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The Kobani Model: Strengthening Kurdish-Arab Relations in Syria

by Nicholas A. Heras and Wladimir van Wilgenburg

Wladimir van Wilgenburg KurdistanNick HerasThe Islamic State (IS) suffered a setback at the northern Syrian-Turkish border city of Kobani. This much-heralded event was important for a reason that has potential future ramifications for the civil war and the future stability of Syria: Arab-majority armed, moderate opposition groups and Kurdish militias under the People’s Protection Units (YPG) willingly entered into a joint operations room to coordinate the city’s defense. By standing and fighting against IS, the joint Kurdish-Arab effort in Kobani demonstrated that a multi-ethnic armed opposition coalition could function and succeed in the test of battle.

Euphrates Volcano Kurds Arabs Syria

Example of Euphrates Volcano press material

Building pan-ethnic cooperation as part of a pluralistic political program should be a core element of the U.S.-led Syrian rebel train-and-equip program. But so far, the most effective anti-IS force, the YPG, has not been included and its forces are euphemistically referred to as “anti-ISIL forces” by the Coalition. There is a reason for this: the YPG are linked to the most powerful Syrian Kurdish political faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is closely associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Encouragingly, several Arab brigades associated with the mainstream moderate armed opposition coalition under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) participated in this joint operation with their Kurdish peers. Working together, their “Euphrates Volcano” campaign against the IS-held cities of Tal Abyad and Jarabulus is threatening IS’ grip on vital Syrian-Turkish border areas in its capital province of Raqqa. Until the Coalition has established actionable lines of influence into IS-held territory, it is likely that the most immediate and effective method of limiting the spread of IS and confronting it head-on is by operating on the margins of its territory in eastern and northern Syria, which is exactly what the Euphrates Volcano campaign is doing.

Speaking to this development, the PYD’s leader Salih Muslim stated to one of the authors in a March 11 interview at the Sulaimani Forum conference in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that:

“If they [the U.S.] accept it, we will do it. Our people have more experience than those they will train [FSA forces]. But there should be coordination even for the training. If the U.S. supports this, it could be a model for a future Syria.”

Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the anti-IS campaign, will also be critical to any expansion of a joint Kurdish-Arab armed opposition campaign against IS. The brutal history of conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK, and the United States’ designation of the group as a terrorist organization, might seem to place a severe limit on the extent of future cooperation between U.S. trained-and-equipped Syrian Arab rebels and the YPG. Turkey’s early and sustained influence over the Syrian armed opposition movement, including hosting some of the Arab rebel leaders who are cooperating with the Kurdish militias, could also potentially limit the further development of a Kurdish-Arab joint operations room against IS.

There are signs, however, that a pragmatic Turkish approach to Syria’s Kurds may be emerging. There has been continuous, although at times contentious, engagement between Turkish officials and the PYD, including with Salih Muslim. The ongoing PKK-Turkish peace negotiations and political pressure from Turkey’s Kurdish-majority political parties also adds impetus for the Turkish government to tolerate the existence of the YPG and incorporate it in the anti-IS campaign. Turkey’s ability to work with the YPG was shown in the recent auxiliary role that the Kurdish militias played in assisting Turkish troops to secure the body of Suleiman Shah and relocate it to Kurdish-held areas of Syria.

Further, in October 2014, the Turks proposed a no fly zone and safe-haven in northern Syria, but so far this plan has not been implemented. Building on the cooperation between the YPG and the FSA, Turkey could use this to create a safe buffer zone between Turkey and Syria. Turkey initially strongly opposed Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy, but now the Iraqi Kurds are treated as potential allies by Ankara. Repairing relations between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in Syria will require a Turkish role.

Inside Syria, there is still a great deal of animosity between Arab and Kurdish communities, particularly in the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border province of al-Hasakah, where the YPG and its auxiliaries are waging a campaign against IS’ lines of supply and communication between Iraq and Syria. Arab tribes from Raqqa were settled in this predominantly Kurdish region the 1970s by the Syrian government as part of its “Arab belt” policy to weaken the demographic weight of the Kurds.

The YPG, under the influence of the PKK, is accused of trying to ethnically cleanse Arabs and rip the oil-rich areas that it dominates out of Syria, heightening ethnic tensions between it and the Arab-majority opposition movement. IS has preyed on the suspicion of local Arab communities toward the Kurds to recruit Arab rank-and-file fighters in al-Hasakah. However, members of local Arab tribes, such as from the powerful, trans-national Shammar confederation, actively cooperate with the YPG and have participated in the Syrian Kurds’ attempt to build a nascent government. Ethnic relations between Kurds and Arabs, complex and fraught as they may sometimes be, are not irreparable.

Still, a potential post-Assad/post-IS Syria will need to recognize and honor the desire of Syrian Kurds to have their ethno-linguistic cultural rights protected, promoted, and enshrined in law, or risk endemic ethnic conflict. It will also need to manage the process of incorporating Syrian Kurdish communities, many of them already practicing a de facto form of autonomy from the rest of the country, back into the national political fold.

To that end, developing Kurdish-Arab joint military campaigns against IS in Syria can have far-reaching impact. Continued Kurdish-Arab joint operations could end IS control over large areas of the Syrian-Turkish border and would cut the flow of IS fighters into Syria, denying IS strategic depth as the U.S.-led Coalition works to defeat IS in Iraq. Active encouragement and support from the Coalition for this organic process can contribute to the process of rebuilding trust between the communities. Improving Kurdish-Arab relations will be a core component of establishing an effective and stable security environment in Syria.

 

Nicholas A. Heras is the Research Associate in the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security

Wladimir van Wilgenburg is a Middle East Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation and a freelance journalist based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. Follow at @vvanwilgenburg

The Killing of Muhammad al-Assad, a.k.a. “Shaykh al-Jabal”

MuhammadAssad2015_1The Killing of Muhammad al-Assad, a.k.a. “Shaykh al-Jabal”
By: Mohammad D.
For Syria Comment, March 14, 2015

Muhammad Tawfiq al-Assad, a.k.a Shaykh al-Jabal, a well known second cousin of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was killed two days ago. He was the son of Tawfic al-Assad. His grandfather, Ismail al-Assad, was a half-brother of the late president Hafez al-Assad. Muhammad al-Assad, a.k.a Shaykh al-Jabal, was the best known and most feared member of the second generation of shabiha that emerged from the al-Assad family in rural Latakia in the early 1980s. In his death announcement (Na’wa نعوة), he is listed as both a Doctor and Mujahid. He was 48 years old.

His being given the honorific title “Mujahid” made people ask where and when Muhammad al-Assad, a.k.a Shaykh al-Jabal, was fighting. His supporters claimed that he was killed in the vicious battle underway in Doreen دورين, east of Latakia.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.36.13 PM

 

The Battle of Doreen is  important and has been heated for some time. The Syria Arab Army and National Defense Forces (al-Difa’ al-Watani) attacked recently and were able to achieve some success. The Hill of Doreen fell first, then Doreen itself. But since then it has become a tough back-and-forth slog against a coalition of rebel militias that include Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Jabha al-Islamiyah. The rebels are trying to retake the high ground and break through into the Alawite areas below Doreen. The high ground also allows for rockets to be fired at Latakia.

Regime Soldiers killed fighting Jabhat al-Nusra around Dorin in Latakia

Doreen is a well known summer resort in the mountains next to Salma. It is a Sunni village and was held by the anti Assad groups for years. Salma is the biggest and only important stronghold left in the hands of the anti Assad forces East of Latakia in the Jabal al-Akrad region.

Doreen is strategically important because it is a high point and puts Salma, a major rebel stronghold, under the guns of Assad forces. The fall of Salma would provide a major victory for al-Assad in the coastal areas. Thus, the battles are heated. To put Muhammad al-Assad, a.k.a, Shaykh al-Jabal in the midst of this battle would mean that he was a Mujahid, as his death notice claims.

The Question is: was Shaykh al-Jabal really fighting there? Alawite sources that I have contacted in Latakia, and one in al-Qurdaha itself, all claim he was not. They confirm one story: Shaykh al-Jabal was killed near al-Qurdaha by a man named Ali Salhab  علي سلهب. This happened after Shaykh al-Jabal had a long night of drinking and partying. Whether or not Ali Salhab was drinking is debated because many said he ambushed Shaykh al-Jabal, then shot him dead.

There was bad blood between these two men. One of the sources said that “Shaykh al-Jabal ” was killed because he had put Ali Salhab in prison and tortured him. According to this source, Mohammad al-Assad had his own prison. Another source said that Ali Salhab killed him because of a land deal gone bad, and that Assad’s body was then taken to Doreen in order to provide him with an honorable death at the battle front.

When asking a pro-Assad supporter about the doctorate degree Muhammad al-Assad A.K.A. Shaykh al-Jabal claimed on his death notice, he said: “His degree is false…he was no doctor…just a smuggler… he bought his doctorate from an Eastern European country the same way he bought the name Shaykh al-Jabal for himself. See, the real Shaykh al-Jabal are the fighters who are cold, most likely hungry, and fighting in the mountains…”

Muhammad al-Assad gave himself the name Shaykh al-Jabal, when he was an up-and-coming smuggler in the late 1980s and one of the Shabiha.  But, he was not the top Shabih by any measure. That position was held by Fawaz al-Assad, the son Hafiz al-Assad’s full brother Jamil.  Despite being under the shadow of Fawaz, “Shaykh al-Jabal” was able to assemble a notorious gang of smugglers that operated for a long time.  But when the age of smuggling came to an end with the opening up of the economy, Muhammad al-Assad bought himself a Ph.D and upgraded along with the rest of Syria.

