Posted by Joshua on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
Kurds and FSA Build Bad Blood
The brewing war between Syria’s Kurds and Arabs may not wait until Assad falls. The murder of Nujeen Dirik, the 42 year old Kurdish female militia leader from Aleppo, by the FSA is likely to spark revenge killings. The FSA in Aleppo lured Dirik into a trap by making a deal to exchange bodies of the dead and kidnapped supporters. When Dirik led a group of Kurdish fighters to the anti-regime insurgents to make the hand-off, she was snatched. A week later she was killed by the FSA rather than traded.
Dirik headed a militia unit charged with protecting the Ashrafiyeh and Sheikh Maqsud districts of Aleppo. This was a clear show of force by the FSA meant to demonstrate to the Kurds not to try to intimidate FSA insurgents. The Kurds may suck up this defeat and choose not to launch a war of vengeance, but it is unlikely that they will not make a move to reassurt their control over the Ashrafiyeh neighborhood that was penetrated by FSA troops last week.
Syria rebels kill woman Kurd militia leader: NGO
November 02, 2012, Agence France Presse
BEIRUT: Syrian rebels have killed a Kurdish woman militia leader in the northern city of Aleppo, highlighting growing tensions between anti-regime fighters and the Kurds, a monitoring group said Friday.
“Shaha Ali Abdu, also known as Nujeen Dirik, was killed early on Friday. She headed a Kurdish popular defence unit that is part of the Democratic Union Party (PYD),” Syria’s branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “She was killed a week after she was captured by rebels,” the Britain-based watchdog added. The PYD opposes the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but has taken a neutral position in ongoing fighting in embattled Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub.
A wider Arab-Kurdish war could follow any regime change in Damascus” says Joost Hilterman http://ow.ly/eXR23
No matter who wins Tuesday’s election, U.S. likely to become entangled in Syria’s war
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers
“I believe America does not want to do anything, but to allow Bashar Assad to destroy Syria,” said Haythem al-Maleh, a former judge and political activist. “Only in Syria can the army kill people without any limit, with people of the world just looking on.”
Syria’s rebels fear foreign jihadis in their midst
As Salafis arrive to seek final battle with Shias, one town elder claims: ‘They will demand that we return to the seventh century’
Martin Chulov in Aleppo, guardian, 1 Nov 2012
In early summer, Abu Ismael, a six-year veteran of al-Qaida, left the insurgency still blazing in his homeland of Iraq and travelled to what he believes is the start of the apocalypse.
He secured cash from a benefactor in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, then approached a weapons dealer in Anbar province, a desolate corner of the country that was not long ago a staging point for jihadis arriving from Syria and is now a gateway for those going the other way.
“It was easy,” he said, in the sitting room of a house in the Syrian city of Aleppo. “The money was no problem, neither was the weapon, or the motivation. This will be a fight against the great enemy.”
Around the hard-bitten 23-year-old sat three members of a Syrian rebel militia who were acting as his hosts. They looked at the floor as the young jihadi explained Qur’anic teachings that he said were shaping the battle ahead. “I don’t care about the future,” he said. “I care about today. Muhammad the Messenger said there would be a battle between the Persians and the Sunnis. And it is coming.
“When the regime falls, all those who fought against the Muslims will be my enemy, especially the Shias,” he said, reiterating a view held by some Sunni extremists that Shia are their biggest foes.
The hosts shifted nervously, still avoiding eye contact. The stranger in their midst had sought refuge among them two months ago. Since then he had rented a house, won a ride to the battle zone whenever he wants and earned the support of some of the area’s rebel units.
He has even won a more coveted prize: the right to marry the daughter of one of the fighter’s cousins, a union that took place on Thursday with the qualified blessing of residents and clerics.
Not everyone in the unit was happy with the wedding. “It’s you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” said one young rebel, Abu Saif. “He’s a Salafi, there is no doubt about that,” he added, referring to the ultra-fundamentalist school of Qur’anic thinking. “And he doesn’t represent what we believe.”
Remonstrating with the unnamed young girl’s uncle sitting nearby, Abu Saif said: “You tell me what benefit we get from him, or that your family gets.” The uncle shrugged, offering no reply.
As Syria’s civil war grinds inexorably on, it is becoming as much a clash of ideologies as a battle of military will. The frontlines that were hurriedly carved out of Aleppo’s ancient stone heart and concrete suburbs during the heady days of summer now seem almost secondary in the contest to determine the type of society that will one day rise from the ruins.
