good will—making it impossible to start a reconciliation and recovery phase without the inclusion of local leaders.
2. Syria has been flooded with all kinds of weapons and ammunition, making the task of keeping peace and order all over Syria a herculean one. The government will need some of the armed groups to manage some of the towns and cities that were outside the control of the Syrian state.
3. Syria has always been a mixed society. The country consists of an amalgam of sectarian, religious, ethnic, and tribal communities. During the crisis, and when the government failed to protect all citizens in all of Syria, these communities armed their own local committees (lijan sha`biyya/difa` dhati) to defend their towns and cities of residence. It is unlikely that these traumatized communities will disarm immediately and trust their fate to this or a future government—with or without Assad. 
4. While some armed groups are interested in preserving the diversity of the Syrian society, other fighters who embrace and practice genocidal ideas, like ISIL, al-Nusra,  and Ahrar al-Sham are determined to cleanse the regions they control of ethnic, sectarian, religious, secular, and any group that is not them. Moreover, these genocidal groups do not believe in any degree of public participation in electing regional or national political and administrative leaders. 
These facts create a set of conditions and variables that require a concurrent military and political solution. A solution that supports the national government’s fight against genocidal fighters and put Syria on a path to deliberate devolution of power. The devolution of power could be achieved through purposeful political reform that would allow towns and cities a healthy degree of autonomy without risking the territorial integrity of their country and the abrupt collapse of the state. The fate and future of Assad and his government can be determined after local governments have been established, through national elections under a new constitution that reflects the new conditions.
The Russian military buildup in Syria might provide the world community with an opportunity to start an effective collective plan of action in Syria. The Western coalition that has been bombing ISIL from the air for more than one year without success could have another partner, who is not the Assad regime, on the ground. Russian troops could open the necessary channel of communication between the Western coalition and the Syrian government. Together, and after securing authorization from and monitoring by the UNSC, the Syrian and Russian troops could secure local elections in towns and cities freed from genocidal fighters. These local elections will provide some opposition figures with a chance to gain power, through the ballet box, over regions where they have influence and if they have influence. 
This approach will necessarily mean that Kurdish regions, Shia towns and cities, and tribal communities (`asha’ir) will emerge as self-governing, semi-autonomous regions within Syria. This kind of solution would preserve Syria’s state institutions, offer Syria’s minorities a degree of self-rule, and fight genocidal warriors. A Saudi-Western solution preconditioned on the removal of Assad and his generals will cause the disintegration of Syria, the permanent displacement of millions of Syrians, and the spread of violence to neighboring states. In the end, peace in Syria depends on a gradual devolution of power and diminished use of violence by non-state actors. It cannot depend on using those non-state actors simply as tools for regime change.
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* 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.
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