Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Desk
14 August, 2014
• Iraqi Kurds Accuse Local Arabs of Supporting IS
By Wladimir Van Wilgenburg
• The Need for A Syrian Awakening To Defeat Terrorism
By Raghida Dergham
• Removing Maliki: The End of a Nightmare
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
• Too Little Too Late For Iraq’s Yazidi Minority?
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
• Obama Stirs the Hornets’ Nest with Strikes on ISIS
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
• Aleppo's Forgotten Christians
By Edward Dark
• Barrel Bombs Pummel Anbar
By Omar Al-Jaffal
• Syrian Refugees Pose A Growing Social Question In Turkey
By Ilnur Çevik
Iraqi Kurds Accuse Local Arabs of Supporting IS
By Wladimir Van Wilgenburg
August 13, 2014
The ongoing conflict between the Islamic State (IS) and the Kurds in northern Iraq has fueled ethnic tensions between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, with many Kurds accusing local Arabs of supporting IS.
Small anti-Arab protests were dispersed by police in the Kurdish capital of Erbil the afternoon of Aug. 9, and in the town of Gwer — just 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside the main checkpoint leading to Erbil — Kurds accused the local Arabs of supporting the Islamist militants.
“We know them face by face, name by name, and we even know where they live. I don’t know what happened,” a Kurdish teacher from Gwer, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Al-Monitor.
In May 2013, Erbil was named the Arab capital of tourism for 2014. The city had anticipated at least 3 million visitors in 2013, including many Arab tourists from Iraq, but the situation has drastically changed. Instead of hosting tourists, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is now a refugee haven for those fleeing the fighting between IS militants and government forces.
Many Kurds now worry that Arabs will form sleeper cells in Kurdish cities after the Islamic State's major attacks against Kurdish towns in early August. Reports suggested that many displaced Sunni Arabs sympathized with IS militants, with some sympathizers arrested by the Asayish, the Kurdish security police.
Locals in the town of Gwer on the evening of Aug. 10 said the Arabs and Kurds lived peacefully in the town before the conflict erupted.
“The Arabs and Kurds lived together in Gwer. We ran away three times from Gwer, once in 1991 from Saddam Hussein, in 2003 during the liberation of Iraq and this is the third time. We Kurds never hurt the Iraqi people, but the Arabs are still against Kurds. We Kurds live together with so many groups — Yazidis, Christians and Arabs — but they just see themselves as Arab and Muslim. They say the Kurds work with the coalition forces, and that’s why they fight against us,” a teacher who now lives in Erbil said.
Gwer was briefly occupied by IS militants on Aug. 7, prompting most of the Kurdish population to flee. On Aug. 10, with US air support, Kurdish forces retook the mixed Arab-Kurdish town. This time, most of the Arab population left, fearing reprisal attacks after IS militants looted Kurdish homes, according to Kurdish security sources.
Omar Ramazan, a Kurdish fighter, said many Arabs joined IS in Gwer. “One of them was the sub district manager of the local municipality, Haji Fayez. He was not killed, but he ran away. A lot of people from this town gave information to IS,” he told Al-Monitor.
Some Gwer residents said they did not expect the locals to join the IS militants. “We thought Gwer was safe. We have a lot of friends in the area. But then we got orders to pull back. We did not suspect the local Arabs would suddenly rise up. We had no chance and we had to pull back. They had sleeper cells here,” said Mohammed Ali, a local member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who now carries a gun.
“We have to open a new page with them. We trusted them after the fall of the regime — we let them have some guns. We didn’t expect them on the ground to [form] some organizations. Some of them were even KDP, and we tried to work with them, but it was all just a show,” said Ali.
Ali was optimistic that the Kurds can work together with the local Arabs again. “We believe President [Massoud] Barzani will give them amnesty and welcome them back.”
Angry Kurdish security officers at a checkpoint outside Gwer accused local Arabs of looting Kurdish houses. “Kurds always respected them, but Arabs robbed their homes. President Barzani supported and helped them, and this is their thanks,” said a police official who refused to give his name.
Despite the anger of many Kurds, the Kurdish government has tried to assure local Arabs that it is not against them.
“We will not allow the terrorists to destroy the historic relations between the Kurds and Arabs,” Barzani said during an Aug. 10 news conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Cemal Murtke, a leading Kurdish commander in Gwer and a parliament member, told Al-Monitor that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has no problems with Arabs.
