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Middle East Press ( 18 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

ISIS Smiles Big at Russia’s Offensive in Syria: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 February 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

19 February 2016

ISIS Smiles Big at Russia’s Offensive in Syria

By Joyce Karam

Turkey Is Sinking Into the Quagmire Of Syria

By David Lepeska

Turkey's Demographic Challenge

By Luke Coffey

Why Do Saudis Have A Complex About Westerners?

By Talal Qashqari

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


ISIS Smiles Big at Russia’s Offensive in Syria

By Joyce Karam

18 February 2016

If there was such a thing as an “ideal scenario” for ISIS, it is quickly transforming to a reality in Syria as the group’s rivals are dealt severe blows by the Russian offensive, while a regional war in proxy is distracting from any serious ground mission to defeat it.

Russia’s 444 sorties in the last week around Northern Aleppo were very much in line with Moscow’s targets since last September and the beginning of its operation in Syria. As this map, prepared by “People Demand for Change” group, shows, the Kremlin’s hit list since the beginning of its operations in September has been far from ISIS strongholds, and focussed on anti-Assad forces. Another recent map by the Institute for the Study of War, highlights the groups that Moscow has targeted, with the goal of helping the regime and its allied sectarian militias regain control of the Northern border.

While Moscow’s battle-plan could succeed in the short term in handing military victories to Assad and pro-Iranian groups, it is a recipe for a counterterrorism disaster in the long run, and one that largely benefits ISIS. Russia’s tactics aiding a cruel dictator, bombing schools and hospitals and fuelling sectarian tension, make a perfect recruiting tool for the extremists. Added to this, is that it’s generating a massive influx of refugees feared to be infiltrated by ISIS members, fleeing Syria into Turkey and Europe.

Russia’s Tactics and Alliances

Looking at the battle map in Syria, the Russian air bombardment has effectively overlooked ISIS. Whether that is a temporary strategy to shore up Assad while diminishing his bigger threat -the moderate rebels-, or to ultimately leave the West between two choices Assad and ISIS, it remains to be seen. But for the time being, the Russian strategy from air, aided by Assad forces and allied Shia and YPG (People’s Protection Units) militias on the ground, plays politically and militarily into ISIS’ hands in Syria.

While Moscow’s battle-plan could succeed in the short term in handing military victories to Assad and pro-Iranian groups, it is a recipe for a counterterrorism disaster in the long run, and one that largely benefits ISIS.

In the immediate aftermath of the Northern Aleppo battles, ISIS is bound to benefit militarily as Russia deals heavy blows to common Assad and ISIS war rivals. These include battalions in the more moderate Free Syrian Army such as Jabha Shamiya, Faylak Sham, Soukour Jabal, and Nour Deen Zanki. The area targeted also has heavy presence for the more radical but anti-ISIS forces, such as Ahrar Al-Sham, and Al-Qaeda’s allied group Jabhat Nusra. Just as Russia was bombing the rebels this week, ISIS announced the surrender of some of the rebel fighters and families to its forces.

Moscow’s tactics along the way in helping its closest Middle East ally, make a perfect recruiting tool for extremists including ISIS. The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented that Russia’s bombardment has killed more civilians last month in Syria than both Assad and ISIS. These tactics have been more magnified with recent accusations to Russia targeting Doctors without Borders hospital and school in Idlib last Monday. To add fuel to the fire, Russia’s alliance on the ground with Shia militias and Iranian proxies directly enforces ISIS’ sectarian narrative that this is a war against Sunnis, abetted by the West and that only the rule of the Caliphate can bring justice.

Advantage ISIS

For starters, it is this exact sectarian narrative and air bombardment in 2003 that gave birth to ISIS in Iraq. Building on the notion of disaffected Sunnis and recruiting based on U.S. tactics in the war from Abu Ghraib detention camp to Fallujah, ISIS managed to build a foothold in Iraq, that it spread later to Syria.

