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Terrorism

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

by David Mednicoff*

The international crisis over whether top Saudi Arabian leadership murdered U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a striking example of the consequences of Donald Trump’s blanket disregard for democratic politics and human rights in other countries. This departure from decades of American foreign policy rhetoric remains comparatively undiscussed.

However, in the Middle East, my area of expertise, I believe this Trump policy shift opens the door to exactly the sort of flagrant attacks on individual freedom and safety that likely recently claimed Khashoggi.

Most criticism of Trump’s foreign policy has focused on two other major departures from decades of past American practice.

First, Trump has rejected the cornerstones of the post-WWII international order largely built by the U.S.: deep alliances among Western democracies and global free trade. Second, Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian rulers, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which has undermined American interests.

Yet, the Trump administration’s abandonment of support for democracy and civil rights hurts the interests of both Middle Easterners and Americans.

Did the US walk the walk?
In the past, U.S. leaders and officials within the government have shown interest in political rights and government accountability in other countries. Such talk has nonetheless often taken a back seat to considerations of geopolitical power or resources. Continue reading

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Leaders of Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a demilitarized Idlib buffer zone in Syria’s northwestern province to separate government forces from rebel fighters based there.

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

Copies of the document the

two leaders signed was forwarded to the UNSC are displayed below.

Cover letter
Terms of the Idlib Deal

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Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

This map, produced by pro-gov. Syrian group, hints
to Syria’s claim over most of Hatay province, could explain
the strategy for dealing with Idlib.
There are historical and political reasons for Turkey’s determination to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Syria. However, Turkey’s government might be nervous not just because of the Kurdish separatist aspirations, but also because of its long territorial dispute with the Syrian government, which considers most of Hatay province (Iskenderun) Syrian territory. Looking at the military strategy the Syria government has put in place since the start of its military campaign to regain lost territory, it would appear that the Syrian government wants to address its sovereignty claim over Iskenderun in the context of this armed conflict, in which Turkey has been deeply involved politically and militarily. Turkey, on the other hand, given its erratic decisions related to the Syrian crisis and given its fickle alliances, finds itself alone, abandoned by old allies, Saudi Arabia and the US, and untrusted by its new one, Russia and Iran.

 
First, Turkey’s government knows that a sovereign and united Kurdistan with access to international waters is a formidable one. A landlocked Kurdistan will depend on the goodwill of its neighbors to have access to international markets and to the global community in general. But a Kurdistan stretching from the Iraqi-Iranian border in the east to the Mediterranean in the west is viable, strong, and rich. Turkey, more than all its neighbors is threatened by this prospect for many obvious reasons. That is why Turkey feels the need to act now before a political solution for the Syrian crisis, which might result in the creation of a semi-autonomous region in northern Syria, is reached. 
 
Second, it must be noted that Hatay province is inhabited by diverse ethnic and religious groups, but Arabs and Alevis are a majority in its population of nearly 1.5 million people. The region, therefore, despite being under Turkish control, is strongly pro-Syrian government and throughout the Syrian crisis period, many of its people demonstrated in support of the Syrian government.
 
Third, nearly 500,000 Syrians were displaced by the violence in Aleppo and Idlib provinces and these displaced people settled in Hatay province. Moreover, the province borders the very volatile Idlib province that has been a relocation destination for all armed groups who chose not to enter into “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian government. Idlib is controlled primarily by the powerful Islamist factions supported by Turkey and Qatar, mainly Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS; formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). 
 
Most recently, a number of factions defected from Ahrar al-Sham to join HTS making it the largest Islamist armed group in northern Syria. Parts of Idlib has been designated by the agreement (sponsored by Turkey, Russia, and Iran) as reduced violence zone. However, Russia has insisted all along that all de-escalation zones must exclude terrorist organization and, in the case of Idlib, given its proximity and connection to Turkey, Russia asked Turkey to dissolve or liquidate HTS. Turkey failed to do so, choosing instead to prioritize fighting Kurdish armed groups over fighting HTS and its affiliates. That development initiated a series of other events leading to the current situation. 
 
First, the Syrian government and its allies determined that Turkey has failed to deal with terrorist organizations in Idlib. The government, aided with Russian air force and allied troops, launched a multi-front offensive from the eastern regions under its control and appears to be moving westward. Today, the Syrian government announced full control of Abu Duhu airbase, a large strategic military facility, nearly 16 km2 at the intersection of three key provinces—Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo, that can be used to launch future operations deeper into all three provinces. 
 
