Putin Applies MH17 False-Flag Template To Syria’s Gas Attack To Convince Russian Public

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East where the ongoing conflict in Syria was discussed on April 12, 2017 in New York City. It is expected that the Security Council will vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Forbes, by Paul Roderick Gregory, April 13, 2017:

It should be a piece of cake for the Kremlin to convince the Russian people that the massacre of civilians by sarin gas in Idlibe, Syria was a false-flag operation undertaken to discredit Putin and his client, Bashar al-Assad. The rest of the world will believe the findings of international investigators that Syrian jets dropped bombs on the Syrian town, killing some 80 men, women and children with chemical poison gas. Putin’s job, however, is not to convince the world– but the Russian people — that client Assad is a victim of a vast conspiracy mounted by a combination of agents from the U.S., ISIS, Turkey and hostile Sunni states.

The Kremlin has already demonstrated its ability to convince the Russian people that an open-and-shut case, backed by an air-tight international investigation, was in fact a sinister U.S., CIA, NATO, Ukrainian false-flag operation to blame the Kremlin for the murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines 17 flight over occupied Donetsk territory on July 17, 2014. This Syrian business should be easy to defuse compared to MH17.

Consider the MH17 evidence: Minutes after MH17 was downed, the rebel commander boasted on social media that his missiles had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. Insurgents on the crash scene reported with shock that it was a civilian plane. Phone intercepts captured communications as the missile crew was directed to the field from which it fired the missile. Social media posted pictures of the missile system fleeing back into Russia. Forensic evidence proved that the plane was downed by a missile (and not a trailing Ukrainian jet).

Within hours of MH17, the Kremlin mounted an incessant campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence. The Russian military staged a press conference with photoshopped images, false radar readings, reports of a Ukrainian pilot admitting he had shot down the plane, and fables that MH17 was loaded with dead bodies or that the attack was an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin. As Russian denials mounted, the Dutch-based international investigations team appealed to the UN to create an international MH17 criminal tribunal to charge those Russians and rebels responsible for crimes against humanity. Russia vetoed the proposal in the Security Council, thereby indirectly admitting its guilt.

Russia’s campaign to deny the obvious paid off. Per the latest opinion poll, only 5% of Russians blame Russia and its separatist allies for MH17. Half believe MH17 was downed by Ukrainian forces, and 14% say it was Western special services. On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile and 84% hold Russia directly or indirectly responsible.

Fast forward to the Syrian gas attack: Within hours, Putin’s press secretary floated the false-flag theory (backed by the Russian defense ministry) that the Syrian air force unwittingly exploded a local chemical weapons depot as it dropped conventional bombs. The chemical weapons, per the Russian spokesman, had been brought into Idlibe from Iraq. The Assad government took up this line of argument stating the poison gas was released after its military planes dropped conventional bombs on a local terrorist arms depot, which happened to contain chemical weapons.

An investigation of these competing claims could be conducted rather quickly. A storage facility full of sarin gas could presumably be identified and detected by technical experts, and the facility would have to be in a crater caused by a Syrian bomb. If there is no evidence of a local chemical weapons storage depot, then the Russian-Syrian false flag story falls apart. Although Syria has offered international inspectors access to its Shayrat air force base, presumably they have had time to remove traces of poison gas.

Despite this simple procedure for assigning responsibility, Putin will clearly be able to convince his people that his client is being framed and that Russia is not backing a monster. Putin can cite the support of the “Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD” crowd, who argue that President Trump acted too hastily without adequate evidence. “Manchurian candidate Trump” adherents will argue that the bombing was a diversion arranged between soul mates Trump and Putin to divert attention from their conspiracies. Putin will even find allies among U.S. isolationists upset by Trump’s intervention in a foreign war.

The Kremlin had to fight the entire international community in convincing the Russian people that Russia was blameless in the shooting down of MH17. In the case of the Idlibe chemical weapons attack, Putin has a formidable army of Western skeptics on his side. Few understand that in such cases Putin’s primary objective is to keep the Russian people on his side. If he can convince the international community, so much the better. With anti-Trump supporters the world over potentially on his side, Putin has a chance of winning not only Russian minds but Western minds as well.