“These people who joined IS can come back, and we will not fight them. We don’t have any problem with any nationality and we have no problem with Arab people. For us, there is no difference between Arabs and Kurds,” he said. “Most of them are not willing to join IS. Most of them have lost a lot in this situation, and only a minority wants to join them. Of course, there might be some of them in Erbil or other places. But the majority of them do not want to join them.”
But Gwer Mayor Diyar Abdullah says there might be some revenge attacks: “Some Kurdish people might come back and try to take revenge. That is normal in this situation since some Kurdish houses were looted. They were angry.”
In fact, not only Arabs have joined IS. Reportedly, 400 Kurds are among the group's ranks in both Syria and Iraq.
IS posted a video online after taking the Kurdish town of Sinjar, showing Kurdish IS fighters stomping on a picture of Kurdish nationalist leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani in early August.
Bashdar Ismail, an ex-commander of the 49th Brigade of the 12th Division of the Iraqi army, who now works with the Kurdish armed forces in Gwer, agreed with Murtke: “We have to differentiate among the people. I told many Kurdish reporters that Gwer belongs to both the Kurdish and Arab people.”
The Need for a Syrian Awakening To Defeat Terrorism
By Raghida Dergham
10 August 2014
Does the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group constitute a radical shift in the history and the future of the Arab region, or is it a transient phenomenon, no matter how formidable it seems with its strength and its performance in the battlefields of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon today? Obviously, trying to answer this question unleashes various theories regarding anything from the composition of this group to its ultimate fate.
Regardless, it is necessary for every “nurturing environment” in any Arab region to scrutinize the options available to it and to various players concerned with the emergence of ISIS and similar groups – be they supporters or opponents thereof. ISIS and similar groups could indeed be a transient phenomenon, but they are terrifyingly nihilistic and violent and they pursue an ideology that sanctions crimes against humanity.
ISIS is convenient for those trying to divert attention away from the atrocities committed by others, and it is useful – temporarily – for those who take advantage of its brutality to destabilize and subvert. Interestingly, ISIS in Syria is not quite the same as ISIS in Iraq, while the ISIS that reached Lebanon is more Syrian than Iraqi, in terms of its background and ambitions.
Some believe that ISIS’s choice of the Bekaa town of Arsal to declare its arrival in Lebanon, with a view to instigate sectarian strife, was “superficial.”
These people indicate that Arsal is a Sunni town whose surroundings are Shiite, and that the incidents in Arsal have turned the entire public against the militants, especially after they clashed with the army and after Syrian refugees took part in the fighting alongside ISIS and al-Nusra Front against the people of Arsal who had sheltered them in their homes.
According to the people behind this view, the plan for Sunni-Shiite strife has no fertile ground in Lebanon. In effect, the fighting in Arsal this week “exposed” the plans for causing strife. Thus, ISIS and its ilk failed from the outset in Lebanon, because the Lebanese configuration itself is in such a way that every community is incapable of defending itself on its own. In other words, everyone protects everyone, and this is the most important recipe against partition and permanent strife.
Others see the issue from a political rather than a sectarian standpoint. They believe that there is a need to make a distinction between the "war on terror" and involving the Lebanese army in the war against ISIS, al-Nusra Front, and other Syrian opposition groups in support of Bashar al-Assad and his allies fighting in Syria, led by Hezbollah.
The proponents of this view refuse in principle implicating the Lebanese army in the war with ISIS and similar groups, because the army cannot win the battle on its own. However, if the Lebanese army were forced to coordinate with Hezbollah to achieve victory, then this would be a prelude to its collapse.
Uprising against ISIS
Hezbollah, in their view, is behind the decision to push the Lebanese army into the battle between the regime in Damascus and its opponents – of various affiliations and projects. The Lebanese people rose up automatically in support of the army against terrorism, which has been linked to ISIS and al-Nusra Front in particular, especially since ISIS declares all non-Sunnis to be apostates who may be killed. As Lebanon is basically made up of minorities, the Lebanese rose up against ISIS.
But after the relative calm, questions emerged that go beyond the emotional and patriotic furore. Many have asked: Is this a war against the terrorism that has come to terrorize us, or is it a war to support Bashar al-Assad in his battle against the Syrian opposition?
The majority of the Lebanese do not want to be drawn into the Syrian war, regardless of whether it is designated as a war on terror, or whether it is practically part of the war on the Syrian opposition. Many of them blame Hezbollah, for having entered as party to the war in Syria in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which it justified under the pretext of waging a pre-emptive war on terrorism to prevent its spread to Lebanon. But this is reminiscent of what George W. Bush said when he waged his war on terror in Iraq, to fight terrorists there away from American cities.