For the most part, the opposition movement is staying true to the ethos that led many of the country’s towns and citizens to mount a challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s absolute state control over their lives. But around the fringes, there are signs that the revolution’s original values are starting to fray. The narrative of a defiant street versus a draconian state, so simple in March 2011, is now far more complicated.
“We want just what they got in Tunis and Egypt,” said Mahmoud Razak, a shop-keeper in the outer suburbs. “Freedom and the chance to progress in life. But we thought it would take 19 days like it took [in Egypt]. It’s now 19 months. We didn’t know it would be this difficult.”
To those now hosting Abu Ismael, the Iraqi jihadi embodies one of the major problems. Though for the most part conservative and pious, the men of this part of Aleppo refuse to see the crisis now consuming Syria in existential terms. To them, this is still a fight for self-determination, not the forum for an apocalyptic showdown with a preordained foe.
“What is this global jihad that he talks about?” asked a town elder, Abu Abdullah, after the Iraqi had left to prepare for his wedding. “We will be used as toys by them, just as the Sunni communities were in Iraq. When they have had their way with us they will demand that we return to the seventh century under the blade of a sword.”
Abu Ismael made no secret of his wish for Syria to be the heartland of an al-Qaida-led renaissance. Nor, unusually, did he hide what he had done in Iraq, or what he planned to do in the new war. In a candid hour-long discussion, he offered a rare insight into the terror group’s designs on Syria and the organisation’s fraught battle to assert itself. “I was a member of the al-Qaida organisation from 2005-11,” he said, his black eyes set in an unflinching stare. “I joined them with my father when I was 16 and apart from one and a half months in prison, I was very active in every way.”
The young Iraqi’s attire and demeanour were unmistakably those of a Salafi. He refused cigarettes, cuffed the bottoms of his fatigues at ankle level and wore a black skull cap over closely cropped black hair. More instructively, he spoke with derision about Shia Muslims, whom he said were increasingly travelling to Syria to fight the Sunni-led opposition.
“They are saying they are going to protect the Sit Zeinab mosque in Damascus,” he said of a shrine revered by Shias. “The Jaish al-Mahdi [Mahdi army] and Hezbollah are just using that as cover to enter the rest of Syria. We will not let them. We will attack it, perhaps not to destroy it, but to drive them out.
“There are around 50 Iraqis in each area of northern Syria. Perhaps more. It was not difficult to get here and it is not hard to find other mujahideen. We can fight where we want to and when we want to. And God willing we will prevail.”
His restless hosts were not so sure. Bound by social customs that offer wayfarers shelter and hospitality, this rebel unit seemed to sense that trouble is brewing between them and the growing band of global jihadis. Many rebel groups the Guardian spoke to this week said a showdown was looming with the new arrivals.
“I give it six months,” said one rebel officer at a checkpoint in the old market place in the central Aleppo suburb of Midan on Thursday. “Maybe a year,” said another. “I was in Iraq fighting the Americans and I saw how they changed once they sensed they had power.”
“It’s so mixed up,” said a third young rebel, a defector from Damascus. “And this is just how Bashar wants it.”
Rise of the Salafis
Bashar al-Assad has insisted from the start that Syria was facing attack by “armed terrorist gangs”, not a popular uprising – though there is ample evidence of the army firing on mostly unarmed demonstrators. But it has become clear that extremist Salafi or jihadi groups, some linked to al-Qaida, are now a significant element of the armed opposition.
Alongside fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq or Fatah al-Islam from Lebanon is the mysterious Jabhat al-Nusra, which has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. It is sympathetic to al-Qaida. Others hail from Jordan, Libya and Algeria.
The overwhelming majority of jihadis are Syrian, with the number of foreigners ranging from 1,200 to 1,500 members. Jihadi groups in Syria represent less than 10% of all fighters. Still, many have combat experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya and compete for funds and weapons with the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group.
“Most foreign fighters go abroad to defend their fellow Muslim brethren from being slaughtered,” according to Aaron Y Zelin, an analyst at the Washington Institute.
“Once in the area of battle, though, many come into closer contact with hardline jihadis, as well as fighters from other countries, and are exposed to new ideas.
