Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
This video of the heads of the Baath Party in Raqqa sitting next to the leader of the Islamic Front forces that conquered the city and governor’s house, or “palace” as it is called, is instructive. Both describe how the city was conquered. The Islamic Front leader has trouble saying that he is part of the Free Syrian Army and quickly credits the conquest of Raqqa to the Islamic Front. He is given the title of “Amir” or Prince, which is a Jihadi term. The Baathists sitting in their blue blazers, look very old-school and unhappy. The difference in style and dress between the new revolutionary forces and the old authoritarian Baathists is readily apparent. The Baathists are older, well groomed, and white haired. They have all the hallmarks of functionaries who are used to authority. The fighters are young, sport beards and confident. The leader wears a turban – some believe his accent gives him away as a foreigner – but one friend writes: “the guy is Deiry [from Deir az-Zor] & everything about him is Deiry, except no mustache. ” There can be little doubt that we are witnessing a changing of the guard. The group the Emir mentions is Jabhat al-wahdet al-tahrir al-islamiyya. The Islamic Front of Unity and Liberation. I am told the militia was made up largely of local tribes and they used their connections to take the city with little fighting.
About 400,000 people have left the country since January 1 writes Antonio Guterres for the Internatinoal Herald Tribune. He said, “Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster.” Additionally, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report Tuesday depicting the collapse of Syria’s education system. About one-fifth of the country’s schools have been damaged from fighting, while others are being used as shelters for civilians who have been displaced by the conflict. About 2 million people are estimated to be internally displaced. Schools holding classes are severely overcrowded, and many teachers have not been reporting to work.
According to a 2010 paper sponsored by Stanford University, nearly 40 percent of Syrian youth ages 15 to 24 dropped out of school before the ninth grade. And many Syrian youth, particularly women, faced crippling unemployment rates.
Major offensive in Daraa Governorate and area near Golan
The area around Daraa near the Golan Heights is being conquered by Free Syria Forces. While most attention is being paid to the north of Syria, a major push by militias in the south is unfolding. Videos by this same guy depicting conquests in the governorate of Deraa and interviews with fighters have been posted.
Here is a map of the region in question
2013-03-06 By Donna Abu-Nasr
* Rebel fighters demand withdrawal of Syrian army from
outskirts of village of Jamla:
Yesterday we posted video, reportedly taken in Daraa province, that showed the Islamist “Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade” executing a group of prisoners of war. Today, the group has released a video of fighters standing in front of a convoy of UN trucks. They say they have captured the UN workers and they are demanding that Bashar al Assad’s forces leave the area.
Qatar lectures Kerry on arming Syrian rebels
By Anne Gearan
DOHA, Qatar — Qatar, which is widely believed to be providing weapons to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gently lectured visiting Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Tuesday about American reluctance to get more involved in the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000.
After two years, 1 million refugees, and more than 70,000 dead, some Syrians — and one American president — are still looking to protect their own interests rather than save a country…. Burn the cards. It’s time to go all in.
Low on ammo, rebels drive in northern Syria slows
By STEVE NEGUS | Associated Press
Iraqis Call for U.S. Military Aid After Nusra-Linked Assault on ‘Innocent Syrians’ By Roy Gutman | McClatchy Newspapers
Western Outsourcing of Regime Change in Syria May Mean Chaos By Moritz Pieper and Octavius Pinkard | The Daily Star
Al-Qaeda’s Syrian Revival, a Lesson for Egypt By Hamad Al-Majid | Asharq Alawsat
Kerry Says Administration Backs Mideast Efforts to Arm Syrian Rebels
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
(New York Times) — DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Obama administration supports efforts by Middle Eastern nations to send arms to the opposition in Syria, and had had discussions with foreign officials to make sure those arms go to moderate forces rather than extremists.
Mr. Kerry’s comments were the most direct public affirmation to date that the Obama administration was supporting efforts to arm the Syrian resistance, provided that the arms are sent by other nations and that care is taken to direct them to factions the United States supports.
His comments also signal a more transparent effort to coordinate military assistance for the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. …. “There is a change in the international position and the American position,” Sheik Hamad said. “They are talking about weapons. We hope that this had happened some time ago because this would have maybe lessened the death and destruction that took place in Syria.”
A major question is whether these efforts will be enough to turn the tide against Mr. Assad.