Stories about his bad behavior are many, the most notorious of which is the story of Hala ‘Aqel, a very beautiful Alawite 18 year old who died in mysterious circumstances twenty-five years ago.  Anti-Assad agitators claimed that Shaykh al-Jabal killed her.  I myself was living in Latakia when this happened and to my knowledge no one knew how she died.  No investigation was carried out into the reasons for her sudden death. This left the door open for those who had been hurt by the Assads to claim that Muhammad had killed her.

Bashar al-Assad’s many second cousins and distant relatives who share his family name do not orbit in the same sphere as his first cousins, many of whom are trusted to fill sensitive positions in running security or the economy. Mohammad al-Assad may have shared the president’s last name, but his notoriety came from being a smuggler and highway robber (qata’ al-tariq) and not as a man of consequence.

Muhammad_Assad2015

Note: Jabal means mountain in Arabic. Shaykh al-Jabal means: The Chief of the Mountain.

MuhammadAssad2015_3

Meet the Badris

By A.N.

Abd al-Aziz al-Badri
Sheikh Abd al-Aziz al-Badri

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared Islamic State, was not produced in a vacuum. In fact, he comes from a tribe with a long history of support for Salafism. The following is a brief window into this extended family.

 

In the first letter calling for bayʿa (swearing of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Turki Binali needed to prove that Baghdadi was a descendant of the Quraysh in order to establish that he was entitled to become a caliph. Binali, from Bahrain, now holds an important position as one of the top jurists in IS, and despite being very young, is referred to by some as the “grand mufti” of IS. The requirement that a caliph be descended from the Quraysh is based on the dominant understanding of a saying of Mohammad in which he declared that the Quraysh were the best tribe. This has been understood by the Sunni schools to mean that the office of caliph should be exclusive to the descendants of the Quraysh tribe.

In proving Baghdadi’s eligibility, Binali not only attempted to demonstrate that Baghdadi descended from the Quraysh, but traced Baghdadi’s lineage to Mohammad himself, through Ali and Fatima (the daughter of Mohammad), by saying that that Baghdadi is: “From the the descendants of Armoush bin Ali bin Eid bin Badri bin Badr al-Din bin Khalil bin Hussain bin Abdallah bin Ibrahim al-Awah bin al-Sharif Yehia Ez al-Din bin al-Sharif Bashir bin Majed bin Atiah bin Yaala bin Douwed bin Majed bin Abdulrahman bin Qassem bin al-Sharif Idriss bin Jaafar al-Zaki bin Ali al-Hadi bin Mohamad al-Jawad bin Ali al-Rida bin Mossa al-Kazem bin Jaafar al-Sadeq bin Mohamad al-Baqer bin Ali Zein al-Abidin bin al-Hussain bin Ali bin Abi Taleb and Fatima, daughter of Mohammad.”
عرموش بن علي بن عيد بن بدري بن بدر الدين بن خليل بن حسين بن عبد الله بن إبراهيم الأواه بن الشريف يحيى عز الدين بن شريف بن بشير بن ماجد بن عطية بن يعلى بن دويد بن ماجد بن عبد الرحمن بن قاسم بن الشريف إدريس بن جعفر الزكي بن علي الهادي بن محمد الجواد بن علي الرضا بن موسى الكاظم بن جعفر الصادق بن محمد الباقر بن علي زين العابدين بن الحسين بن علي بن أبي طالب وفاطمة
Turki Binali did not need to do much research to find this out: this is the lineage that Abu Baker al-Baghdadi’s tribe claims for itself. Abu Bakr’s real name is Ibrahim al-Badri, and his full name is Ibrahim bin Awad bin Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Mohammad bin Badri bin Armoush (the same Armoush who kicks off the tribe’s lineage). He belongs to the Bou Badri tribe named after Badri who was the son of Armoush.
Bou Badri is an Iraqi tribe present in Samra’, Baghdad, Missan, Wasset, and Diala. The eponymous father of the tribe, Badri, moved to Samaraa from Medina in the 1700s, married locally, and had 5 children. Today the tribe numbers around 25,000 people, most of whom are Sunni, but with a population of about 1,500 Shiʿis, as well.
The tribe includes notable figures in Iraqi history, some of which worked toward Islamist objectives and were heavily involved in religious activism. Five of these are profiled below, one of which personally supervised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s religious studies. Most of the below are direct quotes translated from Arabic sources online. (Note that some members of the al-Badri tribe use the “al-Samera’i” nisba which refers to their town of Samarra, rather than “al-Badri.”)

Sheikh Abdel al-Aziz al-Badri (1929 – 1969) — One of the founders of the Iraqi branch of the Hizb al-Tahrir and later emir of Wilayat al-Iraq (a Hizb al-Tahrir designation)

  • He called for the revival of the caliphate
  • In the early 1950s, Hizb al-Tahrir approached several Islamic figures in Iraq including Abdel al-Aziz to create an Iraqi branch
  • He traveled to Jordan and met with Hizb al-Tahrir founder Taqiuddin al-Nabhani and returned to Iraq to form a Hizb al-Tahrir branch. He presented the party credentials to the Iraqi government, seeking to register the party, but they refused to give the founders a permit and later proceeded to persecute them
  • He fought against the Hashemites, the communists, and the Baath party
  • He left Hizb al-Tahrir in 1956
  • He grew closer to the Muslim Brotherhood and became one of their symbols in Iraq
  • He was arrested 14 times in addition to numerous house arrest orders by each of the various rulers that controlled of Iraq during his lifetime
  • Baath forces arrested him and tortured him for 17 days until he died, and then returned his body to his family for burial in 1969
  • Witnesses have said that he was beaten by Nazem al-Kazaz, head of the Baath regime’s General Security Forces for defying the Baath. Kazaz was later killed after a failed attempt to overthrow Ahmad Hassan al-Baker and his deputy Saddam Hussain in 1973
  • He worked with the Shiʿa and strove to develop good relations with them. He visited Karbala and Najaf to ask the ulama there to intervene with Gamal Abd al-Nasser to stop the execution of Sayed Qutb
  • He wrote several books including The Position of Islam on Socialism (he concludes it is kufr), Islam Between the Scholars and the Rulers (in which he condemns scholars that work for rulers), and Islam: A War Against Capitalism and Socialism

 

Subhi al-Samerai al-Badri

Subhi al-Samerai

Subhi al-Samerai [al-Badri] (1936 – 2013) — One of the founders of Salafi movement in Iraq

  • A leading Iraqi muhaddith
  • Bin Baz (Saudi mufti) said about him “this man is one of the remnants of the people of hadith in Iraq”
  • He was one of the founders of the Salafi movement in Iraq and belonged to the branch that preferred to work independently and focus on combating tashayuʿ (conversion to Shiʿism) more than other Salafis
  • He kept a library full of Shiʿi books that became a destination for other Salafi sheikhs who wanted to learn about Shiʿi beliefs
  • He was a policeman from 1951 until he retired in 1977
  • When Baath came to power in 1968, he was forced to cease his anti-Shiʿi activities and limited his preaching to a group of his friends and students
  • He was finally able to express himself again after he went to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, where he taught at al-Masjid al-Haram
  • He lectured at university of Mohammad bin Saud
  • He also lectured at the King Abdallah University where he gave his most well known lectures in the science of shiʿi hadith
  • He came back to Iraq in the 80s and was appointed to a mosque in Baghdad. People that attended the mosque knew of his dislike of the rafida (Shiites) and whenever somebody mentioned rafida during his hadith lesson, he would forget about the lessons and start preaching about the rafida in anger
  • In 1989, he taught in the University of Islamic Sciences in Baghdad [the same university where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi got his bachelors, and his alleged masters and PhD], where he raised his voice loudly against Shiʿa.
  • He did not publish many books because of the oppressive regime in Iraq but he did write an introduction to a book in which he tried to prove the Shiʿi admission of the existence of Abdallah bin Saba (a supposedly early Jewish convert to Islam who was supposedly the first to call for Ali to become Mohammad’s successor, invoked by Sunnis trying to demonstrate that Shiʿism is a Jewish invention) because some Shiʿi and Orientalist authors were publishing books denying his existence
  • He lost popularity because of his soft tone towards the Baath regime
  • Between 1990 and 2003, Islamic daʿwa started spreading in Iraq as the government was being weakened; due to this he gained a bigger following
  • He also went on trips with al-Albani (influential and founding Salafi sheikh) in Jordan starting in 1991
  • He was elected as an honorary emir of Salafism in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad
  • He was part of the Hayat Ulama al-Iraq
  • In 2003 he knew that the Shiʿa would end up ruling Iraq so he left with his family to Jordan. From there he moved to Syria where warned against the Nusayris saying ,”these people are kuffar and are not of Islam”
  • He eventually made it to Lebanon in 2009 where he also preached against Hezbollah and had a small following
  • He died in June 2013 at the American University hospital in Beirut
  • One funny anecdote that the sheikh would recount is that once while traveling he found a possessed man, so he performed an exorcism on him. During the exorcism he discovered that the jinn that possessed the man was a Iraqi Shiʿi rafidi from a well known Shiʿi city so he asked him: “What brought you here?” [he had such a great sense of humor]
  • He traveled the world in search of Islamic manuscripts and visited Berlin, Dublin, and Princeton
  • He supervised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s studies of the Qur’an and hadith [the Newsweek article linked to misspells Subhi’s nisba]
  • Youtube videos of him

