How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS


Hasta 1973 Arabia Saudita fue un país con una influencia marginal incluso en su propia región. Con una gran riqueza petrolera que le permitía contar con importantes fuerzas armadas, la familia gobernante que dio su nombre al país desde fines de la segunda década del siglo XX, prestaba un prudente soporte financiero y discretamente verbal a otros países árabes que aportaban hombres y armas contra Israel. Para la familia Saud, Israel no era tan importante amenaza como el laicismo del nacionalismo árabe. Nasser, Sadam Hussein, Hafez Al- Assad, Ghadaffi, Ben Ali. Boumedien, Ben Barka, Arafat y otros eran más peligrosos que Golda Meir, porque atentaban desde dentro contra las bases mismas de la legitimidad del poder de la familia Saud.

1973 marca un cambio radical en la dimensión internacional de Arabia Saudita. Su invaluable papel en el financiamiento de la guerra del Iom Kipur y el embargo petrolero de ese año abren el camino a las negociaciones que desembocan en la recuperación de la totalidad del Sinaí por Egipto y la firma del tratado de paz de éste con Israel.  Pero la guerra muestra la vulnerabilidad política y militar de los países árabes laicos ante la movediza dependencia militar de la Unión Soviética y frente a un Israel que cuenta con el apoyo incondicional de Estados Unidos.

El auge petrolero inclina la balanza política a favor de Arabia Saudita en el Medio Oriente que emprende un ambicioso programa para difundir el islam wahabita, puritano y conservador, con el triple propósito de minar a los dictadores árabes laicos, contener la influencia de la Unión Soviética en el área y hacer de Arabia Saudita el centro del poder espiritual y político no sólo del Medio Oriente sino de todo el mundo musulmán. Simultáneamente concentra sus enormes excedentes de capital en la compra de bonos del gobierno de Estados Unidos, los cuales extienden apoyo y protección militar a Arabia Saudita en un entendimiento de proporciones colosales.

Arabia Saudita elabora un amplio programa de financiamiento de escuelas, seminarios, ediciones masivas del Corán, construcción de mezquitas en todos los países musulmanes y financiamiento muy ventajoso para grandes y pequeños empresarios, con el objetivo de desenraizar las tradiciones islámicas locales, uniformar las diversas escuelas jurídicas sunnitas y hacer del islam wahabita un factor político internacional de primer orden con Arabia Saudita como su centro.

 En 1979 y 1980 Arabia Saudita demuestra su ascendencia entre dirigentes y masas musulmanas con el financiamiento de la guerra de Irak contra Irán y la movilización de miles de djihadistas de todo el mundo para combatir a las fuerzas soviéticas en Afganistán.  

Pero el control no era absoluto. En 1991 Sadam Hussein trata de salir de sus deudas por la guerra contra Irán atacando a Kuwait y llegando a las puertas de los principales yacimientos petrolíferos saudis. En Afganistán la intolerancia wahabita se manifiesta en grupos de violentos djihadistas  anti-occidentales bajo un difuso e incierto control saudí o norteamericano.

Las controvertidas movilizaciones djihadistas contra el gobierno shiíta de Irak y el de Siria, el principal aliado de Irán, y los aparentemente descontrolados actos terroristas en Estados Unidos y Europa, no han amainado los esfuerzos de Arabia Saudita para diseminar la intolerancia wahabita incluso en el corazón mismo de Europa.

El artículo siguiente da cuenta de los efectos de esas enseñanzas en una sociedad musulmana europea tradicionalmente tolerante y con valores sociales muy alejados del ambiente medieval del desierto del Hiyaz.

Francisco Correa V.





How Kosovo was turned into fertile ground for ISIS

 by Carlotta Gall

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.

The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant inSaudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.

Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.

Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.

It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.

After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.

But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.

“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.

 Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.

Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.

All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.

The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.

How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers.

The Missionaries Arrive

After the war ended in 1999, Idriz Bilalli, the imam of the central mosque in Podujevo, welcomed any help he could get.

Podujevo, home to about 90,000 people in northeast Kosovo, was a reasonably prosperous town with high schools and small businesses in an area hugged by farmland and forests. It was known for its strong Muslim tradition even in a land where people long wore their religion lightly.

After decades of Communist rule when Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, men and women mingle freely, schools are coeducational, and girls rarely wear the veil. Still, Serbian paramilitary forces burned down 218 mosques as part of their war against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who are 95 percent Muslim. Mr. Bilalli needed help to rebuild.

When two imams in their 30s, Fadil Musliu and Fadil Sogojeva, who were studying for master’s degrees in Saudi Arabia, showed up after the war with money to organize summer religion courses, Mr. Bilalli agreed to help.

The imams were just two of some 200 Kosovars who took advantage of scholarships after the war to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Many, like them, returned with missionary zeal.

Soon, under Mr. Musliu’s tutelage, pupils started adopting a rigid manner of prayer, foreign to the moderate Islamic traditions of this part of Europe. Mr. Bilalli recognized the influence, and he grew concerned.

“This is Wahhabism coming into our society,” Mr. Bilalli, 52, said in a recent interview.

Mr. Bilalli trained at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s, and as a student he had been warned by a Kosovar professor to guard against the cultural differences of Wahhabism. He understood there was a campaign of proselytizing, pushed by the Saudis.

“The first thing the Wahhabis do is to take members of our congregation, who understand Islam in the traditional Kosovo way that we had for generations, and try to draw them away from this understanding,” he said. “Once they get them away from the traditional congregation, then they start bombarding them with radical thoughts and ideas.”

“The main goal of their activity is to create conflict between people,” he said. “This first creates division, and then hatred, and then it can come to what happened in Arab countries, where war starts because of these conflicting ideas.”

From the outset, the newly arriving clerics sought to overtake the Islamic Community of Kosovo, an organization that for generations has been the custodian of the tolerant form of Islam that was practiced in the region, townspeople and officials say.

Muslims in Kosovo, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, follow the Hanafi school of Islam, traditionally a liberal version that is accepting of other religions.

But all around the country, a new breed of radical preachers was setting up in neighborhood mosques, often newly built with Saudi money.

In some cases, centuries-old buildings were bulldozed, including a historic library in Gjakova and several 400-year-old mosques, as well as shrines, graveyards and Dervish monasteries, all considered idolatrous in Wahhabi teaching.

From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Sharia law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam.

The Saudi-sponsored charities often paid salaries and overhead costs, and financed courses in religion, as well as English and computer classes, moderate imams and investigators explained.

But the charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil, human rights activists said.

“People were so needy, there was no one who did not join,” recalled Ajnishahe Halimi, a politician who campaigned to have a radical Albanian imam expelled after families complained of abuse.

Threats Intensify

Within a few years of the war’s end, the older generation of traditional clerics began to encounter aggression from young Wahhabis.

Paradoxically, some of the most serious tensions built in Gjilan, an eastern Kosovo town of about 90,000, where up to 7,000 American troops were stationed as part of Kosovo’s United Nations-run peacekeeping force at Camp Bondsteel.

“They came in the name of aid,” one moderate imam in Gjilan, Enver Rexhepi, said of the Arab charities. “But they came with a background of different intentions, and that’s where the Islamic religion started splitting here.”

One day in 2004, he recalled, he was threatened by one of the most aggressive young Wahhabis, Zekirja Qazimi, a former madrasa student then in his early 20s.

Inside his mosque, Mr. Rexhepi had long displayed an Albanian flag. Emblazoned with a double-headed eagle, it was a popular symbol of Kosovo’s liberation struggle.

But strict Muslim fundamentalists consider the depiction of any living being as idolatrous. Mr. Qazimi tore the flag down. Mr. Rexhepi put it back.

“It will not go long like this,” Mr. Qazimi told him angrily, Mr. Rexhepi recounted.

Within days, Mr. Rexhepi was abducted and savagely beaten by masked men in woods above Gjilan. He later accused Mr. Qazimi of having been behind the attack, but police investigations went nowhere.

Ten years later, in 2014, after two young Kosovars blew themselves up in suicide bombings in Iraq and Turkey, investigators began an extensive investigation into the sources of radicalism. Mr. Qazimi was arrested hiding in the same woods. On Friday, a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison after he faced charges of inciting hatred and recruiting for a terrorist organization.

Before Mr. Qazimi was arrested, his influence was profound, under what investigators now say was the sway of Egyptian-based extremists and the patronage of Saudi and other gulf Arab sponsors.

By the mid-2000s, Saudi money and Saudi-trained clerics were already exerting influence over the Islamic Community of Kosovo. The leadership quietly condoned the drift toward conservatism, critics of the organization say.

Mr. Qazimi was appointed first to a village mosque, and then to El-Kuddus mosque on the edge of Gjilan. Few could counter him, not even Mustafa Bajrami, his former teacher, who was elected head of the Islamic Community of Gjilan in 2012.

Mr. Bajrami comes from a prominent religious family — his father was the first chief mufti of Yugoslavia during the Communist period. He holds a doctorate in Islamic studies. Yet he remembers pupils began rebelling against him whenever he spoke against Wahhabism.

He soon realized that the students were being taught beliefs that differed from the traditional moderate curriculum by several radical imams in lectures after hours. He banned the use of mosques after official prayer times.

Hostility only grew. He would notice a dismissive gesture in the congregation during his sermons, or someone would curse his wife, or mutter “apostate” or “infidel” as he passed.

In the village, Mr. Qazimi’s influence eventually became so disruptive that residents demanded his removal after he forbade girls and boys to shake hands. But in Gjilan he continued to draw dozens of young people to his after-hours classes.

“They were moving 100 percent according to lessons they were taking from Zekirja Qazimi,” Mr. Bajrami said in an interview. “One hundred percent, in an ideological way.”

Extremism Spreads

Over time, the Saudi-trained imams expanded their work.

By 2004, Mr. Musliu, one of the master’s degree students from Podujevo who studied in Saudi Arabia, had graduated and was imam of a mosque in the capital, Pristina.

In Podujevo, he set up a local charitable organization called Devotshmeria, or Devotion, which taught religion classes and offered social programs for women, orphans and the poor. It was funded by Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi organization that was one of the 19 eventually closed by investigators.

Mr. Musliu put a cousin, Jetmir Rrahmani, in charge.

“Then I knew something was starting that would not bring any good,” said Mr. Bilalli, the moderate cleric who had started out teaching with him. In 2004, they had a core of 20 Wahhabis.

“That was only the beginning,” Mr. Bilalli said. “They started multiplying.”

Mr. Bilalli began a vigorous campaign against the spread of unauthorized mosques and Wahhabi teaching. In 2008, he was elected head of the Islamic Community of Podujevo and instituted religion classes for women, in an effort to undercut Devotshmeria.

As he sought to curb the extremists, Mr. Bilalli received death threats, including a note left in the mosque’s alms box. An anonymous telephone caller vowed to make him and his family disappear, he said.

“Anyone who opposes them, they see as an enemy,” Mr. Bilalli said.

He appealed to the leadership of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. But by then it was heavily influenced by Arab gulf sponsors, he said, and he received little support.

When Mr. Bilalli formed a union of fellow moderates, the Islamic Community of Kosovo removed him from his post. His successor, Bekim Jashari, equally concerned by the Saudi influence, nevertheless kept up the fight.

“I spent 10 years in Arab countries and specialized in sectarianism within Islam,” Mr. Jashari said. “It’s very important to stop Arab sectarianism from being introduced to Kosovo.”

Mr. Jashari had a couple of brief successes. He blocked the Saudi-trained imam Mr. Sogojeva from opening a new mosque, and stopped a payment of 20,000 euros, about $22,400, intended for it from the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami.

He also began a website, Speak Now, to counter Wahhabi teaching. But he remains so concerned about Wahhabi preachers that he never lets his 19-year-old son attend prayers on his own.

The radical imams Mr. Musliu and Mr. Sogojeva still preach in Pristina, where for prayers they draw crowds of young men who glare at foreign reporters.

Mr. Sogojeva dresses in a traditional robe and banded cleric’s hat, but his newly built mosque is an incongruous modern multistory building. He admonished his congregation with a rapid-fire list of dos and don’ts in a recent Friday sermon.

Neither imam seems to lack funds.

In an interview, Mr. Musliu insisted that he was financed by local donations, but confirmed that he had received Saudi funding for his early religion courses.

The instruction, he said, is not out of line with Kosovo’s traditions. The increase in religiosity among young people was natural after Kosovo gained its freedom, he said.

“Those who are not believers and do not read enough, they feel a bit shocked,” he said. “But we coordinated with other imams, and everything was in line with Islam.”

A Tilt Toward Terrorism

The influence of the radical clerics reached its apex with the war in Syria, as they extolled the virtues of jihad and used speeches and radio and television talks shows to urge young people to go there.

Mr. Qazimi, who was given the 10-year prison sentence, even organized a summer camp for his young followers.

“It is obligated for every Muslim to participate in jihad,” he told them in one videotaped talk. “The Prophet Muhammad says that if someone has a chance to take part in jihad and doesn’t, he will die with great sins.”

“The blood of infidels is the best drink for us Muslims,” he said in another recording.

Among his recruits, investigators say, were three former civilian employees of American contracting companies at Camp Bondsteel, where American troops are stationed. They included Lavdrim Muhaxheri, an Islamic State leader who was filmed executing a man in Syria with a rocket-propelled grenade.

After the suicide bombings, the authorities opened a broad investigation and found that the Saudi charity Al Waqf al Islami had been supporting associations set up by preachers like Mr. Qazimi in almost every regional town.

Al Waqf al Islami was established in the Balkans in 1989. Most of its financing came from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, Kosovo investigators said in recent interviews. Unexplained gaps in its ledgers deepened suspicions that the group was surreptitiously funding clerics who were radicalizing young people, they said.

Investigators from Kosovo’s Financial Intelligence Unit found that Al Waqf al Islami, which had an office in central Pristina and a staff of 12, ran through €10 million from 2000 through 2012. Yet they found little paperwork to explain much of the spending.

More than €1 million went to mosque building. But one and a half times that amount was disbursed in unspecified cash withdrawals, which may have also gone to enriching its staff, the investigators said.

Only 7 percent of the budget was shown to have gone to caring for orphans, the charity’s stated mission.

By the summer of 2014, the Kosovo police shut down Al Waqf al Islami, along with 12 other Islamic charities, and arrested 40 people.

The charity’s head offices, in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands, have since changed their name to Al Waqf, apparently separating themselves from the Balkans operation.

Asked about the accusations in a telephone interview, Nasr el Damanhoury, the director of Al Waqf in the Netherlands, said he had no direct knowledge of his group’s operations in Kosovo or the Balkans.

The charity has ceased all work outside the Netherlands since he took over in 2013, he said. His predecessor had returned to Morocco and could not be reached, and Saudi board members would not comment, he said.

“Our organization has never supported extremism,” Mr. Damanhoury said. “I have known it since 1989. I joined them three years ago. They have always been a mild group.”

Unheeded Warnings

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the prime minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr. Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Not everyone was unaware of the dangers, however.

At a meeting in 2003, Richard C. Holbrooke, once the United States special envoy to the Balkans, warned Kosovar leaders not to work with the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo, an umbrella organization of Saudi charities whose name still appears on many of the mosques built since the war, along with that of the former Saudi interior minister, Prince Naif bin Abdul-Aziz.

A year later, it was among several Saudi organizations that were shut down in Kosovo when it came under suspicion as a front for Al Qaeda. Another was Al-Haramain, which in 2004 was designated by the United States Treasury Department as having links to terrorism.

Yet even as some organizations were shut down, others kept working. Staff and equipment from Al-Haramain shifted to Al Waqf al Islami, moderate imams familiar with their activities said.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo. Kosovo Central Bank figures show grants from Saudi Arabia averaging €100,000 a year for the past five years.

It is now money from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which each average approximately €1 million a year — that propagates the same hard-line version of Islam. The payments come from foundations or individuals, or sometimes from the Ministry of Zakat (Almsgiving) from the various governments, Kosovo’s investigators say.

But payments are often diverted through a second country to obscure their origin and destination, they said. One transfer of nearly €500,000 from a Saudi individual was frozen in 2014 since it was intended for a Kosovo teenager, according to the investigators and a State Department report.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were still raising millions from “deep-pocket donors and charitable organizations” based in the gulf, the Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said in a speech in 2014 at the Center for a New American Security.

While Saudi Arabia has made progress in stamping out funding for Al Qaeda, sympathetic donors in the kingdom were still funding other terrorist groups, he said.

Today the Islamic Community of Kosovo has been so influenced by the largess of Arab donors that it has seeded prominent positions with radical clerics, its critics say.

Ahmet Sadriu, a spokesman for Islamic Community of Kosovo, said the group held to Kosovo’s traditionally tolerant version of Islam. But calls are growing to overhaul an organization now seen as having been corrupted by outside forces and money.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Skender Hyseni, said he had recently reprimanded some of the senior religious officials.

“I told them they were doing a great disservice to their country,” he said in an interview. “Kosovo is by definition, by Constitution, a secular society. There has always been historically an unspoken interreligious tolerance among Albanians here, and we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

Families Divided

For some in Kosovo, it may already be too late.

Families have been torn apart. Some of Kosovo’s best and brightest have been caught up in the lure of jihad.

One of Kosovo’s top political science graduates, Albert Berisha, said he left in 2013 to help the Syrian people in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He abandoned his attempt after only two weeks— and he says he never joined the Islamic State — but has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison, pending appeal.

Ismet Sakiqi, an official in the prime minister’s office and a veteran of the liberation struggle, was shaken to find his 22-year-old son, Visar, a law student, arrested on his way through Turkey to Syria with his fiancée. He now visits his son in the same Kosovo prison where he was detained under Serbian rule.

And in the hamlet of Busavate, in the wooded hills of eastern Kosovo, a widower, Shemsi Maliqi, struggles to explain how his family has been divided. One of his sons, Alejhim, 27, has taken his family to join the Islamic State in Syria.

It remains unclear how Alejhim became radicalized. He followed his grandfather, training as an imam in Gjilan, and served in the village mosque for six years. Then, two years ago, he asked his father to help him travel to Egypt to study.

Mr. Maliqi still clings to the hope that his son is studying in Egypt rather than fighting in Syria. But Kosovo’s counterterrorism police recently put out an international arrest warrant for Alejhim.

“Better that he comes back dead than alive,” Mr. Maliqi, a poor farmer, said. “I sent him to school, not to war. I sold my cow for him.”

Alejhim had married a woman from the nearby village of Vrbice who was so conservative that she was veiled up to her eyes and refused to shake hands with her brother-in-law.

The wife’s mother angrily refused to be interviewed. Her daughter did what was expected and followed her husband to Syria, she said.

Secretly, Alejhim drew three others — his sister; his best friend, who married his sister; and his wife’s sister — to follow him to Syria, too. The others have since returned, but remain radical and estranged from the family.

Alejhim’s uncle, Fehmi Maliqi, like the rest of the family, is dismayed. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.

Tomado de The New York Times, May 21, 2016


Toward a Global Realignment



As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.

Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment.

The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power. But neither is any other major power.

The second verity is that Russia is experiencing the latest convulsive phase of its imperial devolution. A painful process, Russia is not fatally precluded – if it acts wisely – from becoming eventually a leading European nation-state. However, currently it is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.

The third verity is that China is rising steadily, if more slowly as of late, as America’s eventual coequal and likely rival; but for the time being it is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America. Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.

The fourth verity is that Europe is not now and is not likely to become a global power. But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival. Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

The fifth verity is that the currently violent political awakening among post-colonial Muslims is, in part, a belated reaction to their occasionally brutal suppression mostly by European powers. It fuses a delayed but deeply felt sense of injustice with a religious motivation that is unifying large numbers of Muslims against the outside world; but at the same time, because of historic sectarian schisms within Islam that have nothing to do with the West, the recent welling up of historical grievances is also divisive within Islam.

Taken together as a unified framework, these five verities tell us that the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture in such a way that the violence erupting within and occasionally projected beyond the Muslim world—and in the future possibly from other parts of what used to be called the Third World—can be contained without destroying the global order. We can sketch this new architecture by elaborating briefly each of the five foregoing verities.

First, America can only be effective in dealing with the current Middle Eastern violence if it forges a coalition that involves, in varying degrees, also Russia and China. To enable such a coalition to take shape, Russia must first be discouraged from its reliance on the unilateral use of force against its own neighbors—notably Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States—and China should be disabused of the idea that selfish passivity in the face of the rising regional crisis in the Middle East will prove to be politically and economically rewarding to its ambitions in the global arena. These shortsighted policy impulses need to be channeled into a more farsighted vision.

Second, Russia is becoming for the first time in its history a truly national state, a development that is as momentous as it is generally overlooked. The Czarist Empire, with its multinational but largely politically passive population, came to an end with World War I and the Bolshevik creation of an allegedly voluntary union of national republics (the USSR), with power resting effectively in Russian hands, took its place. The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 led to the sudden emergence of a predominantly Russian state as its successor, and to the transformation of the former Soviet Union’s non-Russian “republics” into formally independent states. These states are now consolidating their independence, and both the West and China—in different areas and different ways—are exploiting that new reality to Russia’s disadvantage. In the meantime, Russia’s own future depends on its ability to become a major and influential nation-state that is part of a unifying Europe. Not to do so could have dramatically negative consequences for Russia’s ability to withstand growing territorial-demographic pressure from China, which is increasingly inclined as its power grows to recall the “unequal” treaties Moscow imposed on Beijing in times past.

Third, China’s dramatic economic success requires enduring patience and the country’s awareness that political haste will make for social waste. The best political prospect for China in the near future is to become America’s principal partner in containing global chaos of the sort that is spreading outward (including to the northeast) from the Middle East. If it is not contained, it will contaminate Russia’s southern and eastern territories as well as the western portions of China. Closer relations between China and the new republics in Central Asia, the post-British Muslim states in Southwest Asia (notably Pakistan) and especially with Iran (given its strategic assets and economic significance), are the natural targets of Chinese regional geopolitical outreach. But they should also be targets of global Sino-American accommodation.

