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The Covert US War Against Syria
by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Dissident Voice
February 18, 2012

Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen in Jerjenaz, near Idlib February 10, 2012. Handout taken February 10, 2012. REUTERS

People may have noticed that the official narrative concerning Syria changes on a daily basis - except for continuing to heap contempt and scorn on the Russians and Chinese for their Security Council veto. To be frank, this veto makes more and more sense as events on the ground unmask US culpability in the civil war in Syria. Yes, civil war. That`s what you call it when an armed resistance takes up arms against a sovereign government.

The interim report by the Arab League Observer Mission (although the Arab League declined to “approve” the report, it was leaked) clearly confirms the presence of an “armed entity” in Syria. Detailed descriptions of militants firing on government forces, as well as planting bombs and blowing up government and civilian infrastructure tend to support Assad`s claims that militant Islamists are attempting to overthrow his government. You can read the Report of Arab League Observer Mission for yourself on the Columbia University website.

At first, the Obama administration explained all this away by asserting that Syrian`s nonviolent protestors had become so frustrated with Assad`s intransigence that they joined forces with defectors from the Syrian Army. A day and a half ago, when two bomb blasts in Alepo killed twenty-five people, we were told the Syrian government had done this in a devious ploy to discredit the Free Syrian Army. This story wouldn`t wash after militants assassinated a Syrian general, a doctor responsible for running a military hospital in Damascus. Now the current line is that Iraqi members of Al Qaeda are taking advantage of Syrian civil unrest to cross the border and become Syrian Al Qaeda.

NATO Support for Syria`s Armed Militants

The problem with this new version of events is that a number of credible Middle East analysts, including former FBI interpreter and whistle blower Sibel Edmunds, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, British author and foreign correspondent John R. Bradley, and Canadian economist and globalization analyst Michel Chossudovsky have been reporting on Syrian`s armed resistance for many months. Moreover, all four also cite a growing body of credible evidence that the US, Turkey and other NATO forces, along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supplying these armed militants with funding, arms and training.

Edmonds first broke the story last November that the US and NATO were involved in arming and training Syrian militants.

On November 21, 2011 , sources in Turkey informed her of the presence of secret training camps at the US air force base in Incirlik. They were reportedly established in April-May 2011 to organize and expand the dissident base in Syria.

According to her sources, these support activities included smuggling US weapons into Syria, participating in US psychological warfare inside Syria and opening a humanitarian/medical corridor between Syria and Turkey to assist opposition groups.

On December 11, she reported, based on Jordanian sources that included a Jordanian military officer, that hundreds of foreign speaking troops had been observed near the Jordan-Syria border.

Her informants also revealed that NATO had established a second secret training camp near Mafraq, Jordan to train the armed wing of Syria`s Islamic brotherhood.

She was also informed, by a London-based Iraqi reporter, that an unknown number of US troops had been deployed from Iraq to Mafraq Jordan.

Eight days later former CIA officer Philip Geraldi essentially confirmed Edmonds` assertions in NATO vs Syria. This was an article he wrote for the American Conservative, based on information leaked by CIA analysts concerned by the Obama administration`s apparent “march to war” in Syria.

According to Geraldi, the CIA was refusing to sign off on the frequently cited UN report that more than 3,500 civilians had been killed by Assad`s soldiers. In their view, this information was based on rebel sources and uncorroborated. They also asserted that the Syrian government`s claims of being assaulted by rebels armed, trained, and financed by foreign governments were more true than false.

Unnamed CIA sources also informed him that NATO warplanes were arriving at Turkish military bases near Iskenderum on the Syrian border, with weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi`s arsenals, as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council.

There, the latter, along with French and British special forces, engaged in training members of the Free Syrian Army. Reportedly the CIA and US Special Ops role in all this was to provide communications assistance and intelligence.

Popular Support for Syria`s Secular Government

According to John R Bradley, author of After the Arab Revolution and the only analyst to predict the Egyptian revolution, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also providing arms and funding to the Free Syrian Army. In an interview with Russia Today, Bradley supports the prevailing view of Assad as a ruthless despot. However, he also points out that Syria`s president is one of the last secular Arab leaders in the most ethnically diverse nation in the Middle East. At the moment, he enjoys wide popular support because many Syrians view him as the last bastion between them and a fundamentalist Islamic government, like the one just installed in Libya.

