Monday, September 28, 2015

Death toll from Saudi strike at Yemen wedding rises to 38

    Monday, September 28, 2015   No comments
SANAA, Yemen — The Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen’s Shiite rebels mistakenly struck a wedding party on Monday, killing at least 38 people, Yemeni security officials said.

The strikes hit the celebration in al-Wahga, a village near the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandab, said the officials, who remain neutral in the conflict that has splintered Yemen.

At least 40 people were wounded in the two airstrikes, they said. The strikes, a senior government official said, were “a mistake.” Many of the victims were women and children, according to several villagers.

Yemen has been embroiled in fighting that pits the rebels, known as Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized government as well as southern separatists, local militias and Sunni extremists. The U.S.-backed coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the rebels and their allies since March.

Erdoğan defends Saudi Arabia after Hajj disaster, raises eyebrows

    Monday, September 28, 2015   No comments
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put himself at odds with domestic and international critics when he defended Saudi Arabia after a stampede that killed 769 pilgrims, saying the disaster should not be blamed on the kingdom.

The stampede occurred at a time when thousands of pilgrims were performing one of the rites of the Hajj outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Two Turks are among the dead, and six others remain unaccounted for. But even though the Saudi regime has become the focus of criticism over claims of mismanagement and claims that the stampede was linked to the arrival in Mina of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the Saudi defense minister, and his security entourage, Erdoğan said he was opposed to suggestions that the Saudi regime was at fault since such tragedies could occur during massive events like this anywhere in the world.

Erdoğan refusing to join the criticism of the Saudi administration over its possible negligence in taking the required precautions to prevent the disaster has brought alleged illegal business transactions between the Erdoğan family and the Saudi regime under the spotlight, including the transfer of nearly $100 million to a foundation under the control of Erdoğan's son Bilal.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saudi rulers blame pilgrims for hajj deaths

    Saturday, September 26, 2015   No comments
Saudi Arabia on Friday suggested pilgrims ignoring crowd control rules bore some blame for a crush that killed over 700 people at the haj pilgrimage in the annual event's worst disaster for 25 years.

With pilgrims frantically searching for missing compatriots and photographs of piles of the dead circulating on social media, the tragedy haunted many on the haj a day on.

"There were layers of bodies, maybe three layers," said one witness who asked not to be named. "Some people were alive under the pile of bodies and were trying to climb up but in vain, because their strength failed and they dropped dead.

    "I felt helpless not to be able to save people. I saw them dying in front of my eyes," he told Reuters.

An Algerian pilgrim told Algeria's al-Shurouk television: "We saw death: People were stepping over the mutilated bodies in front of you, four or five on top of each other." Source

Instead of taking responsibility for catastrophic event, a Saudi prince blamed African pilgrims: 

Saudi Arabia's head of the central Hajj commitee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, has blamed the crush outside the holy city of Mecca that killed at least 717 people and injured 850 more on "some pilgrims with African nationalities", according to Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV.


Report: US-trained rebels give equipment to al-Qaeda affiliate

    Saturday, September 26, 2015   No comments
ISR comment: How the U.S., directly and indirectly, ended up arming al-Qaeda and its derivatives? These groups were armed directly by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as part of the training and equipping of the so-called "Free Syrian Army", they also took U.S. hardware when they overran northern Iraq, and continue to receive arms through groups still trained and equipped by U.S. and its Gulf States allies.

A group of US-trained Syrian rebels has handed over their vehicles and ammunition to fighters linked to al-Qaeda, the US military has admitted.

It said one rebel unit had surrendered six pick-up trucks and ammunition to the al-Nusra Front this week - apparently to gain safe passage.

Congress has approved $500m (£323m) to train and equip about 5,000 rebels to fight against Islamic State militants.

But the first 54 graduates were routed by al-Nusra Front, the military said.

Gen Lloyd Austin told US lawmakers last week that only "four or five" US-trained rebels were still fighting.
'Programme violation'

"Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (group)," Pentagon spokesman Cpt Jeff Davis said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Col Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom), said this happened on 21-22 September.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hajj stampede: At least 717 killed in Saudi Arabia

    Friday, September 25, 2015   No comments
More criticism of Saudi Arabia after at least 717 people died and 863 were injured in a stampede near the holy city of Mecca on Thursday.

