Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The case against drones

Anatomy of an Air Attack Gone Wrong. This article how in the past the Yemen president has taken responsibility for US attacks that killed civilians. A nice way to keep the collateral damage figures low...

Drones are fool's gold: they prolong wars we can't win.

Dronestagram – the website exposing the US's secret drone war

Drones in our time: An article that focuses on the more theoretical questions. It has some useful links too.

'Signature Strikes' and the President's Empty Rhetoric on Drones

The Taliban of Timbuktu

From the NY Times: The Taliban of Timbuktu.

The article describes the Taliban-style reign of the Islamists in North Mali.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Split starting between FSA and Al Nusra?

Guardian has an article (Syria crisis: al-Qaida fighters revealing their true colours, rebels say) in which it writes that there is increasing tension between Al Nusra and the FSA. Some quotes:

Over the past six weeks a once co-operative arrangement between Aleppo's regular Free Syrian Army units and al-Nusra has become one of barely disguised distrust.

A week of interviews with rebel groups in north Syria has revealed a schism developing between the jihadists and residents, which some rebel leaders predict will eventually spark a confrontation between the jihadists and the conservative communities that agreed to host them.

Some already talk of an Iraq-style "awakening" – a time in late-2006 as when communities in the Sunni heartland cities of Fallujah and Ramadi turned on al-Qaida groups in their midst that had tried to impose sharia law and enforce their will through the gun barrel.

"We'll fight them on day two after Assad falls," a commander said. "Until then we will no longer work with them." In recent weeks Liwa al-Tawhid and other militias who form part of the Free Syrian Army have started their own operations, without inviting al-Nusra along.
"They see stealing things that used to belong to the government, like copper factories, or any factory, as no problem," said the rebel commander. "They are selling it to the Turks and using the money for themselves. This is wrong. This is money for the people." On Monday al-Nusra units went to a state-owned water factory on the Euphrates river. They invited regular rebel units to go with them as they picked through parts inside the factory for selling to whoever wanted them. One unit did join the jihadists. Others refused.
Another rebel approached, this time to complain that young girls in his village had been pledged as brides to anyone who joined al-Nusra. "This is part of the employment benefits," he said. For now, community leaders seem to be able to say no to al-Nusra suitors who come calling, but fear these rights might be whittled away if the group consolidates its influence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Breeding terrorists

Both Debka-news and Assad claim that Washington and Moscow may be encouraging the rush to Syria of al Qaeda and other radical Islamist fighters so as to put them in harm’s way on the Syrian battlefield instead of their staying home to make trouble in Asian, European and other Middle East countries.

That seems to me a very bad strategy. Al Qaeda thrives on fights that are popular and seem justified. Sure, some of its fighters may be killed, but the fighting enhances the battle skills of the rest and brings in new recruits. There are already reports that Al Nusra is asking recruits to be sign that they are prepared to fight for it anywhere in the world. And don't discount all those youngsters in Libya and Syria, who after a period of fighting can't fit in in civil society again. In the past they might have opted for the French Foreign Legion. Now they are more likely to choose Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates.

To me the best strategy to get rid of Al Qaeda is to have them stay in Waziristan playing ping-pong. They will get bored and sooner or later most will go back home.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The four business gangs that rule the US

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article based on the book "The Price of Civilisation" by Jeffrey Sachs: The four business gangs that rule the US. It lists the four main business complexes that rule the US:
- the military industrial complex
- the Wall Street-Washington complex
- the Big Oil-transport-military complex
- the health care industry

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Religious warfare haunts Syria's villages

The Telegraph reports (Religious warfare haunts Syria's villages: despatch about Beit Swelheh in Latakia province. This village used to be mixed Sunni-Alawite, but now the village is destroyed and all Alawites have left. According to the Sunnites still living there relations started to deteriorate when they took part in the protests against Assad; security was increased with roadblocks, house searches, arrests, etc. First the Sunnites left and then they came back with rebels to conquer the village and drive out the Alawites: "We had no choice," [a Sunni] said. "By this stage it was either defend our homes or be arrested."

Similar things happened in neighboring villages.

The article looks one-sided: Alawite input is missing. I quote it because it is the first report from this region. The questions it raises for me are:
- that increased "security" had very likely to do with increased rebel activity. Not a word about that in the article.
- all Sunni's leaving because of increased security sounds a bit brass to me. It may be that they were asked to leave by the rebels in preparation for an attack.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Assad's speech

Many newspapers report about Assad's speech in the Opera House. But I have yet to find the first that links to it so that people can read it for themselves. Here you can find the full text

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Downed Turkish plane flying for intelligence

According to the Angry Arab blog (Turkish plane over Syria was the Turkish military plane that was shot down by Syria flying for a Turkish intelligence service.