 

Lieutenant General Nassif Jassem al-Samerai

Nassif Jassem al-Samerai stands to the left of Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim in the late 1950s

Nassif Jassem al-Samerai stands to the left of Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim in the late 1950s

  • The brother of Subhi al-Samerai
  • Nassif Jasem was head of the military academy in the 1960s
  • Was head of the logistics unit at the time of the coup against the communists. Played a role on the Baath side
  • He executed 25 communists without trial during the coup in February 14, 1963
  • He became deputy commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army under the Abdul Salam Arif government
  • He played a major role in the Iran-Iraq war
  • He became a military adviser to Saddam
  • He was arrested by US forces in 2004 along with his son in a raid on his house

 

Haitham Sabah Shaker Mahmoud al-Badri — Mastermind of the 2006 al-Askari mosque bombing; was al-Qaida Emir of Salahudin Province

  • Haitham al-Badri was the al-Qaida Emir of Salahudin Province and the Emir of Samarra before that
  • His brother was killed in a US air force bombing
  • He had connections to the supporters of the fallen Baath regime
  • He was connected to Ansar al-Suna before he moved to al-Qaida
  • He planned the 2006 bombing of the al-Askeri mosque in Samarra, and extremely important religious site for Shiʿis that housed the tombs of two of the twelve Shiʿi imams. He gave the order to to 4 Saudis, 2 Iraqis, and one Tunisian to carry out the bombing
  • He was accused of killing al-Arabia reporter Atwar Bahjat himself but the Iraqi government later accused and convicted someone else for her killing
  • He allegedly refused an offer by Izzat al-Douri in 2006 to coordinate with the Baath
  • He was killed in an airstrike in 2007 during a US forces raid in Samarra
  • In September 2012, Iraqi police arrested his brother “Hisham Sabaa Shaker” who later became a prominent leader of IS in the Jazeera area. He was preparing to commit a suicide bombing in the center of Mosul when he was captured

 

Abdel Al-Satar al-Badri — Salafi Sheikh

  • Pupil of Bin Baz (Saudi mufti)
  • He worked to spread Salafism in Dayala
  • His son died fighting American forces in 2007
  • Possible twitter account
  • He, along with another sheikh from the tribe, built the al-Khoder mosque in Dayala. Several people that attended this mosque were killed fighting US forces. Most of them were al-Badris

 

Video presents views of al-Qaida’s European jihadists in Syria

A few days ago, al-Jazeera English aired a documentary called “People & Power – Western Jihadis in Syria.” The film, which includes an interview with Dr. Landis, presents discussions with articulate, English-speaking jihadists in Syria’s al-Qaida organization, Jabhat al-Nusra. As members of al-Qaida, such jihadists maintain a position involving: 1) opposition to the self-declared Islamic State, 2) a struggle against the Assad regime (specifically because it “oppresses Muslims”), and 3) a war against America and the West who are blamed for trying to prevent the development of a prosperous and powerful Muslim nation.

 

Other films from the makers of this documentary, Tom Greenwood and Nagieb Khaja, who went to Syria and tracked down Nusra members for his interviews at great personal risk, can be found on the website for their organization, North Bridge Film.

Train-and-Equip: Fight for Pluralism in Syria

Nick Herasby Nicholas A. Heras

This month, the United States and several of its Middle Eastern allies will begin training Syrian fighters through a revamped train-and-equip program that will form the core first class of Syria’s non-jihadist armed opposition. At this stage, the program will seek to identify, train, and support 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters a year for three years, and will likely involve the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and could also include Jordan. Optimally, the end game of this reportedly more robust train-and-equip program will be a Syria that emerges from its civil war with a pluralistic government, the Assad regime removed, and the more ideologically radical elements of the Syrian rebel movement defeated and marginalized.

The need for a competent rebel force on the ground is heightened by the reality that the large segment of the Syrian population that supports the uprising will continue to need protection and security, but will want it provided by an alternative to the Assad regime. This force will also need to be strong enough to secure the local areas in which it is located and to impede the advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), currently the major policy objective driving the revamped program. As proposed today in a Foreign Policy article by former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, a refashioned rebel army with a unified command and control structure that can enforce discipline within the ranks will be vital, as will its need to appeal to Syria’s minority communities.

Ford referred to the current train-and-equip program as “too little, too late,” and he makes a compelling argument for the administration’s need to either “undertake a major effort or walk away.” But while a target of 15,000 fighters trained over three years may sound insufficient to fundamentally shift the conflict, the effort can have great impact if it serves as a standard-bearing “train-the-trainer” model that builds up over time, from community to community.

From the outset, however, the train-and-equip program will have to answer questions about how its objective for the state will be an improvement over the current Syrian republic which encompasses diverse sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, despite the authoritarian power of the Assad family, the corrupt Ba’ath syndicate deep state, and its brutal security system. Nevertheless, the current Syrian republic, its advocates point out, has a longer and more practiced history of relative pluralism than that of the Syrian opposition, which has largely been splintered by factionalism and its armed groups heavily influenced by militant Islamist ideology. These are valid points, and the United States and its allies will need to address them in order to build up the capacity of the opposition to participate in a transition from the Assad regime.

Thus, United States’ strategic objective for guiding the train-and-equip program should be to build into the training a firm ideological component that seeks a pluralistic and democratic order in Syria, promoting the equal rights of all of Syrians. This will be a challenge, as the U.S.-led effort must reconcile the previous influence of its participating partners, particularly Qatar and Turkey, who have much-criticized records of influencing the armed opposition toward a more militantly Islamist ideological position. It will also need to respect and incorporate, but also moderate, the conviction of many Syrian rebel fighters that they are on a religious mission to fight a corrupt regime. Achieving the right balance in this ideological model, and making it stick for the entirety of the rest of the conflict to follow, would be an accomplishment with potentially exponential effects on the course of the war and its aftermath.

In theory, empowered Syrian rebel groups could stand their ground against both ISIS and the Assad regime, strengthening local governance, and coordinating humanitarian assistance distribution. If performed in a careful, phased manner, the train-and-equip program could focus on the local level to empower rebel communities through humanitarian assistance that is funneled through the vetted rebel groups. The focus should be on building the capacity of the vetted armed opposition to deliver social goods to their communities that are in dire need. This is a means to unify military and humanitarian assistance to the rebels in order to maximize the soft power of the United States on the Syrian opposition.

If the train-and-equip program begins to show success in accomplishing this objective, it will present an active threat to the Assad regime’s narrative that the Syrian rebel movement is a terrorist front bent on targeting and destroying Syria’s pluralism. This would make it the target of the regime and its Iranian allies and their auxiliaries, such as Hezbollah and Shi’i jihadist militias, likely producing another policy dilemma for the administration: whether or not to actively protect the empowered rebel movement it has been building. This will be an important question that could bring the U.S. closer to war with Iran, as it would spell a legitimate threat to their important proxy. This type of rebel rule could potentially establish a pluralistic precedent that could assuage the fears of Syria’s regime-loyalist communities, many of them ethnic and sectarian minorities such as Christians, Druze, and Alawites whose eventual buy-in and participation would be required to achieve a transition from the Assad regime.

However, at this initial stage of the revamped train-and-equip program is the complicating reality that throughout the country moderate Syrian armed opposition groups actively cooperate with the often more powerful rebel factions that seek to establish a fully-functioning sharia state in post-Assad Syria. Syria’s armed opposition is largely, although not completely, composed of groups whose fighters are Sunni Arabs. These factions range from militant Salafist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, to groups that have a vision of a state governed by Islamic law that more closely resembles that espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Liwa al-Tawhid, Jaysh al-Islam, and Suqur al-Sham. Many of the fighters in these groups originally joined rebel militias that did not promote a sharia state. However, over time they came to adopt this ideology due to the devolution of the Syrian conflict into one characterized by sectarian anger and ideologically influenced by financial backers in the Gulf Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait.

It is difficult to know for certain which of these groups can be integrated into an expanded train-and-equip program, or if the fighters of these groups are, on average, true ideologues seeking a post-Assad sharia state. Some joined the more militant Islamist factions merely for financial reasons, and may be able to pass the requirement of supporting a pluralistic, inclusive Syria. Nevertheless, Washington is presented with a significant policy dilemma. The pressure of the war has led to greater convergence, operational cooperation, and resource sharing within Syria’s rebel ranks across the ideological spectrum, and the task of vetting fighters and separating them according to ideological distinctions will likely be quite difficult.

The train-and-equip program will thus need to build a sustainable ideological model for the Syrian armed opposition movement. It should seek to work slowly and methodically, acknowledging that not all of the fighters for the revamped opposition army were always perfectly aligned with the vision for a democratic and pluralistic Syria. Realizing this, however, does not preclude the U.S. and its allies from acting now, with the soft power of financial assistance and the hard power of weapons and training, to forcefully insist on an ideological standard for the new rebel army. This effort is as much a struggle to build a pluralistic and democratic model for the Syrian armed opposition, as it is to bring the fight to ISIS and transition from the Assad regime.