The spread of makeshift aluminum shelters erected by Syrians now outpaces new rows of U.N. canvas tents here in chilly northern Jordan, home to one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee camps. A vast black-market bazaar has sprouted from the desert sand, where enterprising refugees hawk bottled water and other basic necessities that most fellow camp residents can’t afford.
In Syria, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter
– Peter Gelling and Tracey Shelton
It’s a vital distinction that, as evidenced by US reluctance to intervene in Syria, could influence the outcome of the conflict.
Syria Crisis: U.S., Israel Leaders Worry About Who Follows Assad
by Joshua Hersh
WASHINGTON — In a pair of speeches at the annual gathering of a major pro-Israel group, top U.S. and Israeli leaders expressed deep concerns about the civil war in Syria and indicated they worried as much about the situation that might emerge after the removal of the current regime as they have about the regime itself.
“The United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria,” said Vice President Joe Biden, during a generally warm speech before some 13,000 attendees at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). “[President Bashar] Assad has been engaging in the brutal murder of his own citizens, and our position in that regard cannot be clearer: Assad must go.”
But Biden continued, “We are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.”…
“The danger of these weapons falling into the hands of these terrorist groups is very real,” Netanyahu warned. “Terrorist groups like Hezbollah and al Qaeda are trying to seize these weapons as we speak — they’re like a pack of hyenas trying to feed off a carcass, and the carcass isn’t dead yet.”
IDLIB, Syria — It’s a vital distinction that, as evidenced by US reluctance to intervene in Syria, could influence the outcome of the conflict. So which is it? Are they really terrorists? In exclusive interviews inside Syria with several senior Islamist rebel commanders, a complicated picture emerged.
…“International backing gets messy if you can’t identify an opposition you can trust to carry on international interests,” Wagner said. “Yes, Assad is not a good guy, but the alternative may be worse. Better to watch what you ask for.”Western counterterrorism agencies also worry about the training men like Yousef Topprakaya — an Australian bricklayer who joined the Syrian uprising — may be receiving on Syria’s front lines.
“Like a pack of hyenas feeding off a carcass and that carcass is not finished yet. ”
After 27 days of pleading, the “valve was opened,” Idris told TIME in an interview at a hotel in Antakya, southern Turkey. (The command is based inside Syria, albeit close to the Turkish border.) He remains at the mercy of suppliers he declined to name but who are widely known — mainly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the blessing of Turkey and Western states. “Our brothers in the field make demands as if I have any influence over our suppliers,” Idris said. “I can’t force them to give us ammunition. If they say ‘I don’t want to give you anything,’ what can I do?”
Syria’s Many Militias: Inside the Chaos of the Anti-Assad Rebellion
By Rania AbouzeidMarch 05, 2013
The men on the ground aren’t necessarily waiting for Idris’s supplies — they have become adept at scrounging for weapons and ammunition, buying them from the regional black market or from corrupt regime soldiers, capturing war booty and making their own armaments, rockets and improvised explosives devices. Almost two years of a grinding civil war have necessitated such skills.
But if the Military Command is to successfully stitch together the patchwork of factions and militias that make up the rebellion, it needs some form of leverage — and the funneling of weapons and ammunition into Syria is supposed to be its modus operandi. Although there are reports of new batches of armaments being shuttled mainly via Syria’s southern border with Jordan, as well as its northern one with Turkey, Idris says it’s all not enough: “We need between 500-600 tons of ammunition a week. We get between 30-40 tons. So you do the calculations.”
So how will the Military Command succeed in imposing its authority when all of its various predecessors largely failed, and Islamist groups outside the Free Syrian Army (which itself is just a loose umbrella term) are growing in stature and influence?
It’s not just about providing material support—the promise of prestige plays a part too. Although there are Islamist Jihadi units of various shades within the Free Syrian Army, other large independent groups like the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham brigades and Jabhat al-Nusra offer the strongest Islamist units within rebel ranks. The U.S considers Jabhat a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda although the group denies this and is widely respected by other rebels for its fighting prowess. Some FSA units are joining the Ahrar and Jabhat, not just because their networks of support seem to be more consistent, but because it has come to be perceived as a kind of graduation or a promotion, an acknowledgement that a particular FSA unit or an individual fighter is good enough to become a part of the most respected, most disciplined rank of fighters. It doesn’t hurt that the Ahrar and Jabhat turn fighters away, often because they aren’t considered pious enough, making acceptance into the groups a form of achievement…..