Fourth, tolerable stability will not return to the Middle East as long as local armed military formations can calculate that they can be simultaneously the beneficiaries of a territorial realignment while selectively abetting extreme violence. Their ability to act in a savage manner can only be contained by increasingly effective—but also selective—pressure derived from a base of U.S.-Russian-Chinese cooperation that, in turn, enhances the prospects for the responsible use of force by the region’s more established states (namely, Iran, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt). The latter should also be the recipients of more selective European support. Under normal circumstances, Saudi Arabia would be a significant player on that list, but the current inclination of the Saudi government still to foster Wahhabi fanaticism, even while engaged in ambitious domestic modernization efforts, raises grave doubts regarding Saudi Arabia’s ability to play a regionally significant constructive role.

Fifth, special attention should be focused on the non-Western world’s newly politically aroused masses. Long-repressed political memories are fueling in large part the sudden and very explosive awakening energized by Islamic extremists in the Middle East, but what is happening in the Middle East today may be just the beginning of a wider phenomenon to come out of Africa, Asia, and even among the pre-colonial peoples of the Western Hemisphere in the years ahead.

Periodic massacres of their not-so-distant ancestors by colonists and associated wealth-seekers largely from western Europe (countries that today are, still tentatively at least, most open to multiethnic cohabitation) resulted within the past two or so centuries in the slaughter of colonized peoples on a scale comparable to Nazi World War II crimes: literally involving hundreds of thousands and even millions of victims. Political self-assertion enhanced by delayed outrage and grief is a powerful force that is now surfacing, thirsting for revenge, not just in the Muslim Middle East but also very likely beyond.

Much of the data cannot be precisely established, but taken collectively, they are shocking. Let just a few examples suffice. In the 16th century, due largely to disease brought by Spanish explorers, the population of the native Aztec Empire in present-day Mexico declined from 25 million to approximately one million. Similarly, in North America, an estimated 90 percent of the native population died within the first five years of contact with European settlers, due primarily to diseases. In the 19th century, various wars and forced resettlements killed an additional 100,000. In India from 1857-1867, the British are suspected of killing up to one million civilians in reprisals stemming from the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The British East India Company’s use of Indian agriculture to grow opium then essentially forced on China resulted in the premature deaths of millions, not including the directly inflicted Chinese casualties of the First and Second Opium Wars. In the Congo, which was the personal holding of Belgian King Leopold II, 10-15 million people were killed between 1890 and 1910. In Vietnam, recent estimates suggest that between one and three million civilians were killed from 1955 to 1975.

As to the Muslim world, in Russia’s Caucasus, from 1864 and 1867, 90 percent of the local Circassian population was forcibly relocated and between 300,000 and 1.5 million either starved to death or were killed. Between 1916 and 1918, tens of thousands of Muslims were killed when 300,000 Turkic Muslims were forced by Russian authorities through the mountains of Central Asia and into China. In Indonesia, between 1835 and 1840, the Dutch occupiers killed an estimated 300,000 civilians. In Algeria, following a 15-year civil war from 1830-1845, French brutality, famine, and disease killed 1.5 million Algerians, nearly half the population. In neighboring Libya, the Italians forced Cyrenaicans into concentration camps, where an estimated 80,000 to 500,000 died between 1927 and 1934.

More recently, in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 the Soviet Union is estimated to have killed around one million civilians; two decades later, the United States has killed 26,000 civilians during its 15-year war in Afghanistan. In Iraq, 165,000 civilians have been killed by the United States and its allies in the past 13 years. (The disparity between the reported number of deaths inflicted by European colonizers compared with the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan may be due in part to the technological advances that have led to the ability to use force more precisely, and in part as well to a shift in the world’s normative climate.) Just as shocking as the scale of these atrocities is how quickly the West forgot about them.

In today’s postcolonial world, a new historical narrative is emerging. A profound resentment against the West and its colonial legacy in Muslim countries and beyond is being used to justify their sense of deprivation and denial of self-dignity. A stark example of the experience and attitudes of colonial peoples is well summarized by the Senegalese poet David Diop in “Vultures”:

In those days,
When civilization kicked us in the face
The vultures built in the shadow of their talons
The blood stained monument of tutelage…

The growing evocation of these memories, in the Muslim world and increasingly beyond, shows how the past still influences the present, but it certainly does not justify the violent behaviors that are transpiring in the Middle East today.

Given all this, a long and painful road toward an initially limited regional accommodation is the only viable option for the United States, Russia, China, and the pertinent Middle Eastern entities. For the United States, that will require patient persistence in forging cooperative relationships with some new partners (particularly Russia and China) as well as joint efforts with more established and historically rooted Muslim states (Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia if it can detach its foreign policy from Wahhabi extremism) in shaping a wider framework of regional stability. Our European allies, previously dominant in the region, can still be helpful in that regard.

A comprehensive U.S. pullout from the Muslim world favored by domestic isolationists, could give rise to new wars (for example, Israel vs. Iran, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, a major Egyptian intervention in Libya) and would generate an even deeper crisis of confidence in America’s globally stabilizing role. In different but dramatically unpredictable ways, Russia and China could be the geopolitical beneficiaries of such a development even as global order itself becomes the more immediate geopolitical casualty. Last but not least, in such circumstances a divided and fearful Europe would see its current member states searching for patrons and competing with one another in alternative but separate arrangements among the more powerful trio.

Aconstructive U.S. policy must be patiently guided by a long-range vision. It must seek outcomes that promote the gradual realization in Russia (probably post-Putin) that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe. China’s increasing role in the Middle East should reflect the reciprocal American and Chinese realization that a growing U.S.-PRC partnership in coping with the Middle Eastern crisis is an historically significant test of their ability to shape and enhance together wider global stability.

The alternative to a constructive vision, and especially the quest for a one-sided militarily and ideologically imposed outcome, can only result in prolonged and self-destructive futility. For America, that could entail enduring conflict, fatigue, and conceivably even a demoralizing withdrawal to its pre-20th century isolationism. For Russia, it could mean major defeat, increasing the likelihood of subordination in some fashion to Chinese predominance. For China, it could portend war not only with the United States but also, perhaps separately, with either Japan or India or with both. And, in any case, a prolonged phase of sustained ethnic, quasi-religious wars pursued through the Middle East with self-righteous fanaticism would generate escalating bloodshed within and outside the region, and growing cruelty everywhere.

The fact is that there has never been a truly “dominant” global power until the emergence of America on the world scene. Imperial Great Britain came close to becoming one, but World War I and later World War II not only bankrupted it but also prompted the emergence of rival regional powers. The decisive new global reality was the appearance on the world scene of America as simultaneously the richest and militarily the most powerful player. During the latter part of the 20thcentury no other power even came close.

That era is now ending. While no state is likely in the near future to match America’s economic-financial superiority, new weapons systems could suddenly endow some countries with the means to commit suicide in a joint tit-for-tat embrace with the United States, or even to prevail. Without going into speculative detail, the sudden acquisition by some state of the capacity to render the America militarily broadly inferior would spell the end of America’s global role. The result would most probably be global chaos. And that is why it behooves the United States to fashion a policy in which at least one of the two potentially threatening states becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability, and thus in containing the least predictable but potentially the most likely rival to overreach. Currently, the more likely to overreach is Russia, but in the longer run it could be China.

Since the next twenty years may well be the last phase of the more traditional and familiar political alignments with which we have grown comfortable, the response needs to be shaped now. During the rest of this century, humanity will also have to be increasingly preoccupied with survival as such on account of a confluence of environmental challenges. Those challenges can only be addressed responsibly and effectively in a setting of increased international accommodation. And that accommodation has to be based on a strategic vision that recognizes the urgent need for a new geopolitical framework.

*The author acknowledges the helpful contribution of his research assistant Paul Wasserman, and the scholarship on the subject of colonial brutality by Adam Hochschild, Richard Pierce, William Polk, and the Watson Institute at Brown University, among others.

Zbigniew Brzezinski is a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and was the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977-81. He is the author, most recently, of Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.


¿Quo vadis, México?




por Francisco Correa Villalobos,

Embajador de México en retiro

La Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores, como corresponde a una subordinada de Enrique Peña Nieto, resaltó hace unos días en una intervención en Naciones Unidas, casi presentándola como infrecuente en el ámbito mundial, lo que no es sino una marginal contribución mexicana a las operaciones de mantenimiento de la paz, un mecanismo cuya eficacia no depende del peso disuasorio de los cascos azules, sino de la voluntad de las partes del conflicto en el cual se interponen.

Peña Nieto hizo el anuncio en 2015 con una enjundia, que emuló la Secretaria Ruiz Massieu, como si México acudiera a calmar las angustias de un mundo sumido en la incertidumbre por la inseguridad internacional, pero que los curtidos y cínicos delegados en Naciones Unidas recibieron como un intento de lavar al interior de su país la imagen de un mandatario impopular e irrespetado.

La Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas decidió en 2015 convocar a reuniones de alto nivel sobre el fortalecimiento de la paz y seguridad internacionales, a fin de obtener lecciones de la experiencia de los últimos 70 años, abordar los retos actuales en el área de paz y seguridad y renovar el compromiso de los Estados miembros y Observadores con la Carta de Naciones Unidas.

En una de esas reuniones el pasado 10 de mayo, la Secretaria puso de manifiesto inconscientemente y de manera imperdonable la intrascendencia de la contribución mexicana a las operaciones de mantenimiento de la paz, porque a los delegados no escapa  que sólo seis soldados mexicanos se sumarán a un emplazamiento internacional de 10547 efectivos que conforman la UNIFIL entre Israel y Líbano, una importante fuerza en un área pequeña, pero que no ha impedido a Israel pasar por encima de ella en cuatro ocasiones para invadir Líbano o de acosarla e intimidarla frecuentemente con disparos hasta de artillería ligera.

La señora Ruiz Massieu también destacó una iniciativa que se dio a conocer en septiembre de 2015 por México y Francia en otra etapa de esas reuniones.  Aunque en uno de los boletines de la SRE se dijo que se trata de una idea de Francia y México, en el video de la reunión de mayo la Secretaria dijo que México la “encabeza”.

¿En qué consiste esta iniciativa?  En hacer un llamado a los miembros permanentes del Consejo de Seguridad para que se abstengan de ejercer el derecho de veto en “caso de atrocidades en masa, genocidio, crímenes de guerra y de lesa humanidad”. En otras palabras: que no se opongan a que el Consejo de Seguridad solicite a la Corte Penal Internacional que juzgue a los autores de esos crímenes.

En el argot de Naciones Unidas este tipo de iniciativas se califican como non starters, o sea que no van a ningún lado, que sus autores lo saben de antemano pero que siguen adelante porque sus objetivos reales son diferentes de los ostensibles.

En efecto, es inconcebible que los gobiernos de Francia o México tengan en mente presionar a Estados Unidos para que no interponga su veto si se le acusa del crimen de agresión por su invasión a Irak o Afganistán o por sus masacres en Fallujah y a que el Consejo de Seguridad haga una denuncia formal ante la Corte Penal Internacional para juzgar a Bush, Clinton y Obama como criminales.

En el contexto de la situación internacional actual es más verosímil que el propósito sea exhibir a Rusia como cómplice del gobierno de Bashar al-Assad de Siria, contra quien hay desde 2010 una incesante campaña mediática occidental, que hasta no hace mucho minimizaba o de plano ocultaba las atrocidades de los miles de mercenarios islamistas y más tarde siguió haciendo lo propio con los grupos de islamistas “moderados”.  No por nada, uno de los grupos más entusiastas de la iniciativa ha sido Human Rights Watch, cuya agenda es coincidente con la política de derechos humanos que el gobierno de Estados Unidos pretende imponer al mundo.

Significativamente, quien rechazó de inmediato la iniciativa fue Vitaly Churkin, el representante permanente de Rusia ante Naciones Unidas.

La pregunta que surge es ¿por qué el gobierno de Peña Nieto se arroja al ruedo de un complejísimo esquema político-militar? Y todavía más: ¿por qué lo hace en compañía de un país que carga una responsabilidad histórica enorme en el conflicto de Siria y que, a pesar de ello, trata por cualquier medio de obtener una tajada del pastel que le devuelva una influencia colonial que perdió a partir de 1946?

Con un lamentable record mundial en derechos humanos confirmado por relatores especiales de Naciones Unidas y grupos de especialistas endosados por organismos políticos internacionales regionales, el presidente Peña Nieto ha enfocado su quehacer en el contexto de Naciones Unidas a maquillar su imagen señalando a quienes supuestamente son peores que él, y de paso halagar al imperio, a exagerar la importancia de sus contribuciones a las operaciones de mantenimiento de la paz o a promover temas altisonantes, pero inofensivos para cualquiera, como el del empoderamiento de las mujeres.














Rusia en Siria

Según la prensa occidental hasta el  28  de septiembre, los ataques de la aviación norteamericana contra el Estados Islámico en Siria –noticias de ataques que siempre se basaban en escuetos comunicados del Pentágono o de espurias ONGs y nunca acompañados de fotografías aéreas de los operativos, como lo demanda una bien concebida política de información oficial – eran la fórmula idónea para alcanzar el doble objetivo de debilitar al IS y propiciar la caída del gobierno del presidente  Bashar El-Assad.   Pero a raíz de la sorprendente ofensiva aérea rusa contra las fuerzas e instalaciones del IS, los medios occidentales y  thinks tanks de todo origen y color haninsinuado que la complejidad del conflicto de Siria comenzó con la entrada de Rusia en e conflicto, que no sólo augura una humillación para Rusia sino que complicará aún más cualquier intento de buscar una salida negociada del conflicto.

Los gobiernos y los medios occidentales están obcecados en que la única solución al conflicto es la salida de  Al-Assad, y aunque ahora admiten que la misma puede no ser necesariamente inmediata, de hecho plantean públicamente propuestas de rechazo automático destinadas no a favorecer una solución sino a cargar la responsabilidad del fracaso en la contraparte. Por lo demás, la mayoría de los analistas parecen  reconocer a las múltiples facciones islamistas una independencia de material de guerra, financiera y por ende, política de la que en realidad carecen, toda vez que están integradas en su mayoría por mercenarios psicópatas no sirios que no están arriesgando su vida por la gloria del Islam  – porque de otro modo los dirigentes serían los primeros en sacrificarse en atentados suicidas – sino por un jugoso estipendio en divisas y el botín de guerra, además de armas, entrenamiento y la posibilidad de ganar poder político –y más riqueza- en el futuro. Y éstas son promesas que obtienen de gobiernos regionales o extra-regionales con bolsillos profundos bien repletos que juegan a la geopolítica sin importarles el exterminio de cientos de miles de personas. 

Como verán los lectores de México Internacional en los textos que siguen, ninguno de sus autores da la importancia que en realidad tienen en el conflicto a los gobiernos de Turquía, Arabia Saudita, Qatar, los Emirato Árabes Unidos,  Kuwait y posiblemente Brunei – siempre dispuesto a financiar las aventuras intervencionistas de Estados Unidos-   en la creación y mantenimiento del  sangriento conflicto en Siria, ni se plantean las hipótesis de si el involucramiento de estos países es producto de un entendimiento previo con Estados Unidos o si éste se unció a una decisión de aquellos como reacción  a la búsqueda de un acercamiento negociado con Irán. Recordemos que hace tres años, en los prolegómenos de las negociaciones con Irán, Estados Unidos dio claras muestras de disminuir su involucramiento en Siria, ante lo cual el embajador de Arabia Saudita en Londres, miembro de la realiza saudí, advirtió que Arabia Saudita actuaría en Siria con o sin el apoyo de Estados Unidos.

Los textos han sido tomados de diferentes publicaciones y se incluye el discurso de Vladimir Putin en la Asamblea General de la ONU.

(Actualización) El anuncio el 5 de octubre de una ofensiva norteamericana, estrechamente coordinada con Turquía, mediante el empleo de la fuerza aérea y de miles de llamados “milicianos árabes” o “rebeldes moderados”, ha delineado lo que parecen ser los objetivos de Rusia y Estados Unidos, pues mientras Rusia se ha concentrado en eliminar la presión militar sobre las áreas densamente pobladas del oeste y centro del país, como primer paso para retomar los yacimiento petroleros al este de Homs, la ofensiva norteamericana se anuncia en el  noreste del  país, con  la ciudad kurda de Kobani y Raqqa como los  objetivos principales. Esto parece apuntar a una división territorial muy cercana a tesis occidentales, alternativas a la salida de Al-Assad, sobre un fraccionamiento de Siria en dos o más estados: uno al norte que incluiría la provincia siria kurda bajo el control de Turquía y otro con centro en Raqaa que controlaría los ricos yacimientos petroleros cercanos al Éufrates, con un tercero con capital en Bagdad y Bashar  Al-Assad como presidente y un área indeterminada de yacimientos petroleros en el centro del país. ¿ Y el Estado Islámico? ¿Y las pretensiones neo-coloniales de Francia y Gran Bretaña? ¿Y quién va a ayudar a Irak a combatir ISIS? ¿Y Jordania acogerá a libios y chechenos que entrenó y envió a través de la frontera con Siria?¿Y los Saudis soportarán el laicismo de Al-Assad y su alianza con Irán? ¿E Israel extenderá su ocupación en el Golán? ¿Y los soldados mexicanos históricamente se interpondrán entre un fortalecido Hezbolá y un vengativo Israel sediento de más territorio? 


Retour de la Russie au Proche-Orient

Poutine sur le chemin de Damas

Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait. Le président russe avait à peine obtenu, mercredi 30 septembre au matin, l’autorisation de la chambre haute du Parlement à Moscou de « recourir à un contingent des forces armées russes en dehors du territoire de la Russie », qu’il lançait ses premiers avions au-dessus de la Syrie, officiellement contre des cibles de l’Organisation de l’Etat islamique (OEI), dans les provinces de Homs et de Hama, à l’ouest du pays. Un préavis d’une heure avait été adressé à l’US Air Force, elle-même à la tête d’une coalition aérienne qui a procédé (sans grand succès) à des milliers de bombardements depuis un an. Cet acte fort, en pleine Assemblée générale des Nations unies, venant après d’intenses préparatifs militaires et une spectaculaire offensive diplomatique, signe le retour de la Russie dans le jeu proche-oriental. Mais il est sans doute aussi une ultime tentative pour sauver Damas, allié en perdition…

par Philippe Leymarie, 1er octobre 2015

Poutine sur le chemin de Damas

Pour Sergueï Ivanov, le chef de l’administration présidentielle, qui se félicitait de ce feu vert de la chambre haute du Parlement russe accordé à l’unanimité sur fond de « lutte contre le terrorisme », il s’agit de répondre à une demande d’aide militaire d’urgence formalisée ces derniers jours par le président syrien Bachar Al-Assad, dont le régime ne cesse de reculer face à l’offensive des rebelles islamistes de toutes obédiences — dont celle du califat irako-syrien Daech (l’OEI en arabe) — et dans une moindre mesure, face à ce qui reste de l’Armée syrienne libre (ASL). M. Ivanov affirme que l’initiative russe — limitée pour le moment à une action aérienne — est temporaire, et sera menée « conformément aux normes du droit international ».

Il fait ainsi allusion aux précautions que devraient prendre ses militaires pour éviter les zones habitées, les civils, etc. mais sans doute aussi au fait que les Etats-Unis et la France interviennent dans le ciel de Syrie sans l’avoir demandé aux autorités légales du pays, et sans mandat des Nations unies, au nom — pour ce qui est de la France — d’une invocation de« légitime défense » qui paraît juridiquement peu défendable, et même « à la limite du détournement de procédure », selon l’avocat Patrick Baudoin (Le Monde, 29 septembre 2015). Il n’y a pas de preuve, en effet, que les cibles des Rafale à l’est de la Syrie soient directement responsables d’attentats ou d’attaques sur le territoire national, ni même qu’elles aient visé des intérêts français où que ce soit, même si Daech a traité la France à plusieurs reprises ces dernières années de nouveau « Satan », et même si les responsables des derniers attentats en France ont parfois séjourné sur le territoire de l’OEI.

L’autodéfense à la française

Le président Poutine n’a pas manqué, en marge de l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies en début de semaine à New-York, de qualifier l’initiative de raids aériens français en Syrie « d’extermination du droit international »,raillant la nouvelle « conception (française) de l’autodéfense ». En oubliant qu’il lui arrive aussi de s’en écarter (confère l’annexion de la Crimée, ou le soutien aux séparatistes de l’Est ukrainien). En oubliant également que le régime syrien dont il défend la « légalité » ne contrôle plus qu’une faible partie de son territoire.

Il est vrai que Moscou n’a toujours pas digéré cet autre détournement, cette fois d’une résolution du Conseil de sécurité, en 2011, qui autorisait une zone d’exclusion aérienne pour la protection des populations en Libye, mais qui avait été « tordue » par les Français, les Britanniques et les Américains, au point de déboucher sur une guerre contre le régime libyen, et sur l’assassinat programmé de son chef, Mouammar Kadhafi.

Lire Jean Ping, « Fallait-il tuer Kadhafi », Le Monde diplomatique, août 2014.Le gouvernement russe, toujours par la voix de Sergueï Ivanov, invoque d’ailleurs à son tour une sorte de légitime défense préventive — façon George W. Bush en son temps, ou à l’exemple des Français aujourd’hui — lorsqu’il explique qu’il « ne s’agit pas de réaliser un quelconque objectif géopolitique ou d’assouvir une quelconque ambition, comme nous en accusent régulièrement nos partenaires occidentaux. Il s’agit des intérêts nationaux de la Russie ». Référence sans doute aux milliers de ressortissants russes ou d’ex-Républiques soviétiques, notamment des Tchétchènes, qui combattent sous les couleurs de Daech, et dont Moscou craint le retour (1) , comme l’a confirmé le président Poutine mercredi à la suite de ces premiers bombardements : il veut « prendre de vitesse les terroristes, en les frappant avant qu’ils n’arrivent chez nous ».