In their April 12 meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States agreed to a UN investigation of the Idlibe bombing. Russia will pressure its allies into a long and inconclusive exercise and will ignore results that point to blame of the Assad regime.

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Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports: Gas Attack Intended To Save Iranian/Syrian Frontline In Khan Sheikhoun Region From Breakdown

MEMRI, April 13, 2017:

Introduction

The April 4 Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, just one day after the U.S. administration changed its position vis-à-vis Syrian President Al-Assad, declaring that his removal from power was no longer a priority, raised questions regarding the underlying motive for the attack. Indeed, the initial Russian claim that the attack had been fabricated by opponents of the Syrian regime was based on its being so clearly against Syrian interests.

While it is now largely accepted that the Syrian regime carried out the attack, the motivation underlying it remains enigmatic, giving rise to conspiracy theories.

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports Provides The Explanation: To Prevent Breakdown Of Iranian/Syrian Frontline

On April 7, 2017, WarReports, an Iranian research group dedicated to monitoring and covering Iran’s role in the war in Syria and Iraq,[1] published a report on its Facebook page, explaining why the Syrian regime had carried out the gas attack.[2] It claimed that the attack had been “in support of the Iranian-affiliated ground forces, Hizbullah, and the Syrian army, all of which were stationed several kilometers behind the frontline.” According to the report, in the past three weeks there had been 21 casualties from among the IRGC forces and the Fatimiyun Afghani Shi’ite militia located in Hama.[3] The report included a map of the region, showing the retreat southward of the Iranian-backed forces from the Khan Sheikhoun region, a retreat that threatened to turn into a complete breakdown of the front. The attack, therefore, was intended to curb the rebel thrust in Khan Sheikhoun, thus preventing this breakdown.

The report further stated that hitting the civilian population in the rebel-held areas was a known tactic of the Syrian regime, intended to crush the fighting spirit of the forces and to stop their operations. This was the case in the August 2013 gas attack on Ghouta, Damascus, and the October 2015 cluster-bomb attack on the civilization population of eastern Aleppo.

It should be noted that in a recent White House intelligence briefing, officials gave the same rationale for the Syrian regime attack, without providing further details: “They were losing in a particularly important area. That’s what drove [the attack].”[4]

Map legend:

Red areas:              territory held by Iranian/Syrian-regime forces

Green areas:          territory held by the Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly JNS) armed rebels

Red circle:              Khan Sheikhoun

Red arrows:           distance from Khan Sheikhoun to the Iranian-backed forces

Black dotted line: opposition frontline prior to March 21 operations and Iranian forces retreat

Red dotted line:     current opposition frontline following the Iranian forces retreat

 

[1] https://warreports.org/about-us/; Twitter: @warreports. Facebook: Persian.war.news.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/persian.war.news/posts/1905690939688134.

[3] The website provided a link to the image of one of the IRGC members killed there. https://goo.gl/iunWwn

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/11/white-house-offers-more-proof-syrian-gas-attack-ci/.

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Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
April 11, 2017

The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

Until recently, the United States focused its attention exclusively on Sunni jihadist threats – ISIS and al-Qaida-affiliated groups. While these terrorists certainly need to be attacked, turning a blind eye to the activities of the more powerful radical Shi’ite coalition did nothing to stop the region’s destabilization. In this context, Assad’s numerous crimes against humanity went unanswered.

This helped embolden Assad to use chemical weapons. It also gave the Iranians confidence to magnify their meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and to target many other states. The end result is Iran’s enhanced ability to export its Khomeiniest Islamic fundamentalist doctrine.

That sent a troubling message to America’s regional allies, who, in the face of these threats, formed a de facto coalition of pragmatic Sunni states – a coalition that includes Israel.

On April 6, the U.S. sent a signal that something may have changed. A cruise missile attack on an Assad regime air base, in response to a savage chemical weapons massacre in Idlib, Syria, was, first and foremost, a moral response to an intolerable act of evil.

But the strike also carries a wider prospective message about Washington’s new willingness to enforce red lines against Assad and his Shi’ite allies.

Potentially, it is an indication that the U.S. is willing to use its military prowess beyond the objective of targeting ISIS, and that it recognizes that Sunni jihadists are not the only global security threat that warrants the use of military force.

