To answer my headline simply: no, Ahrar a-Sham’s leadership is not what anybody in the West means by “moderate” Syrian rebels that could be supported.
The question is provoked by an op-ed in The Washington Post last night signed by Labib al-Nahhas, Ahrar’s foreign political relations officer, the culmination of a public-relations campaign by Ahrar to rebrand itself as the mainstream alternative to the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Assad tyranny we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading →
Last night the United States launched a commando raid into al-Amr in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. According to the White House statement, Abu Sayyaf (real name: Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi), a senior Islamic State (ISIS) commander “overseeing … illicit oil and gas operations,” was killed, and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was taken into American custody and is being held in Iraq. The Sayyaf couple had been holding a young Yazidi woman as a slave and she has now been freed.
Unfortunately, this American raid is a tactical success amid a strategic failure—and a tactical success likely to be used to obscure the strategic failure of the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign. Even in the narrowest humanitarian terms: if the freedom of this one Yazidi girl is used to perpetuate a policy that leaves many more Yazidi girls in bondage then it is a failure. Continue reading →
President Obama invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to a meeting at Camp David on Thursday to clear the air as the President looks to finalize his nuclear deal with Iran. But on Sunday, Saudi King Salman said he was not attending, and soon after the Bahraini monarch followed. The only Gulf leaders in attendance will be the Emirs of Qatar and Kuwait. Since leaders do not just have other things to do when they are scheduled for a private meeting with the President of the United States, this can be taken as a pointed snub to President Obama, and no amount of administration spin about Salman’s absence having nothing to do with political substance will change that. Continue reading →
The key thing to understand about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord announced on April 2 between the P5+1 and Iran, is that it does not exist. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at one point, “We envisage being able to deliver a narrative,” adding that this might not be written and—these being forgiving times—Iran’s narrative need not match the West’s. In other words, nothing was signed or agreed to. This is the reason for the wild discrepancies between the American and Iranian JCPOA “factsheets”: both are drawing from a rolling text that is ostensibly to lead to a “final” or “comprehensive” deal and spinning it to their own respective advantage. The administration has as much as said so with its mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
In The Independent of April 10, Daniel Wickham wrote in opposition to the campaign of airstrikes, led by Saudi Arabia, against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, which has overthrown the government in that country and is now marching on the port city of Aden where the remnants of the fallen regime reside. Wickham notes that the Houthis have behaved abominably since they took the capital, Sanaa, including the “use of torture and extreme violence to suppress dissent,” still “two wrongs do not make a right” and the Saudi-led Operation DECISIVE STORM is “very clearly wrong.” I think this is mistaken. Continue reading →
By the time the Iraqi government forces and Hashd al-Shabi (a.k.a. the Popular Mobilization Units, PMUs), the Shi’ite militias that are largely Iran proxies, broke the siege on August 31, with the help of airstrikes from the American-led Coalition, “at least 15 civilians in Amerli, including newborn infants, had died from lack of food, water or medical treatment, and more than 250 children were suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration,” HRW reports. On Sept. 1, the militias and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) entered Amerli. Continue reading →
When the next—and supposedly final—round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program end next month, there are three possible outcomes:
The “interim” deal, the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), will be rolled over for another six months after it was rolled over in July, and will, like so much else in the Middle East billed as temporary, begin to look permanent.
A final deal is signed that is an Iranian victory in all-but name, putting them on the threshold of a nuclear weapon with only the regime’s goodwill stopping them crossing the finishing line to a bomb.
Iran’s dictator, Ali Khamenei, refuses President Obama both of the above fig leaves and breaks off negotiations.
After three-and-a-half years of resistance, the United States finally intervened in Syria on September 23 with airstrikes against the Islamic State (I.S.). The I.S. had begun an attack on the Kurdish-controlled enclave in northern Aleppo along the Turkish border on September 15/16. By October 5, the Kurdish forces had been driven back into the Kurdish-majority town of Kobani (a.k.a. Ayn al-Arab), and I.S. had them surrounded. The desperate scenes of Syrian Kurds fleeing over the Turkish border in the face of the takfiris’ recalls the Iraqi Kurds making a run for the hills after the March 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein was crushed. Then as now the Kurds believed they had stronger American backing than turned out to be the case. Continue reading →