Sur tous les fronts

On sait que le président Poutine était à l’initiative depuis plusieurs mois, et d’abord sur un plan militaire (2) en réalisant une projection de troupes et de matériels en Méditerranée orientale inédite depuis les années 1970 :

  • mouvements de navires de guerre vers les côtes syriennes, en provenance de la flotte de la mer Noire (où ils disposent, notamment depuis 1971, de facilités d’escale dans le port militaire de Tartous, seule ouverture russe sur la Méditerranée, et seule base russe hors de l’ex-URSS) ;
    •envoi sur l’aéroport de Lattaquié de troupes (au moins 500 hommes), de chasseurs-bombardiers (près d’une trentaine), d’hélicoptères, et de véhicules blindés ;
    • expédition de centaines de logements préfabriqués, d’un centre de contrôle aérien mobile, de systèmes de défense anti-aérienne, le tout afin d’aménager et de protéger cette nouvelle base aérienne ;
    • déploiement discret à terre d’instructeurs, de « conseillers » et de spécialistes du renseignement de type « forces spéciales » ;
    • livraison accélérée au régime syrien d’équipements (drones, transports de troupes blindés) et de munitions ;
    • création d’un centre de renseignement régional basé à Bagdad.

Moscou a également été à l’initiative sur le front diplomatique, en s’efforçant, avec un certain succès, de se mettre au centre du jeu :

  • dès le début du mois d’août, Sergueï Lavrov lance l’idée d’une coalition élargie, en espérant constituer un pôle d’intervention terrestre anti-Daech, en liaison avec l’armée syrienne (qui suscite alors l’intérêt de son homologue américain John Kerry) ;
    •la présidence russe consulte tous azimuts, y compris les Irakiens, les Iraniens, et même les Israéliens (avec lesquels, suite à un passage du premier ministre Netanyahou à Moscou en août, un « mécanisme de coordination » a été mis au point (3) ), pour éviter toute confrontation ou incident dans le ciel syrien entre les deux pays) ;
    • la reconnaissance, de plus en plus, chez les interlocuteurs de la Russie, de Daech comme ennemi principal, et du régime syrien — aussi détestable soit-il — comme acteur, voire comme allié incontournable dans la « guerre contre le terrorisme » ;
    • une prestation enlevée à l’Assemblée générale de l’ONU, à New-York, où il ne s’était pas rendu depuis dix ans, appuyée par cette proposition d’une coalition élargie (aux Syriens de Bachar Al-Assad), qui a été loin de faire l’unanimité, mais a ébranlé une partie des partenaires de la coalition emmenée par Washington, eux-mêmes en difficulté sur le plan militaire ;
    • et enfin, dans la foulée, très vite, ces premiers bombardements russes, plus politiques sans doute que militaires (comme l’avaient été les premiers raids offensifs français, dimanche dernier).

Bons sentiments

A l’actif de Moscou, aussi, une approche plus réaliste sur la scène internationale : même s’il n’était pas question ces derniers jours à New-York de s’aligner sur Vladimir Poutine, qui prône un soutien franc à Bachar Al-Assad au nom de la « guerre contre le terrorisme », il est admis désormais côté occidental, que le « ni-ni » (ni Assad ni Daech) a vécu : le califat est bien l’ennemi numéro un, comme en a convenu finalement le gouvernement français.

La question de l’avenir du régime syrien est passée au second plan, même si les Français, de concert avec les Américains, continuent d’insister sur la perspective d’une mise à l’écart d’Assad — qui « est à l’origine du problème, et ne peut donc faire partie de la solution », comme l’a martelé François Hollande à la tribune des Nations unies le lundi 28 septembre :« On ne peut faire travailler ensemble victimes et bourreaux ». Tandis que, pour John Kerry, « il ne sera pas possible de venir à bout de Daech tant que Bachar sera au pouvoir à Damas ».

Il sera en tout cas difficile, après cette entrée en scène de l’aviation russe, de ne pas prendre en compte le poids de Moscou dans le traitement de la crise irako-syrienne. Ces dernières semaines, la plupart des commentateurs ont pointé la faiblesse des postures « morales » à base de « bons sentiments », ou purement politiques (incarnées notamment par Paris et Washington), et convenu, au nom d’une real politik bien comprise, que la Russie n’aurait jamais dû être écartée du jeu.

Outre l’occasion ratée de 2013 (lorsque Paris proposait d’intervenir contre le pouvoir syrien, accusé d’avoir utilisé des armes chimiques, mais s’était heurté à un refus américain), domine aussi le sentiment d’avoir perdu une année, depuis le lancement des raids de la coalition, jugés peu efficaces (4)

Mauvais augure

L’entrée en lice de la Russie, voire un jour d’une « coalition bis », ne va pas forcément simplifier le tableau syrien, si l’on en juge par la controverse qui a accompagné dès le 30 septembre la première sortie de l’aviation russe : alors que le ministère de la défense, à Moscou, évoque une vingtaine de vols, et des frappes ponctuelles sur huit objectifs relevant de Daech dans les provinces de Homs et Hama, des sources au sein de l’opposition syrienne modérée affirment que ce sont leurs lignes qui ont été pilonnées par les Russes, dans des secteurs qui avaient été repris à Daech il y a un an… Les militaires russes reconnaissent de leur côté être intervenus sur des cibles désignées par l’armée syrienne, ce qui ne rassure guère la coalition.

Du coup, John Kerry affirme approuver les raids russes « s’ils visent réellement les positions de Daech », mais y être opposé « s’ils ne visent pas Daech et Al-Qaïda ». Voilà qui augure mal des nécessaires concertations que Russes et Américains devront se ménager, au moins sur un plan technique, dès aujourd’hui sans doute, pour ne pas se gêner mutuellement dans le ciel syrien, et ne pas risquer de « bavures », « tirs amis » ou « dommages collatéraux »…

L’état-major américain, échaudé par les exemples récents en Crimée et à l’est de l’Ukraine, craint par ailleurs une action clandestine au sol des forces spéciales russes, au titre du soutien à une armée syrienne en difficulté (5) , qui pourrait compliquer l’action des appareils de la coalition.

Plusieurs fers au feu

De son côté, impressionnée par ces mouvements et livraisons d’armes, l’OTAN a accusé les forces russes d’avoir créé une « bulle de protection »en Méditerranée orientale, notamment autour de la base Al-Assad de Lattaquié. Le général américain Philip Breedlove, commandant suprême des forces de l’OTAN en Europe (SACEUR) a déclaré le 28 septembre à Washington, devant le groupe de réflexion German Marshall Fund : « Je n’ai pas vu le groupe Etat islamique faire voler des avions justifiant le déploiement de missiles SA-15 ou SA-22 ou de “chasseurs sophistiqués”. (…) Ces équipements sophistiqués n’ont rien à voir avec le groupe Etat islamique », a-t-il insisté. « Très haut dans l’agenda de Poutine et des Russes en Syrie, il y a surtout le fait de protéger le régime d’Assad contre ses ennemis et tous ceux qui pourraient les aider », a poursuivi le général Breedlove. « Nous sommes un peu inquiets de voir à terme les Russes créer une “bulle A2AD” [Anti-Access Area-Denial] au nord-est de la Méditerranée, car cela est de nature à perturber les opérations aériennes dans la zone ».

En revanche, en ce qui concerne l’avenir politique de la Syrie, Vladimir Poutine pourrait avoir en fait plusieurs fers au feu, si l’on en croit le New York Times (cité par le correspondant du Figaro le 7 septembre) : « En étendant son influence militaire en Syrie, la Russie pourrait être dans une position plus forte pour modeler un futur accord, et encourager son allié à partager le pouvoir ». Mais c’est au conditionnel…



Vladimir Putin Plunges Into a Caldron in Syria: Saving Assad



BEIRUT, Lebanon — After two days of attacks directed exclusively against insurgents opposed to the Syrian government, there is little question thatRussia is determined to re-establish President Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s leader.

“Russia’s goal is to defend Assad; whoever is against him is a destabilizing factor,” said Aleksei Makarkin, the deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, in Moscow. “Russia wants Assad to get engaged in a political settlement from a position of strength.”

Yet to restore Mr. Assad to full control of Syria or, for that matter, to stitch Syria back together without putting troops on the ground, PresidentVladimir V. Putin of Russia will have to accomplish what no other outside power has dared attempt.

Mr. Putin can achieve a number of short-term goals. By inserting Russian military forces directly into the Syrian battlefield he can seize the initiative from Mr. Assad’s opponents and severely limit the options of the United States and its allies, not to speak of embarrassing President Obama — always a consideration for Mr. Putin.

But the glow of early Russian successes will almost certainly fade, analysts and opposition commanders say, as the realities of Syria’s grim, four-year civil war slowly assert themselves. Mr. Assad’s forces are worn down and demoralized, and they are in control of only about 20 percent of Syria’s territory. Mr. Assad himself is vilified by many in the majority Sunni population as his forces use barrel bombs and other indiscriminate weapons against an insurgency that began with political protests.

This past summer the Syrian Army lost ground to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in the east and to a rival insurgent coalition, the Army of Conquest, in the northwest. Mr. Assad even went on television to declare that the army was facing a manpower shortage. People from government-held areas and draft-age men were increasingly joining the accelerating flow of refugees heading for Europe and elsewhere.

In a country that is 80 percent Sunni, he was also relying increasingly on Shiite fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia group, injecting a sectarian edge into an already vicious conflict.

At the same time, as the Islamic State moved toward Homs and Damascus from the east, rival insurgents were putting new pressure on the Syrian coastal provinces, where Mr. Assad’s support is strongest. The fighters advancing on that front were not from the Islamic State but from the Army of Conquest, a group that includes an affiliate of Al Qaeda known as the Nusra Front and other Islamist groups, including several more secular groups that have been covertly armed and trained by the United States.

By striking at the territory of that group and others opposed to both Mr. Assad and the Islamic State, Russia takes pressure off Mr. Assad and Hezbollah and shifts the ebb and flow in the war’s stalemate back in their favor.

Lebanese news media even reported Thursday that Hezbollah could soon be participating in a major ground attack in northern Syria, suggesting there were plans for an assault to roll back some insurgent gains. There were also unconfirmed reports that new Iranian troops were entering Syria.

But history suggests that it will be hard for Russia to bring about a purely military resolution. The United States, with tens of thousands of troops and virtually unlimited firepower, could not subdue insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. And with airstrikes alone, the American-led coalition against the Islamic State has made little headway.

Russia remembers its own disastrous battle with Islamist insurgents — American-backed groups that over time spawned Al Qaeda — in the 1980s in Afghanistan.

And fears that the strikes would further radicalize people seemed to be coming true on Thursday as one previously independent Islamist brigade declared its allegiance to the Nusra Front, saying unity was necessary because America and Russia were allied against Muslims “to blur the light of truth.”

For now, though, Mr. Putin does not seem to be in a rush, particularly since state control of the news media allows him to mold public opinion, much as he did by backing rebel separatists in eastern Ukraine. His supporters say he is not looking for easy victories.

“He is playing a long game in strengthening the Russian position and showing that Russia is an independent, powerful player,” said Sergei Karaganov, an occasional Kremlin adviser on foreign policy as the honorary chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

The Russian president may not even be looking for victory. “He wants to be engaged in a serious conversation that Russia is playing a role there that is good,” said Konstantin von Eggert, a political commentator on Kommersant FM radio. Until then, Mr. von Eggert said, “ attacks on the Islamic State can wait.”

With his forces on the ground, Mr. von Eggert said, Mr. Putin can now bide his time and wait for the United States to come around to joining him — if not under the Obama administration then the next one.

“You cannot disregard him, because he has a military presence there,” Mr. von Eggert said. “It is the reality you cannot ignore. It is real guys with real weaponry on the ground in Syria that the Americans do not have.”

It is not so much Mr. Assad himself that Mr. Putin wants to defend, he added, as the principle that leaders at home should be allowed to do what they want.

“By being in Latakia and Tartus they are defending Moscow,” Mr. von Eggert said. “They are defending the principle that any government can do what it wants with its own people.”

President Vladimir V. Putin seems determined to use his campaign of airstrikes to re-establish President Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s leader. CreditPool photo by Yuri Kochetkov

Defending Mr. Assad is also meant to show the world that Russia and America treat their friends differently. The United States might abandon leaders like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, but Russia is a better ally. That makes all Assad opponents fair game.

Others doubt whether Mr. Putin’s lunge into Syria was all that well thought out. A senior Western diplomat who has been deeply involved in the Syria debate said Thursday that there was no evidence that Mr. Putin had a grand strategy in mind in beginning the bombing. Instead, the official said, his calculations seemed mostly tactical.

Other officials questioned whether the Russian leader had what they called an “exit strategy” if he found that he was getting sucked further and further into Syria’s civil war.

Several American officials, trying to put the best face on Mr. Putin’s direct challenge, have said in recent days they believe that the Russian leader will soon have to take responsibility for Mr. Assad’s attacks on his own people. “Putin owns this now, even if he doesn’t know that yet,” one administration official said. “If he’s there to save Assad, then he’s responsible for controlling him.”

Many analysts say that Mr. Putin’s best hope is to push all the parties to work more urgently toward a political resolution — albeit one that is more favorable to Russia and Mr. Assad.

But that may take some doing, at least as far as the Obama administration is concerned. The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, suggested that Mr. Putin’s real motive is to protect Russia’s military base at Tartus, Russia’s last military outpost outside of the former Soviet Union.

“The fact is, Russia is responding to a situation inside the Middle East from a position of weakness. Their influence in that region of the world is waning,” Mr. Earnest said, adding that Russia is “trying to salvage what’s left of a deteriorating situation inside of Syria.”

Then again, as with the deal Mr. Putin engineered to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, he might manage to put together a peace deal that Mr. Obama finds he cannot refuse.

Mr. Putin’s task is made somewhat easier by the fact that he enjoys high ratings at home and does not have to worry much about public opinion when it comes to a distant war.

“Putin does not care about public opinion at home because any story can be sold internally via the television,” said Orkhan Dzhemal, a prominent journalist who specializes in the Middle East. “In addition, most Russians don’t care whom we are fighting against in Syria, ISIS or not ISIS.”




Why Outside Powers Can’t End the Destruction in Syria




Those trying to negotiate from the outside an end to the fighting in Syria behave as though some diplomatic elite or mix of power brokers could restore stability if onlyBashar al-Assad would leave and the U.S. and Russia could agree on how to approach negotiations. But Syria is being ravaged by four broad sets of fighters that have little reason to cooperate with any U.N.-led negotiating effort—or each other.


The problem is not simply Mr. Assad or Islamic State. ISIS occupies parts of Syria and Iraq and continues to systematically purge any religious and ideological dissent. Meanwhile, the governments in Damascus and Baghdad have shown no ability to gain support from a major portion of the Sunnis in ISIS-controlled areas. Nor have Syrian or Iraqi government forces had much military success against ISIS. U.S. claims that Iraq has regained some 35% of the territory it lost to ISIS are little more than spin. Such assertions are based on the maximum line of ISIS advance before Islamic State established any level of governance or control, and they include vast areas of uninhabited desert where no one controls anything.

The Syrian Kurds have gone from a partially disenfranchised minority to the equivalent of a mini-state in the north and east. They have been the only real success of U.S. military training and assistance. They have no reason to support Mr. Assad or his backers. But they, too, are divided; some have ties to Turkish Kurds, some to Iraqi Kurds, some to both, and some are independent. Syria’s Kurds have no clear economic viability as a state. They would need to grab a significant portion of Syria’s limited oil and gas resources in the east to be viable, and their water problems are growing.

There are no reliable unclassified estimates of the number, strength, and ideological character of the Sunni fighters battling for control in many of Syria’s most populated areas. There are more than 20 groups; some estimates go well over 30. Some, like the al Nusra Front—one of the most successful in military terms—are linked to al Qaeda. Others are less radical Islamist factions but are scarcely secular or moderate; they have no ties to the hollow outside efforts to create moderate governments in exile and are being backed by Arab states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The small groups being given limited U.S. weapons and Special Forces support are at best petty and uncertain players.

Many of the more than 4 million Syrians who have fled lived in areas where these factions’ battles against pro-Assad forces and barrel bombs, and the threat of poison gas, deliberate isolation, and efforts to starve rebel-held areas have created wastelands. Many of the more than 250,000 Syrian civilian dead, and at least 500,000 seriously wounded, are the product of this fighting. It is important to note that the U.N. ceased to be able to make meaningful casualty estimates more than half a year ago, and estimates of refugees and internally displaced persons (last reliably put at 7 million) have ceased to grow because there no longer is a basis for guesstimating the increase and many of those who remain are simply too poor to leave.

Then there are the fighters supporting Mr. Assad. This is not a unified group. The majority of the population—the CIA estimates it to be about 18 million–is Sunni and other non-Alawites. The Alawites are a gnostic religious group that may have political ties to Iran and Hezbollah but are not themselves Shiite.

Maps of Syria’s sectarian and ethnic divisions before the fighting show a series of small enclaves, many near the coast. The Alawites have no clear bloc or “region,” and it is unclear how many of the Sunnis in the regular Syrian forces, the real Shiites and other minorities in Syria, or the more secular Sunni businesspeople and civilians would support Mr. Assad or any mix of Alawites and other Assad supporters if they had a choice.

The World Bank rated the Assad regime as having some of the world’s worst governance before the uprising began in 2011. Transparency International rated Syria as the 159th most corrupt country of 175 in 2014. Arab and U.N. development reports warned that Bashar Assad was no better at moving the country toward real economic development than his father.

Syria’s GDP per capita was, at best, around $5,100 in 2011 and ranked a dismal 165th in the world. It now may average half that level. Some 33% of the population is 14 or younger; 14% is 15 to 24, and more than 500,000 young Syrians now reach job age each year in a country where direct unemployment is estimated to be 33% to 35%.

The first step in solving a problem is to honestly assess it. The failure of U.S. policyand military efforts, Russian and Iranian support of Mr. Assad, major Russian military intervention, and the conflicting ways in which other states intervene will all make things worse. The impact of religious warfare and extremism, and failed Syrian secularism, are serious problems.

It is time to stop focusing on either ISIS or Mr. Assad, pretending that Syrian “moderates” are strong enough to affect the security situation or negotiate for Syria’s real fighters, and acting as if a shattered nation could be united by some top-down negotiation between groups that hate each other and are not competent to deal with Syria’s economic, social, and governance challenges.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This piece was adapted from his work “The Long War in Syria: The Trees, the Forest, and All the King’s Men.” 



Parsing Putin on Syria

Op-Ed October 2, 2015 Arab Weekly


It is difficult to see how Washington and Moscow can arrive at a solution on Syria but it is nearly impossible to imagine a solution without such coopera­tion.

The war of words between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves little optimism that the United States and Russia can soon cooperate to de-escalate the horrendous civil war in Syria. Their differences on the causes and nature of the conflict are profound, as are their prescrip­tions for resolving it.

Neither country has the answer to Syria’s misery but if a solution to Syria is ultimately to be found, they are doomed to eventually work together.

Speculation has run wild about Putin’s motives in deploying additional weapons and military personnel to Syria. Was he throw­ing a life jacket to the drowning Syrian President Bashar Assad? Trying to back foot the United States? Changing the subject from Ukraine? Shoring up his domestic standing? On a multiple-choice quiz, the correct answer would be “all of the above”.

We can dispense with the more alarmist explanations for Putin’s motives. The notion that Rus­sia is establishing a new regional dominance is nonsense. Russia’s moves in Syria are less a sign of Putin’s strength than of Assad’s weakness. The vast majority of the region’s inhabitants despise As­sad; if hegemony is Putin’s game, he’s playing it in a curious way.

A massive US military footprint covers the region. Russia’s region­al military presence is confined to a tiny parcel of land on Syria’s western coast. This may be prime real estate for protecting Russia’s small naval facility at Tartus and Assad’s ancestral homeland but it is not a platform for regional force projection, certainly not with the military assets the Russians have so far deployed.

Putin’s immediate goal is clearly preventing the collapse of the Assad regime. Russia’s escala­tory moves can also be seen as a strategic hedge, creating what the Soviets called a “correlation of forces” allowing Russia to adjust to a variety of military and politi­cal circumstances. Recent Russian military moves might therefore be explained as a way to shape a more favourable outcome for Russian interests for whatever diplomatic process eventually gets going.

The problem with this logic is that the extremism of the Assad regime and the Islamic State (ISIS) feed on each other. Indeed, nei­ther would survive long without the other. Assad has too much blood on his hands to be reha­bilitated. If Putin is determined to prop up a “dead man walking” in Damascus at all costs, there is little basis for a diplomatic solution in Syria.

This scenario would prolong the disaster for the Syrian people but it’s hardly a slam dunk for Russia, either. Russian air power, while it can certainly extend the life of the Assad regime, cannot ultimately save it. And the introduction of Russian ground forces into the fight risks an Afghanistan-like quagmire. In short, there is no unilateral solution that Russia can impose to end the conflict.

Some Russian diplomats have hinted that Putin will ultimately be more concerned with prevent­ing ISIS from further infecting the Caucases and Central Asia than in saving Assad. To this end, Washington should work to persuade Moscow that its equi­ties in Syria would take a haircut if it continues to cling to Assad. This means continuing to work to contain Iran’s role inside Syria, highlighting Russia’s increasingly direct role in facilitating Assad’s indiscriminate killings of his own civilian population and increasing the tempo of coalition air strikes against ISIS.

If Putin does eventually see the need to show a degree of flexibil­ity, it then becomes possible to im­agine the contours of an eventual agreement, although getting there will be devilishly difficult: The United States would compromise on the timing of Assad’s depar­ture and his ultimate disposition so long as he is no longer ruling Syria after a short transition, while Russia would agree to an outcome that removes Assad from power through a Syrian-led political pro­cess rather than by military force.

But while Assad’s disposition is certainly critical to Syria’s future, the conflict has become much bigger than one man. It is time for both the United States and Russia to admit that the more urgent need is to initiate a regional process aimed at de-escalating and containing the violence in Syria. For all their differences, the West, the Arab states, Turkey, Russia and Iran have a common interest in defeating ISIS, maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, reducing the flow of refugees and preventing a regional conflagration.

At the United Nations, both presidents seemed to agree on the need for a transition to a new gov­erning structure in Syria to avoid chaos. Obama spoke of negotiating a “managed transition” to a post- Assad government. US Secretary of State John Kerry has reasserted that Assad must go but suggested flexibility on the timing of his departure while this transition is being negotiated.