While the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in 2007 and 2008 relied heavily on Sunni tribes in Anbar in rolling back ISIS, the Russian strategy in Syria is doing the exact opposite. Moscow is alienating the same Sunni groups that threaten ISIS, while striking an alliance with Assad and Hezbollah whose actions have helped the organization recruit and seek monopoly over Sunnis.

The influx of refugees as well from Russia’s bombardment into Turkey and for some into Europe infuses a new element into ISIS’ advantages. Just as more than 30,000 refugees were stranded on the Turkish border, U.S. intelligence officials were warning from ISIS increased ability to infiltrate those fleeing into Europe. Some have even hinted that this is part of Moscow’s plan to compound Turkey’s and Europe’s problems while it rejects settlement of Syrian refugees.

Russia’s strategy and standoff with Turkey over support for the Kurdish YPG that Ankara considers terrorist, also freezes any mission to liberate ISIS territories in Syria. With the YPG expanding its presence on Turkish borders, and the forces that the U.S. , Arab allies, and Turkey have been beefing up to fight ISIS are very much weakened, any serious offensive to fight ISIS in Syria is laid to rest for the moment.

ISIS has every reason to be overjoyed with Russia’s current strategy in Syria, beginning with the scope of Moscow’s targets, its fueling of sectarian tensions and curtailing a larger coalition against the Islamic State. The repercussions of Russia’s actions in Syria will unlikely be confined to the battles between the regime and the opposition, and will be felt in counterterrorism efforts in Europe and beyond.

Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.



Turkey Is Sinking Into the Quagmire of Syria

By David Lepeska

18 Feb 2016

Volunteer aid workers breakfasting near the Syrian border. A massive, joyous peace rally in the centre of Ankara, the nation's capital. Foreign tourists taking in centuries-old monuments in the heart of old Istanbul. And, finally, a convoy of military personnel, again in central Ankara.

With nearly 200 people killed in just seven months, the beat goes on in Turkey. Four attacks, four targets, one goal: more terror, chaos, and violence.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu quickly sought to turn the latest bombing to Turkey's geopolitical advantage. He announced that the attacker, Syrian national Saleh Najjar, had ties to the Syrian Kurdish military group known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Davutoglu says received guidance on the plot from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The PKK, which Turkey, the US and EU have labelled a terrorist group, has fought an off-and-on war with Turkey for more than three decades and has been battling Turkey's military across the southeast since the Suruc bombing last July.

Davutoglu called on allies such as the US - which has relied on the YPG in its fight against ISIL - to cease co-ordination with the group. "It is out of the question for us to excuse tolerance towards a terrorist organisation that targets our people in our capital," he said.

Deteriorating Security Situation

As Turkey's military began a fourth straight day of shelling YPG positions in northern Syria, the PYD and PKK denied any involvement in the attack. But at this point, the perpetrator is nearly irrelevant.

The more pressing issue is security. Turkey is a NATO-member state, with a respected military and a vast intelligence and security apparatus. It's also a sort of flood wall, helping to keep the swirling maelstrom of Syria out of Europe: after Turkey, the deluge.

Since the start of the Syrian war, Ankara has sought the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey backed rebel groups and provided transit routes for weapons and fighters, and has lately been criticised for helping to create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In recent months Turkey increased border controls, built a border wall, and arrested hundreds of alleged terrorists within the country.

But it has become increasingly clear that it's too little, too late, and that Turkey's security has deteriorated considerably at the very moment its security challenges have multiplied and grown more deadly, thanks to spill over from Syria.

In its southeast, Turkey is battling a violent insurgency and engaging in bloody urban conflict - a PKK attack on a military convoy near Diyarbakir on Thursday morning reportedly killed six Turkish soldiers. Meanwhile, it's taking regular and deadly hits to what should be its best-protected areas.

The signs suggest terrorists, Turkish and Syrian, have built the kind of infrastructure that's extremely difficult to eradicate. It's no secret that ISIL and the PKK have it in for Turkey, nor that they can strike almost at will. A list of other potential enemies would include YPG, Assad, and Russia.