As the custodians of the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has long taken responsibility for overseeing the hajj—and those repeated tragedies have raised questions about the Saudi state’s ability to manage this vast annual influx of people. As more and more Muslims around the world have been able to afford to make the trip, the number of pilgrims has swelled to more than two million, including more than a million who visit from abroad.

But the sheer numbers alone do not explain the repeated catastrophes at the hajj. Experts say that Saudi-directed development in and around Mecca—including massive hotels, malls, and luxury housing—have done little to ease the problems of crowding during the hajj, while the authorities have ignored safety concerns raised by urban planners.

“The scale of this and the frequency of these sorts of things stand at odds with the amount of money that the Saudis pump into managing and ordering the hajj,” says Toby Craig Jones, a historian at Rutgers University who studies Saudi Arabia. “This is a highly sophisticated, regimented system”—and a rich one, given Saudi Arabia’s status as one of the world’s biggest oil producers.

“They have not sought to make the space usable by large numbers of people,” says Jones. “They’ve crammed it with hotels and real estate development. They’ve made it very difficult to have the hajj be a safe experience for people.”


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Russia may strike positions of the Islamic State fighters in Syria without any consent of the coalition states, unless US coordinates its acts

    Thursday, September 24, 2015   No comments
According to Bloomberg, this issue will be the centerpiece of discussion during the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama under the UN General Assembly, September 28, as the Russian President will be in New York on a one-day visit.

Elena Suponina, senior analyst on the Middle East at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies noted, that "Russia hopes that common sense will win and Barack Obama will accept the proposal of Vladimir Putin. However, Vladimir Putin will act in any case, even if it does not happen."

The Putin's proposal consists in a large-scale international coalition in the region to fight the IS. According to the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, partners of Russia got interested in the plan of Putin.

Experts note, that Moscow started promoting its offer at the right moment - just after the Iranian deal, after a year of the US coalition "strange war" with caliphate, and at the moment when the Western and Eastern opponents of Damascus started realizing the uselessness of Assad's removal.

The refugees crisis in Europe has also become one more agitation for Putin. Now, Russia has a good chance to back its acts on the elimination of the US hegemony in the world and setting a new world order, based on the balance of power.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Taking its cues from the U.S., France back tracks on its demand that Assad steps down

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015   No comments
ISR: after insisting for four years that Assad must step down before "friend-of-Syria"  stop  their support of the opposition, which France recognized as the "sole representative of the Syrian people, its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, now, says Assad can be part of the solution.

France will not demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's departure as a precondition for peace talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Figaro in an interview.

"If we require, even before negotiations start, that Assad step down, we won't get far," Fabius was quoted as saying in a preview of the French daily's Tuesday edition.

The comments represent a softening of France's position towards Assad, whose four-year war against rebel groups and Islamic State fighters has claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The United States and Britain have already made similar shifts to their stances on Syria, as Russia bolsters its support for Assad with a military buildup in the country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the timing of Assad's exit following a peace deal would be negotiable.

France believes a diplomatic resolution would require the establishment of a government of national unity including elements of Assad's administration "to avoid the kind of collapse seen in Iraq", Fabius also said in the interview.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes kill up to 76 in Yemen

    Monday, September 21, 2015   No comments
UPI reported on Sep. 19 that up to 76 are dead and 130 injured after a series of Saudi-led alliance airstrikes in the Yemeni capital city of Sanaa and other rebel-held lands in the past 24 hours.

Saudi warplanes pummeled the capital city Friday into Saturday, killing 35 and injuring 120, many civilians. The airstrike hit an apartment building in the center of the city, a United Nations world heritage site of cultural significance. A family of nine inside the building was killed. Local residents said the airstrikes were the strongest since war erupted in March.