Statements by senior Trump administration officials indicate that a shift has occurred. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors,” National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told Fox News Sunday.

Russia must choose between its alignment with Assad, Iran, and Hizballah, and working with the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. The firm comment was made hours before he touched down in Moscow for talks.

According to U.S. officials, the April 6 missile attack destroyed 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets. It represents the first time that Washington has taken military action against a member of the Iranian-led coalition.

The strike could evolve into a ‘dialogue of deterrence’ that the U.S. initiates against dangerous actors. These radical actors all have ‘return addresses,’ and are likely to prove responsive to cost-benefit considerations, despite their extreme ideology. They may think twice before considering further development and usage of unconventional weapons.

Washington is now able to exercise muscular diplomacy – the only kind that is effective in the Middle East – and inform all members of the Iran’s pro-Assad coalition that the deployment of unconventional weapons will not be tolerated. It can also begin to rally and strengthen the pro-American coalition of states in the Middle East, who seek to keep a lid on both ISIS and Iran.

With American officials indicating that they are “ready to do more” in Syria if necessary, signs suggest that the strike represents the start of a policy of deterrence, and leaving open future options for drawing additional red lines.

In theory, should Washington decide that Iran’s transfer of weapons and extremist Shi’ite military forces to other lands has reached unacceptable levels, or that Iran’s missile development program has gone far enough, it could call on Tehran to cease these activities. This call would carry substantially more weight following last week’s missile attack on the Syrian airbase.

The U.S. is in a better position to inform Assad and his allies that there is a limit to how far they can go in pursuing their murderous ambitions.

While the objective of creating a renewed American deterrent posture is vital, it should not be confused with plans for wider military intervention in the seemingly endless Syrian conflict.

There is little reason to believe that conventional weapons use against Syrian civilians is going to stop any time soon, or that the enormous tragedy suffered by the Syrian people is about to end.

And there is certainly no indication that the U.S. is planning to initiate large-scale military involvement in this failed state.

Hence, the missile strike should be seen for what it is: an attempt to boost American deterrence, which can then be leveraged to restrain radical actors that have, until now, been operating completely unchecked.

That is a message that will likely be heard loud and clear not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, which has not given up its long-term ambition of building nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which helped build Syria’s plutonium nuclear plant (destroyed in 2007 in a reported Israeli air strike), and which maintains close links with Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, can be expected to take note as well.

If a policy of strategic deterrence follows the strike, it could have an impact on a coalition that is not just keeping Assad’s regime alive, but spreading its radical influence in many other areas.

In Syria, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) oversees ground operations across many battlefields to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Iran has gathered and armed tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members from across the region into Syria, and manages a local force composed of 100,000 members. They fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army against Sunni rebel organizations, thereby increasing and entrenching Iranian influence.

The IRGC and its elite Quds Force are also helping to fill Hizballah’s weapons depots in Lebanon, with a vast array of surface-to-surface projectiles that are all pointed at Israel, often using Syria as an arms trafficking transit zone. Syria acts as a bridge that grants Iran access to Lebanon, and allows it to threaten both Israel and Jordan.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, is deeply concerned by Iran’s actions in Syria, as evidenced by recent comments made by King Abdullah, who told the Washington Post that “there is an attempt to forge a geographic link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah/Lebanon.” IRGC forces are stationed within a mere 45 miles from Jordan’s border, he warned, adding that any hostile forces approaching the Hashemite Kingdom “are not going to be tolerated.”

Hizballah, a Lebanese-based Iranian Shi’ite proxy, evolved into a powerful army by sending 7,000 to 9,000 of its own highly trained members into Syria’s ground war. It helped rescue the Assad regime from collapse, and took part in battles stretching from Aleppo to the Qalamoun Mountains northeast of Damascus.

Last year, the Arab League and the Sunni countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council all declared Hizballah to be a terrorist entity.

Just as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have poured into Syria, the same has happened in Iraq, where 100,000 fighters supported by Tehran fight alongside the Iraqi government forces against ISIS. The IRGC’s network extends to Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah forces, who receive Iranian assistance. Ansar Allah, a heavily armed Shi’ite military force, fires ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.