Meanwhile, both of the last two suicide bombers have been Syrian refugees. Some 2.5 million Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, and many others continue to pass through Turkey seeking the relative stability of the European Union, posing a potential security threat.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara Office Director of the German Marshall Fund, points to three government steps that have undermined Turkey's security capabilities in recent years: the massive coup-plot cases, known as Ergenekon and Balyoz, that led to the dismissal or imprisonment of top military officials and eroded military morale; the purge of thousands of police officers linked to the Gülen movement, which has reduced the force's effectiveness; and increasingly troubled relations with neighbouring states, which have curbed diplomacy and intelligence-sharing.

Peace At Home, Peace in the World

Ankara might want to stop focusing on destroying the PKK, YPG, and Assad and ticking off Putin, and get its own house in order. Unluhisarcikli calls for "a foreign policy prioritising Turkey's own national security rather than the transformation of its neighbourhood". This might first involve a ceasefire with the PKK and resumed peace negotiations, followed by a laser-like focus on domestic terrorism. On the latter, Ankara might look to Saudi Arabia for answers.

After terrorist attacks increased in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006, Riyadh mounted one of the world's most successful counterterrorism drives. The government beefed up police and security forces, expanded and improved intelligence gathering, built new prisons and created one of the world's most effective counter-radicalisation programmes. It also encouraged leading imams to speak out against radicalism and terrorist activity. The result was several years of near-zero terrorist deaths.

For Turkey, improving security in the shadow of the mini-world war that is Syria in 2016 would be a taller order, but it would offer an added benefit: greater border controls and migrant monitoring. Because some 10,000 people are still crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece every week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is refusing to commit to Ankara's plan for the EU countries to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees now living in Turkey.

In fact, the Ankara bombing prodded Davutoglu to cancel a planned trip to Brussels to meet Merkel and discuss the issue. But if Turkey can improve border controls and better monitor foreign arrivals, the EU would begin to ease Turkey's burden.

Of course, Saudi Arabia's counter-terror drive didn't come cheaply. And Ankara's finances are already strained by a slowing economy. But Turkey's choice is simple: prioritise counterterrorism and invest heavily in improved security or continue to slide, slowly but surely, into the Syrian quagmire.

David Lepeska is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. His work focuses on Turkey and the Middle East.



Turkey's Demographic Challenge

By Luke Coffey

18 Feb 2016

In a similar way that many in Western Europe worry about how the influx of Arab refugees might alter the social fabric in places such as Germany or Sweden, many Turks are concerned about the ever-increasing Arab minority in Turkey.

If policymakers in Ankara pursue the correct policies now, it could save Turkey a lot of social strife in the future. Tough questions will have to be addressed to ensure that the newly enlarged Arab minority integrates into Turkish society in a positive way.

Turkey has a long history of welcoming Arab refugees. During World War II, almost two million Arabs from the Levant and Mesopotamia settled in Turkey. There was another huge influx during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

Turkey's Arab Challenge

Estimates of the number of Arabs living in Turkey before the Syrian Civil War in 2011 vary widely from one million to more than two million. Turkey's Arab minority is concentrated predominately in Sanliurfa, Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis and Mardin provinces - all along Turkey's border with Syria.

Unlike the Kurds, for the most part Arabs have not had difficulty becoming assimilated in Turkish society - not withstanding some localised issues over language and education. Most (but not all) of Turkey's Arab population practise Sunni Islam, the predominate religion in Turkey.

In some cases many cultural traits are shared between ethnic Turks and the Arab minority in Turkey. This has made integration easier for Arabs than for other groups such as Armenians, for example.

However, with the huge influx of Arab refugees into Turkey, this could change.

The number of Arab refugees today in Turkey stands at 2.6 million. This number is made up mainly of Syrian refugees but those from Iraq number in the hundreds of thousands.

