Archive for the ‘Kurds’ category

Western Powers Must Protect Kurds, Urges Iraqi Jew Who Was Escorted to Freedom by Masoud Barzani

November 6, 2017

Western Powers Must Protect Kurds, Urges Iraqi Jew Who Was Escorted to Freedom by Masoud Barzani, AlgemeinerBen Cohen, November 6, 2017

(Israel has been the only nation to support Kurdish independence. Please see also, Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia. America, which has armed and relied upon Kurdish fighters in opposing the Islamic State and other Islamic terror groups in Iraq and elsewhere, has not. America’s failure to do so is among the very few matters on which I disagree with President Trump’s foreign policy. –DM)

A young Masoud Barzani fighting with the Kurdish peshmerga. Photo: File.

For the last forty-seven years, Jamil “Jimmy” Ezra has marked a special, deeply private anniversary on September 1 with a ray of hope in his heart. For it was on that day in 1970 that Ezra – accompanied by his brother and sister – drove in a jeep to the Iraqi border with Iran with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his assistant at the wheel.

Ezra and his siblings were among more than 2,000 Iraqi Jews who were helped by Kurdish Peshmerga to escape from the Ba’athist regime during the 1970s. These were dark days in Iraq, where the remnant of a Jewish community that had only recently numbered 150,000 was convulsed with fear following the public hanging in Baghdad in 1969 of 14 people, nine of them Jews, on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. Ezra remembers the time with the same deep emotion that grounds his present fears about what the future now holds for his Kurdish rescuers.

“My heart breaks for the 30 million Kurds, divided between Iraq and Turkey, Syria and Iran, and abused and suffering,” Ezra told The Algemeiner on Monday.

Ezra will be speaking about his experiences with Masoud Barzani – son of the legendary Mullah Mustafa Barzani and, until last week, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – at downtown Manhattan’s prestigious Center for Jewish History on Tuesday night, during a special two-part series on the Kurds sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation. It is a story that began when Ezra was a boy of 17 in Baghdad, living with his aunt and uncle, and still grieving from the sudden death of his father from a heart attack on the very same day in July 1968 that Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist comrades seized power.

“One day in 1970, my brother Farid was walking in the street when he was stopped for an ID check,” Ezra recalled. “He had a permit exempting him from serving in the army, and on every page it was written in red, yahudi, yahudi, yahudi (Jew).”

Farid was arrested and imprisoned on a spying charge. His voice breaking, Ezra recalled how his brother was beaten and tortured by his jailers until he suffered a nervous breakdown. Farid was then transferred to a prison for the criminally insane.

“In the hot summer, the prisoners would all run outside to drink the unfiltered river water that was brought in by a truck in the morning — they would fight over the dirty water,” Ezra said. “My aunt would send me with food and clean water for my brother, and he would beg me to take him away.”

At this point, Ezra said, he and his sister Gilda decided that it was time to leave Iraq. He ventured north to Iraqi Kurdistan, then enjoying a measure of autonomy under an agreement with Baghdad that was soon reneged upon by Saddam Hussein. Arriving in the Kurdish town of Haj Omran on the Iranian border, he came across an Iraqi Jewish family he knew who were taken across the border into Iran that same night. Ezra, meanwhile, was given a mattress in a room where he bedded down with ten Kurds. “I told them about how the Jews were suffering,” he said.  “They promised to take me to Mustafa Barzani the following day.”

The next morning, Barzani’s aides hatched a plan that involved Ezra and another Jewish family returning to Baghdad to collect their relatives, after which they would travel to a meeting point back in northern Iraq. “That was on Monday; on the Thursday, back in Baghdad, I woke up my brother Farid, who was suffering badly from his trauma in prison, and I told him, ‘Come on, you and me and Gilda are going on a short vacation,’” he said.