The IRGC and Hizballah have been linked to a recent large-scale terrorist plot in Bahrain.

If the message addressed in the cruise missile strike is followed up with a strategy of deterrence, addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei as much as it was addressed to Assad, the U.S. could begin projecting to the world that it recognizes the threat posed by Shi’ite jihadists as much as it takes seriously the threat from their fundamentalist Sunni equivalents.

Washington’s campaign to pressure Russia to distance itself from its Middle Eastern allies could play an important part of this message.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

Tillerson Makes Big Break From Obama’s Syria Policy

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on October 6, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with Denmark’s TV2 channel. Sana/AFP/Getty Images.

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjetti, March 30, 2016:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated the U.S. could accept President Bashar al-Assad as the leader of Syria at a meeting with Turkey’s foreign minister Thursday.

Tillerson told reporters the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” The statement reverses official U.S. government opposition to Assad, who is responsible for the deaths of nearly half a million of his own citizens. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” former President Barack Obama said in 2011.

Tillerson’s statement could also indicate that the U.S. is acquiescing to Syrian peace negotiations spearheaded by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. These negotiations exclude the U.S. and its Gulf Arab allies, who also have significant interests in Syria. The peace talks are likely part of a broader Russian attempt to asserts itself geopolitically, and appear a peer competitor to the U.S.

Bruce Jones, vice president of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, explained to the Washington Post in 2015 that calling for Assad to go is a mistake in U.S. policy. “If you call for Assad to go, you dramatically drive up the obstacles to a political settlement. If you’re not insisting on him leaving there are more options. If you say Assad must go as the outcome of a settlement he has the existential need to stop that settlement,” he explained.

The peace talks appear to center on a plan to divide Syria into three de-facto states with Assad at the helm. A leaked copy of the plans in December indicated the three sub-states would be regionally autonomous and nominally remain under the power of a federal administrative system. This federal system would retain Assad in the beginning, before a less divisive figure took the helm. Assad’s religious sect, Shiite Alawites, would remain in charge of the federal system and have their own zone of influence under the terms of the deal.

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Why Aleppo Matters: Syrian Army Just Broke Islamist Stronghold

syria-guide-mapDaily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept 8, 2016:

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is tightening the noose around the jihadi stronghold city of Aleppo, possibly his greatest victory in the Syrian civil war.

Assad’s move in Aleppo could reverse all the gains a jihadi-led coalition made last month when it broke the regime’s siege. Aleppo has become a focal point of the broader Syrian opposition and involves almost every major player except the U.S. “Pro-regime forces reinstated the siege of Eastern Aleppo City” Sept. 4, the Institute for the Study of War noted Wednesday, explaining that, “new advances demonstrated the critical role played by Russia.”

Russia is pounding opposition-held areas of Aleppo in daily airstrikes. Iran just dispatched its favorite general to help coordinate the ground offensive, and earlier this month Hezbollah sent thousands of fresh troops to fight alongside the Assad regime. The Syrian regime even flouted the international community Wednesday when it likely dropped chlorine gas on civilians.

The only realistic chance of an end to hostilities in Aleppo is a potential deal between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that Obama was considering signing a deal with Putin for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo, in exchange for military cooperation between the two countries. After months of haranguing over the details, the deal is now unlikely to come to fruition amid continued tensions between the two countries.

Syrian rebel opposition held positions inside Aleppo for nearly five years, but are unlikely to overcome Assad, Iran, and overwhelming Russian firepower. A rebel coalition led by al-Qaida-linked elements broke a government siege of Aleppo in early August, but the effort likely exhausted the military supplies of the groups. The reinstitution of a siege will deprive the group of supplies, and allow the regime and its allies to revert back to the original strategy of attrition warfare.

Despite a devastating five years of civil war, 300,000 civilians remain inside Aleppo. One humanitarian activist told Al Jazeera there are now only two bakeries in Aleppo to serve the remaining 300,000 customers.

Assad, Iran, and Russia have undertaken a concerted campaign to make the rebel position as untenable as possible, by bombing hospitals and cutting off any access to humanitarian assistance. The regime and its allies have tried to bomb as many hospitals as possible within Aleppo to cut off Rebel access to healthcare.