Recent callers from Homs (the Syrian city under siege) to the February 10, 2012 BBC Have Your Say seem to support this perspective. While none are big Assad fans, the growing strength of the Islamic resistance worries them. Moreover they see Assad`s secular administration as far preferable to Sharia Law.

The US Military Agenda in the Middle East

Michel Chossudovksy, who has also been writing for months on the covert US war in Syria, is more alarmed about its significance in the context of broader American objectives in the Middle East. He explains that the US has targeted Syria, both because of its strategic alliance with Iran and because of Pentagon`s underlying strategy of isolating and encircling Iran as a prelude to toppling its current government. In a recent interview on Guns and Butter, he describes how the US has systematically occupied and/or militarized nearly all the countries that border Iran. First, you have US-occupied Afghanistan and Pakistan (the target of a second undeclared US war) on Iran`s western border. Then you have Iraq, which is still partially occupied, Kuwait (where the US deployed 15,000 troops in December), and Turkey on Iran`s eastern border. Finally you have Saudi Arabia (also host to major US military bases) and Qatar to the south. According to Chossudovksy, US military intervention in Syria will spill over and involve the Hezbollah in Lebanon, effectively neutralizing Iran`s last remaining allies.

In a recent disturbing article entitled When War Games Go Live, Chossoduvsky quotes from retired General Wesley Clark`s 2003 book Winning Modern Wars regarding the role of military intervention against Syria and Iran in the Pentagon`s grand Middle East strategy. According to Clark, the Pentagon has been making preparation to attack both countries since the mid-nineties. On page 130 of Winning Modern Wars, Clark states:

As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.

The reliability of these predictions, despite a 2008 regime change from George Bush, the so-called neocon hawk, to Barack Obama, a supposed soft power advocate, is uncanny. The US persists in its occupation of Iraq, in addition to major military engagements in Somalia and Sudan. Presumably the military intervention in Libya is complete, now that the new US-friendly regime has agreed to privatize Libyan oil for the benefit of US oil companies.

According to Chossoduvsky, countries such as Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Iran and Sudan became US military targets because they refused to play ball by allowing Anglo-American oil company unlimited access to their oil resources. In contrast, oil-poor countries like Syria and Lebanon are current targets because of strategic alliances with oil-rich Iran.

Syria`s Alawites to fight to death for power: analysts
February 18, 2012

Syria`s Alawite ruling minority will fight to the death to keep its grip on power in a country where they are despised by the majority Sunni Muslims who consider them to be usurpers, experts say.

The Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, represent only 12 percent of Syria`s mostly Sunni population of 22 million people but have the advantage of being linked to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The president belongs to the Alawite community, like his late father Hafez al-Assad who ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades until his death in 2000.

“The Alawites are afraid of being defeated by the Sunnis,” said Fabrice Balanche, who heads the Gremmo research group based in Lyon, France.

“We`re at the point of no return: the regime must crush the opposition, otherwise it will be the one to fall,” Balanche said.

And if that were to happen, analysts say, the Alawites will be cornered and left with few options: to try to set up a stronghold in the mountains and on the northwestern coast, head for exile or face being exterminated.

So far the Assad regime appears determined to put down pro-democracy protests against his 11-year rule.

The lethal crackdown against demonstrations that erupted 11 months ago has killed 6,000 people, activists say, and pitted Alawite against Sunni.

According to Balanche, Syria`s elite military units are either formed of Alawite troops or controlled by Alawites, and “in order to save their skin, they will fight to the end.”

“They don`t want to meet the fate of the harkis,” he said in reference to Algerians who fought alongside the French during the Algeria war. After Algeria gained independence many harkis were massacred or forced into exile.

Thomas Pierret, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, believes that if Assad is ousted from power, regime opponents will rise against the Alawite community and crush it in retaliation for the brutal crackdown on dissent.

“There`s the risk that if Assad falls the Alawite community will simply be wiped out,” said Pierret.

