Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
Militant jihadists’ rise in Arab world imperils region’s stability
By Ernesto Londoño and Liz Sly, Monday, October 15
Fethi Belaid/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – An Islamist waves a Salafist flag reading ‘there is only one God’ during a rally in Kairouan, Tunisia. Hundreds of Salafist Muslims were gathered in Kairouan for “the second national congress of Ansar al-Sharia,” one of the most radical movements of the Salafist movement in Tunisia.
The proliferation of militant jihadi groups across the Arab world is posing a new threat to the region’s stability, presenting fresh challenges to emerging democracies and undermining prospects for a smooth transition in Syria should the regime fall.
From Egypt’s Sinai desert to eastern Libya and the battlegrounds of Syria’s civil war, the push for greater democracy made possible by revolts in the Middle East and North Africa has also unleashed new freedoms that militants are using to preach, practice and recruit.
The rise of militant jihadists in the region is one of the reasons that Western policymakers have been reluctant to arm the opposition in Syria as the country’s 19-month-old conflict intensifies.
Report: Jihadists Receiving Arms Meant for Syrian Rebels
Slate, By Sarah Tory, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012
U.S. involvement in Syria’s increasingly messy conflict just got messier. A classified report uncovered by the New York Times reveals that many of the weapons sent to arm Syrian rebels in their fight to overthrow the Assad regime are ending up in the hands of hardline Islamic Jihadists.
The NYT with the analysis:
“That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.”….
Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian rebels said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various rebel groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.
“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”….
American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received such a large share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition. “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one unidentified American official….
International Crisis Group‘s Peter Harling is always important. His new report - TENTATIVE JIHAD: SYRIA’S FUNDAMENTALIST OPPOSITION – is particularly timely because it serves as a counter-weight to Sanger’s New York Times article that sounds the alarm about the radicalization of Syria’s fighting groups.
Rebel groups in Syria are playing up their Islamist credentials, including growing Salafi beards, as a ruse to secure arms from conservative Gulf-based donors, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
“Groups with no ideological affiliation whatsoever began to adopt the symbols, rhetoric and facial hair associated with Salafism for that purpose,” it said.
It said the increasing presence of jihadi fighters was irrefutable but added that groups with very different motives were being confusingly bracketed together. It said:
In some cases, adoption of Salafi nomenclature, rhetoric and symbols reflects a sincere commitment to religious ideals; in others, it expresses an essentially pragmatic attempt to curry favour with wealthy, conservative Gulf-based donors
The report said “not all Salafis are alike; the concept covers a gamut ranging from mainstream to extreme”.
The money flow from conservative donors did more than strengthen Salafi factions relative to their mainstream counterparts. It also pushed non-Salafi combatants toward joining Salafi units capable of providing them with the requisite weapons and ammunition. Groups with no ideological affiliation whatsoever began to adopt the symbols, rhetoric and facial hair associated with Salafism for that purpose.
It cited the example of Abdul Razzaq Tlass, a popular mid-level leader of Katibat al-Farouq in Homs who grew a Salafi beard to please Gulf financiers of his brigade.
It added that last June a small group of militants released a YouTube video officially naming their unit after a Kuwaiti cleric who had provided support.
The rebel faction, based outside Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, called themselves Katibat al-Sheikh Hajaj al-Ajami – a Salafi Kuwaiti cleric who was prominent in raising money for the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front.
Rebel fighters pragmatically shift from one group to another based on the availability of funds and weapons, the report said.
It argued that western reluctance to arm the opposition was encouraging rebels to turn to the jihadi rhetoric favoured by private Gulf donors. It cited a Homs-based activist group who claimed that donations from Syrian expatriates and other Arabs in Gulf countries helped fuel a growing Islamist trend among militants.
While such forms of behaviour typically might start as a largely opportunistic phenomenon and thus lead to exaggerated assessments of a rising Islamist tide, over time they could well turn into more genuine feelings, as the experience of a religiously inspired struggle permeates a generation of fighters. It is also is liable to provoke a backlash, should these superficial Salafis engage in conduct that tarnishes the broader brand … It is, in other words, far too early to predict whether the Salafi trend is temporary or destined to persist.
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has ordered the immediate repair of the historic Umayyad mosque in Aleppo amid competing claims about which side was to blame for the damage. Parts of the 13th-century building, a Unesco world heritage site, were set on fire.
Umayyad Mosque Aleppo – See this video made by the same Aleppine who made the “duck” (batta) video of Bashar al-Assad, which became famous. He argues that the regime damaged the mosque and not the rebels, as has been widely reported.
Le Monde video of Syrian Army retaking the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo. L’armée syrienne a repris dimanche le contrôle total de la mosquée historique des Omeyyades dans le centre-ville d’Alep.
Iraq and Turkey are illegally preventing thousands of Syrians from fleeing the country at border points, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Gerry Simpson, HRW’s refugee researcher, suggested Turkey was deliberately blocking refugees to put more pressure on the international community to help. Meanwhile, Jordan is planning to set up a second refugee camp.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced a ban on all Syrian aircraft entering his country’s airspace on Sunday, a day after Syria’s foreign ministry prohibited Turkish civilian planes from flying over its territory.
Where Turkey Is Already at War: Are Kurdish Militants Doing Syria’s Bidding?
By Piotr Zalewski / Sirnak | October 14, 2012
….If Syria’s and Iran’s strategy is to play the PKK card to make the Turks to think twice about intervention, it may be working, at least partially. Despite their government’s increasingly tough rhetoric — punctuated by artillery volleys against Syrian targets after a shell killed five people in a Turkish border town earlier this month — most Turks oppose military action in Syria. The PKK certainly factors into Ankara’s thinking, says Sinan Ulgen, a Turkish ex-diplomat and head of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, a think tank. “There is a fear that the government has not yet addressed the situation in the southeast before engaging in a set of actions that may end up threatening its security,” says Ulgen. There is a flip side, however. A Turkish government that suspects Assad of arming the Kurdish militants may be keener than ever to see his regime toppled.
Rather than trying to pin the blame for the new wave of PKK violence on Syria, many Kurds say, the Turkish leadership should take a long, hard look in the mirror. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has passed a string of bold reforms over the past decade, cracking down on torture, launching a Kurdish TV station and, most recently, introducing elective courses in Kurdish. But despite secret negotiations with the PKK, which unraveled only last year, Ankara has not met the Kurds’ main demands, which include greater autonomy, political representation, full language rights and Ocalan’s transfer to house arrest…..
Refugees to Turkey Top 100,000 – Reuters
By Joe Parkinson in Istanbul and Ayla Albayrak in Hatay Province,
The number of Syrian refugees pouring into in Turkey has exceeded the “psychological limit” of 100,000, underscoring concerns that the country may not be able to cope with the flow of people that shows no sign of abating.
TurkeyHuman-rights groups allege that Ankara is preventing thousands of Syrian refugees from entering Turkey, despite their vulnerability to attacks by pro-Assad forces. Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Turkey to immediately reopen border crossings where Turkish officials say more than 15,000 Syrians have been stranded for weeks.
Skype Becomes Operations Center for Syrian Rebels
By LARA SETRAKIAN, Oct. 15, 2012, ABC
….”I don’t think you can underscore enough what a dramatic game changer social media has been,” said Landis. “A whole generation of youth in Syria had been completely depoliticized before the Arab Spring. Assad had managed to turn Syria into a bunch of sheep.”…
Iran said it would seek to cut imports of non-essential goods and urged its citizens to reduce their use of foreign-made mobile telephones and cars, as the country struggles to cope with Western economic sanctions….