The airstrikes also hit the Yemeni Interior Ministry building and the Omani ambassador's home in Sanaa. The Omani foreign ministry condemned the bombings. Oman closed its embassy in Sanaa after rebels seized the city in September.

"Oman received with deep regret yesterday's news targeting the ambassador's home in Sanaa, which is a clear violation of international charters and norms that emphasise the inviolability of diplomatic premises," the statement said.

Dozens of others were killed and wounded by coalition jets in the northern province of Sadda, a stronghold of Houthi rebels.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ben Carson Says a Muslim Shouldn’t Be President

    Sunday, September 20, 2015   No comments
'If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter'

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate, calling Islam inconsistent with the constitution in an interview on Meet the Press Sunday.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he said. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who now sits near the top of GOP polls, is known for his devout Christian beliefs. On Sunday, he suggested that not all faiths are equal when it comes to holding elected office. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Kerry announces another Syria strategy change from London: Assad must go... but it doesn't have to be on day one or month one or whatever

    Saturday, September 19, 2015   No comments
Bashar al-Assad (left) meeting John Kerry at Al-Shaab palace in Damascus on April 1, 2010
 ISR: After insisting for four years that Bashar al-Assad is removed before considering any other options, U.S. signals another radical shift in strategy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down, but not necessarily immediately upon reaching a settlement to end the country's civil war.

Speaking after talks in London with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Kerry said he was prepared to negotiate to achieve a solution but asked whether Assad was.

"For the last year and a half we have said that Assad has to go but how long, what the modality is... it doesn't have to be on day one or month one or whatever," Kerry told reporters.

"There's a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can be achieved."

He welcomed Russia focusing its efforts against the Islamic State jihadist group (ISIL) in Syria.

"We welcome that and we are prepared to try to find the ways to most rapidly and most effectively eliminate ISIL," he said.

"We need to get to the negotiation. That's what we are looking for and we hope Russia, Iran and other countries with influence will help to bring about that because that is what's preventing this crisis from ending," he added.

"We're prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table and actually find the solution to this violence?"
"Right now Assad has refused to have a serious discussion and Russia has refused to bring him to the table in order to do that."

Russia and the United States launched military talks on the Syrian conflict on Friday as Moscow increased its build-up of forces in the war-torn country.


The United States had planned to topple the Syrian government, as early as 2006, long before conflict broke out

    Saturday, September 19, 2015   No comments

The United States had planned to topple the Syrian government long before conflict broke out in the country in 2011, says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 

Assange made the comments during an interview about his new book, the WikiLeaks Files. A chapter of the book refers to a cable from US Ambassador William Roebuck, who had been stationed in Damascus in 2006, about plans for overthrowing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“That plan was to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the Syrian government; to push it to overreact, to make it fear there's a coup,” RT quoted Assange on Wednesday.

He noted that the key components of the plan were fostering tensions between Shias and Sunnis, creating and promoting rumors and exaggerations “that are known to be false” against Iran with the help of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

He emphasized that this particular cable was “quite concerning” as the US plans for the region were “all hanging out” in it. He added that in order to understand what is happening in and around Syria, regional alliances must be examined.

    “Part of the problem in Syria is that you have a number of US allies surrounding it, principally Saudi and Qatar that are funneling in weapons. Turkey as well [is] a very serious actor. [They] each have their own hegemonic ambitions in the region. Israel also, no doubt, if Syria sufficiently destabilized, it might be in a position where it can keep the Golan Heights forever, or even advance that territory,” he said.

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting militants operating inside the country.

About 250,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced so far due to the crisis in the country.

Assange has also been under investigation in the US since his website WikiLeaks released several US military and diplomatic documents in 2010. He has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 and has secured political asylum from the South American country after he lost a legal battle against extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault. It is believed that Assange’s extradition is a cover for sending him to the US, where he is wanted over the release of thousands of classified US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on his whistleblower website.

Key passages of the document:
-- Possible Actions: -- Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG,s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria.