Walking the Walk
President Bush put what he had in mind into practice, diverting the war on terror away from the American people in American cities in the direction of the people of Iraq and the nurturing environment for terrorism in the Arab and Islamic nations.
But Hezbollah is no George W. Bush. Its preemptive wars in Syria cannot be compared to American preemptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, the pretext of taking part in the war in Syria to prevent terrorism in Lebanon was flawed from the outset. Now, ISIS has arrived in Arsal; but how did this happen?
There is a theory that purports that the entry of ISIS and al-Nusra Front to Arsal is proof of Hezbollah’s military decline if not structural weakness after it overstretched itself in Syria with its involvement in the war there. The proponents of this theory believe that ISIS’s arrival in Arsal took place despite attempts by Hezbollah to repel it in Qalamoun and other Syrian regions.
The counter-theory argues that Hezbollah decided not to intercept ISIS and al-Nusra Front on their way to Lebanon, in implementation of a strategy to implicate Lebanon in the war on terror of which the regime of Bashar al-Assad has appointed itself as the leader on behalf of the West, in order to obtain the latter’s sympathy and support, instead of attempting to remove it and hold it accountable sooner or later.
Regardless of whether the theory is valid or not, the question everywhere is this: What is ISIS? Who is funding, supporting, and leading ISIS? Who created the group to begin with, who does it work for, and how is it achieving such victories? This fixation on ISIS is itself striking, as it has become the “rage” to talk about ISIS amid near complete neglect of what is happening in Syria and the fierce war still raging there.
The ISIS Façade
I believe ISIS is realistically and practically the creation of the regime in Damascus, which had released its current leaders from prison – after using them in the Iraq war and jailing them after they served their purpose.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) moved gradually toward the condemnation of the arrival of ISIS and al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, which was intended to draw Lebanon into the Syrian war or to take revenge against Hezbollah’s actions in the Syrian war. Ultimately, the FSA condemned what happened and stressed its support for Lebanon’s unity.
However, the branching off of the Syrian opposition remains at the heart of the reasons for the failure of the peaceful Syrian uprising, having abetted terrorist ideologies.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon with their enormous numbers exceeding a quarter of Lebanon's population and the one million mark, have become a "ticking bomb,” not only for demographic, humanitarian and employment-related reasons, but also because there are those among those refugees who have decided to "reward" the Lebanese people by joining the ranks of ISIS and al-Nusra Front, and fighting the Lebanese army and killing the people of the town that gave them shelter.
Certainly, the proportion of such individuals is small, but they nonetheless have a huge impact. These people have undermined trust in Syrian refugees, as did their peers who blocked roads in large numbers when they came out to vote for President Bashar al-Assad, in their capacity as “refugees” in Lebanon.
If they are refugees, then they have to abide by the international laws that restrict their activities as refugees in the host country and community. If the Syrian opposition is conscientious and serious, and understands its responsibilities, then it must seriously think whether Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere are engaging in political activity, spontaneous or organized, in a way that leads to resentment against them instead of sympathy for them.
In other words, defeating terrorist groups that are infiltrating the political opposition and commandeering them to serve their own destructive ideological goals requires, without a doubt, the participation of both the official and popular Syrian opposition in the efforts against these groups.
A New Awakening
What is therefore needed is a kind of “Sahawat” or “Awakening” similar to the movement that we saw in Fallujah in Iraq, which managed to defeat al-Qaeda and similar groups there thanks to the cooperation and solidarity of the tribes and the nurturing environment for the efforts against those who brought terrorism to their local community.
Replicating the “Awakening” model in Lebanon requires more than the participation of the peaceful Syrian opposition and the Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the effort against the involvement of ISIS and al-Nusra Front in Lebanon – either to retaliate against Hezbollah or in accordance with a plan by the regime in Damascus and Hezbollah to lure them in to Lebanon.
Second, the model also requires Lebanese Sunnis to come out together and seriously behind a conscious strategy to distinguish between opposition to Hezbollah’s attempt to implicate Lebanon in Syria by refusing to abide by the principle of “self-dissociation” from the conflict in Syria, and accepting any role by ISIS no matter what, with some Sunnis considering that stopping Hezbollah requires bringing in ISIS here and there.
Third, it will not be possible to defeat ISIS and similar groups in Lebanon unless Hezbollah reverses its policies in Syria. Involving the Lebanese army in the battle against ISIS will not bring victory against the latter. The Lebanese people will not accept to be part of the Syrian regime’s war on the Syrian opposition, whether through the gateway of ISIS or al-Nusra Front, if their arrival in Lebanon is the result of Hezbollah luring them or Hezbollah’s weakness.