But if a great power moment is needed to open the door to the next round of international diplo­macy on Syria, it did not happen in New York. This highlights the conundrum: It is difficult to see how Washington and Moscow can arrive at a solution on Syria but it is nearly impossible to imagine a solution without such coopera­tion. A negotiated outcome would give neither Russia nor the United States everything it wants but it would give the Syrian people and their neighbours a light at the end of the tunnel that they so desper­ately need.

This article was originally published in the Arab Weekly.


Anti-ISIS Coalition Uses ISIS to Fight Assad in Favor of the Rebels

by Leith Fadel

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) has wrecked havoc in both Syria and Iraq with their merciless terrorist attacks, massacres against minority groups (ethnic and religious), depravation of social liberties, and unmitigated corruption; it is not a far cry to label them a plague that spread through the whirlwind of political upheaval in the Arab world.

However, this terrorist group was relatively unknown until they took the world by storm in the Summer of 2013, capturing the provincial capital of the Nineveh Governorate with very little resistance from the 10,000 Iraqi Army soldiers that were assigned to protect the city of Mosul.

Suddenly, ISIS became a household name that was synonymous with terrorism and radicalism; but, this was not the world’s problem, it was an issue for the Iraqis and Syrians.

Following a number of battlefield victories in 2014, ISIS was finally declared a threat to the world by the United States government (U.S.), who began a series of airstrikes above the terrorist group’s positions in the latter part of 2014.

With the rise of ISIS paranoia spreading around the world, the U.S. went on the public offensive; this meant the formation of an “Anti-ISIS Coalition” of countries that the Obama Regime could parade around as the legitimate force combatting the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

One problem: the Anti-ISIS Coalition did not forestall the terrorist group’s progress; instead, they forced the terrorist group to concentrate their fighters elsewhere in Syria.

ISIS Roams Free in Northern Syria:

The U.S. and their allies were bombing ISIS during the battle for Kobane in northern Aleppo; however, the terrorist group was traveling untouched around the vast desert highways in northern Syria.

ISIS could not attack any of the rebel or Kurdish forces without interference from the Anti-ISIS Coalition, but they could freely travel from Al-Raqqa to Deir Ezzor without fear of any airstrikes from the U.S. and their allies.

According to a military source from the Syrian Air Defense: on numerous occasions, ISIS would send reinforcements to Syrian Army controlled areas without a single Anti-ISIS Coalition aircraft attacking their convoys or notifying the Syrian Air Force of the looming ISIS threat.

Countries like Jordan – who still maintain some diplomatic relations with the Syrian Government – remained silent about the intelligence reports they received regarding ISIS’ movements around Syria; it became more and more evident that the Anti-ISIS Coalition was not concerned with the ISIS threat in Syria, but rather, the threat they posed to their allies in the country.

Rebels and ISIS Launch Simultaneous Offensives:

In April of 2015, a coalition of Al-Qaeda militias dubbed “Jaysh Al-Fateh” (Army of Conquest) launched a large-scale offensive at the provincial capital of the Idlib Governorate – within a week, the Islamist rebels captured Idlib City from the Syrian Armed Forces.

Tasked with protecting the provinces of Idlib, Hama, and east Homs, the 11th and 18th Tank Divisions were redeployed – alongside the Tiger Force, who were on the offensive in east Homs – to the Idlib City front to help safeguard the remaining territory under their control.

As soon as the Tiger Forces and the 11th Tank Division were redeployed Idlib, ISIS sent a large wave of reinforcements to east Homs and Deir Ezzor in order to prepare for a large-scale offensive.

The Syrian Armed Forces were initially successful in recapturing some territory in Idlib; however, the troubling reports from the east Homs front left the SAA’s Central Command flustered – they had to commit their troops that were designated for offensives (i.e. Tiger Forces) to these fronts.

ISIS would capture the large gas fields in east Homs before they took complete control of the ancient city of Palmyra; this prompted the SAA’s Central Command to redeploy the 18th Tank Division back to Homs.

In a matter of two months, the Syrian Armed Forces lost all but two towns in the Idlib Governorate; the city of Busra Al-Sham and Nassib border-crossing in the Dara’a Governorate; and most the Homs Governorate’s eastern countryside.

Then, just when things appeared to be slowing down, ISIS launched a large-scale offensive inside the provincial capital of Al-Hasakah; this was followed by Jaysh Al-Fateh’s large-scale offensive in the Al-Ghaab Plains of Hama.

The Anti-ISIS Coalition managed to miss the thousands of ISIS combatants heading to Hasakah City from Al-Raqqa and east Aleppo.

The Syrian Armed Forces committed many soldiers to protect their districts inside Hasakah City, while their men in the Al-Ghaab Plains surrendered the remaining villages under their control.

Finally, there were the recent offensives in the Dara’a, Al-Sweida, and Deir Ezzor Governorates; the FSA launched a large-scale assault on Dara’a City and the western countryside of Al-Sweida, while the terrorist group attempted to capture the Deir Ezzor Military Airport – both Islamist forces were unsuccessful.

Russia Enters the War:

With the U.S. led Anti-ISIS Coalition failing destroy the terrorist group in both Syria and Iraq, the Russians decided to intervene in this war and rectify where their predecessors went wrong.

Now, the Anti-ISIS Coalition cannot get away with their selective airstrikes; it is the Russians ruling the skies above Syria and if the coalition wants to attack ISIS outside of rebel and YPG controlled areas, they will have to consult the Russian Air Force.

Russia’s entrance in this war will be a game changer, but not likely enough to recapture the country.

The Syrian Arab Army will receive a major boost from the Russian Air Force patrolling the vast Syrian and Iraqi deserts – ISIS will no longer go untouched from Al-Raqqa to Deir Ezzor.

Artículo publicado en Al-Masdar News

Who is Behind Syrian Observatory for Human Rights?

By Nimrod Kamer

October 02, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “RT“-  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has been the prime source for MSM-aired news from the Syrian battlefield. But how much does one truly know about this UK-based organization and its director? Journalist and prankster Nimrod Kamer went to find out.

The organization has been one of the sources for the mainstream media to build their reports on Syria since the start of the civil war four years ago. The organization claims to have a wide network of contacts in the region who feed their information to the head office, where it is processed and later posted on the website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Since the start of the Moscow anti-ISIS campaign Russia has started featuring in its reports as well – and it was quickly picked up by major Western media outlets. One of the latest wires from the Observatory that “Russian warplanes [killed] 30 civilians in Homs including women and children” quickly made it into major news sources.

“To the degree people choose to believe social media, they can be my guest. But quite contrary to what [US Secretary of State John Kerry] has said, it is a notoriously unreliable tool upon which to base judgments,” former CIA officer, Ray McGovern told RT.

I am not a media organization’ – Rami Abdel Rahman

RT decided to investigate who the man behind the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is and why the media outlet is so popular with MSM. Well-known journalist and prankster Nimrod Kamer took up the job.

The two-bedroom Coventry home of Syrian immigrant Rami Abdel Rahman has been the organization’s base and the source of information for major mainstream media on anything Syria-related from the past four years, including the death toll.

Nobody quite knows who Abdel Rahman has on the ground in Syria, but information just keeps flowing on and on, usually in a dramatic fashion and with little detail.

Kamer walked around the English city of Coventry, approaching people with questions on Abdel Rahman and how he could be located. No one seemed to have a clue they had the prime source of news from the Syrian frontline living right there in their quaint British neighborhood.

Kamer had no luck catching the director at home. Calling him on the phone, he found out Abdel Rahman went out to a shop. The journalist went about explaining that he had hoped to catch the organization’s director to quiz him on his “media organization” – but that term was met with hostility on the part of Abdel Rahman.

“I am not a media organization. I work from my home, my private home.”

The director of the Observatory seemed very distressed, talking about the dangers of meeting up for daytime interviews because “they are trying to kill me.” It was difficult to identify who “they” were, but Abdel Rahman clearly wasn’t in the mood. He asked Kamer to send him his name and details, which Abdel Rahman would then send to the police.

“When you run a media organization you should expect journalists to come and ask questions, especially if it’s such a shady and unsourced media organization… I had a great time.”

Artículo publicado por The Informtion Clearing House

Discurso del Presidente de Rusia en la 70a Asamblea General de la ONU

President of Russia Vladimir Putin:

Mr. President,

Mr. Secretary General,

Distinguished heads of state and government,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 70th anniversary of the United Nations is a good occasion to both take stock of history and talk about our common future. In 1945, the countries that defeated Nazism joined their efforts to lay a solid foundation for the postwar world order. Let me remind you that key decisions on the principles defining interaction between states, as well as the decision to establish the UN, were made in our country, at the Yalta Conference of the leaders of the anti-Hitler coalition.

The Yalta system was truly born in travail. It was born at the cost of tens of millions of lives and two world wars that swept through the planet in the 20th century. Let’s be fair: it helped humankind pass through turbulent, and at times dramatic, events of the last seven decades. It saved the world from large-scale upheavals.

The United Nations is unique in terms of legitimacy, representation and universality. True, the UN has been criticized lately for being inefficient or for the fact that decision-making on fundamental issues stalls due to insurmountable differences, especially among Security Council members.

However, I’d like to point out that there have always been differences in the UN throughout the 70 years of its history, and that the veto right has been regularly used by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union, and later Russia. It is only natural for such a diverse and representative organization. When the UN was first established, nobody expected that there would always be unanimity. The mission of the organization is to seek and reach compromises, and its strength comes from taking different views and opinions into consideration. The decisions debated within the UN are either taken in the form of resolutions or not. As diplomats say, they either pass or they don’t. Any action taken by circumventing this procedure is illegitimate and constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and contemporary international law.

We all know that after the end of the Cold War the world was left with one center of dominance, and those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that, since they are so powerful and exceptional, they know best what needs to be done and thus they don’t need to reckon with the UN, which, instead of rubber-stamping the decisions they need, often stands in their way.

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That’s why they say that the UN has run its course and is now obsolete and outdated. Of course, the world changes, and the UN should also undergo natural transformation. Russia is ready to work together with its partners to develop the UN further on the basis of a broad consensus, but we consider any attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They may result in the collapse of the entire architecture of international relations, and then indeed there will be no rules left except for the rule of force. The world will be dominated by selfishness rather than collective effort, by dictate rather than equality and liberty, and instead of truly independent states we will have protectorates controlled from outside.

What is the meaning of state sovereignty, the term which has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It basically means freedom, every person and every state being free to choose their future.

By the way, this brings us to the issue of the so-called legitimacy of state authorities. You shouldn’t play with words and manipulate them. In international law, international affairs, every term has to be clearly defined, transparent and interpreted the same way by one and all.

We are all different, and we should respect that. Nations shouldn’t be forced to all conform to the same development model that somebody has declared the only appropriate one.

We should all remember the lessons of the past. For example, we remember examples from our Soviet past, when the Soviet Union exported social experiments, pushing for changes in other countries for ideological reasons, and this often led to tragic consequences and caused degradation instead of progress.

It seems, however, that instead of learning from other people’s mistakes, some prefer to repeat them and continue to export revolutions, only now these are “democratic” revolutions. Just look at the situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa already mentioned by the previous speaker. Of course, political and social problems have been piling up for a long time in this region, and people there wanted change. But what was the actual outcome? Instead of bringing about reforms, aggressive intervention rashly destroyed government institutions and the local way of life. Instead of democracy and progress, there is now violence, poverty, social disasters and total disregard for human rights, including even the right to life.

I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done? But I’m afraid that this question will remain unanswered, because they have never abandoned their policy, which is based on arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity.

Power vacuum in some countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa obviously resulted in the emergence of areas of anarchy, which were quickly filled with extremists and terrorists. The so-called Islamic State has tens of thousands of militants fighting for it, including former Iraqi soldiers who were left on the street after the 2003 invasion. Many recruits come from Libya whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. And now radical groups are joined by members of the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition backed by the West. They get weapons and training, and then they defect and join the so-called Islamic State.

In fact, the Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes. Having established control over parts of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State now aggressively expands into other regions. It seeks dominance in the Muslim world and beyond. Their plans go further.

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The situation is extremely dangerous. In these circumstances, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to make declarations about the threat of terrorism and at the same time turn a blind eye to the channels used to finance and support terrorists, including revenues from drug trafficking, the illegal oil trade and the arms trade.

It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.

I’d like to tell those who engage in this: Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here? The recent incident where the most “moderate” opposition group handed over their weapons to terrorists is a vivid example of that.

We consider that any attempts to flirt with terrorists, let alone arm them, are short-sighted and extremely dangerous. This may make the global terrorist threat much worse, spreading it to new regions around the globe, especially since there are fighters from many different countries, including European ones, gaining combat experience with Islamic State. Unfortunately, Russia is no exception.

Now that those thugs have tasted blood, we can’t allow them to return home and continue with their criminal activities. Nobody wants that, right?

Russia has consistently opposed terrorism in all its forms. Today, we provide military-technical assistance to Iraq, Syria and other regional countries fighting terrorist groups. We think it’s a big mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities and government forces who valiantly fight terrorists on the ground.

We should finally admit that President Assad’s government forces and the Kurdish militia are the only forces really fighting terrorists in Syria. Yes, we are aware of all the problems and conflicts in the region, but we definitely have to consider the actual situation on the ground.

Dear colleagues, I must note that such an honest and frank approach on Russia’s part has been recently used as a pretext for accusing it of its growing ambitions — as if those who say that have no ambitions at all. However, it is not about Russia’s ambitions, dear colleagues, but about the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world.

What we actually propose is to be guided by common values and common interests rather than by ambitions. Relying on international law, we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing, and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism. Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind. And of course, Muslim nations should play a key role in such a coalition, since Islamic State not only poses a direct threat to them, but also tarnishes one of the greatest world religions with its atrocities. The ideologues of these extremists make a mockery of Islam and subvert its true humanist values.

I would also like to address Muslim spiritual leaders: Your authority and your guidance are of great importance right now. It is essential to prevent people targeted for recruitment by extremists from making hasty decisions, and those who have already been deceived and, due to various circumstances, found themselves among terrorists, must be assisted in finding a way back to normal life, laying down arms and putting an end to fratricide.

70th session of the UN General Assembly.

In the days to come, Russia, as the current President of the UN Security Council, will convene a ministerial meeting to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the threats in the Middle East. First of all, we propose exploring opportunities for adopting a resolution that would serve to coordinate the efforts of all parties that oppose Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Once again, such coordination should be based upon the principles of the UN Charter.

We hope that the international community will be able to develop a comprehensive strategy of political stabilization, as well as social and economic recovery in the Middle East. Then, dear friends, there would be no need for setting up more refugee camps. Today, the flow of people forced to leave their native land has literally engulfed, first, the neighbouring countries, and then Europe. There are hundreds of thousands of them now, and before long, there might be millions. It is, essentially, a new, tragic Migration Period, and a harsh lesson for all of us, including Europe.

I would like to stress that refugees undoubtedly need our compassion and support. However, the only way to solve this problem for good is to restore statehood where it has been destroyed, to strengthen government institutions where they still exist, or are being re-established, to provide comprehensive military, economic and material assistance to countries in a difficult situation, and certainly to people who, despite all their ordeals, did not abandon their homes. Of course, any assistance to sovereign nations can, and should, be offered rather than imposed, in strict compliance with the UN Charter. In other words, our Organisation should support any measures that have been, or will be, taken in this regard in accordance with international law, and reject any actions that are in breach of the UN Charter. Above all, I believe it is of utmost importance to help restore government institutions in Libya, support the new government of Iraq, and provide comprehensive assistance to the legitimate government of Syria.

Dear colleagues, ensuring peace and global and regional stability remains a key task for the international community guided by the United Nations. We believe this means creating an equal and indivisible security environment that would not serve a privileged few, but everyone. Indeed, it is a challenging, complicated and time-consuming task, but there is simply no alternative.

Sadly, some of our counterparts are still dominated by their Cold War-era bloc mentality and the ambition to conquer new geopolitical areas. First, they continued their policy of expanding NATO – one should wonder why, considering that the Warsaw Pact had ceased to exist and the Soviet Union had disintegrated.

Nevertheless, NATO has kept on expanding, together with its military infrastructure. Next, the post-Soviet states were forced to face a false choice between joining the West and carrying on with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a major geopolitical crisis. And that is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the people’s widespread frustration with the government was used for instigating a coup d’état from abroad. This has triggered a civil war. We are convinced that the only way out of this dead end lies through comprehensive and diligent implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015. Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be secured through the use of threats or military force, but it must be secured. The people of Donbas should have their rights and interests genuinely considered, and their choice respected; they should be engaged in devising the key elements of the country’s political system, in line with the provisions of the Minsk agreements. Such steps would guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized state, and a vital link in creating a common space of security and economic cooperation, both in Europe and in Eurasia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have deliberately mentioned a common space for economic cooperation. Until quite recently, it seemed that we would learn to do without dividing lines in the area of the economy with its objective market laws, and act based on transparent and jointly formulated rules, including the WTO principles, which embrace free trade and investment and fair competition. However, unilaterally imposed sanctions circumventing the UN Charter have all but become commonplace today. They not only serve political objectives, but are also used for eliminating market competition.

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I would like to note one more sign of rising economic selfishness. A number of nations have chosen to create exclusive economic associations, with their establishment being negotiated behind closed doors, secretly from those very nations’ own public and business communities, as well as from the rest of the world. Other states, whose interests may be affected, have not been informed of anything, either. It seems that someone would like to impose upon us some new game rules, deliberately tailored to accommodate the interests of a privileged few, with the WTO having no say in it. This is fraught with utterly unbalancing global trade and splitting up the global economic space.

These issues affect the interests of all nations and influence the future of the entire global economy. That is why we propose discussing those issues within the framework of the United Nations, the WTO and the G20. Contrary to the policy of exclusion, Russia advocates harmonizing regional economic projects. I am referring to the so-called ”integration of integrations“ based on the universal and transparent rules of international trade. As an example, I would like to cite our plans to interconnect the Eurasian Economic Union with China’s initiative for creating a Silk Road economic belt. We continue to see great promise in harmonizing the integration vehicles between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, one more issue that shall affect the future of the entire humankind is climate change. It is in our interest to ensure that the coming UN Climate Change Conference that will take place in Paris in December this year should deliver some feasible results. As part of our national contribution, we plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 70–75 percent of the 1990 levels by the year 2030.

However, I suggest that we take a broader look at the issue. Admittedly, we may be able to defuse it for a while by introducing emission quotas and using other tactical measures, but we certainly will not solve it for good that way. What we need is an essentially different approach, one that would involve introducing new, groundbreaking, nature-like technologies that would not damage the environment, but rather work in harmony with it, enabling us to restore the balance between the biosphere and technology upset by human activities.

It is indeed a challenge of global proportions. And I am confident that humanity does have the necessary intellectual capacity to respond to it. We need to join our efforts, primarily engaging countries that possess strong research and development capabilities, and have made significant advances in fundamental research. We propose convening a special forum under the auspices of the UN to comprehensively address issues related to the depletion of natural resources, habitat destruction, and climate change. Russia is willing to co-sponsor such a forum.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. On January 10th, 1946, the UN General Assembly convened for its first meeting in London. Chairman of the Preparatory Commission Dr. Zuleta Angel, a Colombian diplomat, opened the session by offering what I see as a very concise definition of the principles that the United Nations should be based upon, which are good will, disdain for scheming and trickery, and a spirit of cooperation. Today, his words sound like guidance for all of us.

Russia is confident of the United Nations’ enormous potential, which should help us avoid a new confrontation and embrace a strategy of cooperation. Hand in hand with other nations, we will consistently work to strengthen the UN’s central, coordinating role. I am convinced that by working together, we will make the world stable and safe, and provide an enabling environment for the development of all nations and peoples.

Thank you.

Reproducido de la página Presidencia de Rusia.


The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification

El día 3 de octubre, las fuerzas armadas de Estados Unidos realizaron un operativo aéreo contra un hospital de la organización Medecins sans Frontiers en la ciudad de Kunduz, en Afganistán. El saldo fue de 19 doctores, un número indeterminado de pacientes civiles muertos y un hospital totalmente destruído.  El manejo que el gobierno de Estados Unidos y la prensa de ese país dieron a los hechos es el tema de este artículo del prestigiado periodista Glenn Greenwald pubicado en The Intercept el 5 de octubre y que publica integro México Internacional



The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification

By Glenn Greenwald

When news first broke of the U.S. airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the response from the U.S. military was predictable and familiar. It was all just a big, terrible mistake, its official statement suggested: an airstrike it carried out in Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Oops: our bad. Fog of war, errant bombs, and all that.

This obfuscation tactic is the standard one the U.S. and Israel both use whenever they blow up civilian structures and slaughter large numbers of innocent people with airstrikes. Citizens of both countries are well-trained – like some tough, war-weary, cigar-chomping general – to reflexively spout the phrase “collateral damage,” which lets them forget about the whole thing and sleep soundly, telling themselves that these sorts of innocent little mistakes are inevitable even among the noblest and most well-intentioned war-fighters, such as their own governments. The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic: it requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase and throw enough doubt on what happened in the first 48 hours and the media will quickly lose interest.

But there’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority.

In this case, though, the U.S. military bombed the hospital of an organization – Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) – run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored. Doctors who travel to dangerous war zones to treat injured human beings are regarded as noble and trustworthy. They’re difficult to marginalize and demonize. They give compelling, articulate interviews in English to U.S. media outlets. They are heard, and listened to.

MSF has used this platform, unapologetically and aggressively. They are clearly infuriated at the attack on their hospital and the deaths of their colleagues and patients. From the start, they have signaled an unwillingness to be shunted away with the usual “collateral damage” banalities and, more important, have refused to let the U.S. military and its allies get away with spouting obvious falsehoods. They want real answers. As the Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman put it last night: “MSF’s been going incredibly hard, challenging every US/Afgh claim made about hospital bombing.”