The Alawites have long been despised by Sunni Muslims who considered them as heretics and treated them like underdogs. Under Ottoman rule, the only Alawites tolerated in cities were those who worked as servants.

While Shiites venerate Ali -- son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed -- Alawites worship him.

Alawites believe that the the prophet is merely the veil masking the “essence” incarnated by Ali and consider Salman Pak, the third figure in their holy trinity and companion of the prophet, as the “gateway” to knowledge.

The Alawite doctrine was elaborated in Iraq in the 9th century by Mohammad bin Nusseir, a disciple of the 10th imam, dissident Ali al-Hadi.

Their doctrine is secretive and handed down by their religious leaders, and those who reveal it to non-Alawites can face death.

Unlike orthodox Muslims, Alawites believe in reincarnation, have no mosques, do not fast during Ramadan and believe that the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is not mandatory.

For Alawites alcohol is not banned, women can go about unveiled and members of the community celebrate Muslim and Christian festivals including Christmas.

The Sunni scholar Ahmad bin Taymiyya (1263-1328) said of the Alawites: “They are the worst enemies of Muslims. Jihad (holy war) against them is an act of piety.”

In 1920, during its occupation of Syria, France gave the Alawites autonomy.

But in 1936 Arab nationalists obtained from the mufti of Palestine a fatwa declaring Alawites to be Muslims, in a bid to woo them into joining their efforts to build a future independent state.

In the 1950s many Alawites in Syria were admitted to military academies and embraced the Baath party`s beliefs of secularism and pan-Arabism.

Alawites rose through the ranks thanks to two coups d`etat in 1963 and 1966, much to the chagrin of the Sunni bourgeoisie in Syria who were shocked to see “the children of cleaning women” rule the country, Balanche said.

Soon the Alawites left their mountain strongholds for the cities, with large communities setting up in the port cities of Tartus, Latakia, Banias and Jableh where they are now the majority.

If Assad falls the Alawites could set up an enclave within Syria, analysts believe.

“Due to the deadlock, the regime could try to fall back on the coastal areas to set up an independent entity,” said Bruno Paoli, head of Arab studies at the Beirut-based French Institute of Middle East Affairs (IFPO).

Balanche agrees.

“If the conflict in Syria develops as it did in Yugoslavia, an Alawite enclave could see the day” with Latakia as its capital, said Balanche.

© Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.

Most Likely Scenario: Bloody, Protracted War
Peter Goodspeed
National Post
February 18, 2012

Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen in Jerjenaz, near Idlib February 10, 2012. Handout taken February 10, 2012. REUTERS

The seeds of civil war have been sown in Syria. After 11 months of protest and repression, the country seems to be sliding toward bloody disintegration and unending chaos may soon engulf the crossroads of the Middle East.

Neighbouring Lebanon endured 15 years of torment in its 1975-90 civil war and Iraq is only just now emerging from nine years of brutal butchery.

But Syria, with its deadly divisions, tangled alliances, sectarian hatreds and ancient ethnic rivalries, could plunge the entire Middle East even deeper into misery.

Protracted civil war in the country may be impossible to contain: It could destabilize its neighbours; set the stage for a dangerous proxy war; and introduce horrible new elements, such as chemical weapons, to the terrorism that has plagued the region for decades.

Syria has already crossed the threshold of civil war and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better -- if it gets better,” said Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“The Assad regime, and the Alawi Shia community that stands behind it, have shown absolutely no willingness to step down or compromise and appear utterly determined to use as much violence as necessary to stay in power.

“It is a recipe for deepening conflict. Unless the regime finds a way to greatly ratchet up the violence and so crush the opposition quickly--or an external great power decides to intervene in force and so snuff out the conflict altogether -- the most likely scenario will be a bloody, protracted war.”

Videos posted daily on You-Tube by the opposition movement capture the horrors of the conflict.

The reek of death already hangs over Homs, where more than 600 people are said to have died in the past two weeks in artillery barrages, tank attacks and rocket assaults. Videos documenting the siege display mutilated and burned corpses, grieving families, burning buildings, the rattle of rifle fire, exploding shells, billowing black clouds and shouts of fear.