ISIS will be a transient phenomenon if the conditions are met to defeat it, and if the regional powers adopt the kind of measures they know well against their citizens fighting for or funding ISIS, and those who secretly support it believing it to be the answer to Iran in Iraq and Syria, or to Hezbollah.
The measures and positions taken by the Gulf countries against the terrorism of ISIS and other groups is no longer enough. There is an urgent need for harsher measures against citizens duped into supporting ISIS in some countries. The time has come for the Gulf countries to put an end to their proxy wars, either to take revenge against regimes or in fulfillment of a certain ideology.
Internationally, there is a lot to be said. The issue is complex, regardless of how much everyone is conveniently invoking the misleading title of the “war on terror.” To be sure, that war seems to exclude state terrorism, and to focus instead on non-state actors. Those who are part of the war on terror have used Iraq as its main battlefield, destroying the country in the process, and are now doing the same in Syria, with the result being the tearing apart of another country. The talk here is not just about those who are waging wars against terrorism, but also those who use terrorism as a means to their destructive ends.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005.
Removing Maliki: The End of a Nightmare
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
12 August 2014
We have not known Iraqi, regional and international enthusiasm like what we’ve seen in the past few days to remove Nouri al-Maliki from the Iraqi premiership. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Arabs, Americans and the United Nations have all agreed on removing Maliki. Haider al-Abadi’s name suddenly became one of the most famous and most popular after he agreed to confront Maliki and replace him as premier.
Now, there are temporarily two states in Iraq. The first one is the Iraqi one, and the second one is illegal and it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There are also two prime ministers in Iraq. The first one is Abadi who represents the representatives of the parliamentary majority and the second one is Maliki whose term ended and who insists on claiming legitimacy.
Abadi will find unprecedented support as a result of Maliki’s bad actions which tore Iraq apart into troubled sectarian areas and led to struggles with the Kurds, and led to terrorists’ seizure of major areas and horrific massacres. All this is due to Maliki’s government which was concerned about serving Maliki himself and engaged in battles at the expense of the state and the entire country.
Maliki Has Tried All Tricks
In order to stay in power, Maliki has tried all tricks and failed. He deployed his tanks a night before removing him and accused the new president of violating the constitution. Yesterday morning, he tried to fabricate a statement in the name of the constitutional court then he gathered marginal figures from the Dawa Party claiming Abadi does not represent the bloc and only represents himself.
I think we will see Baghdad restoring its vitality and ordinary life. Arab, Iranian and western delegations will visit it to congratulate the prime minister who represents Iraqi consensus. We will see that there’s an expanded Iraqi agreement that represents the first real patriotic unity whose first duty includes fighting the terrorist ISIS and restoring powers which Maliki eliminated to work within constitutional legitimacy instead of taking up arms. Abadi must reassure the Kurds, reconcile Arab Sunnis, restore relations with angry Shiite powers, be open to Gulf countries, and reactivate the Iraqi role and head towards constructing the country and enhancing the livelihood of all Iraqis.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
Too Little Too Late For Iraq’s Yazidi Minority?
By Abdullah Hamidaddin
11 August 2014
This is not the first time militants have attacked the Yazidi community. In 2007, more than 400 were killed in suicide bomb attacks. The al-Qaeda operative who masterminded the killing was later killed by the United States. However, it seems that this is the first time the community faces the threat of genocide.
Many in the region welcomed the American intervention against ISIS for a couple of reasons. However, it does not seem that saving the Yazidis was the main one. The main one is obvious: ISIS has been expanding at the expense of every power in Iraq, and there seems to be a widespread belief that it is only with U.S. intervention that they will be defeated, or their expansion thwarted. Some are hoping that the limited American intervention could pave the way to a broader intervention against ISIS. Saving the Yazidis is but one minor cause of satisfaction. As far as Iraqis are concerned, everyone is facing the threat of a violent death. The carnage that the Iraqi people have experienced, the massacre after massacre, may have left most with little regard to the concept of “ethnic cleansing.” Someone who cannot be sure that tomorrow will exist cannot fathom why saving the life of a minority is different that saving the life of anyone else.