Arabs not helping Syria

The UN has complained that it receives much too little money for humanitarian help for Syrians : Out of the USD 348 million that were requested as minimum for humanitarian response, we received only "USD 151 million, which is not sufficient to deal with the situation," Radhouane Nouicer, UN Regional humanitarian coordinator in Syria, told a press conference in Brussels. Very likely there is a lot of money going bilaterally, but the UN has received very little.

This stinginess was also visible in the Sakr tapes about how the uprising is financed from Turkish and Lebanese territory: On several occasions, the Lebanese MP refused to give out financial support to the wounded or civilian refugees, saying “there are humanitarian organizations they can go to,” according to the source.

Similar stinginess has been experienced by the Palestinians. The Arab League had promised to fund the money that the Palestine Authority misses because of Israeli sanctions for its UN resolution. They keep postponing...

Unfortunately the West is just rather stingy too.

U.N. Calls Lag in Syria Aid Worst Funding Crisis in Recent Memory

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Qatar's role in Syria

6 June 2013: Syria Is Now Saudi Arabia's Problem: Riyadh has now taken over Qatar's role as the rebels' primary patron: In one sense, the Saudis can also claim a victory in Qusayr, as they have successfully put various rebel forces under the command of their ally in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Chief of Staff Gen. Salim Idriss.

17 May 2013: How Qatar seized control of the Syrian revolution: In the shell-blasted areas of rebel-held Syria, few appear to be aware of the vast sums that Qatar has contributed – estimated by rebel and diplomatic sources to be about $1bn, but put by people close to the Qatar government at as much as $3bn.

14 April 2013: Indentured Servitude in the Persian Gulf. Despite its title this article exclusively deals with Qatar, where foreign workers are not free to change employer and often face unilateral sinking of their promised wages.

12 April 2013: Muslim Brotherhood Paves Way for Qatar’s Ascent: In the years prior to the Arab uprising, Qatar adhered to a pragmatic diplomacy, building strong relationships with sworn enemies like the US and Iran or Hamas and Israel. In a sense, Doha preceded Turkey in successfully implementing a “zero problems” foreign policy. [..] The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood from a number of Arab countries in Qatar dates back to the 1950s, when many of its members were forced into exile, in particular from Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s Egypt. In 1999, the Qatari branch of the Muslim Brotherhood dissolved itself, with it leader Jassem Sultan declaring in 2003 that the state was adequately fulfilling its religious obligations.

12 October 2012: Qatar is asking Libya to pay it for the support it gave to its insurgents.

Qatar keeps thinking of money. In July 2011, just before the uprising started to escalate one of its royals sold his shares in a Syrian bank: Emails from the “Syria Files” released by WikiLeaks and obtained by Al-Akhbar show that a Qatari royal and founder of the Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB), Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah al-Thani, began to rapidly sell off Syrian International Islamic Bank (SIIB) shares in the final weeks of July 2011

The Hariri-Sadr recordings on how the Syrian uprising is coordinated

Akhbar Magazine has a series about leaked recordings showing the involvement of Lebanese politician Sakr in the coordination of the Syrian uprising. A look in the cockpit of the Syrian uprising. The leaker worked with Sakr. His motive for the leak was that Sakr seemed only motivated by hatred for Assad but not to care about Syrian people and as a consequence ordered operations with dubious military benefit that harmed the population. He believes the revolution would already have succeeded if it hadn't been for these dysfunctional orders.

Some quotes:
...the source had been working with Sakr for more than a year as part of an operations room established to support the Syrian uprising.

According to the source, there are several operations centers: one in Antakya, one in Adana, and one in Istanbul. He mentioned that Sakr had his own building in the Floriya neighborhood in Istanbul where meetings are held from time to time

He also said that around 20 young men from various Syrian regions are charged with running military operations from the rooms. They coordinate with commanders of armed opposition groups to provide needed funding and hardware, and then they direct fighters toward areas under attack or siege, all under the supervision of Turkish and Qatari intelligence officers.

According to the source, all of this was coordinated through satellite communications devices, especially Thuraya and Iridium satellite phones. He added that the men regularly visit Syria to distribute money to opposition leaders.

leaders from the armed Syrian opposition meet periodically there with Sakr, as well as with representatives from Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

The representatives, according to the source, often provide input and sometimes even instructions and general guidance. For example, a representative could weigh in on the need to deliver the appropriate type of ammunition to a certain location, especially since many mistakes have been made in this regard.

The source then revealed the presence of operations rooms in Lebanon as well, which he said were “actively involved in the Syrian revolution” and are directly linked to Turkey. He added that six Syrians, in addition to a number of Lebanese, run one such room in north Lebanon.

Syrian leaders who come to Lebanon, the source said, are usually received at a villa in the Mount Lebanon area of Faqra. On one of his visits to Lebanon, along with other young men, the source stayed at the villa in question. They all received cash payments,

[...]Sakr was giving Abu Ibrahim, the commander the Northern Storm Brigade, monthly installments of $50,000.

Postscript: Sakr later fled to Europe because he was threatened. But according to some he stayed involved (see here).