Nicholas A. Heras is the Research Associate in the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

Interviewing Asad — by David W. Lesch

David W. LeschInterviewing Asad

by David W. Lesch

There has been a spate of interviews of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad by Western reporters or media personalities in the last few months. The most recent one was conducted by the BBC, while another notable interview appeared in Foreign Affairs. There have been many since the beginning of the almost four-year conflict. As they are difficult to arrange, each one is treated as something of a media event. As expected, on every occasion immediately thereafter, other publications, commentators, academics, websites, and even the interviewers themselves in one way or another dissect the interview, most of the time employing Asad’s responses as evidence of his perfidy.

For my part, these interviews elicit a collective yawn. I understand the nature of the questions, but they are repeated over and over by each interviewer: Did you (Asad) makes mistakes in the beginning of the uprising? Did you or do you now use chemical weapons? Do you admit atrocities carried out by Syrian armed forces? Are you using barrel bombs? When Asad denies any and all of these accusations in a specific sense—the most he will allow is something along the line of “all wars produce civilian casualties and all humans make mistakes”—the post-interview analysis almost unanimously concludes he is delusional, detached, disconnected, or an out-an-out liar. Frankly, he probably is all of these things to some extent, but on the other hand, what does anyone expect him to say?

The interviewers, searching for that “wow” moment when they can somehow get Asad to admit to one of the many atrocities purportedly carried out by his regime, invariably fail to do so. What becomes notable is the dance itself, i.e. the reporter’s attempts with statistics, quotes, and direct observation to trick (or shame) Asad into a less defiant posture. Asad is too smart to let this happen; indeed, since most of the interviewers are asking the same questions over and over, he has had quite a bit of practice at evasive maneuvers.

Asad understands that to indicate any culpability for something such as the use of chemical weapons or barrel bombs is also to punch a one-way ticket to the International Criminal Court. In addition, and maybe more importantly from his point of view, he is trying to come off to the West as the sane choice at the same time that the Islamic State is burning people alive. He seems calm, cool, and collected, as if he is, indeed, in control—a decent ally to have in the war against the far more evil Islamic State. He isn’t really doing a great job at endearing himself to the international public, though, as Syrian government officials have traditionally been inept at public diplomacy. Asad has been much better at it than ever was his reclusive, taciturn father, Hafiz al-Asad, but even the younger version still operates within a conceptual paradigm that is governed by paranoia and a default understanding that the United States and its allies have been consistently trying to get rid of him. So he comes off as out of touch, unrealistic, and even flippant, especially because his English—his third language—can sometimes work against him.

Asad is also not going to admit anything that would pit him against “his people.” The majority of Syrians are innocent bystanders to the war, and keeping most of them on the side of the government—or at least not on the side of the Syrian opposition—is crucial to maintaining power and providing a credible alternative inside and outside of Syria. He is not delusional in the sense of being crazy. It is a combination of strategy as well as the truly held belief, delusional or not, that he is, indeed, trying to save the country from terrorists. For him this is an easy conclusion to make since he believes he has had a target on his back for some time, long before 2011. It is how he views the world, and only if you spend a great deal of time in Syria do you understand that Asad and many of his supporters really do believe this, that it is not some sort of grand deception.

As someone who has met with and interviewed Asad numerous times in the period from 2004 to 2009, in terms of his demeanor and outlook, he still gives the same types of interviews. I had the good fortune, however, to be able to speak with him for hours on end on many occasions. Because of that, I was able to get past the talking points. I always felt that 90% of what he told me was fairly scripted. But it was the other 10%, when he let his guard down a bit, that was pure gold. The BBC interviewer, the respected Jeremy Bowen, was getting there at the end of his interview, when he asked Asad about the pain and suffering of war, and Asad mentioned the fact that he had also lost family and friends. I could see his guard come down, but the allotted time was over, and Bowen ended the interview. I wish he was able to continue along that more personal line. Now that would have been truly interesting.

 

David W. Lesch is the Ewing Halsell Distinguished Professor of Middle East History at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and is the author or editor of 14 books, including Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad.

Syrian Refugees Collectivizing in Jordan Becomes a Security Issue — by Katy Montoya

Katy Montoya, an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, has undertaken some ambitious research on the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Following previous work on refugees in Jordan posted on Syria Comment (here, here, and here), some excerpts of Katy’s work are re-posted below; read her entire research article at the Institut de recherches et d’études sur le monde arabe et musulman. Follow Katy: @K4TYMONTOYA

Katy Montoya refugees Jordan IREMAM

 

… Jordanian policies toward entering and residing Syrians have evolved simultaneously with the three-and-a-half year conflict. Jordanian border security has, from the beginning, played a generous role in facilitating border crossings, ending the long, often dangerous journeys of fleeing Syrians. Various Jordanian officials in my interviews emphasized the extent of humanitarian care that Jordan provides for entering Syrians, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from the border in. Unlike nearby Lebanon, the Jordanian government has worked with the UNHCR to open the al-Za’tari and al-Azraq refugee camps. Other camps include Cyber City, a holding facility for “illegal” Palestinian refugees from Syria (often referred to as PRS) and the Emirati (UAE-funded) camp.

Keeping a close count of registered Syrian refugees is difficult. Many Syrians enter Jordan illegally by bypassing official checkpoints. Increasingly, this is due to intensifying battles over border crossings between Jabhat an-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Asad’s forces, and Jordan’s subsequent closing of bordering crossings.[5] Meanwhile, about a hundred thousand Syrians who once resided in Jordan’s refugee camps have voluntarily returned to Syria. Many have also escaped the camps for Jordan’s cities and rural areas in order to seek better conditions and work opportunities.[6] Thus, roughly twenty percent of Syrians in Jordan face poor camp conditions.[7] Overcrowding and poor sanitation prevail, especially in the al-Za’tari and Cyber City camps, despite the efforts of camp officials.

Meanwhile, eighty percent of Syrians now live outside Jordan’s refugee camps and struggle to obtain necessary goods and services. With the help of UN subsidies, Jordan has kept its public hospitals open to Syrian refugees for over three years, allowing refugees to access free healthcare. State officials abruptly announced the termination of these services in late November 2014, citing the heavy debts Jordan has accrued through extending free Health-care to Syrian refugees.[8]

… During the summer of 2014, rumors began to circulate in the international media concerning Jordan’s repatriation of illegal Syrian workers and the strict cap imposed on Syrian refugees awaiting entry at the border. Syrian social workers reported cases of Jordanian authorities forcefully relocating unregistered urban refugees to live in refugee camps. The interviews I conducted this summer with Syrian social workers upheld such claims. Meanwhile, the official Jordanian press denied Jordan’s involvement in deporting refugees back to Syria.[9] Months later, however, international organizations and researchers have indeed been able to substantiate the claims.

A November 2014 report released by Boston University (BU) compiles interviews with international organizations and the testimonials of impacted Syrians, providing conclusive evidence of Jordan’s practice of forced repatriation. In fact, escalating concerns over refugee control and domestic security have created a charged political climate surrounding these matters. It is becoming clear that new security priorities have prompted Jordanian authorities to deport threatening and nonthreatening Syrian refugees alike. As the BU report states, “Syrian nationals are being deported in some instances for violating laws, such as working illegally. Others are deported for posing security problems, usually as a result of political action, regardless of specific affiliation.”[10] Through this practice, Jordan may damage its international image, even though it is true that the kingdom is not a signee of the 1951 Refugee Convention. As my initial research problematic hypothesized, security concerns have come to dominate the Jordanian government’s approach to hosting Syrian refugees.

A Survey of Syrian Social Networks in Jordan

In his study of Islamist organizations in Jordan, Quintan Wiktorowicz concludes that the Jordanian state exercises authoritarian control over civil society formation and practices.[12] Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate, the Mukhabarat, are a major force in regulating the contents and activities of political parties, charities, and cultural organizations. While this holds true for Jordanian organizations, I discovered through my survey of civil society formation in Syrian refugee communities, that among this population, Jordan is only selectively regulatory. In other words, the state allows some organizations and groups to operate freely while others are closely monitored or banned altogether. An exploration of what is permitted, and under what conditions, should contribute to reveal the logic which is currently steering Jordan’s refugee policy, and by extension, what its political position towards the Syrian war may be. …

… In Irbid, the only surviving Syrian family support center (as of July 2014) has gone to a lot of trouble to abide by strict regulation requirements. The founder (a former activist from Dera’a) not only has sought the assistance of a European NGO partner, but also created two salaried positions for Jordanian workers, a heavy burden for a struggling non-profit, in order to justify its right to operate in Jordan. “If I didn’t do this, the authorities would close me down immediately,” she explained, referring to Jordan’s Ministry of Social Development. …

… Another member of the Syrian community in Irbid has established a sort of civil registry office in his living room, reprinting legal documents for Syrians who left their papers behind or whose documents have expired. Syrians come to his home office from various communities in North Jordan, seeking his services. For over a year, he has also assembled teams of Syrian activists to document human rights violations and civilian deaths wherever they have occurred in Syria. Volunteers in his office use testimonies and different methods of verification to create reports with titles like, “Violence Against Girls and Women in Dera’a” and “Attacks on Field Hospitals in Aleppo.”