Voices in the Arab world
There were of course many voices that are not happy with the U.S. bombing ISIS. Many of them are silent supporters of ISIS. As far as they are concerned, ISIS holds the promise of the return of Islamic rule in the Arab and Muslim world. Its violence is justified as a necessary evil to enable the group to survive and thrive amongst formidable foes. They justify the gruesome killings as tactical measures. Many of them say that there is not a real difference between what the U.S. did in Iraq or what ISIS is doing; they claim the difference is in the theatrics of killings not in the killing itself. This is, of course, a scary thought. It gets even scarier when we realize that such sentiments towards ISIS are not limited to the very religious or the radical. The sense of despair in the region is pushing the moderate towards accepting radical and violent alternatives. Many of those who justify ISIS do not agree with its ideology, nor would they want it to be active in their own countries – at least not yet – but nevertheless they see it as part of the solution for a region which has lost hope in peaceful means.
But the real question being asked here is why now? People are asking why was there no intervention when other groups were being slaughtered by various factions – ISIS merely being the last of many. Why was there no intervention when the Christians were being murdered and their homes being taken as booty and they were forced to flee for their lives?
The U.S. has been observing from afar the growth of ISIS; but it decided early on that this is a matter which the Iraqis have to solve by working together. The U.S. was content by the fact that ISIS is still a contained threat; that there were no spill over effects serious enough to warrant its intervention. At the same time, the U.S. thought that the threat of ISIS would bring the Iraqis together, with other players in the region, to work out a political deal which allows for the creation of a legitimate government able to secure Iraq and its borders. But that did not happen. Instead, the threat of ISIS has reached a point where the U.S. is now convinced that without it doing something, ISIS would stay much longer and its influence may reach beyond Syria and Iraq. But the U.S. needed a reason to intervene. It missed the window of the plight of the Christians, but it was not going to miss this new window. The suffering of the Yazidis and the fear of genocide gave the U.S. the excuse to send a message to ISIS and to the Iraqi government. To ISIS, that its expansion will not continue unchecked. To the Iraqi government, that they need to get their act together. Time will tell if either will understand the message or act upon it.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
Obama Stirs the Hornets’ Nest With Strikes On ISIS
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
10 August 2014
America is now involved in fighting ISIS from the air. The Rubicon is now crossed and what happens next changes the calculations on Iraq, and the immediate region, tremendously. The American president needed to show that the United States can use its assets to halt the advance of ISIS and the potential massacre of up to 40,000 Yazidi trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Interestingly, President Obama is the fourth American president consecutively to order military action in Iraq- he joins Presidents Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 with this unique distinction.
The air strikes so far seem to be minor by targeting artillery used by ISIS against Kurdish forces defending Erbil and also dropping humanitarian relief supplies to Yazidi. Plans indicate that the airstrikes will intensify in number around Erbil, where American advisors are located, and perhaps targeting parts of Baghdad. Clearly, America thinks the Iraqi capital is under direct threat, that Iran and the Iraqi armed forces are not going to able to do much to protect Baghdad’s citizens let alone Americans. We know already that ISIS has infiltrated Baghdad, created a network of supporters with cash payments, and have conducted suicide operations. With government confusion, and weakness apparent, ISIS knows the time is ripe to keep pushing forward.
The reason for the airstrikes is not only to protect hundreds of US personnel on the ground in Iraq but also to shore-up the Kurdish Region Government (KRG). The KRG, up until a few days ago, seemed outside of ISIS’s sights. Now that calculation is changing and this makes the U.S. and Iraqi neighbour’s nervous. ISIS knows what it is doing: the Islamic State needs—and requires—more territory to expand, capturing as much goods in order to promote its economy. KRG is a rich target and ISIS clearly will bulldoze and kill anything and everything in its path to make the Islamic State a reality. ISIS is true mercantilist machine.
Opening up a Pandora’s Box
The problem with the airstrikes to date is that America is targeting ISIS artillery and associated vehicles. Dozens of ISIS fighters are now dead. Hitting ISIS in this manner may open up a Pandora’s Box because ISIS is looking for a fight with Americans and suck the United States into the conflict and make American targets in the region under threat. An ISIS spokesman allegedly stated: “Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah at the White House.”
In addition, ISIS reportedly stated that it intends to attack Kuwait. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the “caliph” of the Islamic State, reportedly declared his group's desire to invade the GCC's northernmost member state. Such a move against Kuwait, which was last invaded by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1990, would supposedly draw the US back into Iraq so that ISIS could enact its “revenge” according to ISIS strategists who are targeting Kuwait and Saudi Arabia between now and 2019. “We can get even with the United States. We cannot reach them, but they will come to us after we attack Kuwait,” Baghdadi is reported as saying. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia already have troops on their borders but the internal situation in both countries needs extra care because of tribal disenchantment. That could be the turning point in both countries. Also American military and commercial activity in both countries may be targeted by ISIS now.