Add the number of Arabs who were already living in Turkey to the influx of refugees since 2011 and the sum quickly approaches five million - making Arabs the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Kurds.

Of the 2.6 million refugees only 10 percent live in the established camps. Many have chosen to live in the regions of Turkey traditionally home to ethnic Arabs. For example, the population in Kilis province has doubled since 2011 thanks to the influx of refugees. Even so, refugees can be found in all of Turkey's 81 provinces.

Strain on Public Services

This is placing a huge strain on public services. Last year, Turkey enrolled 215,000 Syrian children into primary and secondary education. While this was a big improvement on the year before, it makes up only a small number of the more than 700,000 school-aged Syrian children living in Turkey. Since 2011 a staggering 70,000 Syrian babies have been born in Turkey. Those born in 2011 will start school this year.

Starting in March, all adult Syrian refugees who have been legally registered in Turkey for at least six months will be able to apply for a work permit.

This will help the refugee population to assimilate into Turkish society, give them an opportunity to earn a living, and, it is hoped, reduce the number of refugees making the daring trip to other places in Europe.

On the other hand, this move is likely to push unskilled Turks out of low-wage jobs or, at a minimum, drive down wages in unskilled labour sectors. With unemployment hovering at just under 11 percent in Turkey, this could have significant social and economic consequences.

With the increased fighting in the region around Aleppo, more civilians have been massing on the Turkish border hoping to escape the bloodshed.

Currently, these Syrians hoping to escape are measured in the tens of thousands, but Turkey's Turkish deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, recently claimed that as many as 600,000 refugees could flood into Turkey if the fighting continues around Aleppo. Some suggest that the estimate could be as high as one million.

Safe Zone in Northern Syria

For months Turkey has been calling for the establishment of a so-called safe zone in northern Syria. Beyond making public pronouncements for a safe zone, nobody has explained how this might work in practice.

Building the infrastructure to protect, house, feed, heat, educate and provide basic healthcare to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians in a largely barren area along the Turkish-Syrian border for the foreseeable future is probably not feasible.

Turkey needs a realistic plan to deal with these refugees, and this will require the help and financial support of Europe and the US. Even if the fighting in Syria stopped tomorrow it is unlikely many Syrians who have settled in Turkey would want to go back to their homelands. What would they go back to?

It appears that millions of Syrians will remain in Turkey for ever. They will settle down and start families. Attend school and get jobs. How they will integrate into Turkish society and mobilise politically remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, demographics in Turkey will never be the same.

Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC-based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.



Why Do Saudis Have A Complex About Westerners?

By Talal Qashqari

Feb 19, 2016

IN the Saudi private and public sectors, there is still a complex about Westerners. Some employers recruit Westerners and describe them as global experts in their fields. Of course, these experts have blue eyes and blonde hair and wear jeans with a shirt and a tie. Usually, they are given big responsibilities. Do we not have Saudis who are as competent and qualified as these Westerners and are able to perform the same duties with a salary that is lower than the one given to Westerners?

We also have a complex in relation to hiring external consultants. Although some government agencies have in-house consultants, perhaps more than enough, some insist on signing contracts worth millions with external consultation companies to perform the duties of their in-house consultants.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this point. Recently, Al-Madinah daily published a story that the Jeddah Municipality signed a contract with a legal counselling firm and paid more than SR9.5 million for the contract. The firm will handle all legal cases that are pending, in process or are to be filed before courts. The municipality has a big legal department; nevertheless, it went ahead and signed the contract. This means that its staff will relax and enjoy their time and receive their monthly salaries while the law firm will take over and perform their duties.

I know authorities that are larger than the municipality that have not signed similar contracts with external law firms and allow their legal departments to handle legal cases. I do not understand why the municipality did that. Does it have too much money? If it does, then it should use it to fix Jeddah’s streets and end traffic congestion. Apparently, the spending mechanisms within the municipality need to be reviewed.