Full document:
1. (S) Summary. The SARG ends 2006 in a much stronger position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. However, Bashar Asad's growing self-confidence )- and reliance on this small clique -- could lead him to make mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new opportunities. For example, Bashar,s reaction to the prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. Additionally, Bashar,s reported preoccupation with his image and how he is perceived internationally is a potential liability in his decision making process. We believe Bashar,s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising. These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle. End Summary. 2. (S) As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some ways stronger than he has in two years. The country is economically stable (at least for the short term), internal opposition the regime faces is weak and intimidated, and regional issues seem to be going Syria,s way, from Damascus, perspective. Nonetheless, there are some long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his inner circle. Regime decision-making is limited to Bashar and an inner circle that often produces poorly thought-out tactical decisions and sometimes emotional approaches, such as Bashar,s universally derided August 15 speech. Some of these vulnerabilities, such as the regime,s near-irrational views on Lebanon, can be exploited to put pressure on the regime. Actions that cause Bashar to lose balance and increase his insecurity are in our interest because his inexperience and his regime,s extremely small decision-making circle make him prone to diplomatic stumbles that can weaken him domestically and regionally. While the consequences of his mistakes are hard to predict and the benefits may vary, if we are prepared to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that may open up, we may directly impact regime behavior where it matters--Bashar and his inner circle. 3. (S) The following provides our summary of potential vulnerabilities and possible means to exploit them: -- Vulnerability: -- THE HARIRI INVESTIGATION AND THE TRIBUNAL: The Hariri investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal -- has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of the embarrassment the investigation causes. Rationally, the regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, in extreme cases by engineering "suicides.8 But it seems the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its international reputation are put in question. Fiercely-held sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities. We should seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation of the tribunal. -- Possible action: -- PUBLICITY: Publicly highlighting the consequences of the ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal DAMASCUS 00005399 002 OF 004 angst and may lead him to act irrationally. The regime has deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a tribunal -- or Brammertz accusations even against lower-echelon figures -- would prompt. The Mehlis accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains in Bashar's inner circle. While the family got back together, these splits may lie just below the surface. -- Vulnerability: -- THE ALLIANCE WITH TEHRAN: Bashar is walking a fine line in his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests. Bashar's decision to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a manifestation of Bashar's sensitivity to the Arab optic on his Iranian alliance. -- Possible action: -- PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. -- Vulnerability: -- THE INNER CIRCLE: At the end of the day, the regime is dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar Asad,s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. Corruption is a great divider and Bashar's inner circle is subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and corruption. For example, it is generally known that Maher Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible. He has no scruples in his feuds with family members or others. There is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power. -- Possible Action: -- ADDITIONAL DESIGNATIONS: Targeted sanctions against regime members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most elements of Syrian society. But the way designations are applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle weaker rather than drive its members closer together. The designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation and was the subject of considerable discussion in the business community here. While the public reaction to corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of corruption in the inner circle have resonance. We should look for ways to remind the public of our previous designations. -- Vulnerability: -- THE KHADDAM FACTOR: Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets. -- Possible Action: DAMASCUS 00005399 003 OF 004 -- We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors. Vulnerability: -- DIVISIONS IN THE MILITARY-SECURITY SERVICES: Bashar constantly guards against challenges from those with ties inside the military and security services. He is also nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like Rif,at Asad and Khaddam. The inner circle focuses continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties to the security services who have axes to grind. -- Possible Action: -- ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif,at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction. Vulnerability: -- REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS-OTHER CORRUPT ELITES: Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism -- would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. Revealing Asad family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect. -- Possible Action: -- HIGHLIGHTING FAILURES OF REFORM: Highlighting failures of reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly embarrassing and de-legitimizing. Comparing and contrasting puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East would also embarrass and irritate Bashar. -- Vulnerability: -- THE ECONOMY: Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the country,s university graduates. Oil accounts for 70 percent of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but production is in steady decline. By 2010 Syria is expected to become a net importer of oil. Few experts believe the SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected economic dislocations. -- DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF: Syria has enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf. -- Vulnerability: -- THE KURDS: The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. There are few threats that loom larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds. In what DAMASCUS 00005399 004 OF 004 is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria. -- Possible Action: -- HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society,s skepticism of Kurdish objectives. -- Vulnerability: -- Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links to Al-Qaeda. With the killing of the al-Qaida leader on the border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG,s policies in Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen to be coming home to roost. -- Possible Actions: -- Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG,s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. 4. (S) CONCLUSION: This analysis leaves out the anti-regime Syrian Islamists because it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the threat within Syria that such groups pose. They are certainly a long-term threat. While it alludes to the vulnerabilities that Syria faces because of its alliance with Iran, it does not elaborate fully on this topic. The bottom line is that Bashar is entering the new year in a stronger position than he has been in several years, but those strengths also carry with them -- or sometimes mask ) vulnerabilities. If we are ready to capitalize, they will offer us opportunities to disrupt his decision-making, keep him off-balance, and make him pay a premium for his mistakes. ROEBUCK

