On Friday, McClatchy Newspapers offered an analysis of the amazing contortions to be observed of late in U.S. Mideast policy.[1]  --  COMMENT:  Hannah Allam did a bit better than Jim Michaels of USA Today, for whom ISIS is simply "al-Qaeda."  --  Her sense of logic collapsed, though, when she called ISIS "'bad' al Qaeda" even as she asserted that ISIS is "no longer an al Qaida affiliate."  --  Consistency, though, is the hobgoblin of little minds.  --  Allam pretended she was unaware of the inappropriateness of the metaphor of a Brookings expert she quotes as well:  he says that al-Nusra, the half-good, half-bad al-Qaeda, has "consistently played its cards right in Syria," but gambling is haram in Islam.  --  BACKGROUND:  As in a similar piece in Friday's New York Times, the 800-pound gorilla in this room is Saudi Arabia, which is directing and probably dictating the policy shift being described but goes unmentioned.  --  This is a textbook case of mainstream media twisting analysis to help manufacture consent for imperial policy-making.  --  In the U.S., Saudi influence is studiously downplayed or ignored but in analyses published elsewhere it's taken as a given, as, for example, in Ameen Izzadeen's analysis published Friday in the Daily Mirror, the largest-selling independent English daily in Sri Lanka.[2] ...

World wires


By Hannah Allam

McClatchy Newspapers
January 10, 2014


WASHINGTON -- Only on the complex and bloody battlefields of Syria could there emerge a schism that would seem absurd elsewhere:  “good” al Qaida vs. “bad” al Qaida.

That concept is becoming increasingly accepted as Syrian fighters intensify their campaign to reclaim the mantle of the rebel cause from extremists who’d become as formidable an enemy as President Bashar Assad, the autocrat they’ve failed to topple after nearly three years of war.

Analysts who monitor the Syrian insurgency caution that the rebel forces fighting or taking territory from the feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, are themselves no champions of a Western-style democratic plan for Syria.  The fighters run the spectrum from avowed al Qaida loyalists to ultraconservatives who want no cooperation with the West to two new groupings of more mainstream rebels who complain that the Obama administration has abandoned their struggle.

As a result, the analysts say, a development that from afar might appear to be encouraging -- rebels uniting to isolate the most ruthless faction -- in fact comes with a host of caveats and new concerns, not least that ISIS will return with a vengeance.

And it doesn’t resolve the fact that the United States still lacks a proven rebel partner in the conflict, a major snag to U.S. plans to build a strong opposition delegation to sit across from regime representatives at a long-anticipated peace summit that’s scheduled to begin in just two weeks.

“Yes, we’re closer to having a leadership of the opposition that can actually presume to call the shots in rebel Syria.  But it’s not one we’re going to like very much,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the blog Syria Comment.

In several instances, according to reports, ISIS is simply handing over posts to its sometimes ally, the Nusra Front, a U.S.-designated al Qaida affiliate that enjoys good relations with a cross-section of rebel brigades and which has assumed a mediator role in the current violence.  The brutalities of ISIS make the Nusra Front, itself no stranger to beheadings and kidnappings, look downright moderate by comparison.

While Nusra Front fighters occasionally have joined in the battle against ISIS on a localized basis, Syria observers say, as an organization its stance seems intentionally ambiguous.  The real charge against ISIS comes from two factions that were formed of the remnants of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, and from the new ultraconservative powerhouse, the Islamic Front.

More than 250 people died in the fighting of recent days and ISIS has either surrendered or been routed from dozens of its positions, according to news and witness reports.

The balancing act for Nusra is that it wants to preserve its good relations with the other, more moderate fighting groups, but can’t be seen as selling out its ideological twin ISIS -- even though ISIS technically is no longer an al Qaida affiliate after openly defying the orders of the terrorist network’s commander, Ayman al Zawahiri, to stop its incursion into Syria.

“Nusra has consistently played its cards right in Syria -- it’s been remarkably smart in managing its public relations,” said Charles Lister, who focuses on the Syrian civil war as a visiting fellow at the Doha Center of the Brookings Institution.  “It has maintained healthy relations with rebel groups of all ideological kinds, and its military might and demonstrated capacity to positively influence battles has made it a highly influential group.”

The relationship to watch, analysts say, is how the Nusra Front interacts in the future with the Islamic Front.  Both groups emphasize that their problems with ISIS aren’t ideological, but because of their rival’s imperious attitude and refusal to enter into power-sharing agreements.  Their hope is that ISIS foot soldiers will drift away to either Nusra or the Islamic Front, preventing an intra-jihadist showdown in what’s already a free-for-all.

Rebel supporters, Landis said, are now “on a charm offensive to portray Nusra as the ‘good al Qaida,’” an organization that’s only focused on the Syrian arena, is playing nicely with rival factions, and which doesn’t have ambitions to attack the United States or its allies.