The type of extremism promoted by ISIS, which claims religious authority over all Muslims and has carried out mass executions on the grounds of apostasy in the past, could fan the flames of sectarian hatred across the region. They target those who are against the current regime and lure them in until eventually they are convinced that they are fighting for a cause. This campaign targets the youth, who are attracted to ISIS as it is more like a “gang” and has all the associated attributes and benefits to attract them.
The American campaign needs to be more robust—attacking all ISIS military and economic assets-- and deadly—no deradicalisation programs will help these fighters-- while at the same time providing humanitarian relief. Damaging ISIS weapons systems does not take the fight out of ISIS. Also, other countries need to get involved. According to an Arab official, Turkey and Britain are assisting the Americans so a coalition of forces needs to be fully implemented. Of course, any friend of America becomes an ISIS target specifically the countries helping support Washington’s air campaign. Simultaneously, countries neighbouring Iraq need to ramp up their border and homeland security capabilities in order to prevent the spread of ISIS’s revenge and to watch carefully for the appearance of graffiti, the gang-tags of ISIS.
Clearly, ISIS is the largest threat to not only Iraq but to the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. Luckily for the Americans, the brutality and discourse of ISIS is almost mutually hated by everyone in the region so this fact enables countries to rally around defeating ISIS. But ISIS does have its followers and those fighters represent a threat to all. America’s campaign needs a firm mission besides the “light strikes” to date. In addition, President Obama needs to have an endgame in mind: ISIS is not simply going to go away with sorties.
Aleppo's Forgotten Christians
By Edward Dark
August 11, 2014
Walking through the largely Christian neighbourhoods of Aleppo city — Azizieh, Siryan, Sulaimaniyah and Midan — you can still see the posters of the two bishops kidnapped by Islamist militants last year hanging on shop windows, walls and even cars. The people here haven’t forgotten them; the event is still as painful and fresh as if it had happened just yesterday. The bishops’ kidnapping was a symbolic event, indicative of the larger collapse of interfaith communal relations in a country under the strain of a sectarian civil war, and marked the end of a long era of relative peace and safety for the Christians of Syria.
The streets themselves portray a deceptive and surreal kind of war “normalcy,” the kind where pockmarked buildings, mortar holes on the roads, shredded cars, even bloodstained sidewalks are the usual and expected sights as people go about their daily lives without a second glance. This is life now, this is reality here. What it was like before the war is no longer relevant, the memories of those distant and beautiful bygone days do not matter or factor in any more.
Fear is palpable in this city; it hangs heavy in the air everywhere you go, like a potent and nauseous perfume. You can see it in people's eyes, in the deep lines on their faces; you can hear it in the way they talk; it’s in their conversations, it’s all they ever talk about.
But fear of a new kind permeates this ancient and deeply rooted community. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are very real threats that haunt the collective conscience of Syria’s Christians. The terrible fate that befell their co-religionists across the border in Mosul has driven these points home in a rather blunt and frightening way. The genocidal, nihilistic death cult of the Islamic State (IS) is hell-bent on destroying everything that is not exactly it, and has been on an unstoppable rampage which has left a trail of decapitated bodies and mass graves in its wake, usually those of ethnic and religious minorities. The militants make no secret of their genocidal campaigns of mass murder and medieval violence; on the contrary, they openly celebrate with glee and revel in them. It is not a means to an end; for them, it is the end itself.
Yousef is a shopkeeper in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Sulaimaniyah, which has seen almost constant rebel shelling since the civil war divided Aleppo in July 2012. His brother serves in the Syrian army in Damascus. In conversation, he conveyed to me some of the predominant questions and anxieties going through his community.
“Why aren’t the moderate Muslims doing more to stop the extremists in their midst?” he asked bitterly. “Do they agree with their ideology and extremism? We saw hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets against the abuses of the regime, so why are we not now seeing those thousands of protesters against what IS is doing? Worse, we are now seeing many people and rebel groups joining them. There are so many hundreds of these Islamic rebel groups, but they are all the same, they all have this extremist ideology against us. My conclusion is that these groups and IS are fully supported and backed in what they are doing by the anti-government forces."
The Christians of Syria had for the most part tried to stay out of the country’s raging civil conflict, but had often found themselves embroiled in its messy and bloody events. On more than one occasion, the Christians became the focal point of action, as in Maaloula, Yabrud and Kassab, as well as high- profile kidnappings of nuns and clerics.
But there are voices starting to question whether they should remain neutral in a conflict which they view as having mutated to blatantly targeting them and threatening their community with annihilation. Many believe that taking up arms, at least for self-defence, is a wise choice, but others feel it would only further enrage and inflame their worst enemies, spurring them into perpetrating even more heinous crimes.