Thursday, September 17, 2015

General Austin: Only '4 or 5' US-Trained Syrian Rebels Fighting ISIS

    Thursday, September 17, 2015   No comments
‘4 or 5’ U.S.-trained Syrian rebels fighting ISIS

 General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command leading the war on ISIS, told Congress today that only "four or five" of the first 54 U.S.trained moderate Syrian fighters remain in the fight against ISIS.

Christine Wormuth, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there are currently between 100 and 120 fighters in a program that was slated to have trained 5,400 fighters in its first 12 months.

Austin told the panel that goal was not going to be met and that options are being explored about how to retool the program which was intended to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. So far, $42 million has been spent to develop the $500 million program which began training in April.

 The first 54 graduates of the program were re-inserted into northern Syria in July and were quickly attacked by the Al Nusra Front, the dominant Islamist rebel group in Syria. Though the attack was repelled with U.S. airstrikes, it was characterized as a major setback for the viability of the progam. When Austin was asked how many trained fighters remained in the fight he responded "it's a small number," before adding "the ones that are in the fight, we're talking four or five."


A U.S. official has told ABC News that the initial group of 54 fighters was not effective from the time they re-entered Syria

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Civilians in Yemen and human rights organizations accuse Saudi Arabia and the U.S. of war crimes

    Sunday, September 13, 2015   No comments
Of the many perils Yemen’s civilians have faced during the last six months of war, with starvation looming and their cities crumbling under heavy weapons, none have been as deadly as the coalition airstrikes. What began as a Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthis, the rebel militia movement that forced Yemen’s government from power, has become so broad and vicious that critics accuse the coalition of collectively punishing people living in areas under Houthi control.

Errant coalition strikes have ripped through markets, apartment buildings and refugee camps. Other bombs have fallen so far from any military target — like the one that destroyed Mr. Razoom’s factory — that human rights groups say such airstrikes amount to war crimes. More than a thousand civilians are believed to have died in the strikes, the toll rising steadily with little international notice or outrage.

Rather than turning more Yemenis against the Houthis, though, the strikes are crystallizing anger in parts of the country against Saudi Arabia and its partners, including the United States. The Obama administration has provided military intelligence and logistical assistance to the coalition, and American weapons have been widely used in the air campaign. Human Rights Watch has found American-manufactured cluster munitions in the fields of Yemeni farmers. Near the site of airstrikes that killed 11 people in a mosque, researchers with Amnesty International saw an unexploded, 1,000-pound American bomb. The United States is finalizing a deal to provide more weapons to Saudi Arabia, including missiles for its F-15 fighter jets...


Friday, September 11, 2015

Why Gulf States Refuse to Accept Syrian Refugees

    Friday, September 11, 2015   No comments
According to a report by Amnesty International, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council offered zero formal resettlement slots to Syrians by the end of 2014.
Rights groups point out that those countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — with wealth amassed from oil, gas, and finance, collectively have far more resources than the two Arab states that have taken in the most Syrians: Jordan and Lebanon. The Gulf states are Arabic-speaking, have historic ties to Syria and some are embroiled in the current crisis through their support for insurgent groups.