Cutting access to healthcare and food also makes life as miserable as possible for civilians living under rebel occupation.

The Assad regime’s strategy is to maintain control over as much of the civilian populace as possible to ensure perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and bargain with the rebel opposition for peace from a position of strength.

“It is a shame that the world in the 21st century is watching an 8,000-year-old city destroyed on the heads of its inhabitants and bombed with 200 air raids and dozens of barrel bombs daily without doing anything,” President of the Opposition Council Anas Alabdah told The Daily Beast.

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U.S.-Backed Kurds to Assad Forces: ‘Surrender or Die’

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

In a critical battle, Washington’s most effective allies in Syria turn their attention away from fighting ISIS and toward the militias of Bashar al-Assad.

The Daily Beast, by Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, Aug. 23, 2016:

HASAKAH, Syria – U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters have Syrian President Bashar Assad’s militias under siege in the northern Syrian city of Hasakah, and they are leaving them two options: “Surrender or die.”

In a conflict where alliances shift kaleidoscopically and the potential consequences of unwanted clashes are apocalyptic, this battle has raised the possibility Washington will be drawn into a direct conflict with the Syrian regime even as the Obama administration continues to focus its war effort on the forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

The Americans’ key allies in the Syrian theater, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, are now very clearly fighting both ISIS and Assad. The lines of demarcation are increasingly hard to draw in Hasakah — and above it.

On Thursday, U.S. planes scrambled over the region when Syrian Air Force SU-24 attack planes launched strikes near the city.

A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, suggested that “coalition personnel” were on the ground there. He did not get into specifics, but as we have reported previously, numerous American and European advisors are very close to the action in Syria.

“We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness,” Davis added, “and we do have the inherent right of self-defense when U.S. forces are at risk.”

Davis said this is the first time U.S. planes have been scrambled in response to Syrian bombing, and pointed out that the coalition has never before seen the Assad regime take such action against the mainly Kurdish YPG.

Only a few days ago, these Kurdish forces—in alliance with some Arab contingents backed by U.S. airstrikes and supported by U.S. and other Western special forces—played a major role taking the strategic city of Manbij away from the fighters of the so-called Islamic State.

Now very confident, seasoned and well armed, the Kurds appear about to achieve a victory not just over Assad’s beleaguered partisans in Hasakah, but by extension against his strategic backers from Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah—and Russia.

All the parties understand what a crucial turning point this represents.

Previously, the Assad regime and its supporters had acquiesced in the Kurdish operations against ISIS. Damascus was aware that the Kurds’ goal is to establish a federal autonomous (if not indeed independent from Damascus) region called Rojava along the northern Syrian frontier. That’s no secret.

But Damascus clearly thought it could address other threats first, putting its priority on crushing any remotely credible opposition, then perhaps turning on ISIS, which it initially helped foster, then taking care of the Kurdish problem one way or the other.

The Hasakah fighting has brought that tacit agreement to an end.

Moscow, hoping a deal might yet be made for a truce, sent a delegation last week to try to broker a ceasefire, but there was none to be had.

The Kurds now reject any form of agreement and demand regime forces leave the province of Hasakah altogether, giving the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), complete control.

Note that Hasakah province is rich in oil and gas resources. Prior to the Syrian war, nearly half of Syria’s oil came from here. If Rojava is to survive, that oil and gas will be an important source of income, and the Kurds are not inclined to give it up.

The Assad regime “is increasingly weak and the regime’s external supporters have little ability to support the regime’s armed forces there,” Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, told The Daily Beast. And the events of the last couple of days would seem to bear that out.

When the Russian-brokered truce failed, even as the Syrian regime jets started to hit Kurdish positions and American or other coalition aircraft took to the air to warn them off, the Kurdish offensive continued.

Here in Hasakah, it’s clear the fighting between the YPG and the regime forces is much more intense than skirmishes in April. This time the battle has gone on for six days.

YPG officials say there are only a few pockets of Syrian government control left in a municipality that used to have a population of 200,000 people, and those holdouts are low on supplies.

“They used to say we are friends with the regime, but we are not a friend, we are supported by the people,” local commander Loqman told me before manning a heavy machine-gun on a pick-up truck and blasting away at government positions.