“Full-fledged civil war in Syria would have a different character than the one in Iraq,” said Majid Rafizadeh, a human rights activist and columnist for the Harvard International Review.

“It would be more destructive in terms of human lives, losses and regional instability. Because of the complexity of the social, religious and ethnic fabric of Syrian society, the civil war would not take only one dimension.”

At least 8,000 people have died in Syria since last March and parts of the country are no longer controlled by Bashar al-Assad`s regime. Others are being subjected to full-scale military assaults, while what started as brave, peaceful, acts of resistance are gradually turning into a grinding guerrilla war.

About 25,000 Syrian soldiers, mostly Sunnis, have defected after refusing to fire on civilians. But they have done little to alter the balance of power. Only lightly armed, generally poorly trained and indifferently led, the defectors have marginalized Syria`s non-violent democratic opposition, while reinforcing sectarian divisions.

While nominally controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), based in Turkey, “battalions” of defectors are really little more than independent bands of militiamen who fight tanks with AK-47 automatic rifles.

“When confronted by massed regime forces, the militia`s units have been unable to resist for long, instead melting away to avoid destruction,” said Jeffrey White, a defence expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“FSA battalions seem to fight alone and have not yet demonstrated that they can coordinate operations on a regional basis.”

The Syrian regime has also deployed only a fraction of the force it has.

“While the Assad regime is in some trouble, they have not used the force they have available to them yet. They still have complete control over the units that count,” said Andrew McGregor, a senior editor of the Global Terrorism Monitor for the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

“You have a fairly large army, but there is only a very small number of units that actually matter and they are completely capable of taking on the rest of the army if necessary,” he explained. “So, if you are looking at a pure military confrontation, the upper hand is still with the regime.”

“You have a lot of people crossing over from the Syrian Army, but they don`t have enough strength themselves to depose the government,” said Mr. Mc-Gregor. “You could end up with some kind of really long insurgency that could go on for years.

But I think somebody would have to step in before that, because it is just such a sensitive area.”

The international community`s inability to agree on how to deal with Syria could doom the region to an even more dangerous proxy war.

“When you have the United Nations locked up, it`s very easy to get into a proxy struggle where you have different powers in the region or even globally betting on certain factions inside the country,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“That could be where we`re heading.”

Iran, having crushed its own non-violent popular uprising after rigged presidential elections in 2009, doesn`t dare let Syria, its only Arab ally, go under. Such a move would drastically alter the regional balance of power between it and other Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, led by increasingly assertive Qatar, worry about the plight of fellow Sunnis in Syria and are anxious to reduce Iranian influence in the region.

Just last week, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri urged Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join an uprising against “Assad`s pernicious, cancerous regime.”

Interestingly, his appeal came just days after two massive suicide car bombs killed 28 people and injured 235 Syrian soldiers and security force members in Aleppo, Syria`s largest city.

If Syria continues to spin out of control, the violence could suck in neighbouring states, disrupt Iraq`s recovery, raise tensions with Iran and the West, destabilize Lebanon, and threaten Turkey and Israel.

According to IHS Jane`s, the British defence consultancy, Syria has an active chemical weapons program, with “substantial stocks of mustard blister agent, sarin nerve agent and possibly VX nerve agent.”

The materials are believed to be stored at a compound near Al-Safir, about 20 kilometres from Aleppo.

In a prolonged civil war or even the sudden collapse of the Assad regime, those weapons might fall into the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists or be transferred to Syria`s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.

Alternatively, they could be used against Syria`s dissidents, in much the same way Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on rebellious Kurds in Halabja in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

“If the current offensive fails to achieve its objectives and resistance continues to grow, the regime will likely commit heavy artillery and combat aviation to the struggle,” said Mr. White.

“And the use of lethal chemical weapons cannot be ruled out.

“The war has become a matter of survival for the Assad regime. It is approaching the upper limit of violence it can employ and, if it is not yet `all in,` it may soon be so--with potentially devastating effects on the population.”

© 2012 National Post . All Rights Reserved.