The founder claims that when his documents first began surfacing, their factsWere at variance with the information published by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). He relates this to the Jordanian Mukhabarat’s attempts to shut down his center—that is, until the Jordanian authorities had assessed the quality of his work. He provides legal documents in the hope they will be recognized by the Jordanian government and by international organizations. Meanwhile, his human rights work ties his center to political leaders, various armed opposition groups, journalists, activists, arms-traffickers, and local coordinating committees in Syria and neighboring countries. The capacity to obtain quantifiable evidence on events in Syria from Jordan is a testament to the organization and coherence of the transnational networks which bind the larger Syrian community together.

Extending Support to Non-Civilians

The informal networks that include non-civilians, particularly those that connect Syrian refugee communities to armed opposition groups in Syria, work in fairly similar ways. As Syrians collectivize to address civilian needs, it is not uncommon for them to engage with Syrians who have political and military affiliations. In my own experiences of visiting ostensibly civilian Syrian community centers, I encountered individuals who play more direct roles in the Syrian opposition on a regular basis: field doctors from battle sites in Dera’a, leaders of different divisions of South Syria’s FSA, prominent political activists and dissidents, and arms collectors. They often share family or hometown ties to Syrian community leaders in Jordan and use the resources made available by community networks to collect funds and supplies, relocate their families to Jordan, spread news, and discuss opposition strategies. As more Syrians flee to Jordan, the dynamics of civilian versus non-civilian have become increasingly complex. …

… The relative ease with which Syrians in Jordan connect with and support members of Syria’s opposition occurs in the context of implicitly partisan (non-neutral) practices. It is relatively well-known that the Syrian-Jordanian borders are spaces of cooperation between the Jordanian military and the FSA. My interviews with leaders of South Syria’s Military Council (i.e. the FSA), as well as with various media sources, confirm that implicit agreements between these military groups enable the free movement of FSA leaders across the border. Moreover, at one of the last border crossings to remain open at Ruwaishid, Jordanian intelligence and military actively facilitate the transport of arms, food, and medical supplies across the border into Syria, as well as the entry of refugees into Jordan.[14]

… The same standard applies to Jordan, as the kingdom has exercised diplomatic caution since early on in the conflict and claims to be a neutral bystander in the ongoing war.[16] In this context, the overlaps and contradictions between caring for Syrian civilians and managing the interests of the Syrian opposition are constant and ongoing. Keeping non-civilians out of Jordan becomes more complicated when dealing with Syrians who haven’t deliberately left their homes for Jordan (and are not actively seeking refugee status) but rather have been rushed to the borders by the FSA. As war casualties, they come from both civilian neighborhoods and from the battlefield, and their injuries largely exceed the capacities of Syrian field hospitals.

Although the Jordanian military and intelligence employ strict identification screening methods throughout the registration process for refugees, they generally apply much looser policies to Syrian casualties seeking medical treatment. The procedures set up to manage this influx supposedly privilege civilian victims and Syria’s moderate opposition (the FSA), yet Jordan’s open-door policy inadvertently extends to wounded fighters from al-Qaida’s affiliate, Jabhat an-Nusra, and possibly other groups active in Syria’s southern region.

Jordanian security, intelligence, and medical personnel are undoubtedly aware of this. Officials actively control the movement of Syrian trauma patients in Jordan in order to counterbalance their humanitarian open-door policies. Such practices were common when Palestinian refugees from Iraq living in Jordan’s Ruwaishid camp use to seek medical treatment in Jordan’s cities after the US invasion in 2003.[17] Today, members of Jordan’s Civilian Defense escort wounded Syrians to their first stop at the public Ramtha Government Hospital. From there, police officers supervise each patient’s stay, whether unaccompanied male or patient plus family, at one of the country’s several private, specialized hospitals. This route officially terminates at the Joint Registration Center at Ruba’a al-Sarhan, close to the Syrian border in the al-Mafraq governorate. There, individuals are registered and officials assess whether they should be sent to al-Za’tari camp (to be escorted by police to further medical appointments at a later date) or back to the dangerous zones in Syria from where they came.

The movement of Syrians through informal social networks is much harder for Jordan to regulate. Loopholes exist in the surveillance procedures that the state increasingly imposes on Syrian refugees. While Jordanian officials claim it is not possible for recovering Syrian trauma patients to evade the regulated system that leads them to al-Za’atari or back to Syria, certain intermediaries intervene on the behalf of these vulnerable individuals. One such Jordanian, bearing the pseudonym Abu Ahmad, a man from Zarqa City, works full-time in the service of the Syrian community. Since retiring from decades of membership in Jordanian Security, he has used his wasta, a cultural term denoting extensive social connections and a certain privilege and status, to pull young Syrian men out of this often merciless system. He frequently visits al-Za’tari Camp and private hospitals to follow up on special cases that come to his attention through his ties to the greater Syrian community. By mobilizing funds from wealthy Syrian donors abroad, he has established housing units for disabled ex-FSA fighters that provide ongoing medical treatment and rehabilitation as well as living necessities. Even as a well-established East-Bank Jordanian, he is subject to monitoring by the Jordanian authorities. Abu Ahmad explains that the authorities’ primary concern is ensuring that only moderate Syrian nationals—not extremist fighters, Palestinian refugees from Syria, or foreign fighters—find refuge in Jordan.

Jordan has, perhaps, overcompensated to dispel rumors suggesting that it is providing refuge to non-moderate armed oppositions groups. At the same time, the evolution of its policies toward Syrian refugees reflects the increasing security concerns at its borders. An article from the Forced Migration Review notes that since 2013, “Jordan has imposed bans on unaccompanied men from entering the country.”[18] The rising threat of Islamic State fighters entering the country compounds existing fears of Syrian regime agents penetrating the closely monitored borders, as Jordanian border security officials explained to me. The same article describes a common occurrence in conflict-ridden countries, where a separate political logic often applies to male refugees of fighting age (as opposed to families, women, and children).[19] Specifically, host country policies toward adult males overemphasize their potential for taking up arms, and thus discriminate against them as assumed non-civilians. Scoping out possible threats to Jordan’s internal harmony and curbing extremism is increasingly being imposed at the expense of offering refuge to some of Syria’s most vulnerable displaced individuals. …

Syrian airstrike victim in Jordanian hospital

Victim of airstrike treated in ICU in Amman – Photo: IREMAM

 

Circles of Syrian Doctors Working in Jordan

… For over a year, it seemed that as long as Syrian doctors continued filling in for the lack of doctors treating incoming wounded Syrians, and as long as they steered clear of politics, the Jordanian government would continue to turn something of an acquiescent blind eye to these predominantly wageless doctors. However, an article by Human Rights Watch announced the recent deportation of Syrian medical workers “caught” treating Syrian patients at Ramtha Public Hospital as well as at private hospitals around Jordan.[21] It is safe to conclude that Jordanian authorities have already closed, or may soon close, rehabilitation centers and Syrian hospital wards which have provided the materials for a part of this present study.

Monitoring a Situation in Flux

Jordan’s steady deviation from humanitarian obligation reveals the Kingdom’s apprehensions about hosting another refugee population, on a long-term basis. It is indeed relevant to wonder whether Jordan’s growing impatience stems in fact from the utter lack of any solution to Syria’s persistent war. In the light of the escalating security concerns that cooperation with the FSA raises, perhaps the costs of quietly supporting Syria’s moderate opposition are too high. Through its recent political moves, Jordan may be seen to be sending an implicit message to the refugees and to the international community—that is, a desire to reduce involvement in Syrian affairs. However, could it also be that after three and a half years of conflict, the Jordanian government, like a significant number of Syrian refugees, is considering reconciliation with the al-Asad regime?[22]

Most importantly for this research, it is crucial to raise the question of just how far Jordan’s evolving political agenda will affect its treatment of Syrian refugees and the resulting wellbeing of these communities. Can their informal networks withstand repressive host country policies? How will underhand practices like repatriation undermine the resilience and cohesiveness of the larger Syrian community?

Life has come to a halt for Syrians in Jordan, who have little access to higher education, healthcare, and work. For many, Jordan is just a temporary stopover before the refugees move on to Turkey or undertake the dangerous trip to Europe. As European Union member countries and Australia are offering thousands of resettlement and asylum opportunities to Syrians, the common perception is that better treatment and possibilities are awaiting them there.[23] While Jordan is becoming an increasingly undesirable place for Syrians to live and be, most have no option but to stay put and wait it out.

Read the entire research article

Syria News Round-Up Feb. 9, 2015

From a friend commenting on discrepancy in SOHR’s recent numbers:

SOHR is all over the place with numbers. This is his latest: here. The new number is 210k; he says that 100k are civilians 80%+ of which are men. He estimates 85k+ fighters unaccounted for across all sides. 1.5 million injured. 50% displaced. His detailed stats are here. His number of civilians jumped 40K from December stats. And his 210K total is off by ~35K if I’m totaling his numbers correctly. According to the numbers he’s listing, the total is 245K.