Turkey moved troops to some points in Syria and began a military campaign against the Kurds in Afrin. Meanwhile, the US shifted its support to Kurds from assistance to defeat ISIS to training and equipping a permanent military force that it called border control units, which angered the Turkish government and raised some questions about the legality of US presence in Syria without clear UNSC or government authorization. 
 
The Syrian government’s long term strategy is now revealed by its actions on the ground. It appears to involve military campaign to clear internal regions and relocate the diehard armed groups to Idlib with the intent to ultimately force them into Hatay province. Once there, they will be Turkey’s problem to deal with them on its own or enter into an agreement with the Syrian government to settle the border dispute and accommodate the people living therein. That is an impressive long-term strategy, unlike Turkey’s, involving trusted, reliable regional and international allies. 
 
Turkey on the other hand, did not seem to have had a long-term strategy. That fact can be deduced from its erratic alliances. First it joined the anti-Assad coalition led by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and several EU states. Then it joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. Finally, it turned to Russia and Iran. But in the end, and with its Afrin operation, Turkey finds itself alone. Turkey, now, must deal with the ramifications of a crisis that it helped create but failed to control its outcome. Syria, on the other hand, may end up regaining control over disputed border territory or use it to settle its undesirables and all foreign fighters who came to support them. A Hatay province under Turkish control but full of diehard zealots will continue to be a threat to Turkish security and stability–in fact, more so than the imagined or real Kurdish threat.

 
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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. For more information, please visit: http://www.ahmedsouaiaia.com

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Terrorists for hire: US-trained and supported SDF is now recruiting ISIS fighters

Terrorists for hire: US-trained and supported SDF is now recruiting ISIS fighters

Since the start of the civil war, fighters from within Syria and from outside Syria were recruited for the more important (so important that even terrorist elements were enlisted for this) cause: overthrow the Syrian government headed by Bashar al-Assad. Some world and regional governments were so determined to achieve this goal even if that meant fighting side by side with genocidal Wahhabi Salafist terrorists. And they did and some still do.

Since 2011, these actors worked methodically to achieve that singular goal. First, they created the umbrella organization, which they called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to lead the campaign (July 2011) and provide the public face for all armed groups. 
Since outside actors were many and with many agendas, the FSA quickly splintered into separate factions depending on their “funders” and ideological supporters. Saudi Arabia funded Wahhabi Salafists–and some secular armed groups for cover. Qatar and Turkey threw their weight behind members of the Muslim Brotherhood fighters–and some secular fighters, for cover as well. The United Stated government and its EU allies sponsored secular fighters but also tolerated the factions associated with Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. 
That uneasy arrangement lasted until the Wahhabi Salafists grew strongest to become the most powerful armed group that would wrestle way territory not only from other Syrian armed groups and from the Syrian government, but also from the Iraqi government. ISIL’s fast rise to power stunned and threatened its supporters and those who tolerated it. When ISIL carried out waves of cruel crimes and acts in Syria and abroad, the anti-Assad coalition cracked. They agreed that ISIL must be downsized and contained and its offshoot—Nusra—be rehabilitated. By that time, Russia decided to step up its involvement (September 2015) and support the Syrian government. They found the Iranians there already doing just that.
 Since then, all territory previously controlled by ISIL was reclaimed by the Syrian government (30%) and its allies. Meanwhile the US-sponsored armed groups fighting under a new umbrella organization called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retook nearly 15% of ISIL’s territory mainly east of the river (Euphrates) and annexed it to their Kurdish controlled areas. As of now, the Syrian government controls about 55% of Syria, the SDF controls about 30%, and all other armed groups control pockets amounting to about 15%. 
To preserve their gains and have some leverage going into the political talks, SDF fighters are building an alternative military force to control north and northeast Syria. Given that the territories they recently took were inhabited by Sunni Arabs, not Kurds, the SDF leaders and their backers are now recruiting Sunni Arab fighters, including former ISIL members. 
These activities and the level of foreign interference will delay peace in a country that lost too many of its people and too much of its wealth and resources. These foreign actors ought to realize that the longer instability lasts in Syria the less stable their own countries will be. It is in the interest of everyone that this crisis is solved and solved quickly.

 

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Ref.

 

  

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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. 
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