Nusra and the Islamic Front have something else in common:  an open channel to al Qaida leader Zawahiri.  As the Long War Journal reported last month, a senior al Qaida operative, known by the alias Abu Khalid al Suri, is a leading figure in the Islamic Front and is close to the bloc’s leader, Hassan Abboud.

A publication devoted to conflict, the Long War Journal, citing intelligence sources, described al Suri as an al Qaida courier whom Spanish authorities suspect delivered “surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks to al Qaida leadership in Afghanistan in early 1998.”

“Even if one were to decide that the Islamic Front is moderate, ideologically, they still don’t like the West and don’t want Western assistance,” said Aymenn al Tamimi, who analyzes radical Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq for the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

Tamimi added that the relatively moderate rebels who want a more democratic future for Syria are worried that their uneasy, fluid cooperation with the Islamists will sour once ISIS is out of the picture or absorbed into the other factions.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is making overtures to Abboud and his fighters.  The White House acknowledged Friday that it’s even considering restarting aid shipments to the rebel movement, of which the Islamic Front is taking charge.  Shipments were suspended last month when the U.S.-backed moderate rebel command saw its headquarters and warehouses pillaged by Islamist forces.

“Abboud is clearly keeping an open channel to Zawahiri, and maybe getting funding, but America has no choice here,” Landis said.  “America is reaching out to him and saying, ‘Don’t write us off, let’s talk, you don’t really want to be with al Qaida.’”



By Ameen Izzadeen

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
January 10, 2014


The war in Syria is exploding in Iraq.  The most dreaded al-Qaeda offshoot group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a.k.a. Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), in a surprise move captured two key cities in Iraq’s largest province, Anbar, last week.  The Shiite-dominated Nouri al-Maliki government, which is accused of being on a witch-hunt against the country’s Sunni minority, is fighting hard to take back the two cities -- Fallujah and Ramadi -- even as the United States rushes sophisticated weapons such as Hellfire missiles and drones.

In an address to the nation, Maliki on Wednesday vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda/ISIS fighters and predicted victory as his army prepared to launch a major assault on Fallujah.  He urged al-Qaeda/ISIS members and supporters to surrender, promising clemency.  His appeal came after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden advised him to work with local Sunni tribal leaders -- a formula that had worked for the U.S. during its fight against al-Qaeda from 2003 to 2006.

According to reports, the Sunni Iraqis in Anbar are divided with some supporting ISIS and others backing the “Awakening” movement comprising local tribal chiefs.  Despite this division, the Sunnis are by and large united in their opposition to the Maliki government which they accuse of favoring the Shiites.

Whether the Maliki government’s battle for Sunni-dominated Ramadi and Fallujah, cities which offered the stiffest resistance to U.S. occupation, will succeed or not, the developing scenario indicates that West Asia is like a circuit with many switches for flashpoints but no trips.  The Syrian switch has caused explosions in Lebanon, Turkey, and now Iraq.  The new clashes in Iraq and the ISIS derring-do have taken the Western powers by surprise and they now see the truth in the warnings that if they militarily intervene to bring about a regime change in Syria as they did in Libya, they would only be triggering a region-wide war.

West Asia is a one big battlefield with too many hidden hands and agendas.  In this imbroglio, all world powers and regional powers have stakes which sometimes lead to cooperation between them and at other times to conflicts.  But who is cooperating or clashing with whom is what makes West Asia one of the most-intrigue-ridden places on earth.  Once the land of peacemakers, West Asia is a violent hell hole today, with many stakeholders pushing their economic, religious, sectarian, and power-politics agendas.  Being victimized in these selfish power games are millions of innocent civilians.  One after another and wave after wave, mass-scale violence visits them.  Take for instance, Fallujah.  Even before they could settle down after years of violence associated with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, they see they are caught up in yet another war -- this time between al-Qaeda and Iraqi troops.  The United Nations rang alarm bells yesterday over a looming humanitarian crisis in the Anbar province.  Describing the humanitarian situation in Anbar as critical, the U.N. said in a statement, “The situation in Fallujah is particularly concerning, as existing stocks of food, water, and life-saving medicines begin to run out.”

But the adage ‘violence begets violence’ holds true in West Asia where non-violent resistance has only aided the oppressor, as [is] evident in the policies or pacifism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  Resistance has become a way of life in the region which has been in the grip of colonial and neocolonial forces for the past two centuries.

Thus the people of Fallujah were at the forefront of the resistance movement to free their country when the U.S. was occupying Iraq.  The U.S., by its heavy use of depleted uranium, could only silence them but could not defeat their resolve to resist.