“The missing linkage in this tragic drama is the role of Arab countries, specifically the Gulf countries,” says Fadi al-Qadi, a regional human rights expert in Jordan. “These states have invested money, supported political parties and factions, funded with guns, weapons et cetera, and engaged in a larger political discourse around the crisis.”


Thursday, September 10, 2015

What the Arab World Can Learn from Oman

    Thursday, September 10, 2015   No comments
Earlier this year, the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) released a report on foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. Of the 20,000 counted by ICSR, most hailed from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and countries of the former Soviet Union. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia topped the list with a combined 3,000-5,500. However, there has not been one reported case of an Omani fighting on the battlefields of Iraq or Syria.

As the only Arab nation that has not had any of its natives join the ranks of Daesh ("Islamic State"), some analysts point to Oman's signing of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and Muscat's establishment of an Anti-Money Laundering (AML)/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) system, which, according to the Financial Actions Task Force, is compliant with international standards.

Daesh's reported failure to recruit a single Omani -- or to inspire "lone wolf" attacks in the sultanate--must be analyzed, however, within the context of Oman's foreign policy and social norms. Unlike other Gulf Arab monarchies, hardline Wahhabism/Salafism is not a pillar of Muscat's foreign policy, which has instead emphasized diplomatic engagement with all actors in the region and a rejection of extremism in all forms. Consequently, Oman does not face blowback on the scale as other Arab states which have sponsored intolerant teachings and supported hardline Salafist militias in Syria and beyond.

During the 8th century, the Omanis of the interior adopted Ibadi Islam -- a sect distinct from Sunnism and Shi'ism. Ibadi Islam, which predates both the Sunni and Shi'ite denominations, is an extant of the Khārijite movement (Islam's first subgroup). Oman is the world's only Ibadi-majority country and while the sect has its followers in Zanzibar and the Maghreb, three-quarters of the world's Ibadi Muslims are Omani.

Ibadism is frequently described as a conservative yet tolerant sect that emphasizes the "rule of the just" and rejects violence as a means to political ends. As Ibadism constitutes a key pillar of Oman's national identity, the sultanate's foreign policy appears to reflect the sect's moderating influence on Omani society. As Jeffrey A. Lefebvre put it, "Agreeable disagreement with friends and peaceful compromise with enemies would appear to be consistent with Ibadi thought in the conduct of foreign policy."

The Ibadi sect's emphasis on tolerance and moderation is underscored by the accommodations that Oman's leadership provides the 25 percent of the population that is not Ibadi. Oman's legal system offers extensive protection to religious minorities (Hindus, Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, etc.)

Rhetoric that promotes sectarian strife is not only unpopular in Oman. It is simply not tolerated. Under the Basic Law, religious discrimination is prohibited and all individuals are free to practice religious rites as long as they do not disrupt the public order. The crime of "defaming" any religion or inciting sectarian hatred is punishable with a prison sentence of up to ten years. Posting messages online that "might prejudice public order or religious values" can land one in prison for a year, along with a fine of USD 2,600. Although Oman's Personal Status and Family Legal Code strips a father who converts from Islam--the official religion of Oman--of his paternal rights, apostasy is not criminal. This is in significant contrast to Saudi Arabia, where public beheadings of people found guilty of apostasy and corporal punishment for those guilty of blasphemy are common occurrence.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia -- where the kingdom's three million Shi'ite Muslims and 1.5 million Christian expatriates have no formal Shi'ite mosques or churches -- Oman permits the existence of Sunni and Shi'ite mosques, Hindu temples, Christian churches and Sikh gurdwaras. Ibadi, Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims pray together in the same mosques and Muslims can enter Hindu temples and Christian churches (even if that is a rare occurrence). According to the U.S. State Department's Oman 2012 International Religious Freedom Report, "there were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination [in Oman] based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice."

Whereas some political and religious leaders in a number of Arab states have played off sectarian hatred to urge their countries' youth to fight in Iraq and Syria, such rhetoric has virtually no appeal among Omanis who are not indoctrinated with the intolerant teachings of Wahhabism in contrast to large segments of other MENA countries.