As with many of West Aleppo’s inhabitants, some Christians too have fled the violence that has torn apart their city; many will never return. But unlike the mass exodus of Christians seen elsewhere, Aleppo’s Christians have largely stayed in their city, suggesting that Aleppo’s Christian community remains attached to its ancestral home, and are an integral part of the city’s diverse social, ethnic and cultural mosaic.
But fear of the kind of ethnic cleansing that is being seen in Iraq strikes deep. George, a mechanic who owns a garage in Sulaimaniyah, told me, “The Christians of Aleppo will not stay if the regime loses control of the city. They will be finished here, maybe for good. The takfiri jihadists will make sure of that. Their plan is to clear the nation of all non-Sunni people. They are now using fear tactics and propaganda to intimidate people to leave even before they arrive; it’s that easy. This is why they do all their grisly crimes on camera, to win without firing a bullet. And when they enter new areas, they burn down our churches and confiscate our homes and businesses. They want to erase all traces of us from our own lands. What kind of message are they spreading? Why would you want someone to join your religion by the threat of death?”
George accuses the West of being complicit in the removal of Christians from the Middle East. “Why didn’t the United States take military action when the ISIS persecuted Christians in Raqqa and Mosul? Why only now when it is Yazidis being targeted? There is a plot to remove all Christians from the Middle East, it is crazy, the West has the same plan as the terrorists for us! It is clear, look, now France is taking in all Christian refugees from Iraq, but in Mali it sent in its army to defeat the terrorists. Are they only terrorists in Iraq and Mali, but revolutionaries in Syria?”
Many of the points Yousef and George raised were being echoed across the Christian community in Aleppo, indicating their shared predicament and anxieties no matter what their political affiliations. Not all Christians in Aleppo support the regime; in fact, a large number of them do not, but equally significant is that you won’t find any that support the rebels, either.
The recent repeated rebel shelling of the Syriac Catholic Church, a large and iconic building in the heart of the old Christian community at Azizeh, is seen by many as a clear message by the rebels, revealing their true intent toward their community.
“There is no more need for the pretense of liberation and freedom.” Yousef said, “They [rebels] have successfully sold that to the outside world while they pursue their real agendas inside Syria in broad daylight.”
Barrel Bombs Pummel Anbar
By Omar Al-Jaffal
August 13, 2014
Officials and residents in Anbar have repeatedly accused the Iraqi government of dumping barrel bombs on the cities of the province. They even started documenting evidence showing the use of this weapon, which has been used extensively by the Syrian regime against its opponents over the past two years.
The Iraqi army is counting on the air force to retake control of the cities dominated by armed militias affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) and a few tribal groups.
On Aug. 7, an altercation erupted in the Iraqi parliament between Shiite parliamentarian Hanan al-Fatlawi and Sunni parliamentarian Liqa Wardi over the topic of barrel bombs. While Wardi, of the Union of National Forces led by former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, condemned the army for using barrel bombs, Fatlawi, a parliament member for the State of Law Coalition, accused the union of making false accusations against the army, and some parliament members of sympathizing with IS. The government denied the use of barrel bombs in its war against terrorism, but witnesses in Anbar province confirmed the contrary to Al-Monitor.
Sheikh Mohammed al-Bajari, a member of the interim local council of Fallujah, said the battles fought by the army and security forces in Anbar lack ethical and professional standards. He told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The army continues to collectively punish civilians,” and pointed out, “The military aircraft bombed residential neighborhoods in the city of Fallujah using barrel bombs, which resulted in enormous devastation and killed dozens of innocent citizens.”
Bajari accused the Iraqi army of using weapons of mass destruction, saying that military aircraft drop at least 10 to 15 barrel bombs every day on various neighborhoods in Fallujah. Each barrel is stuffed with highly explosive materials and weighs between 250 to 300 kilograms, he said, adding, “These officers responsible should be referred to international courts to be charged for these heinous massacres against civilians.” Furthermore, analysts say the government is pursuing a scorched-earth policy to regain control of the cities it lost to terrorist organizations, which have pushed it to use all possible means to impose its influence on the ground.
Due to the arbitrary policy of the army in Iraq's hot areas, which are witnessing continuous fighting, the Iraqi government is losing its sympathizers. This further ignites hostility against the security forces and leads young men to consider these forces as Shiite militias destroying their homes and killing their families. Such thinking drives them to observe joining armed factions, such as the Military Council, which many Anbar residents have joined because it comprises the tribesmen living in Anbar. The residents did so in the hope of restoring security by taking control of the land.