In particular, MSF quickly publicized numerous facts that cast serious doubt on the original U.S. claim that the strike on the hospital was just an accident. To begin with, the organization had repeatedly advised the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital. They did so most recently on September 29, just five days before the strike. Beyond that, MSF personnel at the facility “frantically” called U.S. military officials during the strike to advise them that the hospital was being hit and to plead with them to stop, but the strikes continued in a “sustained” manner for 30 more minutes. Finally, MSF yesterday said this:

All of these facts make it extremely difficult – even for U.S. media outlets – to sell the “accident” story. At least as likely is that the hospital was deliberately targeted, chosen either by Afghan military officials who fed the coordinates to their U.S. military allies and/or by the U.S. military itself.

Even cynical critics of the U.S. have a hard time believing that the U.S. military would deliberately target a hospital with an airstrike (despite how many times the U.S. has destroyed hospitals with airstrikes). But in this case, there is long-standing tension between the Afghan military and this specific MSF hospital, grounded in the fact that the MSF – true to its name – treats all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight. That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before.

In July – just 3 months ago – Reuters reported that Afghan special forces“raided” this exact MSF hospital in Kunduz, claiming an Al Qaeda member was a patient. This raid infuriated MSF staff:

The French aid group said its hospital was temporarily closed to new patients after armed soldiers had entered and behaved violently towards staff.

“This incident demonstrates a serious lack of respect for the medical mission, which is safeguarded under international humanitarian law,” MSF said in a statement.

A staff member who works for the aid group said, “The foreign doctors tried to stop the Afghan Special Operations guys, but they went in anyway, searching the hospital.”

The U.S. had previously targeted a hospital in a similar manner: “In 2009, a Swedish aid group accused U.S. forces of violating humanitarian principles by raiding a hospital in Wardak province, west of Kabul.”

News accounts of this weekend’s U.S. airstrike on that same hospital hinted cryptically at the hostility from the Afghan military. The first NYT story on the strike – while obscuring who carried out the strike – noted deep into the article that “the hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked Afghan security forces.” Al Jazeera similarlyalluded to this tension, noting that “a caretaker at the hospital, who was severely injured in the air strike, told Al Jazeera that clinic’s medical staff did not favour any side of the conflict. ‘We are here to help and treat civilians,’ Abdul Manar said.”

As a result of all of this, there is now a radical shift in the story being told about this strike. No longer is it being depicted as some terrible accident of a wayward bomb. Instead, the predominant narrative from U.S. sources and their Afghan allies is that this attack was justified because the Taliban were using it as a “base.”

Fox News yesterday cited anonymous “defense officials” that while they “‘regret the loss’ of innocent life, they say the incident could have been avoided if the Taliban had not used the hospital as a base, and the civilians there as human shields.” In its first article on the attackThe Washington Postalso previewed this defense, quoting a “spokesman for the Afghan army’s 209th Corps in northern Afghanistan” as saying that “Taliban fighters are now hiding in ‘people’s houses, mosques and hospitals using civilians as human shields.’” AP yesterday actually claimed that it looked at a video and saw weaponry in the hospital’s windows, only to delete that claim with this correction:

The New York Times today – in a story ostensibly about the impact on area residents from the hospital’s destruction – printed paragraphs from anonymous officials justifying this strike: “there was heavy gunfire in the area around the hospital at the time of the airstrike, and that initial reports indicated that the Americans and Afghans on the ground near the hospital could not safely pull back without being dangerously exposed. American forces on the ground then called for air support, senior officials said.” It also claimed that “many residents of Kunduz, as well as people in Kabul, seemed willing to believe the accusations of some Afghan officials that there were Taliban fighters in the hospital shooting at American troops.” And this:

Still, some Afghan officials continued to suggest that the attack was justified. “I know that there were civilian casualties in the hospital, but a lot of senior Taliban were also killed,” said Abdul Wadud Paiman, a member of Parliament from Kunduz.

So now we’re into full-on justification mode: yes, we did it; yes, we did it on purpose; and we’re not sorry because we were right to do so since we think some Taliban fighters were at the hospital, perhaps even shooting at us. In response to the emergence of this justification claim, MSF expressed the exact level of revulsion appropriate (emphasis added):

“MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present. 

This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’

“There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.”

From the start, MSF made clear that none of its staff at the hospital heard or saw Taliban fighters engaging U.S. or Afghan forces:

But even if there were, only the most savage barbarians would decide that it’s justified to raze a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and patients to the ground. Yet mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what the U.S. military did – either because it chose to do so or because its Afghan allies fed them the coordinates of this hospital which they have long disliked. As a result, we now have U.S. and Afghan officials expressly justifying the consummate war crime: deliberately attacking a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients. And whatever else is true, the story of what happened here has been changing rapidly as facts emerge proving the initial claims to be false.

* * * * *

Just as this article was being published, NBC News published a report making clear that even the latest claims from the U.S. and Afghan governments are now falling apart. The Pentagon’s top four-star commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Campbell, now claims that “local Afghans forces asked for air support and U.S. forces were not under direct fire just prior to the U.S. bombardment” of the hospital. As NBC notes, this directly contradicts prior claims: “The Pentagon had previously said U.S. troops were under direct fire.”

See also from today: CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack

UPDATE: Responding to the above-referenced admission, MSF has issued this statement:

“Today the US government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and MSF staff. Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

The U.S. seems to have picked the wrong group this time to attack from the air.


The New Face of Jewish Terror

El zionismo tuvo un origen afín a la ideología colonialista europea de fines del siglo XIX que no ha variado y que se resume en dos grandes conceptos: Israel es un baluarte de la civilización occidental ante la amenaza del Islam y la negación, primero, de la existencia de un pueblo palestino y, después, la necesidad de expulsarlo del territorio que reclama como donación de un dios. Golda Meir fue probablemente la última en sostener públicamente que no existía un pueblo palestino precisamente cuando crecía incontenible la OLP. Poco después, Itzhak Rabin pretendió, a costa de su vida,  tímida y muy preeliminarmente salvar la contradicción entre la aceptación de la existencia de un estado palestino y el pretendido papel de bastión civilizatorio de Israel. Desde entonces el país ha descendido a una ultraderecha en todos los niveles de la sociedad que confina a los palestinos a un régimen de separación o apartheid, de violencia, acoso, abuso, represión y discriminación permanentes para forzarlos a salir del país, al tiempo que inventa amenazas externas para desviar la atención mundial de las condiciones de los palestinos. Un ejemplo de la derechización de la población israelí a niveles que, por su influencia política e impunidad real, probablemente no se ven en ningún otro país del mundo, es la que se describe en este artículo y que, más que  constituir una amenaza para el gobierno de Netanyahu, presagia un escalón más en descenso al infierno.


The New Face of Jewish Terror

A growing radical fringe is taking aim at Palestinians — and the Israeli government.

MITZPE KRAMIM, West Bank — Gilboa Marmerstein says that her life is a “daily struggle.” The 16-year-old is awaiting the day when her family will move out of their trailer, which lacks insulation, much less a connection to cable television, and build a permanent home. When I met Marmerstein recently in her living room, she wore jean shorts and a messy bun. In between discussing what it’s like to live at an outpost above the rolling hills of the Jordan Valley, she spent her time chasing her seven younger siblings. In some ways, she is an average Israeli teenager obsessed with her friends and her phone. But she spoke with gravity born of responsibility, both to family and to mission. Despite the struggle, she said, her life is also geula, salvation.

The 42 families of Mitzpe Kramim, which means “Lookout onto the Vineyards” in Hebrew, say that they wouldn’t give up the tranquil, family-oriented, and righteous lifestyle for anything, especially not a 2011 Israeli Supreme Court evacuation order that declared that the land on which they live is private Palestinian property. Marmerstein mocked the irrelevance of the court decision and said she believes that sooner or later, Jews from across Israel and the world will join her in Judea and Samaria — using the area’s biblical name.

The Israeli government backs most of the 500,000 Jews spread across roughly 100 settlements in the West Bank by providing them military protection and largely allowing them to continue construction without the necessary permits. But another estimated 100 unsanctioned hilltop outposts like Mitzpe Kramim have tested the state’s policy. Even though the Central Bureau of Statistics shows a surge of more than 200 percent in completed sanctioned housing construction in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, Marmerstein and her neighbors feel betrayed by Israel’s government. Violent demonstrations have erupted in response to the occasional demolitions of illegal structures, neighborhoods, or entire outposts in the West Bank; in these demonstrations, settlers have hurled stones at police officers and soldiers, comparing them to the biblical conquerors who destroyed the sacred Jewish temples in ancient Jerusalem. They say the Israeli government is too shortsighted to recognize the community’s bravery in setting up camp on this patch of land on Israel’s last frontier.

“Israelis see us as house stealers, stone throwers, baby killers, but this is the most Israeli that you can be, really!”

“Israelis see us as house stealers, stone throwers, baby killers, but this is the most Israeli that you can be, really!” Marmerstein said.

In recent weeks, hard-line settlers like Marmerstein and her family have become a flashpoint in Israeli politics and society, leading to political condemnation — and backlash. Following the July 29 demolition of two buildings in the settlement of Beit El, a settlement just north of Ramallah, settler leaders presented the right-wing Jewish Home party, a member of the ruling coalition, with an ultimatum: Either pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve further construction in the settlement or lose the settlers’ political support. In just a matter of hours, Netanyahu approved the construction of 300 homes in Beit El. But residents there and other hard-liners throughout the West Bank were unimpressed, claiming that the approval was part of a previous deal made in 2012 when the government evacuated another neighborhood in the settlement. “Anyway, we’re tired of these games,” said one Beit El resident. “We see that Bibi [Netanyahu] simply doesn’t have the faith needed to stand up for his ideals.”

Then things got really ugly. On July 31, unidentified attackers firebombed a home in the West Bank Palestinian village of Duma. An 18-month-old baby, Ali Dawabsheh, and his father, Saad, were killed. On the walls of the Dawabsheh family home, arsonists left graffiti that read, “Long Live the Messiah” and “Revenge!” No one has been apprehended for the attack, but Israeli law enforcement officials and politicians blamed “Jewish terrorists.” Netanyahu condemned the act as “heinous” and promised to bring the arsonists to justice. President Reuven Rivlin wrote on his Facebook page that “Flames have engulfed our country. Flames of violence, flames of hatred, flames of false, distorted and twisted beliefs.”

Most believe the attacks were carried out by the radical right. It could have been the “hilltop youth,” the mostly teenagers and young families who, to varying degrees, refuse the authority of the state and live strict Torah-based lifestyles on what they see as a Zionist frontier. Also suspects are “price taggers,” a related group that has vowed to exact a “price” in the form of attacks on Palestinian properties or people every time Israel works to curb Jewish expansion in the West Bank. While the various groups differ on strategy, they share a common desire to cleanse Israel of non-Jews. At the more radical outposts, only “Jewish labor” is permitted, on the notion that only Jews can imbue the vineyards, soil, and the walls of the homes with Jewish character and therefore prepare the land and the people for the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.

While only dozens of hilltop youth are estimated to exist in the depths of the Palestinian-ruled sections of the West Bank, Israeli security forces haveidentified around 100 extremists who they believe have been involved in attacks against Palestinians, both from the West Bank and from Israeli cities. These extremists are distinguished by their knit yarmulkes, long sidelocks, and straggly beards, a look fitting their Jewish-hippy counterculture based on an organic connection with the land of the West Bank rather than the “rotten” materialism of mainstream Israel.

Small communities like Mitzpe Kramim have become breeding grounds for the growing “hilltop youth” movement. Marmerstein told me she doesn’t condone violence like the attack in Duma, but she identifies with the frustration and motives behind fringe militant groups and insists that Jews need to do whatever is necessary to defend their God-given right to the land. “This is our home, of course,” she said. “And, besides, the Arabs have more than 18 countries. What are they doing here at all?”

“Jewish terror” is not new to Israel. In one of the most infamous incidents, the Irgun, a militant Zionist group, set off a bomb in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, killing 91 people. But, says Shlomo Fischer, a sociology professor and expert on Jewish extremism, the modern incarnation is younger and more religious, uniting an eclectic group of fringe outcasts around an identity of “romantic religious nationalism.”

The movement dates back to 1967, when Israel captured and occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a six-day war that many saw as imbued with messianic promise. Today, the loosely organized movement appeals to many marginalized youth and yeshiva dropouts by offering an “authentic” countercultural experience, says Fischer, who compares the recruitment strategy and sense of identity to extremist Islamist groups like the Islamic State. “You feel like you are able to connect with some sort of purpose, some sort of ideology that you’d never heard of,” an anonymous former hilltop youth activist told Israel’s Channel 2. He said that hilltop activists recruit at information booths throughout Israeli cities and are usually able to attract teenagers as young as 14, some 80 or 90 percent of whom come from broken homes.

The groups also feed on what settlers say is a passionate and widespread disappointment with what is seen as a traitorous government. In 1993, the Israeli government signed the Oslo Accords, in which it officially committed to freezing settlement expansion. (Since then, settlements nonetheless have expanded drastically.) While some settlements, especially those closer to Israel’s recognized borders, are fully established and treated as part of Israel, outposts like Mitzpe Kramim are seen by the state as an obstacle to peace.

Since the collapse of the peace process in 2000, however, Israel has also been divided by a fierce debate over the future of the country’s identity, pitting the country’s status as a Jewish nation-state against its espoused principles of democracy and pluralism. Politicians on the right have increasingly framed events in religious terms, concluding that a solution relies on the state’s ability to elevate its “Jewish” qualities — such as West Bank settlement as a means of reclaiming a biblical promise — over its democratic qualities, such as granting full civil rights to the 1.7 million Palestinians who live within its borders. As the conflict has dragged on, hard-line pro-settler support for “Greater Israel” has gained currency to the extent that Jewish presence in the West Bank has been increasingly understood as critical in terms of both ideology and security. Today, Israel’s Knesset is as conservative and religiously oriented as it has ever been in the country’s history. Anti-Arab,anti-refugee, and homophobic comments are common.

And, yet, the prevailing atmosphere among the settlers is that of persecution.

“We have been exposed to a terror attack on Judaism from the representatives of the state of Israel,” radical right-wing activist Meir Ettingerwrote on his blog this month, describing tensions between the settlers and the state as a “culture war.” A high-profile hilltop youth and yeshiva dropout in his early 20s, he is also the grandson of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose ultranationalist Kach party was banned in Israel on counts of racism and incitement and listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. “As the Shin Bet [Israel’s internal security service] repeats in our ears, ‘Jewish terror, Jewish terror, Jewish terror’ and at the same time ‘contains’ the firebombs or stones thrown daily by Arabs [at Jews], so grow the numbers of Jews who know that the hands of those in charge of their protection are covered with the blood of those murdered,” wrote Ettinger.

Ettinger was arrested on Aug. 3 along with nine other ultranationalist activists and was placed under administrative detention, a controversial policy usually reserved for Palestinians under which suspects are denied the right to a trial or informed of official charges because they are deemed terrorists. Ettinger’s underground organization, known as “The Revolt,” encourages widespread anarchy by way of attacks on Palestinian Muslims and Christians, so that the righteous can pave the way toward reviving the “Jewish kingdom,” according to Ettinger’s blog. The group’s manifesto, released for publication by the Shin Bet, claims that “it is much cheaper and quicker to destroy the state and then rebuild than it would be to fix it” and includes instructions on securing Molotov cocktails and maintaining silence during police interrogations.

The hard-line settler community responded to Ettinger’s arrest with further attacks and escalated hostility toward the state. On Aug. 13, price taggerstorched a tent belonging to a Palestinian Bedouin family, leaving on a nearby rock the phrase “administrative revenge” in reference to the process of administrative detention under which Ettinger had been placed.

Chaya Shmidov, a 28-year-old teacher in a sapphire blue dress and matching hat, told me recently that state discrimination against religious Jews is endemic. She recalled a friend who had demonstrated against government demolitions of a settlement being attacked with tear gas by the army and police responsible for overseeing the operation, and then being jailed for days. “How do I feel about it? How do you want me to feel about it?” she said.

“We hope that one day the state will recognize us properly and say, ‘Wow, these people are truly self-sacrificing.’”

“We hope that one day the state will recognize us properly and say, ‘Wow, these people are truly self-sacrificing.’” Shmidov lives in Ahiya, an illegal outpost some 20 miles north of Ramallah, comprising dozens of wooden homes and caravans.

Shmidov told me that in July her neighbor, Aviya Morris, visited the Temple Mount and in a clash with Muslims screamed at them, “Mohammed is a pig!” — causing the police to immediately intervene and arrest her. “While they were screaming at Aviya, ‘Itbah al-Yahud’ — ‘Slaughter the Jews’ — and ‘Allahu akbar,’ she just got a little annoyed, and she was the one who was arrested!”

Morris’s husband, Raphael, 20, said that since the Duma attack, Israeli security forces have installed a surveillance balloon in the area to watch the settlers and are posted “all throughout the roads of Judea and Samaria all the time, waiting to catch us.” Raphael Morris admitted that he had been involved in “incidents” against Palestinians, though he wouldn’t specify what kind.

A particularly sore subject for Raphael Morris and his fellow ideologues is the 2005 withdrawal of settlers from Gaza. In one of Israel’s most controversial missions, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the unilateral disengagement on the argument that the thousands of Israeli troops needed to guard Gaza’s Jewish settlements posed a security threat that also worked to devalue the democratic value of the state. In emotional scenes that the Israeli media is remembering this month on the 10-year anniversary of the disengagement, the Israeli army evacuated some 8,500 Jewish settlers from the Gush Katif bloc of Gaza, some by force, leaving behind razed homes. Morris and those like him still refer to it as “the expulsion.”

He sees Gush Katif as a cautionary tale that Israel can and will uproot its own people. And he believes that a similar process is now taking place in the West Bank with small-scale demolitions of hilltop settlements, though few expect the government to repeat the “mistake” of complete withdrawal from the territory. Morris said he is more determined than ever to fortify the settlement enterprise and to “find a solution to the conflict by expanding settlements here, slowly, slowly.”

It’s a common theme among settlers in the West Bank that they are a protective buffer between Israel and Palestinian terrorism. But in the end, they see their community’s essential justification as drawing from religion, not security or politics. “It is even written in the Torah that the Jews would be spread throughout the world and then will return back home to Eretz Israel,” Miriam Schwartz, a 40-year-old settler from Uruguay in a long floral skirt who was holding her toddler, told me as we waited under a hot late-summer sun above the Jordan Valley. We were standing at a bus stop that doubles as a pickup point for Israeli hitchhikers. The green station was covered in graffiti reading, “Kahane lives,” “Death to Arabs,” and “Price Tag.”

A woman going Schwartz’s way invited her, her daughter, and three others to pile into her car. The driver promptly requested that one of the passengers read a travel-sized laminated copy of the “Prayer for the Road,” a Jewish prayer asking for a safe journey, typically recited at the start of a flight, boat journey — or long car ride. “This prayer is especially important,” said the driver, booking it full speed along a winding road toward Jerusalem. “These days, we only have God to help us.”


Mediterranean Desperation

Los conflictos armados en el Medio Oriente  y Asia Central, inducidos desde el exterior en un interminable ajedrez geopolítico que ha causado, según Naciones Unidas, tantos desplazados y refugiados como los de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y la postración económica en muchos países africanos, han originado un gigantesco flujo migratorio hacia Europa de rasgos trágicos, particularmente desde Libia, un país desestabilizado por la codicia petrolera de Occidente y arrojado a un torbellino de violencia homicida como nunca se vio en los peores momentos de la dictadura de Khadafi y despeñado al caos político y social.  Día a día la prensa mundial nos trae frías cifras de las personas desparecidas en las aguas del Mediterráneo, pero raras veces nos ofrece un cuadro de esos naufragios y menos aún recoge los testimonios de los sobrevivientes y el relato de lo que los ha llevado a  enfrentarse a una muerte casi segura. ¿Qué les ha pasado en sus países que los empuja a arriesgar su vida y la de sus hijos de esa manera? La revista SpiegelonLine ha publicado un artículo que nos acerca a esa catástrofe humana.  México Internacional lo reproduce íntegro.  


Mediterranean Desperation: Saving Lives at the World’s Most Dangerous Border

By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Christian Werner (Photography)

Photo Gallery: Saving Refugees from the Med
Christian Werner/ DER SPIEGEL

Doctors Without Borders is the only major humanitarian organization actively rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean. So far, it has saved more than 10,000 people. But in the world’s biggest crisis region, timing is everything.

The call comes in at 10:15 a.m. on the fourth day at sea, just as the ship’s captain says it looks like it’ll be a quiet day. A refugee boat has been spotted at 33 degrees 05 minutes north latitude and 12 degrees 27 minutes east longitude, 17 nautical miles off the coast of Sabratha, Libya. It could be a rubber dinghy, with space for around 100 people. Or it might be a wooden boat, with up to 800 people on board. The captain hits the throttle, pushing the MY Phoenix to full speed.


It’s the law of the sea: With every passing hour, the children on board the refugee boat get weaker, more women faint, the men below decks inhale more toxic gasoline fumes, the inflatable dinghies lose air and the wooden boats take on more water. Every hour increases the danger of the boats springing a leak or simply sinking.And the rescue workers won’t reach the troubled vessel for another three hours.

On board the MY Phoenix, preparations begin. There’s Regina Catrambone, an Italian woman who founded the “Migrant Offshore Aid Station,” or MOAS for short. There’s also the emergency relief coordinator Will Turner from Great Britain and the American nurse Mary Jo Frawley, both of whom work for the aid organization Doctors Without Borders. These three people are the heart of the mission, but of course they are not alone. With them are a captain from Spain, a drone pilot from Austria and a rescue specialist from Malta. Altogether, there are 18 of them, patrollingg the waters between Sicily, Malta and Libya — an area almost the size of Germany. They wait, sometimes for a call from Rome, other times for a dot to appear on the horizon.

The 40-meter-long MY Phoenix was a fishing trawler before it was retro-fitted as a research vessel. Now, in its third life, it sails on behalf of humanity with one simple goal: to save lives where no one else does. It is a floating refugee camp, equipped with an infirmary full of pain medication alongside drugs to combat seasickness and scabies. It also has an ample supply of baby food and oxygen, a cooler with vaccines and 50 body bags in two sizes: one for adults and one for children.