“Therefore, portions of foreign fighters are not fighting to help establish a future state for Syrian nationals. Rather, they hope to annex it to be part of their grander aims of establishing emirates that will eventually lead to a re-established caliphate – however fanciful this project might be.” Ian Black
Syrian opposition group tells U.S. to stay out of internal politics
By Roy Gutman | McClatchy Newspapers
ISTANBUL — A U.S. decision to de-recognize a Syrian exile umbrella group and to propose a new political forum – and even who should be on it – drew an angry response from opposition figures Thursday, who charged that Washington was trying to impose its will on them while passively watching the bombardment of cities and towns by the Assad regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the United States would no longer view the Syrian National Council “as the visible leader” of the opposition and said she had “recommended names and organizations which we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”
“The politics of the United States are very, very bad, very stupid,” said Mohammed Sarmini, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, whose 310 members represent most of the major parties and organizations in exile. “This may be an American project, but it is very offensive to the Syrian people. You should support us on the ground, not get into our politics.”
A respected Syrian scholar who heads a Washington think tank was equally critical.
“I think that no country . . . can interfere or can impose the leaders on the Syrian opposition,” said Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who’s also a Syrian National Council member. “I call on the international community to back and support the Syrian opposition groups so they can organize themselves, not to interfere in the different groups.”
The U.S. move came on the eve of a conference in Doha, Qatar, where the Syrian National Council, known as the SNC, plans to elect a new board and restructure itself, then later meet with other groups not under its umbrella and forge a common strategy. The meetings coincide with the U.S. presidential election.
Clinton said she had consulted European allies and members of the Arab League before reaching the decision, but there were signs that the Obama administration may be out of touch with Syrian exile politics.
Just as Clinton was speaking in Zagreb, Croatia, to reporters accompanying her on a two-day swing through the Balkans, Ziadeh was wrapping up a three-day conference in an Istanbul suburb where all the Syrian opposition parties reached accord on a plan leading to a transitional government.
Jihadist killing of captives widens the split among rebel fighters in Syria
Martin Chulov in Aleppo, Guardian
Islamists are being favoured with arms and funds
Rebel groups are accusing Syria’s military council of infighting and nepotism and a failure to lead in the wake of a video that shows an opposition unit killing around two dozen captured regime soldiers.
Armed opposition units across the Aleppo hinterland say the western-backed council is failing in its bid to create a co-ordinated opposition army, partly because of its refusal to deal with Islamist-leaning Syrian groups.
The groups say the military council’s favouritism towards some units means other militias are unwilling to act with discipline or to be held accountable. The disturbing scenes of the captured regime troops being killed, shortly after their post near Damascus was overrun, have angered rebel units in the north.
“We have to show we are different from the regime,” said Sheik Omar Othman from the Islamist-leaning Liwat al-Tawheed unit in Aleppo. “Because they do it, it means that we don’t.”
Syrian Islamist groups have been at the vanguard of the fighting in Aleppo for the past three months, but are not able to match the better-armed and funded global jihadist units, who are increasingly taking centre stage in the war for the north of the country.
“This will soon mean that Jabhat al-Nusraf (an al-Qaida-aligned group) will be the only group capable of mounting the lethal operations on bases and security headquarters,” said a leader of Liwat al-Tawheed, which has been a key player in the fighting in Aleppo. “It already means that we can’t win without them.”
Islamist groups in Aleppo say that they aim to do no more than oust the Assad regime. Most of their clerics and leaders reject the ideology of the jihadists, who openly view the battle in Syria as a vital phase of a global sectarian war.
With Aleppo effectively locked in stalemate since mid-August, commanders from Liwat al-Tawheed and other units in and around Syria’s second city have been travelling to near the Turkish border to meet military council leaders. “They say, ‘join us, or we won’t give you anything’,” said Othman. “We are not opposed to doing that if it means that we get a share of the weapons that they are distributing…..
Syria Media Roundup (November 1) – Jadiliyya
WSJ [Reg]: Iran Hides Behind Exotic Flags to Help Syria
2012-11-01 BY BENOÎT FAUCON
LONDON—Iran is playing a complex game of cat-and-mouse as it tries to assist its ally Syria while avoiding tighter international sanctions on its oil trade. Iran is shipping oil to Syria by hiding vessels behind front companies and exotic flags to evade international sanctions and aid its isolated ally, according to sanctions experts and people in the shipping industry.
Iran sent an oil tanker loaded with refined products from its Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas to Syria’s Mediterranean terminal at Baniyas last week, according to ship-tracking website Marine Traffic, which follows radio signals emitted by vessels, and a shipping official working at the Syrian oil port.
When it docked at Baniyas, the tanker was named the Hillari and was flying the Honduran flag, the …
Reuters reports: Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they had begun arming sympathetic Palestinians to fight a pro-Assad faction in a Palestinian enclave in Damascus – a move which could fuel spiraling intra-Palestinian violence. Two rebel commanders told Reuters they expected their Palestinian allies to fight the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command [...]
CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya
By ADAM ENTOUS, SIOBHAN GORMAN and MARGARET COKER
Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2012
Death toll at more than 100,000 in Syria, estimates European diplomat in Istanbul who closely monitors Syria” http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/01/173336/syrian-opposition-group-tells.html#storylink=cpy …
Gregg Carlstrom: Press conference for this big Syrian opposition confab in Doha is scheduled for… Nov. 6. Election day. Syrian rebels, you need new PR guys
Recent reports of an increase in Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s civil war as combatants alongside the Syrian military represent a potentially sharp escalation in the regional impact of the ongoing conflict. Accusations concerning Hezbollah’s military support for the Assad government leveled by the party’s Lebanese political opponents, the Syrian opposition and pro-opposition states have been persistent since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011.Hezbollah’s leadership has replied that it is protecting Lebanese Shi’a villagers living along the Lebanese-Syrian border from attacks by Syrian rebels and that the Syrian opposition is actively being funded and armed by anti-Assad international actors, including Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents in the March 14 political bloc (Daily Star [Beirut], October 15).
On October 3, Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Colonel Riyad Musa al-As’ad stated that the FSA had killed a senior Hezbollah military commander named Ali Hussein Nassif (a.k.a. “Abu Abbas”) and two of his bodyguards near the restive city of Qusayr on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Colonel al-As’ad further asserted that Nassif’s activities in the area had been monitored for two weeks, and that his death was the result of a carefully planned FSA targeted assassination intended as part of a larger FSA offensive against Hezbollah in and around Qusayr (The Daily Star, October 3). Hezbollah officials simply stated that Nassif had died “performing his jihadi duties” (AP, October 2). Several weeks after Nassif’s death, the FSA claimed it had killed an additional 60 Hezbollah fighters and captured 13 in the vicinity of Qusayr (al-Mustaqbal [Beirut], October 12).
Lebanese newspapers (some of them antagonistic to Hezbollah) have recently begun publishing stories describing a deeper military commitment by Hezbollah to the Syrian regime. According to one such report, an agreement between the Syrian Defense Ministry and Hezbollah calls for the latter to provide over 2,000 “elite” fighters to Syria in the event of a foreign invasion. The report also claimed that Hassan Nasrallah offered the Assad government the full use of Hezbollah’s military capabilities in the event that “urgent assistance” was needed (al-Jamhouria [Beirut], July 26).
Another Lebanese publication claimed that Unit 901, an alleged elite Hezbollah military unit, had crossed into Syria to fight in the cities of Qusayr, al-Rastan, Talbiseh, and Homs, all near the Lebanese-Syrian border (An-Nahar [Beirut], July 27). This movement of Hezbollah troops into Syria was reported to be the result of the Syrian military’s need for assistance in the campaign to defeat rebels in Aleppo (Majalla, August 23). Hezbollah, along with the Iranian Quds Force, was also alleged to be training a 60,000-person Syrian military division modeled after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to protect the Alawite-majority Latakia Governorate of Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat, September 30).
Hezbollah’s soldiers were recently reported to have been participating as shock troops in several of the most intense battles of the conflict, including in and around Homs, Hama, suburbs of Damascus such as Zabadani and in the vital northern city of Aleppo (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 20). FSA units operating in Qusayr claim they have killed over 300 Hezbollah and Iranian fighters (AFP, October 7). A defected member of the powerful Syrian Air Force Intelligence Branch has asserted that Hezbollah has 1,500 fighters supporting the Syrian military inside the country (Times UK, October 6).
Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, has refuted these allegations, stating that his party only supports the al-Assad government politically and that it was assisting 30,000 Lebanese Shi’a villagers living in 20 villages in Syria near the Lebanese border.  The villagers, in close vicinity to Qusayr and the city of Hermel in Lebanon, had, according to Nasrallah, been the victims of targeted assaults by the FSA and deserved the right to self-defense and support from the party (Ahul Bayt News Agency, October 12).
Shi’a refugees from the embattled villages claimed that over 5,000 armed men, the majority with ties to Hezbollah, were protecting the villages from attack (AFP, October 17). Hezbollah is alleged to have used Katyusha rockets against Sunni villages on the Syrian side of the border (Independent, October 26).