According to a security source in Anbar, “The army used barrels in some cases to target terrorist gathering spots,” and, “People are exaggerating by accusing the army.”
The military source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor, "The army is counting on the air force to break into the cities. We have been following this plan since the fall of Mosul."
According to other accounts conveyed to Al-Monitor, the mortal shells fired indiscriminately by the army on the cities of Anbar, in addition to the involvement of the Shiite militia in the fighting in residential areas, have further enraged the residents. Barrel bombs exacerbated the rage, as the government is now accused of waging a war to exterminate Sunnis in Iraq.
On the other hand, Gen. Abu Othman al-Dulaimi, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army who is now fighting alongside the Military Council of Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries, said, “Barrel bombs are used by some armies to exterminate hostile troops in situations of war, and they result in enormous devastation of an unimaginable magnitude.” Dulaimi told Al-Monitor over the phone, “One barrel destroys three to four houses."
In an interview with Al-Monitor, human rights activist Ali al-Hayali said, “There is continuous documentation of barrel bombs being dropped over the city of Fallujah. … Human rights organizations in Anbar cooperate with international human rights organizations and we have [handed over] several audiovisual reports showing the Iraqi army dropping explosive barrels over the city.”
He added, “Lawyers are working on filing judicial actions against all officials from both the local and the central government as well as against military officers who issued the orders to the army troops to bombard the city with this kind of internationally banned weapon.”
The government should focus on not killing civilians in the hot areas and avoid indiscriminate shelling on the residential cities of Anbar, so it does not end up losing these areas, as happened in Ninevah, where IS has imposed its control. The government should also work on reforming the Sahwa forces that were established by the United States. Comprising the residents of Anbar, these forces were able to fend off al-Qaeda in the years following their inception in 2007. Moreover, the government has to adopt a political project to reconcile with the tribes that fought against the army as a result of the unjust practices of Nouri al-Maliki during the breaking up of the anti-government protests.
Syrian Refugees Pose A Growing Social Question In Turkey
By Ilnur Çevik
14 August 2014
Turkish officials are keeping a brave face, yet the problem is big and growing as the presence of 1.5 million Syrian refugees are becoming an explosive issue in Turkish society.
The official line is that Turkey, just like the people of Medina who embraced Prophet Muhammad and his followers who were forced to emigrate from Mecca in view of the hostile actions of the unbelievers, has embraced the Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country. The often-heard explanation from Turkish officials is the words of the prophet, "We cannot rest in peace when our neighbor is suffering."
On Tuesday news came out that a Syrian killed his landlord in the southeastern city of Gaziantep who was trying to evict him from his house. The incident sparked an angry outcry in the city, and on Tuesday night several locals attacked Syrians living in the city. Cars with Syrian license plates were attacked, and one car was set afire. Some Syrians were stabbed and were taken to hospital.
Several months ago when there were incidents in the Ankara neighborhood of Altindag we had warned that this was the tip of the iceberg and that the situation was gradually turning into a very serious menace ready to explode.
Of course the Syrians are welcome and no Turk will be able to rest in peace as long as there is such gross suffering in Syria or in Gaza or in Iraq. Turks are already preparing to set up refugee camps to host hundreds of Yezidis fleeing the Sunnis extremists in Iraq. But then the people should also respect the Turkish hospitality accorded to them and should not abuse their presence here.
We see that while many Syrians are showing respect and regard to Turkish sensitivities, there are some who are acting in a very hostile manner. They are clearly abusing the hospitality accorded to them, and there is growing social resentment that is creating some serious explosive situations like the incidents in Gaziantep.
There are tens of thousands of Syrian beggars in the streets. The Interior Ministry has already moved to put an end to this, but we see that they are facing an uphill struggle.
Syrians are spread all over the country, and there are no serious official records about them, which is an invitation to serious trouble in the future. All Syrians should be registered and carefully monitored. They are guests, and when their country returns to normal then they will go back to Syria, and they should know that their presence here is not permanent. What is sad is that it seems this will not happen any time soon. That too is complicating the situation as the longer the Syrian crisis continues the longer these people stay and the more explosive the situation becomes.
Beyond this there is an inclination among some Syrians to resort to criminal means and that too should be halted or else this will only fuel existing Turkish public resentment.
Syrians have to be given clear messages that even though their extended stay is welcome in view of the Turkish traditions to host neighbours in trouble and the teachings of our religion, this should not be abused. Turks are sensitive, tolerant and patient. But this should not be tested.