The Mediterranean has become a crisis region, one where more than 2,000 people have died this year already — more than have lost their lives in attacks in Afghanistan. But of course that figure is misleading. It reflects only the number of recorded deaths. Who knows how many people have drowned without a trace?

Nevertheless, no aid agencies are active in the region. They all wait on shore for the survivors to arrive. The business of saving lives is left to those who are the least prepared: navies and merchant vessels. Meanwhile, more and more refugees are embarking on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean — 188,000 so far this year.

It’s hard to believe that a crisis area of this magnitude is empty of aid workers — unthinkable, Doctors Without Borders thought, or, as their founders call them, Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF. It is the biggest, best organized medical relief organization in the world. An army of survival. They are professionals for natural catastrophes and civil wars, and they are engaged in the fight against HIV, Ebola and measles. With a budget of €1.066 billion ($1.16 billion) in 2014, MSF’s 2,769 international employees and 31,000 local helpers undertook some 8.3 million treatments.

The World’s Deadliest Border

They calculate the need for help based on mortality rates — a cold, precise measurement. An emergency situation is considered acute when there is one death per day for every 10,000 people. Last year, at least 3,500 refugees died in the Mediterranean while 219,000 made it to Europe. That’s a mortality rate of around 10 per day, or one in 63.

MSF, until now a land-based operation, has decided to set sail. Never has the organization’s name been more fitting than right now, as it carries out its mission in a vast sea that has developed into the world’s deadliest border.

Three boats have been in action since early summer. The Dignity 1, theBourbon Argos and MY Phoenix, the smallest of the fleet. Together they have room for 1,400 refugees. It is the only real private rescue mission in the Mediterranean, and it is almost entirely funded by donations. Operating costs have already topped €10 million this year. Of that,Phoenix, jointly funded by MOAS, has cost €1.6 million thus far this year. MSF has rescued more than 10,000 people so far. By mid-2015, the mortality rate in the Mediterranean was one in 76. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

An estimated 15 to 20 boats carrying around 3,000 people set sail from Libya’s beaches every day. After a few hours, they call a contact person in Italy or they get in touch with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome directly. That’s if a navy vessel or a cargo ship doesn’t stumble across them first. Whoever is close by is obligated to come to the rescue. But what if no one is nearby to save them?

Such was the case on Wednesday last week when a fishing boat sank off the coast of Libya with 600, maybe 700 people on board. They were moments away from being rescued by an Irish naval ship when the refugees all pushed to one side of the boat. As they tried to get closer to their saviors, the boat capsized. Only 373 people survived. Everyone who had been below deck when the boat sank was dragged to the depths of the sea. The three MSF boats were there too, but not to save lives. They were there to recover bodies.

But now, the Phoenix is on its next mission. It’s 11:30 a.m. and in a darkened cabin, three employees of the Austrian firm Schiebel are sitting in front of their monitors steering a drone. It offers the first sign of the boat.

A bright fleck in a sea of blue.

It looks stable. Judging by its size, it’s bigger than a dinghy, and it sits low in the water. The fleck is also moving. That’s a good sign. It means the boat is still operable. But it is moving slowly and going in curves rather than a straight line. Maybe it is already taking on water, or maybe the man at the helm has lost his bearings.

Those on board the boat will later explain that they left at 3 a.m. Anyone who complained about the tight quarters was summarily beaten by the smugglers. Some had their money and jewelery confiscated as they embarked. Some paid only $500 for the journey, others $2,000. It didn’t take long for the helmsman to abscond. Before he left, he told the others to head toward a light in the distance. So they did, without realizing that it was a flame from the Bouri oil platform that shone over the sea like a lighthouse. They thought the light was Europe.

Two hundred sixty-seven refugees, 267 stories of loss and displacement,...


Welcome On Board’

By daybreak, there was still no sign of land. The water in the boat was rising, and the children had begun screaming. The men took turns steering, always maintaining their due-north course. They drove like this for 10 hours in their open, 15-meter-long wooden boat with the sides painted blue and a tiller that was no more than a piece of iron pipe.

Shortly before 1 p.m., the boat appeared on the horizon, coming ever closer. Some refugees huddled on deck, some hung over the sides. Many of them had towels wrapped around their heads. It’s surprising how quiet 267 people can be. The only sound came from the motor as it rattled and belched smoke.

A direct transfer onto the Phoenix would be far too dangerous. The rescuers therefore use their rubber dinghy and they slowly approach the refugee boat. “You’re safe. Stay calm!” they shout. They toss over life jackets and bring the first refugees back to the ship. The entire rescue operation takes two hours. Once on board the Phoenix, refugees are greeted with a sentence that would seem ridiculous if it weren’t meant so seriously: “Welcome on board.”

Some collapse as soon as they reach the boat plank, exhausted by the hours at sea and by days and weeks of waiting that came before. All the energy with which they had clung to life suddenly vanishes. Some pray, one Syrian blows kisses. Previous missions even saw some take selfies during the rescue operation or ask for the Wi-Fi password as soon as they were safe on board.

Some look like they are on a Sunday outing to Europe. The men sport blazers, the women wear heels and nail polish. Others are barefoot and wrapped in blankets. Most of the refugees have nothing more than a plastic bag with them, although some carry backpacks and there is even one person with a hard-shell suitcase in tow.

By the time everyone has boarded the Phoenix, the count is 267 people, including 27 children and 30 women. All that they left behind on their boat is a few empty bottles, some children’s photos, sandals and a few Libyan coins. Below decks, there is hardly room to sit up straight. It’s hot and sticky and water can be heard sloshing under the planks. Thirty to 40 people were crowded into this space before the Phoenix showed up. A few more hours, and the space would have been full of water.

During the rescue operation, the Italian destroyer Caio Duilio approaches. A masterpiece of military engineering, the 153-meter-long ship has anti-aircraft missiles, torpedoes and artillery on board. It is a floating outpost of Fortress Europe — but it is poorly suited to rescue people. The soldiers climb onto the empty wooden boat, examining and eventually sinking it. Afterwards, the destroyer sails alongside the Phoenix for a time, a gray shadow on the horizon. This is what Phase 1 of EUNAVFOR Med, the military operation against human trafickers, looks like.

Friend and Foe

The army is simultaneously MSF’s adversary and its partner. In order to save lives, the aid workers have to do what they otherwise avoid: cooperate with the military. The Italians determine which boats are to be rescued and where the refugees are to be brought. Only then is MSF informed by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome about boats in distress. Only then are they allowed to bring the refugees ashore. Under the law, the refugees are still considered illegal immigrants. A ship full of refugees not permitted to dock anywhere. It would be a nightmare.

It’s Turner’s 10th rescue mission. The Brit is an emergency coordinator, making him the head of the six MSF members aboard the Phoenix. He’s also the youngest member of the team, a quiet, gentle man who, far from being a romantic, is radically pragmatic. He has worked full-time for MSF for four years on a contract renewed annually that puts him in charge of logistics and planning. His eyebrows are bleached from the sun and he has worn the same pair of sneakers for years through the world’s crisis regions, often having them patched up at whatever cobbler he could find in Africa.

He is only 32 years old and he has already seen a massacre: 13 village elders in Boguila, Central African Republic, whom he called together, were shot and killed by rebels before his eyes. Three local MSF staff were also killed. “A difficult situation,” he calls it. The only visible effect of the shock is a nervous twitch when he talks about it. The MSF clinic in Boguila had 200 beds; it was a factory of survival, but it was closed after the massacre. Ultimately, the death toll of the attack was much higher than 16.

Turner thought no mission could ever top Boguila. Then came Ebola, and he was sent to Sierra Leone to build the second-largest Ebola station in West Africa. MSF treated thousands of patients, with the hopes of the entire world resting on their shoulders. It was as if MSF had become a medical UN of sorts — just without the bureaucracy, scandals and veto powers. The world has aid workers like Turner to thank for the fact that Ebola didn’t claim even more victims.

And now the Mediterranean — “a holiday mission,” Turner calls it. Dolphins jump in the waters around him as giant turtles swim by. It’s the most beautiful workplace in the world. But it can also be the worst, such as when they’re not rescuing survivors but recovering bodies. This time around, however, they aren’t too late.

On board the Phoenix, the helpers are in high gear, handing out water, energy biscuits, socks and coveralls to keep people warm. The most frequently asked questions: Where are we? Where are we headed? Can I call my family?

The refugees will spend 48 hours on the ship before it docks in Reggio Calabria, on Italy’s southernmost tip. As evening falls, some take pictures of the sunset while others pray or lay down, placing their bags under their heads to use as pillows.

Who’s Who

The maelstrom called migration washed them all onto the decks of thePhoenix, a floating refugee camp for 10 nationalities, outfitted with a sun awning and two portable toilets. There are young men and women from Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria and Eritrea. Most of them are from Bangladesh — 131 in all. There are also quite a few from Sudan and Syria. There are even three Pakistanis, two Ghanaians and two Senegalese.

There’s also a family with two babies that fled Boko Haram in Nigeria. Josef, 31, from Darfur, who has lived in one refugee camp after another since his village was destroyed by Janjaweed rebels in 2005. And Eric, 21, from Ghana, who says he lost his entire family during a major fire in Accra.

Then there’s Aminul, 21, from Bangladesh, whose father was a farmer before being crippled by a stroke. His mother sold everything to raise the $5,000 for his journey to Tripoli. For six months, he vacuumed offices and cleaned toilets, but he hardly ever earned any money. He says that when he asked, his boss held a gun to his head and told him: Next time I’ll shoot you.

“I could not go back to Bangladesh,” Aminul says. “It was easier coming to Europe.” His life is an investment, and going back would be a total loss.

There are also the Somali teenagers Asma and Mohammed. She’s 16, he’s 18. Their story is a nightmare, one that mirrors the experiences of many other people onboard the ship. They were kidnapped in Libya, beaten with cables and fed only one piece of bread per day. They had to pay a ransom of $5,200 to free themselves. To come up with the money, their parents in Mogadishu had to take out a loan. Clinging to one another, they say: “We wanted a better life. What could we possibly become in Somalia?” They imagine a better life as him playing soccer and her becoming a doctor. “But had we known how dangerous it would be, we wouldn’t have left,” Mohammed says, showing off the scars on his back. “We had a 50-50 chance of survival. No one knew where we were. We could have simply disappeared.”

Namat, a 35-year-old elementary school teacher from Yarmouk, Syria, says her house was destroyed, so she fled to Damascus. But by this summer, her hope and savings were exhausted. The money they had, $4,000, was only enough for half the family. So she took her 5-year-old son Omar and left. Her husband and daughter stayed behind. Namat shows pictures of her 15-year-old daughter at the mall, on the playground and blowing out the candles of a birthday cake. The pictures show a happy family. It is now up to Namat to put this family back together again. Her plan is to reach Germany and then have her husband and daughter join her.

She laughs as she swipes through the photos on her smartphone. It’s a laugh against fear, a laugh for her son, to whom she has sold their escape as a vacation and whom she promised could ride a bicycle once in Germany. Omar was born shortly before the Syrian civil war. So far, his life has been made up of one exceptional situation after another. Now he stands at the ship’s side and beams at the sea, a cheerful little boy who is enjoying his vacation. His mother says: “This trip is for him, so that he may have a better life.”

A Restricted Impact

Two hundred sixty-seven refugees, 267 reasons to flee: war, oppression, poverty, tragedy and hope for a better life. One thing’s for sure: There’s no flight without plight.

The nurse Mary Jo Frawley, her hair bleached by the sun to a hue somewhere between blond and gray, perches on a camping chair next to a box of medication. The examination begins with a simple question: How are you? This question leaves some of her patients crying, but it prods most of them to talk, those who are pregnant, rape victims, the traumatized and the exhausted.

Frawley was a nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California for 20 years. In 1999, she went on her first assignment with MSF and she never went back. Now she is 60 years old and has no plans of retiring. She says she wants to continue until she dies. Is there anything better than helping other people? Always being in a new place, discovering something new? Discovering how to live, time and again, after being so close to death?

When she tells stories, it’s like being on a tour of the crises of the past two decades: Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Chad, Pakistan. These are also countries where many of the Mediterranean refugees come from. They are ambassadors from a world of unresolved conflicts, places into which not even the bravest aid workers rarely dare go anymore. Today, MSF only operates in 63 countries. It had to reduce projects or close them altogether in Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Mali, Somalia and Burma for security reasons or because the regimes there wouldn’t permit them to work.

Although the need is swelling and the number of conflicts rising, the room to operate for humanitarian organizations is shrinking. MSF’s annual report in 2014 was a unsparing account of instances in which the organization could and could not help. “Some 59 percent of activities were carried out in settings of instability,” it stated.

That’s why Frawley is on the Phoenix in the first place. For her, rescuing refugees is just a final link in a chain of failures. Since they can no longer help these people in their home countries, they would like to at least make their escape a bit more tolerable. There are times when she meets people from Sudan or Somalia who lived in refugee camps where she worked. MSF has even rescued people at sea who were once local MSF workers. The crises have come full circle. Although the aid workers can be deployed anywhere in the world within 24 hours, they have begun more and more projects in the last 15 years in Europe of all places. In addition to the ships, there are a total of 107 full-time helpers in Serbia, Macedonia, Italy and Greece. They have clinics and trauma care services. Sometimes they simply organize buses for the refugees, such as on the Greek island of Lesbos. After all, how can one go and rescue people abroad when there is so much to do at home?

For the newly rescued refugees, the first day aboard the Phoenix is marked by the sheer joy of being alive. It’s not until the second day that they begin to worry about what is in store for them. This is also the most difficult day for the MSF workers, because the refugees’ questions take on a new sense of urgency. Why can’t we travel anywhere we want in Europe? Why don’t you want us in Europe? How come nobody cares what happens in our home countries?

Turner, the team leader from Great Britain, hates questions like these. What’s he supposed to do? Deflate all of their hopes? Should he tell them all about reception camps, the Dublin Regulation and grounds for asylum? Should he tell them who will have a chance of staying in Europe and who will be deported or be forced to go into hiding? In the end, it’s all part of a system that he rejects himself, because he thinks Europe could accommodate many more people. What are a few hundred thousand refugees compared to the millions being taken in by Jordan and Turkey?

Instead, he tells them about Europe. He sketches a map for them of the continent they so long for. It helps them know where they are and where they’re going. He sits down and talks to them, knowing full well that listening is the best medicine he can provide.

The Refugee Business

The day passes and the refugees’ second night on board the Phoenixapproaches. In the boat’s inner quarters, the crew is watching the movie “Castaway,” featuring Tom Hanks trying to escape from a lonely island on a raft. But Turner prefers to watch the waves outside dance in the moonlight. He thinks about a word that the German interior minister is so fond of using: pull factor. It’s a hard word for Turner to stomach because it places blame for Europe’s migrant crisis on the very people who are trying to help.

“But a Syrian fleeing Yarmouk doesn’t consider ahead of time whether he’s going to be rescued at sea or not,” Turner says. Destroying ships only makes the passage across the Mediterranean more expensive — or the boats less seaworthy. The principle of supply and demand also applies to the refugee business. It is, however, one of the bitter ironies of helping that even good intentions can have fatal consequences. The more refugees that are rescued off the coast of Europe, the greater the danger becomes that smugglers will make even less of an effort to use safe boats. The refugee crisis is as much a dilemma for the rescuers as for anyone else.

“But given the many deaths, we had no choice but to do something. If we weren’t here, more refugees would surely drown,” Turner says. “People are dying because we are guarding our borders with increasing ferocity. I can’t accept this.”

For this reason, he wishes MSF would make flight and migration its top priority and that it would urgently formulate a political position. What organization could be more qualified than this one, founded 44 years ago as the younger, wilder sister of the International Committee of the Red Cross? It’s an organization that has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and showered with praise.

But even within MSF, rescues at sea are controversial. The organization’s traditionalists in particular would prefer it to stick to classical medical emergencies. But is that enough in a world in which so many people — almost 60 million last year — are on the run? In a world in which conflicts don’t only leave people wounded and starving, but hopeless too? Many people no longer want to stay in refugee camps, where their only destiny is a perpetual state of vegetation. They don’t want to exist in tents and huts on the periphery of society, looked upon as victims and pitied. No, they want to take put their fates in their own hands. That’s why they set out for a better life.

In the morning, as Italy appears on the horizon, Turner gives a farewell speech: “We’d like to thank you for being such a nice, cooperative group. It was a pleasure having you with us.”

The men sweep the deck, fold the wool blankets and shine their shoes. Namat, the Syrian, powders her face and applies lipstick. Everything she owns is in a toiletry bag from Old Spice. Inside are passports, money, lipstick and makeup. The girls from Ethiopia do their hair and put on earrings. Aminul, the Bangladeshi, shaves and checks his appearance in his smartphone camera.

They’re making themselves look nice for Europe.

On the Lookout for Traffickers

But Europe shows its ugly side: a locked up pier, white tents, immigration officials, police, Health Ministry officials, paramedics, the Red Cross, photographers. People wear masks as if there was a threat of Ebola. Officials board the ship, making their way through the rows of refugees. The looks on their faces are tentative, as if to say: Which one of you is a trafficker?

Shortly thereafter, they escort three Sudanese off the ship. Maybe they steered the refugee boat, but that doesn’t make them human traffickers. The fact is, those who steer the boats are usually the poorest of them all. They pay less, and for that they get a quick briefing and a satellite phone. Italy considers such people traffickers — a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Turner stays back, clenching his jaw in anger. MSF has an agreement with the authorities that they refrain from questioning anyone on board the ship because MSF wants no part of that. But the Italians seem to care less and less about their agreement with the aid workers. They arrest at least one refugee nearly every time. Maybe there always has to be at least one arrest so that Italy can show it is taking action.

Aminul shoulders his black backpack with all his clothes inside and goes ashore. Namat and her son follow suit, smiling all the while, as if they have reached their next vacation destination. Asma, the Somali, is unsteady, trembling, dizzy and sick from all the excitement. As soon as she reaches shore, she collapses.

Turner remains on the ship. He wonders what will become of them all — the guys from Bangladesh, the Syrian war refugees, the kids from Somalia. Their first encounter will be a reception center, where they’ll be registered — or not. Then they’ll head north. No more than a week later, Namat, the Syrian, and her son will arrive at the Patrick-Henry-Village in Heidelberg, Germany, an overflowing emergency shelter already at triple capacity with 2,800 people.Will he stay in touch with any of them? “Actually, never,” Turner says. He wants to keep his work and his private life separate. Plus, he doesn’t want to make any promises he can’t keep. He’s content with being the man who saved their lives.

And with that, the Phoenix heads back out to sea.

Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Irak

Este artículo ofrece un significativo complemento al publicado hace unos días en México Internacional bajo e título The Mystery Of ISIS. Su autor, Nafeez Ahmed, es un destacado profesor e investigador palestino y su artículo fue publicado en Insurge Intelligence el 14 de agosto de 2015.

por Dr. Nafeez Ahmed

A new memoir by a former senior State Department analyst provides stunning details on how decades of support for Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden brought about the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS).

The book establishes a crucial context for recent admissions by Michael T. Flynn, the retired head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), confirming that White House officials made a “willful decision” to support al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists in Syria — despite being warned by the DIA that doing so would likely create an ‘ISIS’-like entity in the region.

J. Michael Springmann, a retired career US diplomat whose last government post was in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, reveals in his new book that US covert operations in alliance with Middle East states funding anti-Western terrorist groups are nothing new. Such operations, he shows, have been carried out for various short-sighted reasons since the Cold War and after.

In the 1980s, as US support for mujahideen fighters accelerated in Afghanistan to kick out the Soviet Union, Springmann found himself unwittingly at the heart of highly classified operations that allowed Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden to establish a foothold within the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, Springmann alleged, similar operations continued in different contexts for different purposes — in the former Yugoslavia, in Libya and elsewhere. The rise of ISIS, he contends, was a predictable outcome of this counterproductive policy.

Pentagon intel chief speaks out

Everyday brings new horror stories about atrocities committed by ISIS fighters. Today, for instance, the New York Times (August 13th, 2015) offered a deeply disturbing report on how ISIS has formally adopted a theology and policy of systematic rape of non-Muslim women and children. The practice has become embedded throughout the territories under ISIS control through a process of organized slavery, sanctioned by the movement’s own religious scholars.

But in a recent interview on Al-Jazeera’s flagship talk-show ‘Head to Head,’former DIA chief Lieutenant General (Lt. Gen.) Michael Flynn told host Mehdi Hasan that the rise of ISIS was a direct consequence of US support for Syrian insurgents whose core fighters were from al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Back in May, INSURGE intelligence undertook an exclusive investigation into a controversial declassified DIA document appearing to show that as early as August 2012, the DIA knew that the US-backed Syrian insurgency was dominated by Islamist militant groups including “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq.”(Haga click en el enlace arriba para acceder al documento)

Asked about the DIA document by Hasan, who noted that “the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups,” Flynn confirmed that the intelligence described by the document was entirely accurate.

Telling Hasan that he had read the document himself, Flynn said that it was among a range of intelligence being circulated throughout the US intelligence community that had led him to attempt to dissuade the White House from supporting these groups, albeit without success.

Flynn added that this sort of intelligence was available even before the decision to pull out troops from Iraq:

“My job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be, and I will tell you, it goes before 2012. When we were in Iraq, and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011, it was very clear what we were going to face.”

In other words, long before the inception of the armed insurrection in Syria — as early as 2008 (the year in which the final decision was made on full troop withdrawal by the Bush administration) — US intelligence was fully aware of the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) among other Islamist militant groups.

Supporting the enemy

Despite this, Flynn’s account shows that the US commitment to supporting the Syrian insurgency against Bashir al-Assad led the US to deliberately support the very al-Qaeda affiliated forces it had previously fought in Iraq.

Far from simply turning a blind eye, Flynn said that the White House’s decision to support al-Qaeda linked rebels against the Assad regime was not a mistake, but intentional:

Hasan: “You are basically saying that even in government at the time, you knew those groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?”

Flynn: “I think the administration.”

Hasan: “So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?”

Flynn: “I don’t know if they turned a blind eye. I think it was a decision, a willful decision.”

Hasan: “A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?”