SOHR casualty numbers These are his numbers from December:

SOHR December 2014 numbers casualties

 

Meet ‘Average Mohamed,’ a gas station manager who’s using cartoons to fight ISIS recruitment – PRI’s The World

average Mohamed

The 39-year-old Somali-American businessman by day has turned activist by night, creating the website “Average Mohamed.” It’s a series of animated cartoons voiced by Mohamed Ahmed (Average Mohamed) to rebut Islamic extremists recruitment videos.

“It takes an idea to destroy an idea and my concept was to create ideas.” says Ahmed, who was frustrated that the ideology Islamic extremists peddle was not being effectively countered. “The cartoons offer talking points to parents, mosque leaders, youth activists and law enforcement that they can use to thwart the narrative of extremists.”

The animated cartoon called “Islamic State Job Description” has a Disney-ish cartoon style but the voiceover is grim: “Average Mohamed asks: What do you think your job description is when you join Islamic State? Your job description is to commit genocide against Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Jews; terrorize innocent women, men and children like your family, into blind obedience. Behead unarmed innocent people you round up; destroy World Heritage sites, mosques, tombs and shrines; empower unelected, self-nominated, murderous, bloodthirsty individuals as leaders. Not exactly DisneyWorld … like the propaganda says it is, is it?” …

 

War Fronts:

Islamic State pulls forces and hardware from Syria’s Aleppo – Reuters

Islamic State has withdrawn some of its insurgents and equipment from areas northeast of the Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels and residents say, adding to signs of strain in the Syrian provinces of its self-declared caliphate. …

Kurds recapture scores of Kobane villages from ISIL – al-Jazeera

Kurdish fighters say they have recaptured more than 120 villages in northern Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). …

The political geography of Syria’s War: An Interview with Fabrice Balanche – Carnegie – Aron Lund

 …You could follow the sectarian patterns across the map. In mixed Alawite-Sunni areas, the protests only took place in the Sunni areas. In Latakia, Banias, and Homs, the demonstrators clashed with Alawite counterdemonstrators. This pro-Assad mobilization was not simply organized by the government. Rather, it was part of the phenomenon of urban asabiyya (communal solidarity) that has been so well described by Michel Seurat in the case of Tripoli. In the Daraa Province, the population is almost exclusively Sunni and the demonstrations naturally spread—but they stopped right at the border of the Druze-populated Sweida Province, which did not sympathize with them at all. In Aleppo, the divisions were mainly social, between the well-to-do and poorer people, and between indigenous city dwellers and new arrivals from the countryside who lived in the slums. But the sectarian factor was present in Aleppo too, with Christians remaining staunchly pro-regime and the Kurds playing their own game, as we have seen with the autonomous cantons in Afrin, Ein al-Arab (Kobane), and Qamishli…

What’s behind the Kurdish-Arab Clashes in East Syria – Carnegie – Aron Lund

 …The situation in Hasakah is peculiar. The city and the wider region is divided between Kurds and Arabs on the one hand, and internally among Arab tribes and villages, on the other. There are also significant Christian groups in the city, including Syriacs and Armenians…

The Battle for the Qalamoun Mountains – FP – Nour Samaha

Syrian army attacks Qamishli countryside, mass displacement reported – ARA News

Syria conflict: Dozens killed in heavy Damascus fighting – BBC

U.S.-led strikes kill 30 Islamic State fighters in Syria: monitors – Reuters

New map from Agathocle de Syracuse:

Agathocle De Syracuse - Syria Map

Kobani:

Experts: Kobane defeat a sign of ISIS weakening – Al-Arabiya

Islamic State in Syria seen under strain but far from collapse – Reuters

Syria’s Kurds celebrate after winning Kobani, but self-rule far off – Reuters

 

International Political Negotiations:

Syria: The Ultimate Example of Cynical Realpolitik – EU Observer – Mark Pierini

…What the interview reveals – for those who have not met both father and son – is that Bashar al-Assad will cling to power irrespective of the destruction it rqeuires. He will use any method to that end, from his residual stock of chemical weapons to alliance reversals to an extension of the conflict beyond Syria’s borders…

The US needs Turkey and vice versa — but it isn’t working – Business Insider – Soner Cagaptay

Paying the Piper: How America’s Iraq War haunts its Failed Syria Policy – Informed Comment – Michael MacDonald

The Syrian Opposition Meeting in Cairo: One Small Step – MEI – Geoffrey Aronson

…The Syrian conflict might still take many years to resolve. But the noninflammatory tone of the meeting in Cairo could mark one small step along the long path of dialogue and negotiation required to bring Syria’s destructive civil war to an end…

Engaging in Politics, Assad-Style – Al-Hayat – Yezid Sayigh

…More likely is that the U.S. will abandon the effort to unseat Assad, without recognizing his legitimacy or resuming direct political contacts. This may be enough for his regime to survive, but with ever-dwindling resources. Already, the concentration of business deals in the hands of ruling family has sparked the flight of many of the businessmen whose continued stake in Syria had previously been a crucial mainstay for the regime. Coming at a time when the regime desperately needs income, and has even granted the private sector the right to import oil to compensate for the inadequacy of Iranian supplies, this reflects complete unwillingness to change how it operates…

Secret dialogue between Syrian regime and opposition in Beirut – Al-Bawaba

U.N. plan for Syrian cease-fires frozen – The Daily Star

 

Regional Analysis:

PF138image900x600-198x132A report that outlines Iran and Hezbollah involvement in the conflict:  THE SHIITE JIHAD IN SYRIA AND ITS REGIONAL EFFECTS – The Washington Institute – Phillip Smyth

A discussion about some of the report’s findings:  The most important thing in the Middle East that no one is talking about – Business Insider – Armin Rosen

 …As Smyth explains, Iran has used the Syrian civil war to expand its influence over the Shi’ite communities in the broader Middle East and advance the clerical regime’s strategic and ideological goals. Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad is well-documented…

 

Jordanian Pilot Execution:

Video Of Jordanian Pilot’s Death As Horrific As It Was Symbolic – NPR – Robert Siegel

Barbarians Burn Pilot Alive – Daily Beast

… The king says that when Jordan joined the coalition, the F-16 pilots were told only volunteers had to take part. “Every single pilot raised his hand and stepped forward,” the king tells Charlie Rose in the video clip used by ISIS.

In fact, in Jordan there was some negative reaction to that interview at the time. It appeared to many Jordanians as if the king was playing to an American audience, not to their own concerns. Many had expressed doubts about whether the coalition war really was Jordan’s war. …

Experts React to ISIS’s Gruesome Execution of Jordanian Pilot – Rand

After Burning of Muaz al-Kasasbeh, Jordan & al-Azhar’s Gestures of Vengeance Will Not Heal – Syria Comment – Matthew Barber

… Both Jordan and al-Azhar’s reactions seem more akin to the sickness than to a solution. Allowing our disgust at IS brutality to define our response risks transforming us into their image, something that would spell victory for them and legitimize their war against the world. …

Just Because You Quote Clint Eastwood Doesn’t Make You a Cowboy – FP – Steven Simon and James Fromson

Jordan’s Executions of Jihadists Could Backfire – CNN – Lina Khatib

The Islamic State’s Psyops – Ultimate War – Red (team) Analysis – Dr. Helene Lavoix

Crime and Punishment in Jordan – FP – David Schenker

How to read the medieval scholar the Islamic State used to justify al-Kasasbeh murder – Prof. John Hoover

Just when you think ISIS can’t get any worse – MEI

Angry Jordanian Crowds Rally over ISIL Murder of Pilot, but some blame US, King – Juan Cole

Isis has reached new depths of depravity. But there is a brutal logic behind it. – The Guardian – Hassan Hassan

Jordan’s Executions Are Not the Answer to ISIS Brutality – HRW – Eric Goldstein

… While the government’s desire to address public outrage is as understandable as the outrage itself, executing death row prisoners does not weaken ISIS. This round of executions, the second in two months, is a further regression by a country that was until recently a regional leader in resisting use of the death penalty. On December 21, Jordan ended an eight-year de facto moratorium on executions by hanging 11 men convicted of murder. In that case as well, authorities cited public sentiment as the reason behind the executions.

The executions of al-Karbouli and al-Rishawi were carried out following trials that included an appeals process. But to dispatch them from death row to the gallows immediately following news of al-Kasasbeh’s murder, to which they had no connection, amidst official vows to avenge his death, shows that revenge was a motive in ending their lives. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment under all circumstances, as a practice unique in its cruelty and finality. But to execute death row inmates in response to external events alarmingly suggests that retaliation against third parties is driving policy, rather than justice based solely on fairness and individualized guilt.

 

Islamic State:

Scenes from Daily Life Inside ISIS-Controlled Mosul – Vanity Fair – Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple Mosul drawings

Islamic State executes 7 men in Aleppo and al- Raqqa – SOHR

Kayla Mueller’s Parents Opposed Military Mission to Rescue Her From Islamic State – FP – Sean D. Naylor

ISIS and Syria’s Southern Front – MEI – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

 …the rebels in the south comprise a diverse array of fighters whose relative lack of infighting and increased cooperation mean that the regime is not on the verge of any decisive gains in the area. However, the prospect of the fall of Aleppo to the regime in the north, though not imminent, is an ever growing concern among non-jihadi rebels, many of whom feel increasingly squashed between the regime, ISIS, and JN…

Fledgeling Gaza ISIS Groups Operate Under Watchful Eye of Hamas – Newsweek – Lucy Draper

ICSR Insight: The Islamic State Model – ICSR

ISIS : al-Hayat media ~ From inside Aleppo – pietervanostaeyen

ISIS media outlet al-Hayat releases another video featuring the British ISIS hostage John Cantlie.

