Tag Archives: Bashar al-Assad

Al Qaeda Opens Syrian Jihad School

Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra opens school for jihad in southern Syria, for children aged 10 to 15.

 

Syrian jihad school

Syrian jihad school
Screenshot

Jabhat Al Nusra, an Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, maintains an infrastructure of governance as one of the central opposition forces. Aside from managing religious courts based on Islamic sharia law, the group has opened new schooling programs emphasizing Islam and jihad.

In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, a school established by the organization teaches roughly 30 students ranging in age from 10 to 15 to believe in Allah, follow Islam, and aspire to jihad holy war.

Video footage from the school shows students learning by rote passages from the Koran, reading “our path is the path of jihad.”

The use of child soldiers by rebel forces, including the more “moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA), has been documented, and shows how the lessons learned in the school may quickly be turned into action.

On the walls of the classroom hang posters featuring verses from the Koran, including one praising jihadist “martyrs,” explaining that they aren’t “dead” but rather “living” with Allah.

One of the teachers explains that the students learn how to use weapons and are prepared to become jihadists. Video can be seen here:

The Islamist nature of the Syrian opposition forces has been a point of contention, with Russia recently claiming the West understands Syrian President Bashar Assad is “better” than the rebels.

The Russian comment came after Islamic Front battalions, which call for an Islamic state, took over warehouses held by the more secular FSA in early December, leading the US and Britain to suspend military funding to rebel factions.

Geneva II peace talks, aiming to end the 3 year conflict that has claimed over 100,000 lives and created over 2 million refugees, are set for January 22.

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Syria: The Assad Equation

 

Hussein Ibish

An alarming precedent in international relations is being established in Syria by rewarding gassing civilians

Bashar al-Assad speaks to Turkish media in an interview later uploaded to YouTube by the Syrian president.

The worst fears of those who doubted the wisdom and effectiveness of the agreement between the international community and the Assad regime to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and capability are rapidly being realized. Today’s “deadline” to ship the most serious material out of the country produced no movement. And a new precedent in international relations with potentially far-reaching and alarming consequences – call it “the Assad equation” – is unmistakably unfolding.

Whatever signals the West intended to send through the agreement, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has clearly taken it as an implicit green light to use all other weapons with increasing intensity in his onslaught against both rebels and Syria’s defenseless civilian population.

The way the regime is “implementing” the agreement demonstrates they see it primarily as a useful distraction for the international community from the vicious war it is conducting against the Syrian people. The regime probably doesn’t care that much about chemical weapons. But, as they are making abundantly clear, when they can avoid compliance, they will.

Reports suggest that today’s “deadline” for shipping most of its chemical weapons stockpile out of the country is being systematically procrastinated. Indeed, according to reports by those involved in the process on the UN and international side, the weapons have not even begun to be moved.

Anyone who finds it convenient can cite logistics, winter weather, and, of course, the ongoing conflict for such “delays.” All of these complications were fully understood and, presumably, factored into the equation when the December 31 deadline was agreed upon. But the process required to ensure that Syria retains no chemical weapons in the timeframe the agreement sets forth was always implausible at best and, at worst, practically impossible to either accomplish or verify.

The plan to transport Syria’s declared 1,200 tons of chemical weapons material requires its transfer from 12 different sites around the country by road to the northwestern port of Latakia. This means, in effect, that the agreement both relies on and therefore implicitly endorses military measures the regime can claim are necessary to secure the areas required for this macabre long-haul convoy.

The agreement not only makes Assad a partner with the international community in the project of getting rid of his own chemical weapons following their use against civilians, but it can also be cited to justify regime offensives in order to ensure their control of all the necessary areas and roads for this transfer.

International authorities say the regime now has “virtually all” of the necessary “logistical and security assets” in order to bring these weapons to Latakia. But to cite this as a positive development can also only mean de facto endorsement of regime control over key areas and transportation corridors of the country.