Flynn: “A willful decision to do what they’re doing… You have to really ask the President what is it that he actually is doing with the policy that is in place, because it is very, very confusing.”

Prior to his stint as DIA chief, Lt. Gen. Flynn was Director of Intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command.

Flynn is the highest ranking former US intelligence official to confirm that the DIA intelligence report dated August 2012, released earlier this year, proves a White House covert strategy to support Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria even before 2011.

In June, INSURGE reported exclusively that six former senior US and British intelligence officials agreed with this reading of the declassified DIA report.

Flynn’s account is corroborated by other former senior officials. In an interview on French national television , former French Foreign MinisterRoland Dumas said that the US’ chief ally, Britain, had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009 — after US intelligence had clear information according to Flynn on al-Qaeda’s threat to Syria:

“I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to the movement now known as ‘Islamic State,’ was on the decline due to US and Iraqi counter-terrorism operations from 2008 to 2011 in coordination with local Sunni tribes. In that period, al-Qaeda in Iraq became increasingly isolated, losing the ability to enforce its harsh brand of Islamic Shari’ah law in areas it controlled, and giving up more and more territory.

By late 2011, over 2,000 AQI fighters had been killed, just under 9,000 detained, and the group’s leadership had been largely wiped out.

Right-wing pundits have often claimed due to this background that the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq was the key enabling factor in the resurgence of AQI, and its eventual metamorphosis into ISIS.

But Flynn’s revelations prove the opposite — that far from the rise of ISIS being solely due to a vacuum of power in Iraq due to the withdrawal of US troops, it was the post-2011 covert intervention of the US and its allies, the Gulf states and Turkey, which siphoned arms and funds to AQI as part of their anti-Assad strategy.

Even in Iraq, the surge laid the groundwork for what was to come. Among the hundred thousand odd Sunni tribesmen receiving military and logistical assistance from the US were al-Qaeda sympathisers and anti-Western insurgents who had previously fought alongside al-Qaeda.

In 2008, a US Army-commissioned RAND report confirmed that the US was attempting to “to create divisions in the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical level.” This included forming “temporary alliances” with al-Qaeda affiliated “nationalist insurgent groups” that have fought the US for four years, now receiving “weapons and cash” from the US.

The idea was, essentially, to bribe former al-Qaeda insurgents to breakaway from AQI and join forces with the Americans. Although these Sunni nationalists “have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces,” they are now being supported to exploit “the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both parties.”

In the same year, former CIA military intelligence officer and counter-terrorism specialist Philip Geraldi, stated that US intelligence analysts “are warning that the United States is now arming and otherwise subsidizing all three major groups in Iraq.” The analysts “believe that the house of cards is likely to fall down as soon as one group feels either strong or frisky enough to assert itself.” Giraldi predicted:

“The winner in the convoluted process has been everyone who wants to see a civil war.”

By Flynn’s account, US intelligence was also aware in 2008 that the empowerment of former al-Qaeda insurgents would eventually backfire and strengthen AQI in the long-run, especially given that the Shi’a dominated US-backed central government continued to discriminate against Sunni populations.


Having provided extensive support for former al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni insurgents in Iraq from 2006 to 2008 — in order to counter AQI — US forces did succeed in temporarily routing AQI from its strongholds in the country.

Simultaneously, however, if Roland Dumas’ account is correct, the US and Britain began covert operations in Syria in 2009. From 2011 onwards, US support for the Syrian insurgency in alliance with the Gulf states and Turkey was providing significant arms and cash to AQI fighters.

The porous nature of relations between al-Qaeda factions in Iraq and Syria, and therefore the routine movement of arms and fighters across the border, was well-known to the US intelligence community in 2008.

In October 2008, Major General John Kelly — the US military official responsible for Anbar province where the bulk of US support for Sunni insurgents to counter AQI was going — complained bitterly that AQI fighters had regrouped across the border in Syria, where they had established a “sanctuary.”

The border, he said, was routinely used as an entry point for AQI fighters to enter Iraq and conduct attacks on Iraqi security forces.

Ironically, at this time, AQI fighters in Syria were tolerated by the Assad regime. A July 2008 report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point documented AQI’s extensive networks inside Syria across the border with Iraq.

“The Syrian government has willingly ignored, and possibly abetted, foreign fighters headed to Iraq. Concerned about possible military action against the Syrian regime, it opted to support insurgents and terrorists wreaking havoc in Iraq.”

Yet from 2009 onwards according to Dumas, and certainly from 2011 by Flynn’s account, the US and its allies began supporting the very same AQI fighters in Syria to destabilize the Assad regime.

The policy coincided with the covert US strategy revealed by Seymour Hersh in 2007: using Saudi Arabia to funnel support for al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islamists as a mechanism for isolating Iran and Syria.

Reversing the surge

During this period in which the US, the Gulf states, and Turkey supported Syrian insurgents linked to AQI and the Muslim Brotherhood, AQI experienced an unprecedented resurgence.

US troops finally withdrew fully from Iraq in December 2011, which means by the end of 2012, judging by the DIA’s August 2012 report and Flynn’s description of the state of US intelligence in this period, the US intelligence community knew that US and allied support for AQI in Syria was directly escalating AQI’s violence across the border in Iraq.

Despite this, in Flynn’s words, the White House made a “willful decision” to continue the policy despite the possibility it entailed “of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor)” according to the DIA’s 2012 intelligence report.

The Pentagon document had cautioned that if a “Salafist principality” did appear in eastern Syria under AQI’s dominance, this would have have “dire consequences” for Iraq, providing “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi,” and a “renewed momentum” for a unified jihad “among Sunni Iraq and Syria.”

Most strikingly, the report warned that AQI, which had then changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI):

“ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

As the US-led covert strategy accelerated sponsorship of AQI in Syria, AQI’s operations in Iraq also accelerated, often in tandem with Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhut al-Nusra.

According to Prof. Anthony Celso of the Department of Security Studies at Angelo State University in Texas, “suicide bombings, car bombs, and IED attacks” by AQI in Iraq “doubled a year after the departure of American troops.” Simultaneously, AQI began providing support for al-Nusra by inputting fighters, funds and weapons from Iraq into Syria.

As the Pentagon’s intelligence arm had warned, by April 2013, AQI formally declared itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the same month, the European Union voted to ease the embargo on Syria to allow al-Qaeda and ISIS dominated Syrian rebels to sell oil to global markets, including European companies. From this date to the following year when ISIS invaded Mosul, several EU countries were buying ISIS oilexported from the Syrian fields under its control.

The US anti-Assad strategy in Syria, in other words, bolstered the very al-Qaeda factions the US had fought in Iraq, by using the Gulf states and Turkey to finance the same groups in Syria. As a direct consequence, the secular and moderate elements of the Free Syrian Army were increasingly supplanted by virulent Islamist extremists backed by US allies.

A Free Syrian Army fighter rests inside a cave at a rebel camp in Idlib, Syria on 17th September 2013. As of April 2015, moderate FSA rebels in Idlib have been supplanted by a US-backed rebel coalition led by Jabhut al-Nusra, al-Qaeda in Syria

Advanced warning

In February 2014, Lt. Gen. Flynn delivered the annual DIA threat assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His testimony revealed that rather than coming out of the blue, as the Obama administration claimed, US intelligence had anticipated the ISIS attack on Iraq.

In his statement before the committee, which corroborates much of what he told Al-Jazeera, Flynn had warned that “al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) also known as Iraq and Levant (ISIL)… probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah.” He added that “some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups appear willing to work tactically with AQI as they share common anti-government goals.”

Criticizing the central government in Baghdad for its “refusal to address long-standing Sunni grievances,” he pointed out that “heavy-handed approach to counter-terror operations” had led some Sunni tribes in Anbar “to be more permissive of AQI’s presence.” AQI/ISIL has “exploited” this permissive security environment “to increase its operations and presence in many locations” in Iraq, as well as “into Syria and Lebanon,” which is inflaming “tensions throughout the region.”

It should be noted that precisely at this time, the West, the Gulf states and Turkey, according to the DIA’s internal intelligence reports, were supporting AQI and other Islamist factions in Syria to “isolate” the Assad regime. By Flynn’s account, despite his warnings to the White House that an ISIS attack on Iraq was imminent, and could lead to the destabilization of the region, senior Obama officials deliberately continued the covert support to these factions.

US intelligence was also fully cognizant of Iraq’s inability to repel a prospective ISIS attack on Iraq, raising further questions about why the White House did nothing.

The Iraqi army has “been unable to stem rising violence” and would be unable “to suppress AQI or other internal threats” particularly in Sunni areas like Ramadi, Falluja, or mixed areas like Anbar and Ninewa provinces, Flynn told the Senate. As Iraq’s forces “lack cohesion, are undermanned, and are poorly trained, equipped and supplied,” they are “vulnerable to terrorist attack, infiltration and corruption.”

Senior Iraqi government sources told me on condition of anonymity that both Iraqi and American intelligence had anticipated an ISIS attack on Iraq, and specifically on Mosul, as early as August 2013.

Intelligence was not precise on the exact timing of the assault, one source said, but it was known that various regional powers were complicit in the planned ISIS offensive, particularly Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey:

“It was well known at the time that ISIS were beginning serious plans to attack Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey played a key role in supporting ISIS at this time, but the UAE played a bigger role in financial support than the others, which is not widely recognized.”

When asked whether the Americans had attempted to coordinate with Iraq on preparations for the expected ISIS assault, particularly due to the recognized inability of the Iraqi army to withstand such an attack, the senior Iraqi official said that nothing had happened:

“The Americans allowed ISIS to rise to power because they wanted to get Assad out from Syria. But they didn’t anticipate that the results would be so far beyond their control.”

This was not, then, a US intelligence failure as such. Rather, the US failure to to curtail the rise of ISIS and its likely destabilization of both Iraq and Syria, was not due to a lack of accurate intelligence — which was abundant and precise — but due to an ill-conceived political decision to impose ‘regime change’ on Syria at any cost.

Vicious cycle

This is hardly the first time political decisions in Washington have blocked US intelligence agencies from pursuing investigations of terrorist activity, and scuppered their crackdowns on high-level state benefactors of terrorist groups.

According to Michael Springmann in his new book, Visas for al-Qaeda: CIA Handouts that Rocked the World, the same structural problems explain the impunity with which terrorist groups have compromised Western defense and security measures for the last few decades.

Much of his book is clearly an effort to make sense of his personal experience by researching secondary sources and interviewing other former US government and intelligence officials. While there are many problems with some of this material, the real value of Springmann’s book is in the level of detail he brings to his first-hand accounts of espionage at the US State Department, and its damning implications for understanding the ‘war on terror’ today.

Springmann served in the US government as a diplomat with the Commerce Department and the State Department’s Foreign Service, holding postings in Germany, India, and Saudi Arabia. He began his diplomatic career as a commercial officer at the US embassy in Stuttgart, Germany (1977–1980), before becoming a commercial attaché in New Delhi, India (1980–1982). He was later promoted to head of the Visa Bureau at the US embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (1987–1989), and then returned to Stuttgart to become a political/economic officer (1989–1991).

Before he was fired for asking too many questions about illegal practices at the US embassy in Jeddah, Springmann’s last assignment was as a senior economic officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1991), where he had security clearances to access restricted diplomatic cables, along with highly classified intelligence from the National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA.

Springmann says that during his tenure at the US embassy in Jeddah, he was repeatedly asked by his superiors to grant illegal visas to Islamist militants transiting through Jeddah from various Muslim countries. He eventually learned that the visa bureau was heavily penetrated by CIA officers, who used their diplomatic status as cover for all manner of classified operations — including giving visas to the same terrorists who would later execute the 9/11 attacks.

CIA officials operating at the US embassy in Jeddah, according to Springmann, included CIA base chief Eric Qualkenbush, US Consul General Jay Frere, and political officer Henry Ensher.

Thirteen out of the 15 Saudis among the 9/11 hijackers received US visas. Ten of them received visas from the US embassy in Jeddah. All of them were in fact unqualified, and should have been denied entry to the US.

Springmann was fired from the State Department after filing dozens of Freedom of Information requests, formal complaints, and requests for inquiries at multiple levels in the US government and Congress about what he had uncovered. Not only were all his attempts to gain disclosure and accountability systematically stonewalled, in the end his whistleblowing cost him his career.

Springmann’s experiences at Jeddah, though, were not unique. He points out that Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted as the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, received his first US visa from a CIA case officer undercover as a consular officer at the US embassy in Khartoum in Sudan.

The ‘Blind Sheikh’ as he was known received six CIA-approved US visas in this way between 1986 and 1990, also from the US embassy in Egypt. But as Springmann writes:

“The ‘blind’ Sheikh had been on a State Department terrorist watch list when he was issued the visa, entering the United States by way of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Sudan in 1990.”

In the US, Abdel Rahman took-over the al-Kifah Refugee Center, a major mujahideen recruitment hub for the Afghan war controlled by Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He not only played a key role in recruiting mujahideen for Afghanistan, but went on to recruit Islamist fighters for Bosnia after 1992.

Even after the 1993 WTC attack, as Springmann told BBC Newsnight in 2001, “The attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 did not shake the State Department’s faith in the Saudis, nor did the attack on American barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia three years later, in which 19 Americans died.”

The Bosnia connection is highly significant. Springmann reports that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad “had fought in Afghanistan (after studying in the United States) and then went on to the Bosnian war in 1992…

“In addition, two more of the September 11, 2001, hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, both Saudis, had gained combat experience in Bosnia. Still more connections came from Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who supposedly helped Mohammed Atta with planning the World Trade Center attacks. He had served with Bosnian army mujahideen units. Ramzi Binalshibh, friends with Atta and Zammar, had also fought in Bosnia.”

US and European intelligence investigations have uncovered disturbing evidence of how the Bosnian mujahideen pipeline, under the tutelage of Saudi Arabia, played a major role in incubating al-Qaeda’s presence in Europe.

According to court papers filed in New York on behalf of the 9/11 families in February, covert Saudi government support for Bosnian arms and training was “especially important to al-Qaeda acquiring the strike capabilities used to launch attacks in the US.”

After 9/11, despite such evidence being widely circulated within the US and European intelligence communities, both the Bush and Obama administrations continued working with the Saudis to mobilize al-Qaeda affiliated extremists in the service of what the DIA described as rolling back “the strategic depth of the Shia expansion” across Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The existence of this policy has been confirmed by former 30-year MI6 Middle East specialist Alastair Crooke. Its outcome — in the form of the empowerment of the most virulent Islamist extremist forces in the region — was predictable, and indeed predicted.

In August 2012 — the same date as the DIA’s controversial intelligence report anticipating the rise of ISIS — I quoted the uncannily prescient remarks of Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who forecast that US support for Islamist rebels in Syria would likely to lead to “the slaughter of some portion of Syria’s Alawite and Shia communities”; “the triumph of Islamist forces, although they may deign to temporarily disguise themselves in more innocent garb”; “the release of thousands of veteran and hardened Sunni Islamist insurgents”; and even “the looting of the Syrian military’s fully stocked arsenals of conventional arms and chemical weapons.”

I then warned that the “further militarization” of the Syrian conflict would thwart the “respective geostrategic ambitions” of regional powers “by intensifying sectarian conflict, accelerating anti-Western terrorist operations, and potentially destabilizing the whole Levant in a way that could trigger a regional war.”

Parts of these warnings have now transpired in ways that are even more horrifying than anyone ever imagined. The continued self-defeating approach of the US-led coalition may well mean that the worst is yet to come.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye.

He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Anglia Ruskin University.

Nafeez is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

El diktado de Alemania

Ignacio Ramonet, director de Le Monde Diplomatique durante 18 años y profesor de la Universidad Denis-Didedort (Paris VII) y de la Sorbona de París, nombre familiar para los profesionales e interesados en la política internacional, ha escrito este artículo para La Jornada de la ciudad de México el 9 de agosto de 2015 sobre las implicaciones y consecuencias para los países europeos afiliados al euro, y posiblemente de muchos países en desarrollo, como México, del desenlace de la crísis griega.
El diktado de Alemania
por Ignacio Ramonet
Sólo en las películas de terror se ven escenas tan sádicas como las que vimos el 13 de julio pasado en Bruselas, cuando el primer ministro griego, Alexis Tsipras, herido, derrotado, humillado, tuvo que acatar en público, cabizbajo, el diktado de la canciller de Alemania, Angela Merkel. Y renunciar a su programa de liberación con el que fue elegido, y que su pueblo acababa precisamente de ratificar en referendo.

Exhibido por los vencedores como trofeo ante las cámaras del mundo, el pobre Tsipras tuvo que tragarse su orgullo y también tantos sapos y culebras que el propio semanario alemán Der Spiegel, compadecido, calificó la lista de sacrificios impuestos al pueblo griego decatálogo de horrores

Cuando la humillación del líder de un país alcanza niveles tan espeluznantes, la imagen se queda en la historia para aleccionamiento de las generaciones venideras, incitadas a nunca más aceptar un trato semejante. Así llegaron hasta nosotros expresiones como pasar por las horcas caudinas o el célebre paseo de Canossa. Lo del 13 de julio fue tan enorme, et tan absolutamente irreal, que quizás se recuerde también en el futuro de Europa como el día del “diktado de Alemania”.

La gran lección de ese escarnio es que, definitivamente, en el marco de la Unión Europea (UE) y, particularmente, en el seno de la zona euro, se ha perdido el control ciudadano sobre decisiones que determinan la vida de la gente. Hasta tal punto que podemos preguntarnos: ¿de qué sirven las elecciones si en lo esencial, o sea las políticas económicas y sociales, los nuevos gobernantes se ven obligados a hacer lo mismo que los precedentes? En este nuevo despotismo europeo la democracia se define menos por el voto o por la posibilidad de escoger que por el imperativo de respetar reglas y tratados (Maastricht, Lisboa, Pacto Fiscal) adoptados hace tiempo, que resultan para los pueblos verdaderas cárceles jurídicas sin posible evasión.

Al presentar a las muchedumbres a un Tsipras con la soga al cuello y coronado de espinas –Ecce homo–, lo que pretendieron demostrar Merkel, Hollande, Rajoy y los otros es que no hay alternativa a la vía neoliberal en Europa. Abandonad toda esperanza, electores de Podemos y de otros frentes de izquierda europeos; estais condenados a elegir gobernantes cuya función consistirá en aplicar las reglas y tratados definidos una vez por todas por Berlín y el Banco Central Europeo.

Lo más perverso es que, como en un juicio estalinista de tipo Proceso de Praga, se le ha exigido a quien más criticó el sistema, Alexis Tsipras, que sea quien se humille ante él, lo elogie y lo suplique.

Los que ignoraban que vivíamos en un sistema despótico lo han descubierto en esta ocasión. Algunos analistas dicen ya que estamos en un momento que podríamos calificar deposdemocrático o pospolítico, porque lo que pasó el 13 de julio en Bruselas demuestra el desgaste del funcionamiento democrático y del funcionamiento político. Demuestra que la política ya no consigue dar las respuestas que los ciudadanos esperan, aunque voten mayoritariamente en favor de ellas.

La ciudadanía observa, desesperanzada, cómo al partido griego Syriza, que ganó las elecciones y un referendo con un discurso contra la austeridad, se le exige que aplique con mayor brutalidad la política de recortes que los electores rechazaron. Consecuentemente, muchos se preguntan: ¿para qué sirve elegir una alternativa, si ésta acaba siendo exactamente una repetición de lo mismo?

Lo que ha querido demostrar Angela Merkel de manera muy clara es que hoy, lo que llamamos la alternativa económica, en el sentido de que representa una opción contraria a política neoliberal de recortes y de austeridad, no existe. Es decir, cuando un equipo político elabora un programa alternativo, lo somete a la ciudadanía para que pueda elegir entre éste y otros programas y cuando ese programa gana las elecciones y un equipo nuevo alcanza legítimamente, democráticamente, la conducción de un país, ese equipo de gobierno, con su proyecto alternativo antineoliberal, descubre que en realidad su margen de maniobra es inexistente. En materia de economía, finanzas y presupuesto no dispone de ningún tipo de margen de maniobra. Porque, además, están los acuerdos internacionales que no se pueden tocar; los mercados financieros que amenazan con sanciones si se toman ciertas decisiones; los lobbys mediáticos que hacen presión; los grupos de influencia oculta, como la Trilateral, Bilderberg, etcétera. No hay espacio.

Todo esto significa sencillamente que el gobierno de un Estado de la zona euro, por mucha legitimidad democrática que posea, aunque haya sido apoyado por 60 por ciento de sus ciudadanos, no no tiene las manos libres. Las tiene si decide realizar reformas legislativas para modificar aspectos importantes de vida societal, por ejemplo, el aborto, el matrimonio homosexual, la procreación asistida, derechos de voto a los extranjeros, eutanasia, etcétera. Pero si desea reformar la economía para liberar a su pueblo de la cárcel neoliberal, eso no lo puede hacer. Sus márgenes de maniobra ahí son prácticamente inexistentes. No sólo por la presión de los mercados financieros internacionales, sino también, sencillamente, porque su pertenencia a la zona euro le obliga a someterse a los imperativos del tratado de Maastricht, el tratado de Lisboa, el Pacto Fiscal (que exige que el presupuesto nacional no puede tener un déficit, respecto del producto interno bruto del país, superior a 0.5 por ciento), el Mecanismo europeo de estabilidad financiera (que endurece las condiciones impuestas a los países que necesitan créditos), etcétera.

En consecuencia, efectivamente, para los Estados que han pedido un rescate, se ha creado hoy, en Europa, el estatuto de nuevo protectorado. Grecia, por ejemplo, es gobernada de manera soberana para todas las cuestiones que tienen que ver con la gestión de la vida societal de sus ciudadanos (los indígenas). Pero lo que tiene que ver con la economía, las finanzas, la deuda, la banca, el presupuesto y, evidentemente, la moneda, todo eso está gestionado por una instancia superior: la tecnocracia euro de la Unión Europea. O sea, Atenas ha perdido parte decisiva de su soberanía. El país ha sido rebajado al grado de protectorado.