U.S. policy on Syria is self-defeating
March 02, 2013 12:50 AM
By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star
The U.S. is reluctant to offer direct military aid to the rebels because it fears weapons might fall into the hands of groups the United States does not like, especially Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front or smaller groups with alleged affinities to Al-Qaeda that have grown rapidly in the past year and now spearhead military advances in parts of Syria. Presumably, that is because the U.S. does not want to arm Islamist or other unfriendly groups who might agitate against the U.S. or its allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia or Jordan.
That sounds like a reasonable policy, but in reality it is a total failure. In fact it brings about precisely that outcome that Washington says it wishes to avoid – the rise to prominence, or even dominance, of those Islamist groups the U.S. dislikes. So as the U.S. speaks boldly about bringing down the Assad regime, but does little on the critical military front to help bring this about, Islamist and other rebel groups whom the U.S. dislikes have received plenty of arms and made sustained gains militarily. They have therefore won the confidence of ordinary people across the land, enhancing the likelihood that these groups will dominate the post-Assad system of power.
The wiser policy for the U.S. and other foreign states that oppose the Assad regime is simply to provide plenty of arms and other forms of military assistance (such as satellite intelligence) to groups it is already dealing with, such as the Syrian National Coalition, the Syrian National Council or the Free Syrian Army. If some weapons slip through to other groups, so be it – because withholding U.S. arms is not slowing down the acquisition of weapons by the Islamist and other groups the U.S. dislikes. American aid to the mainstream rebels, in turn, will enhance the likelihood of these groups dominating the post-Assad governance system, and of cordial ties between the U.S. and the new government that will arise in Damascus.
American officials have been naive in withholding arms and criticizing rising Syrian Islamists, while expecting everything to work out for the best in the end. In reality, Washington may wake up to a situation in a post-Assad Syria in which it is ignored, criticized and marginalized for not helping the rebels when they urgently needed military help. This may facilitate the dominance over Syria of Islamists and other “bad guys” in American eyes. It is hard to think of a more simplistic, ineffective and counterproductive policy than the one the U.S. is now pursuing.
The new normal in Baghdad
by Peter Harling
After violence that shattered hundreds of thousands of lives and left nearly everyone with a tragic story to tell, life in Iraq has settled into a strange normality — with no discernible direction or clear future. “How do you make sense of the last ten years?” said a novelist, who is trying […]
“Iraq or Maliki! Iraq or Maliki!” shout Sunni Arab demonstrators as they block roads in western Iraq in protest against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and discrimination against their community. Demonstrations by Sunni, in their tens of …
How Michel Kilo Negotiated a Tenuous Truce in Ras Al Ayn By Omar Hossino
Kurdish and Arab militias waged a bittkilled nearly 300 people. It took a diverse group of men and women, Kurds and Arabs, Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, tribal leaders and urbanites to broker Feb. 17’s tenuous peace.
“We tried to have all sects represented,” said Ata Kaml Ata, a member of the Committee for the Protection of the Civil Peace and Revolution, a new group formed by Kilo…..“Our next priority is in Houran [as the southern plains of Daraa are known], regarding the kidnapped people between Houran and Swaida,” said committee member Ata.er battle for three months in the northern city of Ras Al Ayn, in Hassakeh province. Now, they’ve reached a truce that has managed to last into a third week, marking an early success for a nascent group of peacekeepers led by famed Christian dissident Michel Kilo.
Syria’s northern towns and villages, with their complex ethnic and religious divisions, are a tinderbox for internecine fighting. They contain fault lines between ethnic groups, Kurds and Arabs, and among competing forces within each group — battle lines that could trigger a disintegration of the Syrian state. Ras Al Ayn is a microcosm of them, arguably the most complex town in the region. The months of fighting in Ras Al Ayn
Barack Obama, Parochial Leader for Parochial Nation: Fouad Ajami
By Fouad Ajami
March 5 (Bloomberg) — It wasn’t Barack Obama’s doing — at least not fully. The crowds in Paris and Berlin, and the Muslims in Cairo and Karachi, eager to be done with President George W. Bush, took the new standard-bearer of American power as one of their own, a cosmopolitan man keen to break with the embattled certitude of the Bush years.
STATEMENT BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON SYRIA March 5, 2013 Washington, D.C.
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