Assad, therefore, appears to have discovered or pioneered a new principle of international relations: lost legitimacy can be restored, and a consensus in favor of regime change can be profoundly compromised by dumping poison gas on civilians, including hundreds of children.
This, then, is “the Assad equation,” and dictators around the world must surely be taking note of the increasingly obvious and substantial benefits to the regime of having committed a heinous war crime.

Worse still, there is no sign that the international community’s patience is being particularly tested by how the agreement is playing out. The regime is predictably dragging the process on as long as possible, which they will certainly continue to do, citing any number of plausible-seeming technical and security problems.

Worst of all, and although the West and the United States could not have intended this, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Assad dictatorship regards the chemical weapons-focused process as, in practice, providing cover for an intensification of massive attacks, including of unarmed civilians, by even the fiercest “conventional” weapons.

The ongoing barrel bombing onslaught in Aleppo in which at least 500 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in recent days exemplify this dynamic. International eyebrows are hardly raised by such butchery anymore.

Indeed, the main development in the Western policy conversation since the agreement – the increasing use of heavy weapons against Syrian civilians notwithstanding – has been the emergence of establishment constituencies that openly endorse the survival of the regime as “the least bad option” for the West in Syria.

Today’s will hardly be the last missed deadline or breach of the agreement. An endless string of them may be readily anticipated. Meanwhile, Syria will continue to be immolated as the rest of the world shrugs or, in the case of Russia and Iran, applauds.

As things stand, the “Assad equation” is emerging as a chilling but unmistakable new principle of international relations. And there seems little interest in Washington or other Western capitals in correcting this perilous precedent.

Syria: War reshaping the Mideast map

 

In the early 20th century, Syria was part of a region redrawn by outside forces. Today the 3-year-old uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is generating the outlines of zones of control that could result in the partitioning of the country.

In the early 20th century, Syria was part of a region redrawn by outside forces. Today the 3-year-old uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is generating the outlines of zones of control that could result in the partitioning of the country.

By Liz Sly

AL-QASR, Lebanon — That half of his farm lies in Syria and half in Lebanon is a source of mystery and inconvenience for Mohammed al-Jamal, whose family owned the property long before Europeans turned up and drew the lines that created the borders of the modern Middle East.

Jamal has mostly ignored the invisible frontier that runs a few yards from his house — and so did the Syrian civil war when it erupted nearby. Relatives were kidnapped, neighbors volunteered to fight and shells came crashing in, killing some of his cows, injuring three workers and underlining just how meaningless the border is.

“I blame Sykes-Picot for all of it,” said Jamal, referring to the secret 1916 accord between Britain and France to divide up the remnants of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. The result was the creation of nation-states where none had existed before, cutting across family and community ties and laying the foundations for much of the instability that plagues the region to this day.

Less than a century after they were drawn, the durability of those borders — and the nations they formed — is being tested as never before. The war in Syria is spilling into Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, sucking in places that for centuries belonged to a single entity and people whose history, faith and livelihoods transcend the nations in which they were born.

Sunnis from across the region are pouring into Syria to fight alongside the rebels, many in pursuit of extremist ideals aimed at restoring Sunni dominion. Shiites from the same countries are flocking to defend President Bashar al-Assad’s Shiite-affiliated regime, compounding the sectarian dimension of a war that no longer is just about Syria.

Civilians are fleeing in the opposite direction, 2.3 million of them to date, transforming communities lying outside Syria in ways that may be irreversible.

“From Iran to Lebanon, there are no borders anymore,” said Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s minority Druze community. “Officially, they are still there, but will they be a few years from now? If there is more dislocation, the whole of the Middle East will crumble.”

Nobody seriously expects existing borders to be formally redrawn as a result of the ongoing upheaval. But as world powers prepare to gather in Switzerland next month for talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, this is a moment every bit as profound as the one that followed World War I when the region’s nations were born, said Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics.