In spite of Hezbollah’s strong support for the al-Assad government, the presence of thousands of Hezbollah fighters actively participating in Syrian battlefields would be a significant departure from the established understanding of the party’s force capabilities. At present, the most consistent reports of direct Hezbollah military involvement in Syria occur in regions of the country that border Lebanon and have a significant Shi’a population, or in areas that are of strategic interest to Hezbollah because of their use as routes for moving weapons from Iran through Syria, such as the route through the Zabadan District of the Rif Dimashq Governorate.
On August 15, Beirut awoke to the news that more than 20 alleged members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had been captured by a group calling itself “the military wing of the al-Miqdad family.” The group had sent footage…
If Syria’s rebels are to achieve palpable results, they need an effective strategy that includes hitting the regime where it hurts……
The regime’s leaders still believe that they can win this conflict as long as the ground forces are resilient and able to fight a protracted civil war, which could last for several years.
If rank-and-file officers begin to feel that they are bearing the brunt of the fighting, they will recognise the limits of their power, and the importance of compromise to save their own skins.
The second area that rebels must work on is establishing political leadership with a strong presence on the ground. Contrary to popular belief, a unified political opposition is even more urgent than a unified command-and-control structure among the armed rebels. Many of the disagreements among anti-regime fighters are the result of rivalries at the political level – the most salient example is the distribution of arms according to political loyalties.
A unified on-the-ground resistance cannot be the prerequisite for assistance and weapons supplies.
A coherent political leadership, backed financially and politically by foreign states, is more urgent than ever….
On October 26, 2012, the jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam published a communiqué from Abu ‘Abdallah Al-Hamawi, commander of the “Ahrar Al-Sham” (“Syrian Liberation”) Brigades, in which he greeted the mujahideen in Syria specifically, and the Muslim ummah in general, on the occasion of ‘Eid Al-Adha (which falls this year on October 26-29). He noted that despite the heavy price the Syrian people was paying, “the buds of victory have become a torch lighting the roadsides and strengthening the hands of the mujahideen,” adding that the latter would cling to their path until oppression and tyranny were done away with.
On October 28, 2012, the jihadi website Shumoukh Al-Islam posted what it described as exclusive pictures from Jabhat Al-Nusra’s “Fatih” camp. Fatih is said to be a training camp in Syria where the group trains its fighters. The pictures show dozens of masked men training with weapons, including an anti-aircraft gun.
The following is a selection of pictures posted on the website:
The Al-Maqreze Center For Historical Studies in London, run by Dr. Hani Al-Siba’i, a member of the shari’a council for the jihadi website Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, published an October 21, 2012 fatwa by Sheikh Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti, another member of the shari’a council, concerning the duty of Sunni Muslims to fight the Alawites. In his fatwa, Al-Shinqiti rules that the Alawites are not Muslims, and that it is the duty of all Muslims to fight them. He says that the Alawites are committed to the hatred of Muslims and Islam, and that since the dawn of history they have persecuted the Sunnis and joined forces with the enemies of Islam. He stresses that this duty to fight Alawites refers not only to a war against the current Syrian regime or the Ba’th party, but a war against the entire Alawite sect because, he states, “Syria will see no revival of Islam unless it rids itself of this infidel sect.”
Following are excerpts from Al-Shinqiti’s fatwa:
Al-Shinqiti begins by saying that one of tragedies of Islam today is that apostate sects are considered an inseparable part of the Islamic Ummah. Therefore, he says, there are those who work to hide the truth about the principles of the Alawite faith despite the horrors they inflict upon Islam and Muslims, and demand that the Alawites be treated the same as Muslims. He explains that in light of this reality, he has decided to expose the truth regarding the Alawites’ heretical faith and their hatred of Islam.
A famous American coloring shampoo advertisement years ago used the effective slogan, referring to whether or not the woman in the ad dyed her hair, “Does she or doesn’t she?” The same question can be asked today about Hilary Clinton’s attitude to the Syrian opposition and the uprising to overthrow President…The second problem is that any Syrian or Arab groups that the U.S. now publicly supports will be tainted as hand-picked agents of Washington, a status that is usually the kiss of death for most individuals or organizations in the Arab world, where public opinion still sees the U.S. and Israel as the two most serious threats to the Arab security.The third problem is that this smacks of yet another dimension of a neocolonial mindset and enterprise that still plagues the Middle East,The double irony of this situation for the U.S. and others who worry that Islamists and militant Salafists are playing a bigger role in the resistance to Assad’s regime is that this move is likely to strengthen, rather than weaken, the Islamists’ role in the national rebellion,[...]