Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Civilian authority in rebel held areas in Syria

Some article about how rebel held areas are governed:

U.S. weapons reaching Syrian rebels: about Mark S. Ward, the State Department’s senior adviser on assistance to Syria, who coordinates nonlethal aid to rebels from southern Turkey. Ward’s team — working primarily out of hotel lobbies — has spent the past few months studying the demographics and dynamics of communities where extremists are making inroads. Targeted U.S. aid, he said, can be used to empower emerging local leaders who are moderate and to jump-start basic services while dimming the appeal of extremists.
See also The Delivery Man

How Syria's mould-breaking al-Nusra Front is winning hearts and minds. Guardian. 10 July 2013. About Al Nusra rule in Shadadi near Hassaka - a region rich in oil an grain.

Special Report: How Syria's Islamists govern with guile and guns Reuters, 20 June 2013

Aiding Opposition Civilian Authority in Syria; Small Wars Journal, 7 June 2013

Hassan Hassan, “All (Syrian) Politics Is Local,”, 20 December 2012

Karin Laub, “Syrian Rebels Struggle to Run Broke Town,” Associated Press, 17 December 2012.

Aleppo’s Winter of Discontent,” BBC News, 12 December 2012.

Ben Hubbard, “Syrian Rebels, Civilians Brace for Long Civil War,” Associated Press, 27 November 2012.

Kristin Chick, “In Rebel-Held Aleppo, Syrian Civilians Try to Impose Law Through Courts, Not Guns,” Christian Science Monitor, 3 November 2012.

Ilhan Tanir, “In the Land of the Free Syrian Army,” Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 October 2012

The Manbij Experiment: Rebels Make a Go of Governing in Liberated City; Spiegel, 2 October 2012.

Anand Gopal, “Welcome to Free Syria,” Harper’s Magazine, August 2012.

Erika Solomon, “Aleppo Residents Have Mixed Reactions  to  Syria Rebels,” Reuters, 31 July 2012.

Jane Ferguson, “Inside Homs with the Free Syrian Army,” Al Jazeera, 8 February 2012.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The demise of "moderate" rebels

Special Report: Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither tells the story of Ghurabaa al-Sham, a rebel group in Aleppo that was attacked by Islamist groups and reduced from 2000 to 100 fighters. The Islamists claim that Ghurabaa al-Sham - that controlled the industrial area - was pilfering and didn't want to talk.

I believe that the demise of moderate rebels in Syria is unavoidable. Most moderate rebel fighters who care about democracy and freedom will at some point come to the conclusion that it just isn't worth it. Too many people are dying and too many things are destroyed while at the same time the likelihood of a desirable outcome is only shrinking with the rise of Islamists. And so the idealists quit. That means that you keep two remaining kinds of people: those primarily motivated by hatred for Assad and opportunists motivated by greed or hunger for power.

That means that over time the moderate groups tend to loose their soul and risk to be taken over by opportunists. That makes those still fighting moving towards the Islamists. But like all idealists Islamist groups tend to be pure in the beginning but to get contaminated by greed and opportunism when the group acquires more money and power.

Why Rebels and Islamists Are Pitted Against Each Other in Aleppo Province’s Manbij tells the story of the criminal gang leader Abu Hashish near the town Manbij (about 80 km north east of Aleppo). He appeared affiliated to Ahrar al-Sham and Islamist groups refused to arrest him, so the FSA affiliated Golan battalion did it, what led to fights with Islamists that killed about 20 people.

Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra: Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala'a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. Looks like propaganda for more arms for the FSA.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A changing role for Syria's mukhabarat?

And the army is taking over???

President Assad's army is starting to call the shots in Syria: There are also some intriguing signs that the government army, so keen to appear as the foundation stone of the state – which it is – without the dark stain of fear left by the mukhabarat, is taking its own steps to push back the "terror" men. The military security forces, now that they have – for the first time – to deal directly with their own civilians, are giving orders over the heads of the intelligence agencies. In 2010, Assad himself took a decision to ban security agents from carrying weapons covertly – a highly contentious rule for the secret police – and the army has now followed on from this.

The army, for example, is today in command of security in battle. In the past, military intelligence men would give instructions to the army. But the Syrian army is now in charge. Field commanders – not cops – make decisions. There have been many cases, according to those involved with the military, where plain-clothes security agents witnessed brutalising civilians have been arrested and – incredibly – put before military courts. The generals and the colonels, in other words, are no longer prepared to play patsy to the regime's thugs.