Already the chaos of Syria’s civil war has muddled the map, creating new frontiers that more closely coincide with the communities they contain. Four flags now fly over the territory known as Syria, representing the competing visions of sect, identity and allegiance that the war has exposed — and the pieces into which it might break.

The outcome could be further fragmentation of the existing states, or perhaps a longer-term consolidation that blurs the borders dividing them, Gerges said.

“Everything is in question now, and it is all very difficult to predict,” he said. “But what we are realizing is that the Middle East state system set up after World War I is coming apart.”

‘Sectarian borders are real’

The modern map of the Middle East was created by Europeans less than a century ago. Today, the conflict in Syria is calling into question the viability of those borders, which were frequently drawn with little regard for local communities. Existing frontiers are being eroded and new ones are starting to emerge in ways that challenge the very existence of the region’s states.

The modern map of the Middle East was created by Europeans less than a century ago. Today, the conflict in Syria is calling into question the viability of those borders, which were frequently drawn with little regard for local communities. Existing frontiers are being eroded and new ones are starting to emerge in ways that challenge the very existence of the region’s states.

The Middle East that eventually emerged from World War I bore little resemblance to the one laid out in the Sykes-Picot agreement, named for the British and French diplomats who bisected the region from east to west at a meeting in London.

But the line-drawing endeavor set the tone for the exercise in nation-making that came next. To this day, it is Sykes-Picot that is recalled and condemned by those living in the shadow of its consequences.

Plans for an independent Arab homeland were dropped. Instead, the British assumed full control over the territory corresponding to Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and later Israel. The French took Syria and carved from it Lebanon as a sanctuary for Christians, a loss that Syria has never formally accepted.

One of the borders they drew cut through al-Qasr, among numerous small farming villages dotting the lush fertile land fed by the streams of Mount Hermel in the remote northeastern corner of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

The overwhelmingly Shiite community proclaims its allegiances with portraits of Syria’s Assad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, strung alongside those of the only Lebanese figure featured — Hasan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah militant group. Shop windows are plastered with photographs of the men of the village who have died fighting in Syria for Hezbollah, whose contribution has proved key to a string of recent victories by Assad’s government.

“We never had borders between us. We consider ourselves one territory,” said Mohammed Shamas, 22, whose shop adjoins the border. “But a long time ago, the French came and drew these lines.”

More real for the residents here is the unmarked boundary that divides the Shiite villages in the foothills of Mount Hermel from the closest Sunni town, Arsal, which has been transformed by the revolt in Syria into a hub for the opposition. Tucked high in stony mountains 25 miles away, its streets teem with Syrian refugees, Syrian rebels, ambulances ferrying wounded Syrian fighters from the front lines and taxis plying the route to the nearest Syrian town, Yabroud.

Few people here travel the opposite direction, toward Lebanese towns, fearful after a spate of abductions and killings between the Lebanese Shiite and Sunni communities fueled in part by the Syrian war.

“We consider this place more Syrian than Lebanese,” said Abu Omar, an Arsal resident who runs a small clinic helping wounded fighters and did not want his real name to be used because he fears trouble from Lebanese authorities over his activities. He takes his family shopping to rebel-­held Yabroud, notwithstanding shelling and airstrikes, because he would not dare move deeper into Lebanon. “The sectarian borders are real,” he said.

Jamal, the Shiite farmer whose property straddles the Syrian border, does all of his shopping in the Syrian town of Homs, not because he fears the journey to other Shiite towns but because Homs is cheaper and more convenient. “I would never go to Arsal. There they are all takfiris,” he said, referring to Sunni extremists.

“They made sure when those borders were drawn to maintain trouble between us forever,” he added. “It was on purpose.”

Reshaping the map

Similar undrawn boundaries are starting to take shape all over the region as the civil war enters its third year.

In the desert lands between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers — the Mesopotamia of ancient history — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is extending its reach into Syria and Iraq, flying the al-
Qaeda flag on both sides of the border. Its aim of restoring the Sunni Muslim caliphate has drawn Sunni volunteers from across the region.