Para decirlo de otra manera: lo que está ocurriendo no sólo en Grecia, sino en toda la zona euro, en nombre de la austeridad, la crisis, es sencillamente el paso de un Estado de bienestar hacia un Estado privatizado, en el que la doctrina neoliberal se impone con un dogmatismo feroz, puramente ideológico. Estamos ante un modelo económico que le está arrebatando una serie de derechos a los ciudadanos. Derechos adquiridos después de largas y, a veces, sangrientas luchas.

Algunos dirigentes conservadores tratan de calmar al pueblo diciendo:Bueno, éste es un mal periodo, un mal momento que hay que pasar. Tenemos que apretarnos el cinturón, pero saldremos de este túnel. La pregunta es: ¿qué significa ‘salir del túnel’? ¿Nos van a devolver lo que nos han arrebatado? ¿Nos van a restituir las reducciones de salarios que hemos padecido? ¿Van a restablecer las pensiones al nivel en que estaban? ¿Vamos de nuevo a tener créditos para la salud pública, para la educación?

La respuesta a cada una de estas preguntas es: no. Porque no se trata una ‘crisis pasajera’. Lo que ocurre es que hemos pasado de un modelo a otro peor. Y ahora se trata de convencernos de que lo que hemos perdido es irreversible. “Lasciate ogni speranza”. Ese es el mensaje central de Angela Merkel en Bruselas el 13 de julio pasado. Mientras exhibía, cual teutónica Salomé, la cabeza de Tsipras en una bandeja…

The Mystery of ISIS

En su  número  fechado el 13 de agosto de 2015, la revista norteamericana New York Review of Books incluye un análisis del ISIS, basado en la reseña de dos libros publicados recientemente sobre el movimiento conocido como el Estado Islámico, su obscuro origen, su inexplicable crecimiento, su confusa ideología, su errática política, sus siniestras alianzas, contactos y financiamientos provenientes de diferentes países, grupos y personas y sus brutales masacres y asesinatos. Una notable omisión, como se observará, es el análisis de la relevancia de las vastas redes de inteligencia y operatividad de Estados Unidos, Arabia Saudita, Turquía y otros países del Golfo en la resiliencia de ISIS.  El autor. un antiguo fincionario de la OTAN, ha preferido mantener e  anonimato. Por su valor como análisis introductorio a este fenómeno. México Internacional lo reproduce íntegro.

The Mystery of ISIS


AUGUST 13, 2015


The author has wide experience in the Middle East and was formerly an official of a NATO country. We respect the writer’s reasons for anonymity. 

—The Editors of New York Review of Books



Ahmad Fadhil was eighteen when his father died in 1984. Photographs suggest that he was relatively short, chubby, and wore large glasses. He wasn’t a particularly poor student—he received a B grade in junior high—but he decided to leave school. There was work in the garment and leather factories in his home city of Zarqa, Jordan, but he chose instead to work in a video store, and earned enough money to pay for some tattoos. He also drank alcohol, took drugs, and got into trouble with the police. So his mother sent him to an Islamic self-help class. This sobered him up and put him on a different path. By the time Ahmad Fadhil died in 2006 he had laid the foundations of an independent Islamic state of eight million people that controlled a territory larger than Jordan itself.

The rise of Ahmad Fadhil—or as he was later known in the jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—and ISIS, the movement of which he was the founder, remains almost inexplicable. The year 2003, in which he began his operations in Iraq, seemed to many part of a mundane and unheroic age of Internet start-ups and a slowly expanding system of global trade. Despite the US-led invasion of Iraq that year, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, Kaka’is, Shias, and Sunnis—continued to live alongside one another, as they had for a millennium or more. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems, and infrastructure, and an apparently more positive future, than most citizens of the developing world. Who then could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and—defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth—create a mini empire?
The story is relatively easy to narrate, but much more difficult to understand. It begins in 1989, when Zarqawi, inspired by his Islamic self-help class, traveled from Jordan to “do jihad” in Afghanistan. Over the next decade he fought in the Afghan civil war, organized terrorist attacks in Jordan, spent years in a Jordanian jail, and returned—with al-Qaeda help—to set up a training camp in Herat in western Afghanistan. He was driven out of Afghanistan by the US-led invasion of 2001, but helped back onto his feet by the Iranian government. Then, in 2003—with the assistance of Saddam loyalists—he set up an insurgency network in Iraq. By targeting Shias and their most holy sites, he was able to turn an insurgency against US troops into a Shia–Sunni civil war.

Zarqawi was killed by a US air strike in 2006. But his movement improbably survived the full force of the 170,000-strong, $100 billion a year US troop surge. In 2011, after the US withdrawal, the new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, expanded into Syria and reestablished a presence in northwest Iraq. In June 2014 the movement took Mosul—Iraq’s second-largest city—and in May 2015 the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra, and its affiliates took the airport in Sirte, Libya. Today, thirty countries, including Nigeria, Libya, and the Philippines, have groups that claim to be part of the movement.

Although the movement has changed its name seven times and has had four leaders, it continues to treat Zarqawi as its founder, and to propagate most of his original beliefs and techniques of terror. The New York Times refers to it as “the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.” Zarqawi also called it “Army of the Levant,” “Monotheism and Jihad,” “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” and “Mujihadeen Shura Council.” (A movement known for its marketing has rarely cared about consistent branding.) I will simplify the many changes of name and leadership by referring to it throughout as “ISIS,” although it has of course evolved during its fifteen years of existence.

The problem, however, lies not in chronicling the successes of the movement, but in explaining how something so improbable became possible. The explanations so often given for its rise—the anger of Sunni communities, the logistical support provided by other states and groups, the movement’s social media campaigns, its leadership, its tactics, its governance, its revenue streams, and its ability to attract tens of thousands of foreign fighters—fall far short of a convincing theory of the movement’s success.

Emma Sky’s book The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq,1 for example, a deft, nuanced, and often funny account of her years as a civilian official in Iraq between 2003 and 2010, illustrates the mounting Sunni anger in Iraq. She shows how US policies such as de-Baathification in 2003 began the alienation of Sunnis, and how this was exacerbated by the atrocities committed by Shia militias in 2006 (fifty bodies a day were left on the streets of Baghdad, killed by power drills inserted in their skulls). She explains the often imaginative steps that were taken to regain the trust of the Sunni communities during the surge of 2007, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s alienation of those communities again after the US withdrawal in 2011 through his imprisonment of Sunni leaders, his discrimination and brutality, and the disbanding of Sunni militias.

But many other insurgent groups, quite different from ISIS, often seemed to have been in a much stronger position to have become the dominant vehicles of “Sunni anger.” Sunnis in Iraq initially had minimal sympathy with Zarqawi’s death cult and with his movement’s imposition of early medieval social codes. Most were horrified when Zarqawi blew up the UN headquarters in Baghdad; when he released a film in which he personally sawed off the head of an American civilian; when he blew up the great Shia shrine at Samarra and killed hundreds of Iraqi children. After he mounted three simultaneous bomb attacks against Jordanian hotels—killing sixty civilians at a wedding party—the senior leaders of his Jordanian tribe and his own brother signed a public letter disowning him. The Guardian was only echoing the conventional wisdom when it concluded in Zarqawi’s obituary: “Ultimately, his brutality tarnished any aura, offered little but nihilism and repelled Muslims worldwide.”

Other insurgent groups also often seemed more effective. In 2003, for example, secular Baathists were more numerous, better equipped, better organized, and more experienced military commanders; in 2009, the militia of the “Sunni Awakening” had much better resources and its armed movement was more deeply rooted locally. In 2011, the Free Syrian Army, including former officers of the Assad regime, was a much more plausible leader of resistance in Syria; and so in 2013 was the more extremist militia Jabhat-al-Nusra. Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss show in ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, for example, that al-Nusra formed far closer links to tribal groups in East Syria—even marrying its fighters to tribal women.

Such groups have sometimes blamed their collapse and lack of success, and ISIS’s rise, on lack of resources. The Free Syrian Army, for example has long insisted that it would have been able to supplant ISIS if its leaders had received more money and weapons from foreign states. And the Sunni Awakening leaders in Iraq argue that they lost control of their communities only because the Baghdad government ceased to pay their salaries. But there is no evidence that ISIS initially received more cash or guns than these groups; rather the reverse.

Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss’s account suggests that much of the early support for the ISIS movement was limited because it was inspired by ideologues who themselves despised Zarqawi and his followers. The al-Qaeda cash that launched Zarqawi in 1999, for example, was, in their words, “a pittance compared to what al-Qaeda was financially capable of disbursing.” The fact that it didn’t give him more reflected bin Laden’s horror at Zarqawi’s killing of Shias (bin Laden’s mother was Shia) and his distaste for Zarqawi’s tattoos.

Although the Iranians gave Zarqawi medical aid and safe haven when he was a fugitive in 2002, he soon lost their sympathy by sending his own father-in-law in a suicide vest to kill Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, Iran’s senior political representative in Iraq, and by blowing up one of the most sacred Shia shrines. And although ISIS has relied for more than a decade on the technical skills of the Baathists and the Sufi Iraqi general Izzat al-Douri, who controlled an underground Baathist militia after the fall of Saddam, this relationship has been strained. (The movement makes no secret of its contempt for Sufism, its destruction of Sufi shrines, or its abhorrence of everything that Baathist secular Arab nationalists espouse.)

Nor has the leadership of ISIS been particularly attractive, high-minded, or competent—although some allowance should be made for the understandable revulsion of the biographers. Mary-Anne Weaver, in a 2006 Atlantic article, describes Zarqawi as “barely literate,” “a bully and a thug, a bootlegger and a heavy drinker, and even, allegedly, a pimp.” Weiss and Hassan call him an “intellectual lightweight.” Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger in ISIS: The State of Terror say this “thug-turned-terrorist” and “mediocre student…arrived in Afghanistan as a zero.” Weaver describes his “botched operation[s]” in Jordan and his use of a “hapless would-be bomber.” Stern and Berger explain that bin Laden and his followers did not like him because they “were mostly members of an intellectual educated elite, while Zarqawi was a barely educated ruffian with an attitude.”

If writers have much less to say about the current leader, al-Baghdadi, this is because his biography, as Weiss and Hassan concede, “still hovers not far above the level of rumor or speculation, some of it driven, in fact, by competing jihadist propagandists.”

Nor is ISIS’s distinctive approach to insurgency—from holding territory to fighting regular armies—an obvious advantage. Lawrence of Arabia advised that insurgents must be like a mist—everywhere and nowhere—never trying to hold ground or wasting lives in battles with regular armies. Chairman Mao insisted that guerrillas should be fish who swam in the sea of the local population. Such views are the logical corollaries of “asymmetric warfare” in which a smaller, apparently weaker group—like ISIS—confronts a powerful adversary such as the US and Iraqi militaries. This is confirmed by US Army studies of more than forty historical insurgencies, which suggest again and again that holding ground, fighting pitched battles, and alienating the cultural and religious sensibilities of the local population are fatal.

But such tactics are exactly part of ISIS’s explicit strategy. Zarqawi lost thousands of fighters trying to hold Fallujah in 2004. He wasted the lives of his suicide bombers in constant small attacks and—by imposing the most draconian punishments and obscurantist social codes—outraged the Sunni communities that he claimed to represent. ISIS fighters are now clearly attracted by the movement’s ability to control territory in such places as Mosul—as an interview in Yalda Hakim’s recent BBC documentary Mosul: Living with Islamic State confirms. But it is not clear that this tactic—although alluring, and at the moment associated with success—has become any less risky.

The movement’s behavior, however, has not become less reckless or tactically bizarre since Zarqawi’s death. One US estimate by Larry Schweikart suggested that 40,000 insurgents had been killed, about 200,000 wounded, and 20,000 captured before the US even launched the surge in 2006. By June 2010, General Ray Odierno claimed that 80 percent of the movement’s top forty-two leaders had been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large. But after the US left in 2011, instead of rebuilding its networks in Iraq, the battered remnants chose to launch an invasion of Syria, and took on not just the regime, but also the well-established Free Syrian Army. It attacked the movement’s Syrian branch—Jabhat-al-Nusra—when it broke away. It enraged al-Qaeda in 2014 by killing al-Qaeda’s senior emissary in the region. It deliberately provoked tens of thousands of Shia militiamen to join the fight on the side of the Syrian regime, and then challenged the Iranian Quds force by advancing on Baghdad.

Next, already struggling against these new enemies, the movement opened another front in August 2014 by attacking Kurdistan, driving the Kurdish forces—who had hitherto stayed out of the battle—to retaliate. It beheaded the American journalist James Foley and the British aid worker David Haines, thereby bringing in the US and UK. It enraged Japan by demanding hundreds of millions of dollars for a hostage who was already dead. It finished 2014 by mounting a suicidal attack on Kobane in Syria, in the face of over six hundred US air strikes, losing many thousands of ISIS fighters and gaining no ground. When, as recently as April, the movement lost Tikrit and seemed to be declining, the explanation appeared obvious. Analysts were on the verge of concluding that ISIS had lost because it was reckless, abhorrent, over-extended, fighting on too many fronts, with no real local support, unable to translate terrorism into a popular program, inevitably outmatched by regular armies.

Some analysts have, therefore, focused their explanations not on the movement’s often apparently self-defeating military strategy, but on its governance and revenue, its support from the population, and its reliance on tens of thousands of foreign fighters. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow of the Middle East Forum, has explained in recent blog posts how in some occupied cities such as Raqqa in Syria, the movement has created complicated civil service structures, taking control even of municipal waste departments. He describes the revenue it derives from local income and property taxes, and by leasing out former Iraqi and Syrian state offices to businesses. He shows how this has given ISIS a broad and reliable income base, which is only supplemented by the oil smuggling and the antiquity looting so well described by Nicolas Pelham in these pages.2

ISIS’s power is now reinforced by the staggering arsenal that the movement has taken from the fleeing Iraqi and Syrian army—including tanks, Humvees, and major artillery pieces. Reports from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Vice News over the last twelve months have shown that many Sunnis in Iraq and Syria now feel that ISIS is the only plausible guarantor of order and security in the civil war, and their only defense against brutal retribution from the Damascus and Baghdad governments.

But here too the evidence is confusing and contradictory. Yalda Hakim’s BBC documentary on Mosul makes rough brutality the secret of ISIS’s domination. In his book The Digital Caliphate, Abdel Bari Atwan, however, describes (in Malise Ruthven’s words) “a well-run organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology.”3 Zaid Al-Ali, in his excellent account of Tikrit, talks about ISIS’s “incapacity to govern” and the total collapse of water supply, electricity, and schools, and ultimately population under its rule.4 “Explanations” that refer to resources and power are ultimately circular. The fact that the movement has been able to attract the apparent support, or acquiescence, of the local population, and control territory, local government revenue, oil, historical sites, and military bases, has been a result of the movement’s success and its monopoly of the insurgency. It is not a cause of it.

In ISIS: The State of Terror, Stern and Berger provide a fascinating analysis of the movement’s use of video and social media. They have tracked individual Twitter accounts, showing how users kept changing their Twitter handles, piggybacked on the World Cup by inserting images of beheadings into the soccer chat, and created new apps and automated bots to boost their numbers. Stern and Berger show that at least 45,000 pro-movement accounts were online in late 2014, and describe how their users attempted to circumvent Twitter administrators by changing their profile pictures from the movement’s flags to kittens. But this simply raises the more fundamental question of why the movement’s ideology and actions—however slickly produced and communicated—have had popular appeal in the first place.

Nor have there been any more satisfying explanations of what draws the 20,000 foreign fighters who have joined the movement. At first, the large number who came from Britain were blamed on the British government having made insufficient effort to assimilate immigrant communities; then France’s were blamed on the government pushing too hard for assimilation. But in truth, these new foreign fighters seemed to sprout from every conceivable political or economic system. They came from very poor countries (Yemen and Afghanistan) and from the wealthiest countries in the world (Norway and Qatar). Analysts who have argued that foreign fighters are created by social exclusion, poverty, or inequality should acknowledge that they emerge as much from the social democracies of Scandinavia as from monarchies (a thousand from Morocco), military states (Egypt), authoritarian democracies (Turkey), and liberal democracies (Canada). It didn’t seem to matter whether a government had freed thousands of Islamists (Iraq), or locked them up (Egypt), whether it refused to allow an Islamist party to win an election (Algeria) or allowed an Islamist party to be elected. Tunisia, which had the most successful transition from the Arab Spring to an elected Islamist government, nevertheless produced more foreign fighters than any other country.

Nor was the surge in foreign fighters driven by some recent change in domestic politics or in Islam. Nothing fundamental had shifted in the background of culture or religious belief between 2012, when there were almost none of these foreign fighters in Iraq, and 2014, when there were 20,000. The only change is that there was suddenly a territory available to attract and house them. If the movement had not seized Raqqa and Mosul, many of these men might well have simply continued to live out their lives with varying degrees of strain—as Normandy dairy farmers or council employees in Cardiff. We are left again with tautology—ISIS exists because it can exist—they are there because they’re there.

Finally, a year ago, it seemed plausible to attach much of the blame for the rise of the movement to former Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki’s disastrous administration of Iraq. No longer. Over the last year, a new, more constructive, moderate, and inclusive leader, Haider al-Abadi, has been appointed prime minister; the Iraqi army has been restructured under a new Sunni minister of defense; the old generals have been removed; and foreign governments have competed to provide equipment and training. Some three thousand US advisers and trainers have appeared in Iraq. Formidable air strikes and detailed surveillance have been provided by the United States, the United Kingdom, and others. The Iranian Quds force, the Gulf states, and the Kurdish Peshmerga have joined the fight on the ground.

For all these reasons the movement was expected to be driven back and lose Mosul in 2015. Instead, in May, it captured Palmyra in Syria and—almost simultaneously—Ramadi, three hundred miles away in Iraq. In Ramadi, three hundred ISIS fighters drove out thousands of trained and heavily equipped Iraqi soldiers. The US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter observed:

The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight.
The movement now controls a “terrorist state” far more extensive and far more developed than anything that George W. Bush evoked at the height of the “Global War on Terror.” Then, the possibility of Sunni extremists taking over the Iraqi province of Anbar was used to justify a surge of 170,000 US troops and the expenditure of over $100 billion a year. Now, years after the surge, ISIS controls not only Anbar, but also Mosul and half of the territory of Syria. Its affiliates control large swaths of northern Nigeria and significant areas of Libya. Hundreds of thousands have now been killed and millions displaced; horrors unimaginable even to the Taliban—among them the reintroduction of forcible rape of minors and slavery—have been legitimized. And this catastrophe has not only dissolved the borders between Syria and Iraq, but provoked the forces that now fight the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen.

The clearest evidence that we do not understand this phenomenon is our consistent inability to predict—still less control—these developments. Who predicted that Zarqawi would grow in strength after the US destroyed his training camps in 2001? It seemed unlikely to almost everyone that the movement would regroup so quickly after his death in 2006, or again after the surge in 2007. We now know more and more facts about the movement and its members, but this did not prevent most analysts from believing as recently as two months ago that the defeats in Kobane and Tikrit had tipped the scales against the movement, and that it was unlikely to take Ramadi. We are missing something.

Part of the problem may be that commentators still prefer to focus on political, financial, and physical explanations, such as anti-Sunni discrimination, corruption, lack of government services in captured territories, and ISIS’s use of violence. Western audiences are, therefore, rarely forced to focus on ISIS’s bewildering ideological appeal. I was surprised when I saw that even a Syrian opponent of ISIS was deeply moved by a video showing how ISIS destroyed the “Sykes-Picot border” between Iraq and Syria, established since 1916, and how it went on to reunite divided tribes. I was intrigued by the condemnation issued by Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar—one of the most revered Sunni clerics in the world: “This group is Satanic—they should have their limbs amputated or they should be crucified.” I was taken aback by bin Laden’s elegy for Zarqawi: his “story will live forever with the stories of the nobles…. Even if we lost one of our greatest knights and princes, we are happy that we have found a symbol….”

But the “ideology” of ISIS is also an insufficient explanation. Al-Qaeda understood better than anyone the peculiar blend of Koranic verses, Arab nationalism, crusader history, poetic reference, sentimentalism, and horror that can animate and sustain such movements. But even its leaders thought that Zarqawi’s particular approach was irrational, culturally inappropriate, and unappealing. In 2005, for example, al-Qaeda leaders sent messages advising Zarqawi to stop publicizing his horrors. They used modern strategy jargon—“more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media”—and told him that the “lesson” of Afghanistan was that the Taliban had lost because they had relied—like Zarqawi—on too narrow a sectarian base. And the al-Qaeda leaders were not the only Salafi jihadists who assumed that their core supporters preferred serious religious teachings to snuff videos (just as al-Tayeb apparently assumed that an Islamist movement would not burn a Sunni Arab pilot alive in a cage).

Much of what ISIS has done clearly contradicts the moral intuitions and principles of many of its supporters. And we sense—through Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss’s careful interviews—that its supporters are at least partially aware of this contradiction. Again, we can list the different external groups that have provided funding and support to ISIS. But there are no logical connections of ideology, identity, or interests that should link Iran, the Taliban, and the Baathists to one another or to ISIS. Rather, each case suggests that institutions that are starkly divided in theology, politics, and culture perpetually improvise lethal and even self-defeating partnerships of convenience.

The thinkers, tacticians, soldiers, and leaders of the movement we know as ISIS are not great strategists; their policies are often haphazard, reckless, even preposterous; regardless of whether their government is, as some argue, skillful, or as others imply, hapless, it is not delivering genuine economic growth or sustainable social justice. The theology, principles, and ethics of the ISIS leaders are neither robust nor defensible. Our analytical spade hits bedrock very fast.

I have often been tempted to argue that we simply need more and better information. But that is to underestimate the alien and bewildering nature of this phenomenon. To take only one example, five years ago not even the most austere Salafi theorists advocated the reintroduction of slavery; but ISIS has in fact imposed it. Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult to reverse as the rise of ISIS. None of our analysts, soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, politicians, or journalists has yet produced an explanation rich enough—even in hindsight—to have predicted the movement’s rise.

We hide this from ourselves with theories and concepts that do not bear deep examination. And we will not remedy this simply through the accumulation of more facts. It is not clear whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.