On television Sunday, the exhausted looking Syrian governor of Hasakah, Mohammad Za’al Ali, desperately pleaded with the Kurds to stop the fighting.

“Kurds in Hasakah are Syrians and cannot operate without the government,” he insisted on Kurdistan24, one of the few local TV stations operating in northern Syria. “Kurds cannot impose their control by force.”

But local commander Loqman said that the Kurds would not stop the fight. “What’s the job of the regime here? They have killed thousands of people, made millions of people homeless,” he said. “We should kick them out, that is my view.”

He also complained about the presence of foreign Shia militia fighters backed by Iran. These Syrian lands are his home, he said. “What is the work of Hezbollah here; what is the work of Russia here to kill civilians by airstrikes in Aleppo?”

In Hasakah’s dusty streets, local fighters wearing black scarves were keeping their heads down.

The town has a large Christian population, and one of the fighters, a Kurd with green eyes, wore a defiant white t-shirt: “Blasphemer,” it said. He also wore several crosses around his neck as he moved toward the front line. Christians fleeing the city center had given crucifixes to fighters, a local commander said.

Sniper fire is a major concern, and there’s a common belief the sharpshooters are foreigners.

“Iranian snipers hit civilians, no matter if they are Kurdish or Arabs,” says a 22-year-old Arab who goes by the pseudonym Adam. “There are Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Lebanese from Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” he said, although I was not able to confirm this on this ground.

Dozens of Arabs from Hasakah and other towns have joined the Kurdish forces, but often won’t talk on the record for fear of government reprisals against their families in areas still controlled by the regime.

“I joined to protect our honor, because the Syrian regime is oppressing the people, killing civilians, and hitting them with air strikes,” Adam said.

On Sunday afternoon there were no Syrian airstrikes and fighting slowed down, with occasional sniper and heavy machinegun fire. “From yesterday until now the airstrikes did not hit us,” said Loqman.

“The fighting stopped now because there are civilians; we most stop the war because there are civilians,” said Saydo, the other local commander, who speaks English. “But in the night the fight will begin again,” he said as we talked near the city’s central market.

Hussam Hassan, 50, a Kurdish civilian who was wearing a pink towel on his shoulders to deal with the sweat from the blazing heat, said he hoped to return to his house again soon.

“We flee because of the security,” he said near a Kurdish police checkpoint. “We are afraid, and I have children. There are airstrikes, artillery, and bullets.” He left by taxi to a village 15 kilometers away.

Sihanouk Dibo, a Kurdish official of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) accused the Syrian government of attacking the Kurds in agreement with Iran and Turkey, which opposes the declaration of a federal system for the Kurds and is hostile to the YPG/PYD, which is very closely allied with the insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operating insider Turkey.

“They don’t want a democratic federal region from Qamisli until Afrin,” Dibo said, referring to two major towns in northern Syria. They don’t want us to cut all the roads for terrorists,” Dibo said, noting that many ISIS recruits from abroad initially came into Syria through Turkey.

On Sunday evening, as predicted, heavy fighting resumed again in the city center and continues now, with the Kurds steadily advancing against Syrian government fighters.

“The regime has only a few points left, and is running out of water and food,” Ismael Resho, a YPG commander told The Daily Beast.

The battle may be ending for now, but the kaleidoscope continues to turn, and the war goes on.

Who should rule Syria? Nobody

Aleppo, Syria (Photo: Getty)

Aleppo, Syria (Photo: Getty)

Or at least not all of it. Grasp that and you can see a clear strategy for the West

The Spectator, by Jonathan Spyer, Aug. 18, 2016:

The long civil war in Syria is still far from conclusion. Any real possibility of rebel victory ended with the entry of Russian forces last autumn — but while the initiative is now with the Assad regime, the government’s forces are also far from a decisive breakthrough. So who, if anyone, should the UK be backing in the Syrian slaughterhouse, and what might constitute progress in this broken and burning land?

It ought to be fairly obvious why a victory for the Assad regime would be a disaster for the West. Assad, an enthusiastic user of chemical weapons against his own people, is aligned with the most powerful anti–western coalition in the Middle East. This is the alliance dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shia militias of Iraq, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. If Assad won, the Iranian alliance would consolidate its domination of the entire land area between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea — a major step towards regional hegemony for Iran. So an Assad victory would be good for Islamism — at least of the Shia variety — and bad for world peace. It should be prevented.