 

Anti-Islamic State Militias:

Westerners join Kurds fighting Islamic State group in Iraq – AP

‘Thousands’ of Iraqi Christians form their own militia to fight Isis militants in northern Iraq – The Independent

Want to Hurt the Islamic State? Here’s How. – FP – Christian Caryl

 …The Kurds have an army, and they’re willing to fight and die. So why isn’t the United States sending them the weapons they need?…

Compulsory military service raises concerns among Syrian Kurdish youth – ARA News

 

Miscellaneous:

Syrian Refugees and Regional Security – Carnegie – Benedetta Berti

UN Syrian refugees

 

…Lebanon faces rising unemployment and decreasing wages as Syrians are forced to accept work for lower wages, harsher conditions, and fewer rights than their host counterparts. Wages in the service and agricultural sectors have decreased by as much as 50 percent in Lebanon between 2011 and 2013—with similar dynamics occurring in all host countries. This has created intense domestic pressure that affects economic performance, social cohesion, and ultimately internal stability…

Prince Charles tours camp for Syrian refugees; UK raises aid – WP

NBC Weapons: Smashing The Syrian Caverns Of Doom – Strategy Page

…Finally, in late 2014 Syria began destroying a dozen underground facilities used to produce and destroy chemical weapons. This effort was delayed several times during 2014 but eventually the Syrians got going under the threat of air strikes on their military facilities…

How Syrian rebel fighters fell for ‘honey trap’ hackers – Christian Science Monitor

…A hacker, using a fake Skype or Facebook profile, would strike up a conversation with a target and invite him to swap photos. The hacker’s photo, invariably that of an attractive woman, would contain malware that once downloaded by the target would copy chat logs, tactical strategies, and contact details from the target’s device, according to FireEye’s research…

To Be Syrian and a Professor: Recipe for Tragedy – Al-Fanar Media

…Syrian professors have two choices: Stay in their country and risk their lives or scatter to the winds and live largely in isolation…

UN sets sights on Syria antiquities, Islamic State oil, ransoms – Reuters

Refugee artists raise awareness for Syria’s plight – DW

Syrian artists

J.K. Gani’s “The Role of Ideology in Syrian-US Relations” — Reviewed by Julio Rivera

Julio Rivera - University of Chicagoby Julio Rivera

Julio Rivera is a PhD student in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago where he focuses on Syrian political history. Before pursuing his PhD, Julio spent three years working as a Syria political analyst for the Department of Defense, spanning the period prior to and during the current Syria crisis. Follow Julio on twitter: @juliorivera77

J.K. Gani’s The Role of Ideology in Syrian-US Relations: Conflict and Cooperation is an excellent resource for scholars, policymakers, and Syria watchers alike who are interested in understanding how Washington’s policies from 1946 to 2000 have solidified Syria’s ongoing mistrust of and hostility toward the US role in the region, as well as a useful guide to identifying the limits of Syrian-US cooperation. This book fills a large gap in the history of Syrian-US relations, as prior works often dealt narrowly with the peace process, the post-9/11 era, or the post-Ottoman era up to the moment of Syria’s political union with Egypt in 1958—a time when Damascus still controlled the Golan Heights.

JK Gani, The Role of Ideology in Syrian-US Relations, Conflict and Cooperation - book cover

Author: J.K. Gani (Lecturer in IR at the University of St. Andrews, UK)
Series: Middle East Today
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (October 2, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1137358343
ISBN-13: 978-1137358349

Due to the dearth or inaccessibility of Syrian internal memos detailing their private perceptions and motivations during this period, Gani’s research draws primarily on US and British archival material that sheds light on the thinking of Syrian officials. The Role of Ideology in Syrian-US Relations makes the compelling argument that Syria’s Arab nationalist and anti-imperial outlook, hardened over time by what was perceived as the US’s disingenuous agenda in the region, has greatly influenced its foreign policy and contends that Syria’s decisions to either confront or cooperate with the West should be viewed as pragmatic calculations guided by—as opposed to a blind adherence to—ideology.

Gani’s primary research method is historical analysis, which helps to contextualize Syrian animosity towards Western hegemony over the years. The book is broken into four parts highlighting different stages of the Syrian-US relationship: 1) The emergence of US-Syrian relations from Truman to Kennedy; 2) Syria’s isolation and the birth of the US-Israeli special relationship (specifically as it relates to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War); 3) US-Syrian disengagement talks from 1973-1975; and 4) instances of US-Syrian cooperation in the post-Cold War era. The book argues that while Syrian uneasiness regarding Western intentions (due largely to the country’s experience under the French Mandate) pre-dated Damascus’ suspicious attitude towards Washington, the US’s actions following Syrian independence in 1946 would result in a perception of the US being “second-generation imperialists” from the viewpoint of Damascus.

However, Gani points out that to assume Syrian-US relations were doomed from the start (given Syria’s prior attitudes towards the mandate authorities) overlooks the hopes Syrians and the region in general had for the US to chart a different course. Unlike the French and the British, Washington maintained a largely isolationist policy following WWI, and the Wilsonian Principles of Self-Determination (1919) coupled with the US’s support for the dissolution of the mandate system within the UN positioned the US to play a positive role in supporting the aspirations of self-determination throughout the region. Despite its initial openness towards Arab self-determination, Washington’s backing of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which prompted an ensuing refugee crisis, and the shift in focus towards combating the spread of communism throughout the world, altered the paradigm and prompted the US to view the region solely through the lens of collecting resources to strengthen itself and its allies against the Soviets. In light of these changing dynamics, any critique by Syrian officials of the US or its regional allies made Damascus appear as if it were simply a Soviet satellite.  Such appearances prompted the Eisenhower administration in 1957 to support a coup in Syria, which was discovered and prevented by Damascus.

Although suspicion and aggression have continued to cast a shadow on Syrian-US relations even up through the present conflict, the book highlights moments, particularly during and after the First Gulf War, where Damascus appeared to shed its anti-Western ideology in favor of cooperation with the US. While Gani acknowledges that Damascus was likely motivated in part by Washington’s “unipolar” moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union, she notes that from Syria’s perspective, it wasn’t necessarily abandoning ideology but rather calibrating its response in light of the more global consensus in favor of US and coalition action, as well as the support from the UN. By allying with the West in this moment, Damascus was attempting to not only safeguard Arab unity by preventing inter-Arab warfare, but was also calling for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait in an effort to create parallels with the peace process in the hopes of convincing the US of the rationale for Israel to similarly withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.

Syria’s cooperation with the US did provide added reason to jumpstart the peace process in 1991, this time in Madrid; yet Syria’s hopes for achieving results were ultimately dashed.  Gani views Damascus’s willingness to compromise its longstanding principle of not holding separate bilateral negotiations with Israel, as an important step. For their part, Israeli negotiators, feeling insulated by prior promises from earlier US administrations, did not believe they had to compromise on the Golan Heights and even continued settlement construction at the time despite US pronouncements that such activity was “a deliberate effort to sabotage peace.” The Syrian track would soon result in a stalemate, while separate negotiations with the Palestinians and subsequent Oslo agreements in the mid-90s further convinced Damascus that such “second-generation imperialists” were merely looking to divide and conquer the Arab states.

By virtue of her historical analysis, Gani calls on her readers to understand Damascus’ adherence to an ideology which is pro-Arab nationalist, pro-self determination, and reasonably suspicious of the West’s regional ambitions. Unlike other works which often offer a very US-centric version of Syria as the “obstructionist” in the relationship, this book presents Damascus’ rationale for sticking to its anti-Western, Arab nationalist ideology in the face of repeated empty promises and outright hostility.

Ultimately, this work leaves the reader with the feeling that the prospects for genuine, long-term cooperation between both parties are slim to none. The US has done little over the years to convey that it has Syria’s interests at heart, which has only entrenched Syria’s confrontational attitude towards Western hegemony. So while temporary situations may present themselves as opportunities for cooperation between Damascus and Washington, they are likely to remain short lived as the overall trajectory portends continued mutual hostility. The current debates surrounding the question of whether or not the US should cooperate with the Asad regime in their mutual fight against ISIS is a prime example of the moments when interests align, yet such an approach is unlikely to translate into a long-term strategic partnership given the several other outstanding issues in the US-Syrian relationship.

It would have been useful had the book contained a developed suggestion on the most promising solution to the projected impasse in the relationship. Gani briefly mentions a few possible scenarios wherein the Syrians could give up their ideological stance or the US could drop its support to Israel, but both seem highly unlikely given the compounding US actions which continue to widen the gulf between the two and the limited positive signals from Damascus that could demonstrate its potential as an ally worth exchanging Israel for. While she does mention that an end to external interference or a handing over of Israeli-occupied lands is another alternative, she doesn’t seem to place the onus on either Syria or the US to bring about that change.