Robert Fisk: The war has reached Damascus, but for now it is not a warzone: The mukhabarat, the torturers, beaters, threateners, killers of the regime, are to blame. It’s surprising how many within the steadily diminishing circle of government Damascus say this. Soldiers say the same. The mukhabarat are to blame, they started this wretched business by assaulting the teenagers who painted graffiti on the walls of Deraa, they went beserk, they thought they were kings. It’s said that Assad wanted to rid himself of these thugs – there are tens of thousands of them – and that quite a few soldiers in the still-loyal army want to destroy them. But whose side would the mukhabarat then join?

How Bill Clinton damages Obama

There is an informal rule that former presidents don't comment the acts of their successors.

And now we have here Bill Clinton. He is not only criticizing Obama's Syria policy. He is also suggesting that Obama's only reason for his policies are the opinion polls and suggesting that that makes him into a "complete fool".

His only excuse is that it happened in a closed meeting. But Clinton hasn't apologized and instead continued his statement in the full public eye. Never mind that Obama is a fellow democrat.

It certainly doesn't enhance the credibility of Clinton's wife as presidential candidate. And as for Obama, it doesn't enhance his credibility that he takes action because Clinton called him a "fool" and a "wuzz".

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zaatari refugee camp

FountainInk, an Indian magazine, has an interesting - very long - article (DESERT REFUGE) about Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Some excerpts: All she says is that sheikhs from Module 5 and Module 7 come and collect rent. Not paying or revealing identities will make her disappear, she says. Za’atari is not that different from the shadowy system Assad has in place in Syria. People disappear in the night, never to return again.
Abu Abdullah is part of the electricity mafia. He’s got a TV in his caravan, he’s got another caravan that is used for entertaining. He looks like a Don Corleone, one that the police and the UN appease. No one bothers him. To do that would be to sever ties with clans that are finally working with the officials in Za’atari. He is a part of the network that provides electricity to homes and shops along the Champs Elysees.
Almost all homes in Phase 1 have lights, as do all the stores. They operate a system entrenched in fear and retribution. Abu Abdullah rolls his eyes when I ask if he thinks his work is thieving.
“I feel no guilt. For too long I’ve been stolen from in Syria by Assad and his Alawites. This is payback and the international community will bear the burden. They could have acted to stop the bloodshed but they just hosted conferences. Israel is better than our Arab brothers, at least it attacked Bashar,” he spewed.
Mafia and FSA fighter are virtually indistinguishable. There exists an unspoken unholy alliance between the VIP refugees and the FSA fighters. A high-level FSA general, Colonel Idris resides in between two camps. He spends time at Za’atari. Should there be an issue, it is the Colonel that will beat out a resolution. Many FSA fighters are living a life of luxury they only dreamed of.
When she first arrived in Za’atari she was foolish and didn’t stand up for herself. The currency mafia took her for a ride. For almost all new arrivals the mafia devalued the price of the Syrian pound. They bought it cheap and sold it expensive. Suddenly her money was halved.
There are 60,000 children in the camp. Half of them are school-going age, yet only 3,000 are registered to attend. Many are fighting battles elders are involved in and are running into trouble with the police. Too often they cut the fences and act as guides for smugglers and runaways.
An aid worker with an NGO worked double shifts to keep the children off the streets. Football, music and other activities had kept the children busy. There was a brief period when Za’atari looked like a normal village. Two weeks later, she had to stop.
A man had accosted her on the street. He shouted at her and later threatened her. “Too happy,” is how he described the children.
He lashed out at her: didn’t she know a civil war was going on, he had asked. “Young dissatisfied youth” was what the man with the long beard has ordered.
Many children look like street children. Their skin has been dried by the bitter winter and then burnt under the summer sun. Some have jobs selling chai and cigarettes, others work as porters and move luggage on wheelbarrows.
According to the new UNHCR plan, the camp will be divided into 12 administrative units. Each unit will have a council. This will bring the camp under authoritative umbrella. There will be greater monitoring and accountability. It is after this reorganisation that businesses, mafia and smugglers will feel the heat of Za’atari.
Already, members of the FSA network have been giving officials working on this project some trouble. They don’t want the system changed. They don’t want their power checked. Za’atari is the largest pro-FSA base in the world. FSA flags are scattered over the camp: tied to tent poles and wedged in nooks and crannies of shops. People openly talk of their support, openly celebrate victories. There are tents with FSA graffiti. A UN-built toilet reads: “Bashar lives here.”