The controversy begins when one starts to look at the alternative to an Assad victory.

In November last year, David Cameron claimed to have identified 70,000 ‘moderate’ rebels ready to challenge Islamic State in the east of Syria. That figure was a myth. Yours truly was among the very first western journalists to spend time in Syria with the rebels. I recently returned from a trip to southern Turkey, where I interviewed fighters and commanders of the main rebel coalitions. With no particular joy but a good deal of confidence, I can report that the Syrian rebellion today is dominated in its entirety by Sunni Islamist forces. And the most powerful of these are the most radical.

The most potent rebel coalition in Syria today is called Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). It has three main component parts: Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of the Levant), a Salafist jihadi group; Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the official franchise of al–Qaeda in Syria, now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham; and Faylaq al-Sham (Legion of the Levant), whose ideology derives from the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Sunni political Islam.

Jaish al-Fatah dominates the main rebel-controlled area in Aleppo, Idleb, Latakia and northern Hama. Its various components seek the establishment of a state dominated by Islamic sharia law. There is no reason to suppose that Nusra’s recent renunciation of its al-Qaeda affiliation was anything more than tactical. When one speaks of the Syrian rebellion today, one is speaking of Jaish al-Fatah. The small ‘Free Syrian Army’ groups that still exist do so only with Jaish al-Fatah’s permission, and only for as long as they serve some useful purpose for it. In the now extremely unlikely event of the Islamist rebels defeating the Assad regime and reuniting Syria under their rule, the country would become a Sunni Islamist dictatorship.

So if there is no British or western interest in a victory for either the regime or the rebels, what should be done with regard to Syria?

First of all, it is important to understand that ‘Syria’ as a unitary state no longer exists. A rebel commander whom I interviewed in the border town of Kilis in June told me: ‘Syria today is divided into four projects, none of which is strong enough to defeat all the others. These are the Assad regime, the rebellion, the Kurds and the Islamic State.’ This is accurate.

So the beginning of a coherent Syria policy requires understanding that the country has fragmented into enclaves, and is not going to be reunited in the near future, if at all.

Various external powers have elected to back one or another element in this landscape. The Russians and Iranians are backing the regime. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the Islamist rebels.

The West, too, has established a successful and effective patron-client relationship — with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Dominated by the Kurdish YPG, but including also Arab tribal forces such as the Sanadid militia, this is the force which is reducing the dominions of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, in partnership with western air power and special forces.

In contrast to the sometimes farcical attempts to identify partners among the Syrian Sunni rebels, the partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces works. Weaponry does not get passed on to or taken by radical jihadi groups, because the SDF is at war with such groups. Training and assistance produces a united force with a single chain of command. And this force captures ground and frees Syrians living under the vicious rule of Isis.

On the commonsense principle that success should be built on, it is clear that the alliance with the SDF ought to be strengthened and grown. The West is committed, correctly, to the destruction of the Islamic State. The pace of the war against Isis needs to be stepped up. As witnessed in Nice, Würz-burg, Normandy and elsewhere in recent weeks, Isis is an entity that will make war on the West until it is destroyed.

The destruction of the Islamic State by a strengthened SDF would lead to control of Syria east of the Euphrates by a western client of proven anti-terrorist credentials. Further west, the truncated enclaves of Assad and of the Sunni Arab rebels would remain. It is possible that, over time, the fragmentation of Syria would be formalised. But it’s equally likely that the various component parts would remain in de facto existence for the foreseeable future.

What matters is that three outcomes be avoided: the Assad regime should not be permitted to reunite Syria under its rule, the Islamist rebels should similarly not be allowed to establish a jihadi state in the country, and the Islamic State should not be permitted to remain in existence. By strengthening the alliance with the SDF, utilising it and its allies to take Raqqa and destroy Isis in the east, and then allowing its component parts to establish their rule in eastern and northern Syria, these objectives can be attained. For a change, the US and its allies have found an unambiguously anti-Islamist and anti-jihadi force in the Middle East which has a habit of winning its battles. This is a success which should be reinforced.

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