Point of View from China: Despite refugee crisis, wrangle over Syria sadly continues

    Thursday, September 10, 2015   No comments
By Sun Xiaobo

A wave of mainly Syrian refugees has overwhelmed European countries and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced on Wednesday plans to distribute about 120,000 additional asylum seekers. But meanwhile, the US, which has been shielded from the situation due to its geographic advantages, continued to wrestle with Russia over the Syrian issue.

Amid recent allegations of a Russian military buildup in Syria, the US asked Bulgaria and Greece to deny permission to Russian military transport planes bound for Syria to fly over their territories. US Secretary of State John Kerry even called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, warning that Russian actions could "risk confrontation" with the US-led coalition.

The burgeoning refugee crisis has prompted reflection. It is rooted in the attempt by the US and its Western allies to topple the Assad regime, which has plunged the country into long-term chaos and fostered the rampant Islamic State (IS). More than four years of civil war has killed more than 300,000 Syrian people, displaced over 7.6 million and made 4 million flee the war-torn country.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hungarian nationalist TV camera operator filmed kicking refugee children

    Wednesday, September 09, 2015   No comments

A camera operator for a Hungarian nationalist television channel closely linked to the country’s far-right Jobbik party has been filmed kicking two refugee children and tripping up a man at the border hotspot of Rőszke on Tuesday. 

Petra László of N1TV was filming a group of refugees running away from police officers, when a man carrying a child in his arms ran in front of her. László stuck her leg out in front of the man, causing him to fall on the child he was carrying. He turned back and remonstrated with László, who continued filming.

A 20-second video of the scene was posted on Twitter by Stephan Richter, a reporter for the German television channel RTL and soon went viral, leading to the creation of a Facebook group “The Petra László Wall of Shame”.

Hungary’s leading news website Index had also caught László kicking a young girl and boy. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

GCC nations will continue to drop bombs "until [they] purge Yemen of the scum"... Qatar sends 1,000 ground troops to Yemen

    Monday, September 07, 2015   No comments

“Our revenge shall not take long,” Emirati media quoted Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as warning. “We will press ahead until we purge Yemen of the scum."

 Delivering on a promise to quickly avenge their heaviest ever military loss, UAE jets have pounded Houthi positions in Yemen, hitting many civilians, in the “most violent” air raid since the Saudi-led bombardment campaign began six months ago.

The airstrikes in Yemen on Sunday were the heaviest since the Arab coalition intervened in the Yemeni conflict to reinstate power of their allied President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi who had been deposed by Houthi rebels.

The heavy air raids by the United Arab Emirates jets on Houthi positions in Yemen coincided with the funeral of the 45 UAE soldiers who were killed in Houthi rocket attack on Friday. The incident, in which 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis servicemen also lost their lives, became the deadliest day for the coalition forces, and UAE’s own military history.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Wealthy Gulf Nation Official: "We should never allow refugees in our country"

    Sunday, September 06, 2015   No comments
Humanitarian crisis: Syrian child washed ashore
The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf have some the world’s highest per capita incomes. Their leaders speak passionately about the plight of Syrians, and their state-funded news media cover the Syrian civil war without cease.

Yet as millions of Syrian refugees languish elsewhere in the Middle East and many have risked their lives to reach Europe or died along the way, Gulf nations have agreed to resettle only a surprisingly small number of refugees.
Protesters accuse Saudi King of committing war crimes

As the migration crisis overwhelms Europe and after images of a drowned Syrian toddler crystallized Syrian desperation, humanitarian groups are increasingly accusing the Arab world’s richest nations of not doing enough to help out.

Accenting that criticism are the deep but shadowy roles countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia have played in Syria by bankrolling rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

And wealthy Gulf citizens — with or without their governments’ knowledge — have helped fund the rise of Syria’s jihadists, according to American officials.