Another article about Zaatari is Chaos and Crime: The Trials of Running a Syrian Refugee Camp

The Syrian Crisis in Jordan (24 June 2013): discusses Zaatari camp and other refugees in Jordan.

The article of the National Post (Syrians grappling with persistant crime problem in refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing vicious civil war) has also a photo report with overviews from the air.

The BBC made a page where you can visually explore the camp (Zaatari refugee camp: The children living in limbo)

Le Figaro wrote on 22 october 2013 Le camp de Zaatari entre mafias et detresse.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Syria's Lebanese villages

Hezbollah's present involvement began when rebels started attacking the "Lebanese villages" in the region near Qusair. Here some links about that:

Hezbollah Defends Shiite Villages In Syria War

On the Frontline of the Battle for Syria’s Lebanese Villages

Having helped to conquer Qusair - and with that protecting the "Lebanese" villages - raises the question about what next. This article (For Hezbollah, What is Victory In Syria?) discusses that question. In one speech Nasrallah anounced as his goal to end rebel presence in three regions: the Damascus’ countryside, which is home to the Sayyida Zaynab shrine; the Homs’ countryside, which includes the city of Qusair and surrounding villages; and the Qalamoun area, which includes the Zabadani region from where Lebanese Shiite areas are now regularly shelled. That raises the question whether it will be easy to quit once Hezbollah has gotten involved.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Saudi's taking over control of rebels?

According to Foreign Policy (Syria Is Now Saudi Arabia's Problem) Saudi Arabia has - under pressure from the US - taken over from Qatar as the main force controlling Syria's rebels. They are believed to have pressured the last SNC conference to diminish the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and to increase the influence of Idriss.

Postscript July 2013: According to Al Monitor (West, Saudi Arabia Step Up Efforts to Arm Syrian Rebels) After three days in Istanbul last week, the National Coalition seems more like a coalition of Syrian tribes and north-east families. The tribe of al-Shimri, which is Jarba’s tribe, belongs to the area of Hasakah. Jarba’s deputy is Salem al-Maslat, a sheikh from the al-Jubur tribe in the al-Jazeera region of Syria. His other deputy is Mohammad Farouq Tayfour. He comes from a prominent Hama family and is a main Brotherhood figure. Suhair al-Atassi, despite her utter failure in her previous position and the harsh criticisms against her, was made a third vice president to the National Coalition’s president to strengthen the tribal and familial alliance and to show solidarity with besieged Homs. The new opposition leadership is a conglomeration of Syrian tribes and Saudi Arabia enjoys significant influence among them.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The myth of the nation state as a cause of war

It is an old myth that the nation-state is a major source of trouble. And in Europe the EU has been brought as a solution of that problem.

In fact the nation state is a logical consequence of modernization. In modern society in most jobs language proficiency is needed and as a consequence people pay a major price when they will in a country where the national language is not their mother tongue. Another facet of modern life is that most people are employed by some organization. This makes them vulnerable to discrimination. Most nation states follow indeed linguistic borders and where that is not the case there is often a history of discrimination.

In fact the trouble caused by the rise of the nation state is mainly friction trouble. Every change causes winners and losers and the transition towards a nation state is no exception. When you have border changes there is always one party losing something. And when you have new borders there are always some people who suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of those borders.

As Europe has mostly been through this phase of transition its nation states are no longer a source of trouble but rather a source of stability. Sure, there are still some trouble points - mainly in the East - but we have established sound procedures to handle them (for example with the Helsinki Accords). When problems do arise - see Yugoslavia - it is because we blatantly ignore those rules.

This brings me to the EU. One can have different ideas about its viability as nowhere else in the world one can find a similar super state. But one thing is sure: the road towards European unity is change and change causes friction and possibly war.

Initially the EU was mainly a cooperation between nation states that allowed these nation states to function better in world where some of their markets were too small to allow sound competition. But in the last decades the EU has become a power in itself that actively tries to dismantle the nation states. And since then it has become increasingly a source of trouble.