War crimes apart, the U.S. move to win the war in Fallujah at any cost generated public support for hardline Islamists who later regrouped as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.  When the U.S. found the going was tough, it bribed Sunni tribal leaders lavishly and got them on board.  Al-Zarqawi was killed, but the movement he led lives on.  Now led by the elusive Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the movement has expanded to cover not only Iraq’s Sunni regions but also whole of Syria.

Al-Baghdadi’s rise in the jihadi circles is phenomenal.  One of his many talked-about attacks was the daring jailbreak at Abu Ghraib in July last year.  Tens of thousands have been killed in bomb attacks attributed to his group, ISIS.  The victims are largely Shiites, Iraq’s majority community which for the first time in Iraq’s modern history, has been put in the seats of power, courtesy the U.S.-introduced democracy.

When the Syrian crisis reached a stalemate, al-Baghdadi sent a small band of foot jihadists to Syria.  Their success won them many recruits.  Within months, much of northern and eastern Syria came under al-Baghdadi’s ISIS control.  The group also controls several cities and towns close to Syria’s border with Turkey.  Al-Baghdadi, it is said, leads a 10,000 strong rebel force in Syria alone.  Its members include foreign jihadists.  However, latest reports say ISIS is losing ground in Syria to rival al-Qaeda groups such as Jabhat-un Nusra, Liwa al-Islam, and the Islamic Front.

ISIS’s early success in Syria where the group has set up mini Islamic emirates with women being given a dress code and co-education banned and government supporters and members of the Alawite minority group beheaded in public has prompted the group to re-launch a war against Iraq.  Probably its goal is to carve out an Islamic state in Iraq’s Sunni region and set off the balkanization process.

Strangely, in the move to balkanize Iraq, the policies of Saudi Arabia and Israel see a point of convergence.  Zionist extremists believe that, by balkanizing Arab States, they could weaken the Arabs’ resolve to resist the expansion of Israel or the creation of Eretz Israel -- Greater Israel stretching from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in Iraq.  The Saudis, on the other hand, believe that breaking up Iraq into three -- a Sunni state, a Kurdish state and a Shiite state -- could weaken the Iran-led Shiite power bloc which also includes the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia, like the United States, had been an ardent supporter of Iraq until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.  Riyadh sent money and weapons to Iraq during Iraq’s nine-year war with Shiite Iran to protect Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime and prevent the spread of Iran’s Islamic revolution.  When George Bush Senior defeated Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War in 1991, it was largely Saudi pressure which prevented U.S. troops from marching to Baghdad and toppling his regime, for Riyadh did not want a Shiite regime coming to power in Iraq through a U.S.-imposed democracy process.

Twelve years later, when George Bush Junior decided to invade Iraq, Saudi Arabia resisted the move for the same reason.  But for oil-thirsty Bush, Saudi concerns about the possibility of an Iran-friendly Shiite government coming into power in Baghdad were secondary.  Since then, the two allies' Iraq policies have diverged -- with Washington striking working arrangements with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad despite its pro-Iran inclination, while Riyadh has embarked on a path of destabilizing Iraq.

Given the policy differences, it is no surprise that Washington supports the Maliki government’s fight against the jihadists, while Riyadh supports those groups whom U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week described as “the most dangerous players in the region.”

Some West Asian analysts and U.S. intelligence believe that ISIS gets its arms and money from Saudi sources.  Many Iraqis and Syrians join jihadi groups not for the cause they believe in but for the salaries they are paid.  The richer the jihadi group, the bigger the army of rebels it commands.  Foreign money plays a big role.

In leaked diplomatic cables, going back to 2009, Christopher Hills, the then U.S. ambassador to Iraq, claimed that Saudi Arabia was financing and arming al-Qaeda extremists in Iraq and inciting sectarian violence.  “Intelligence sources reported that Saudi Arabia is based in the effort to destabilize the [Iraqi] government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,” his cable read.

According to WikiLeaks, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in 2010, sent a note to U.S. embassies stating “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, al Nusra and other terrorist groups . . . worldwide.”

It is alleged that some of the weapons the Saudis buy from the United States are diverted to jihadists, probably including ISIS.  Thus some analysts quip that Washington is arming both sides in the latest Iraqi clash in the Anbar province.  Irrespective of who is supporting whom in the wars in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. weapons industry makes huge profits.

However, the U.S., which sees ISIS as the most dangerous player in the region, does not see it as evil when it fights Assad’s forces in Syria.  Some analysts say Washington is shuffling the board now and wants to isolate ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  They say it deliberately paints ISIS black so that it can whitewash the other al-Qaeda groups that fight ISIS in Syria.  This will help Washington to project these groups as lesser evils -- or good terrorists -- and arm and fund them, in spite of their al-Qaeda credentials.  So much for big powers’ principled politics!