Kuwaiti Official: "We Should Never Allow Refugees in our Country" 


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Obama to assure Saudi king of U.S. help to counter Iranian threat

    Thursday, September 03, 2015   No comments
Saudi Arabia: ISIL in color
ISR comment: Obama to assure Saudi king of U.S. help to counter Iranian threat; and who will assure Yemen, Lebanon,  and other neighboring countries against Saudi actual threats?

President Barack Obama will assure Saudi King Salman of the U.S. commitment to help counter any Iranian security threat, White House officials said on Wednesday, despite concern among Gulf allies that a new nuclear deal could empower Tehran in the region.

Obama, hosting Salman on Friday on the king's first U.S. visit since ascending to the throne in January, will seek to allay the fears of Washington’s most important Arab partner that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would allow it to act in destabilizing ways.

The White House talks will come less than two weeks before a possible U.S. congressional vote on the nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran, Riyadh’s regional rival. The Obama administration wants to use the visit to shore up relations with Saudi Arabia after a period of tensions.

“We understand that Saudi Arabia has concerns about what Iran could do as their economy improves from sanctions relief,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters in previewing the visit.

He said the United States believed Iran would use much of its assets, which will be unfrozen under the deal reached in July that also puts curbs on Tehran's nuclear program, to improve its battered economy.

Rhodes acknowledged there was a risk that Tehran could spend those funds on “nefarious activities”. But he said Obama would make clear the United States would do “everything that we can” to counter any Iranian threats to its neighbors.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

War on Yemen: How the Saudi-Led Coalition Is Killing Civilians

    Wednesday, September 02, 2015   No comments
Yemen’s Hidden War: How the Saudi-Led Coalition Is Killing Civilians

In March, the Saudis — aided by U.S. and British weapons and intelligence — began a bombing campaign in an attempt to push back the Houthis, who they see as a proxy for Iran. Since then, from the northern province of Saada to the capital Sanaa, from the central cities of Taiz and Ibb to the narrow streets at the heart of Aden, scores of airstrikes have hit densely populated areas, factories, schools, civilian infrastructure and even a camp for displaced people.

From visiting some 20 sites of airstrikes and interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, survivors and relatives of those killed in eight of these strikes in southern Yemen, this reporter discovered evidence of a pattern of Saudi-coalition airstrikes that show indiscriminate bombing o

(The number of civilian casualties has not been officially collated or recorded by NGOs or aid agencies. Only a handful of humanitarian and independent human rights organizations have had a presence on the ground in Aden, while nationwide just a small fraction of the strikes have even been independently documented. The death tolls for the eight strikes, which include five on public buses, were given by witnesses, or those who collected the dead after the strikes, and are necessarily imperfect; the total ranges from 142 up to 175.)

“The Obama administration needs urgently to explain what the U.S.’s exact role in Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign is,” said Cori Crider, strategic director at the international legal group Reprieve. “It very much looks like there is a case to answer here — not just for the Saudis, but for any Western agencies who are standing behind them. International law shuns the intentional targeting of civilians in war — and in the United States it is a serious federal crime.”

These civilian deaths occurred in strikes that account for just a handful of the thousands of bombing raids carried out by the Saudi-led coalition since its aerial campaign began. Of particular concern are the U.S.-style “double tap” strikes — where follow-up strikes hit those coming to rescue victims of an initial missile attack — which became a notorious trademark of covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. On July 6, for instance, at least 35 rescuers and bystanders were killed trying to help scores of traders hit in a strike five minutes earlier on a farmers market in Fayoush, in Yemen’s Lahj province.

Abdul Hamid Mohammed Saleh, 30, was standing on the opposite side of the road when the first missile hit the gathering of more than 100 men who had been arriving since before 6 a.m. to trade goats and sheep at the daily market. The initial blast, he told me, killed around a dozen men and injured scores more. Body parts flew through the air, and an arm landed next to Saleh. He said he began to flee, but hearing the screams of the injured he turned back and crossed the road to try and help. The second strike landed less than 30 yards from him, sending shrapnel flying into his back.


f civilians and rescuers, adding further weight to claims made by human rights organizations that some Saudi-led strikes may amount to war crimes and raising vital questions over the U.S. and Britain’s role in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.


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