In Syria’s far northeast, Kurds have declared autonomy in areas, raising the Kurdish flag and stirring hopes of independence for a community that lost out when the post-World War I map was made.

Assad loyalists, bolstered by the influx of Shiite volunteers from Lebanon and Iraq, are consolidating their hold on a spine of territory stretching from Damascus, the capital, to the coast, where most of the Shiite-
affiliated Alawite minority lives, sustaining the reach of the two-starred Syrian flag of the four-
decade-old Baathist regime.

In each location, massacres and persecutions of sects that find themselves on the wrong side of the lines are corroding the diversity that historically characterized Syria. Christians and Alawites are fleeing rebel-held areas, Sunnis who sympathize with the rebels are escaping government-controlled ones, swarming into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq with little indication that they will be able to go home anytime soon.

And over each dominion, foreign powers hold sway, sponsoring their proteges with money and weapons to further their own advantage. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other states of the Persian Gulf back the Islamist rebels; Iran and Russia support the government, echoing the big-power rivalry that shaped the map a century ago.

The United States and Europe stand behind the fourth flag flying over Syria, the three-starred one adopted by the original, more-moderate proponents of the revolt, who sought to replace Assad’s dictatorship with a democracy. But without much in the way of funding or arms, theirs is the flag whose space is shrinking the fastest.

What is the solution?

Yet partition, which is where the dislocation inevitably seems to be heading, is an outcome that few people say they are willing to countenance, aside from the Kurds, who have long coveted a state of their own.

Although rulers have failed to translate nation-states into viable entities, most people have embraced the identities of the countries in which they live, said Malik Abdeh, a Syrian opposition writer based in London.

“It is the failure of political elites to offer any kind of vision that transcends sects that sustains sectarianism,” he said. “Notions of the nation-state are still very strong, even if the reality doesn’t correlate with prevailing ideals.”

Even the war’s brutality speaks to the intent of all the factions to win the conflict outright, with government forces routinely bombarding the rebel-held areas of the north from which their troops were ejected long ago, and rebels sustaining their pressure on Damascus with new offensives.

At a Hezbollah office in Hermel, the Shiite town that administers al-Qasr, an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the news media denounced the fragmenting landscape as an American plot to split the Arab world into weak, divided statelets to affirm Israel as the region’s most powerful country.

It is not what he or other Shiites want.

“If sectarian enclaves were allowed to happen, Christians would be a minority; Shiites and Alawites would be a minority in a sea of Sunnis,” the official said.

Sunnis suspect a similar plot but blame the British, a throwback to the betrayal of their hopes for independence after British army officer T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia, helped lead the Arab revolt against the Turks. They, too, fear the consequences of a new divide that would confine them to the region’s desert heart.

“If Syria is partitioned, there will be war for 100 years to come,” said Abu Zeid, 37, a Syrian refugee from Damascus who runs a restaurant in Arsal. “The Alawites will have the coast, the Kurds will have the oil, and the Sunnis will be in the middle with nothing. The only solution is to share everything.”

The challenge in the Geneva peace talks between the Syrian opposition and the regime will be to produce an agreement on a new form of governance that will end the fighting. If it fails, further fragmentation seems inevitable, said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Over time, however, greater decentralization, in which local communities have more say over their affairs, may produce fairer and more stable societies, he said, describing “a sort of umbrella of nations where different groups enjoy their own culture and way of life.”

For the region’s borders to disappear “would be like utopia,” said Issam Bleibeh, the deputy mayor of Hermel, as he sat mulling ways the war might end with a group of friends at his home in the little town, whose streets, like those of nearby al-Qasr, are lined with photographs of the dead.

They failed to think of one.

“The wars will change, but there will always be wars,” Bleibeh said. “One day it could be Muslim-Christian, then Shiite-Sunni, then Sunni-Sunni. The only certainty is that there will always be wars.”

 

First published in the Washington Post