Islamists against Assad - Foreign Extremists a Danger to Syria`s Revolution
Ulrike Putz
Spiegel Online International
February 15, 2012

A Free Syrian Army (FSA) gunman stands guard as demonstrators pray on a street in Reef Damascus, north of Damascus, early February 4, 2012, during a protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s forces attacking the town of Homs. REUTERS

Al-Qaida`s leader is calling on Muslims to join in Syria`s revolution and to fight the Assad regime. But jihadists from neighboring countries may already have joined the ranks of the opposition Free Syrian Army. Their presence could be the death blow to the revolution.

The message was clear: Every Muslim must aid the uprising against the Syrian government “with everything that he has -- his life, money, views and information.” The current leader of the terror network al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called on believers to bear arms and go to Syria in an eight-minute video that was posted over the weekend on extremist websites. Rebellion against the “anti-Islamic regime” in Damascus is a religious obligation, he declared.

For their campaign against Bashar Assad`s “pernicious, cancerous regime,” the brothers in God should build on their willingness to make sacrifices and on their steadfastness. The al-Qaida leader especially called on Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq to rush to the aid of the opposition in their neighboring country.

The fiery call to action from Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden at the top of al-Qaida, has fueled the ongoing speculation over the presence of foreign, or even al-Qaida fighters in Syria. The regime in Damascus has long maintained that the 11-month-old uprising in the country was being waged by “foreigners,” “terrorists” and “armed bands.” The Syrian National Council, an opposition coalition, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella organization of the armed resistance, spurn that notion, and argue that the rebellion in Syria is a popular uprising of Syrian citizens who are fighting for their freedom and for democracy.

`Hundreds of Foreign Fighters`

But, despite the protestations from the Syrian opposition, rumors are growing over the deployment of foreign jihadists in Syria. One source in Beirut, who was outside of Homs in recent weeks with the opposition FSA, reported seeing “hundreds of foreign fighters,” who have attached themselves to the FSA, which is made up largely of deserters from the Syrian military. The Sunni volunteers came primarily from Iraq and Lebanon, with a few from Saudi Arabia, the source said.

Some observers viewed the two bombings in the Syrian city of Aleppo last Friday as proof that extremist terrorist groups are operating in the country. Twenty-eight people were killed in the attacks on the Military Intelligence building and on a police headquarters building. In American news reports over the weekend, US officials speculated that al-Qaida was behind the attacks.

The news website McClatchy referred to several officials in the US government who consider al-Qaida in Iraq responsible for the car bombs. And two suicide bombings, which on Dec. 23 and Jan. 6, killed up to 70 people, are also thought to have been organized by the Iraqi al-Qaida cell.

Al-Qaida`s PR Problem

Experts believe that it may very well be in al-Qaida`s interest to involve itself in the conflict in Syria. “Al-Qaida has a PR problem,” says Wolfgang Mühlberger, of the National Defense Academy in Vienna. “It could be good for them if they tried, through an engagement in Syria, to make themselves attractive again to certain target groups.” But one has to be careful, he says, because not every jihadist is part of al-Qaida. “In the case of Aleppo, there was no claim of responsibility, and the organization usually does that,” he said.

Iraq`s Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi confirmed over the weekend that weapons are being smuggled from Iraq into Syria. “The weapons are being brought from Mosul through the Rabia crossing to Syria, because members of the same families live on both sides of the border,” he told the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).

The weapons smuggling has increased the price of Kalashnikovs in Iraq. The AK-47 assault rifles once cost between $100 and $200, but now are sold from between $1,000 and $1,500, Assadi told the AFP.

Should evidence mount in the coming weeks that foreign fighters are taking part in the Syrian uprising, or are even monopolizing it, it would be catastrophic for the true opposition in the country. They have pinned all of their hopes on help from outside, on diplomatic pressure that the world community can put on the regime, and on financial aid and maybe even weapons transfers, with which Arab supporters might be able to help them.

But should the suspicions be confirmed that the Syrian uprising has been infiltrated by unknown, uncontrollable extremists, the willingness of the world to help would surely dramatically decrease. The volunteers from other countries could therefore unwittingly deal a death blow to the Syrian revolution.

© Copyright 2012. Der Spiegel. All rights reserved.





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