To extend a brief argument informed by Gani’s work, I would propose that from a long-term strategic perspective the ball is in the US’s court, regardless of whether the Asad regime or some other post-Asad system emerges from the current crisis. For the current regime—absent a more even-handed approach to Syria, and a clear US role in implementing an equitable resolution to Palestinian statelessness and the Israeli-occupied territories, including the Golan Heights—Washington’s policies will continue to aggravate a country that maintains its right to regain its lost territory, as Egypt did, on the basis of international agreements like UN Resolution 242 and 338. Without such a shift, Damascus will continue to provide support to Israel’s enemies—armed Palestinian resistance groups, Hizballah, and Iran—and thus fail to build confidence with its southern neighbor. This is another side to this discussion that this work could have benefited from. For the Syrian opposition, should the US fail to adequately respond to the humanitarian crisis and provide genuine assistance to anti-regime forces, not to mention prepare for the possibility of leading the post-Asad state building efforts, the Syrian oppositionists will determine—as many already have—that the US is not a true partner with the Syrian people and that they will have to look elsewhere, potentially among the US’s enemies, for support. Without such unlikely shifts in policy, the US should not hope that hedging its bets by not fully committing to either side will yield anything more than a short term status quo lacking any true long-term improvement in its relationship with either side in Syria.

It is important to consider the insights that Gani’s work can provide at a time when some US policymakers may entertain the possibility of an alliance with the Asad regime against ISIS. What policy makers need to decide at this juncture is whether the short-term gain of cooperating with the Asad regime in the fight against ISIS is worth the long-term consequences. Reports already suggest that the U.S. has spent over $1 billion with estimated projections ranging as high as $10-15 billion a year in an expanded air campaign. The U.S. could decide to work with Asad’s troops in the hopes of having a reliable ground force for combined air and ground operations against ISIS inside Syria, but such a strategy does not guarantee military success against ISIS in Iraq. Additionally, this level of cooperation will not erase the decades of mistrust Damascus has towards Washington (and vice versa) and without a major shift in the U.S.’s regional policies, Syria’s leaders will continue to hold political positions towards Israel that will remain unpalatable to Western officials. What Gani’s work teaches us is that there are limits to U.S. cooperation with the current Syrian regime, and Washington must decide if the billions it will spend are worth investing in a government that history has shown will not easily embrace a genuine strategic partnership.

All in all, The Role of Ideology in Syrian-US Relations provides a well defended argument for why Syrians justifiably felt cornered throughout their history and continue to remain suspicious of Western involvement in the region. Misunderstandings and perceptions of the other have negatively impacted Syrian-US relations over the years, and J.K. Gani’s scholarly contribution is not only timely but critical in a period of great uncertainty regarding the future of Syria and how the US will address this question. Gani’s book therefore serves as a great resource and a must have for scholars of modern Syria or US foreign policy after World War II, and those interested in contextualizing what a short-term alliance with the Asad regime against ISIS may or may not mean for their mutual long-term relationship.

After Burning of Muaz al-Kasasbeh, Jordan & al-Azhar’s Gestures of Vengeance Will Not Heal

Matthew Barber 3by Matthew Barber

The following is not research or analysis, but a few reflections on the film released by IS in which Jordanian pilot Muaz al-Kasasbeh was burned alive inside a metal cage. I won’t claim that my moral reflections are especially profound, but I believe the traumatic nature of this event warrants further conversation.

Horror and Trauma

The anthropologist Talal Asad has famously asked what it is about certain kinds of violence, such as suicide bombing—and we can extend the question to IS’ regular use of beheadings—that evokes greater horror in observers than state-administered violence, which can often be further-reaching or more massive, as in the case of war. I don’t have an answer to the question, but this video, perhaps the goriest that IS has produced so far, was brutalizing to watch and is very capable of effecting trauma. Produced with audio and visual effects to resemble a horror film, the video is abusive to the viewer. By turning killing into theater, IS has uncomfortably blurred the lines between reality and performance. Beyond empathizing with how painful such a death must have been, I couldn’t help wondering what was it like for Muaz to die as the eyes of several cameras stared into him.

1053072By viewing the footage, IS does a kind of violence to me—or perhaps I am doing violence to myself by choosing to watch. There seems to be something problematic about becoming consumers of this horrific product that IS pushes. Does that extend to the political analyst? The intelligence analyst? Who legitimately needs to consume this product and who should not view it?

Though some experts will inevitably have to analyze this kind of material, promoting it to the public is reckless and harmful and will only help IS do violence to more people. On Tuesday, Fox News posted the entire, uncut video on its website and even aired portions of it on television, something no other media outlet would do.

There’s some irony in Fox News—with its avowedly “anti-terror” agenda—featuring uncut IS propaganda on their website, as others have noted. Also ironic is that some of the images contained in the lengthy propaganda video are of some of the more scandalous incidents during the Iraq War, when US soldiers killed unarmed civilians. These are not the aspects of the war that Fox News would normally draw attention to. The fact that major elements within our country cannot take responsibility for the more uncomfortable aspects of the war, yet then inadvertently provide them to the American public through the lens of a terrorist entity, verges on the absurd.

There seems to be a kind of misuse of this heartrending film as Fox News pursues its own agenda. One wonders what the motivations are for publicizing the video to the American people when an English translation wasn’t provided. Without context, viewers might make dangerous assumptions based on this video—like that their Muslim neighbors next door support such sickness. This film necessarily produces anger on the part of the viewer—but to be directed where? Fox News is spreading material capable of traumatizing those who ingest it, without helping them make sense of it. Perhaps they prefer not to translate the propaganda portion of the film, which might raise uncomfortable questions that are easier to avoid.

The images of Iraq war violence (that more Americans should have been exposed to and discussed long ago) now being transmitted by Fox News are made more tragic in that they are being presented through the lens of IS’ even more twisted logic. IS includes these images as justification for their own atrocities. That violence can heal is a lie that perhaps humanity may one day outgrow, a lie that now forms the basis of IS’ assumptions about the world. (Even this video was entitled “Healing the Believers’ Chests.”) IS exposes its broken reasoning when, in its videos, it showcases the dead bodies of those targeted by its enemies, apparently to justify its gory executions, yet ignores the countless victims it has similarly killed across Iraq and the Levant, many of whom had never lifted a finger against it.

Unhelpful Reactions

Just as IS members are misled in thinking that violence can produce healing for the Sunni victims of Iraq War violence, we are also misguided in assuming that revenge will produce healing for IS victims.

Jordan responded to this brutal message by quickly executing Sajida al-Rishawi, convicted of attempting a suicide bombing in Jordan, and Ziad al-Karbouli, an al-Qaida leader.

Jordan’s immediate reaction to the burning—“OK, then we’ll kill some Islamists”—worries me. This logic of revenge isn’t that far off from that which underpins IS’ own thinking.

Offenders should be dealt the appropriate penalties for the crimes for which they’ve been sentenced (and I’m not suggesting that capital punishment is acceptable), but not kept on hand until their killing will serve some political purpose. Jordan’s execution of the two Islamists has turned violence into a political tool. Admittedly, that is often the case with violence, yet the violence of the state is, in theory, supposed to transcend the impassioned reactions of individuals, keeping with its assumed role of impartially dispensing justice—which might be why its violence evokes less horror than that of a suicide bomber whose responsibility for acting to punish or exact revenge or effect change cannot be shifted to an institution.

Of course, in getting back at IS, Jordan did not burn in cages those it executed… because that would be wrong. If IS’ execution was directed at Jordan, and Jordan’s executions were directed at IS—both instances of killing intended to psychologically wound the other—the main feature differentiating these two acts is the manner in which they were performed. That these killings differed in form but not in purpose, it must be asked whether killing for such motives is acceptable at all. (One could argue that Jordan merely administered the penalties with which the criminals had been sentenced, but the points still stands that punishment is supposed to be meted out for crimes, not used as a political weapon.)

And now al-Azhar is calling for crucifixions of IS members, and to have their limbs chopped off. This is also unhelpful.

Al-Azhar is basically saying: “Yes, we’ll concede that these punishments you perform are Islamic, yet despite the fact that they haven’t been implemented in recent memory, we deem you to be those evil enough to warrant us bringing them out of the closet.” By calling for the crucifixion and limb-chopping of IS members, they are validating the same fundamentalist positions that IS appeals to, that under certain conditions these punishments should be used. If various groups and parties contend over who deserves to be crucified or subject to amputation, humanity won’t be making much progress. The bottom line should be that such treatment is wrong, and that resurrecting its use represents social decline, not advancement.

Both Jordan and al-Azhar’s reactions seem more akin to the sickness than to a solution. Allowing our disgust at IS brutality to define our response risks transforming us into their image, something that would spell victory for them and legitimize their war against the world.

Violence Is the Right Response

The immediate reaction of many upon seeing the video was a desire that efforts to fight IS be stepped up quickly. Today Jordan intensified attacks on IS targets, and the UAE has suggested they may resume their participation in the offensive against them. This is good: the response to IS does require violence, and it should be carried out swiftly and surely—not to satisfy the urge born of our rage and wounds, but to protect the earth and the innocent from this virulent plague. This latest video underscores the fact that IS must be eliminated, to ensure the future security of the region and the globe. This cannot happen without a fight, but it should be a fight of the right kind.

Is it possible to fight without hate? It may be difficult in the face of such callous oppression and cruelty, but it is the approach we must strive to maintain.

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