Had they been stopped and discovered at one of the many security checkpoints along the way, certain imprisonment in a Ba’athist jail would have awaited — and, indeed, the family was pulled over by a soldier. “Luckily, the guy was an idiot,” Ezra remembered. “He couldn’t understand why my brother had an exemption permit from the army, so our driver kept explaining, ‘He’s not well, he’s well.’ Eventually, the soldier said, ‘Ok, ok, you can go.’”

Arriving at the meeting point agreed with Barzani’s advisers, Ezra remembered that a high-level Kurdish intelligence official “came out and started briefing us.”

To maintain secrecy around Kurdish assistance to escaping Iraqi Jews, the official instructed Ezra and those with him to personally approach Masoud Barzani, who would be sitting in a cafe at an agreed time, and pretend they had a brother imprisoned by Kurdish forces. “We had to act,” Ezra said. “We had to beg and plead in front of Masoud.”

Following this ruse, the Ezra siblings got into a jeep alongside  Masoud. At the border with Iran, Masoud got out and bade his farewells. “We had a gift for Masoud and his adviser,” Ezra said. “It was a Parker 21 pen, that was a big deal back then. We wanted them to take it, but they refused and refused. They said, ‘We are doing this because we care and we want to help you.’”

“They never took any money, any gifts, unlike the smugglers who would rob the Iraqi Jews they were supposed to be helping,” Ezra continued.

After crossing into Iran on September 1, the Ezras survived a long and arduous journey to Tehran, where they stayed at the aptly-named Hotel Sinai — then full of escaped Iraqi Jews in transit with the Jewish Agency’s assistance. “On October 2, we arrived in America,” Ezra said. “We came to New York.” Many other Iraqi Jews who escaped around the same time went to Israel, as well as the UK, Canada and other countries.

Ezra’s thoughts over the last month have been dominated by the fate of the Kurds, whose 93 percent vote in favor of independence in the September 25 referendum resulted in an Iranian-backed onslaught involving Iraqi government forces and the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group. More than 50 percent of the territory liberated from ISIS by the Kurds has been lost, including the historic city of Kirkuk, while Kurdish political leaders have been painted into a corner as they try to maintain as much autonomy from Baghdad as feasible.

“I follow the news of the Kurds, I pray for them,” Ezra said. “I know their history, how they were divided between four countries after World War One. America has betrayed them, Britain and France have betrayed them. Israel tried to help, but they were limited by the Americans dictating to them how much they could do.”

Ezra wants American Jews to urge their legislators to protect the Kurds, a long-standing American ally. “What happened to the Jews could still happen to them,” Ezra said, casting an eye on Saddam Hussein’s infamous attempts to obliterate the Kurds with chemical weapons attacks in the late 1980s.

“Measures need to be taken to prevent that,” he said. “This should be an emergency for the UN Security Council. The issue of the Kurds has to be kept alive every day of the year.”

Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia

October 2, 2017

Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia |Anne’s Opinions, 2nd October 2017

 

The Kurds are a nation scattered across the Middle East while their national territory was divided up by the ruling powers of a century ago and split amongst several nations, all in a manner similar to the fate of the Jews and Israel:

For decades, Kurdish politics have hinged on dreams of an independent Kurdish state. When colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds, who now number around 30 million, were divided among Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish inhabited areas of the Middle East, crossing international borders

Since the Arab “spring” with its multiple civil wars broke out, the Kurds are the one nation that have managed to remain united and hold on tot their territory, retaking control and a semblance of independence after decades of repression by the Arab countries who previously controlled their territory. They have been amongst the prime fighters against ISIS and have stayed out of the Israeli-Arab conflict altogether.In fact Israel is very popular with the Kurds and as I have previously written, the Israeli flag is a common sight at Kurdish rallies.

The Israeli flag is flown at a rally for Kurdish independence held in Geneva, Switzerland

Last week the Kurds held a referendum amongst its people asking if they wanted independence. The answer of course was a resounding yes. However the answer from almost the entire world (the UN, the US, Iran, Iraq, Turkey) was a resounding “no”, or a hostile neutral silence. The only country that lent its solid support to the Kurdish nation was Israel.

Iraq threatened the Kurds with a flight ban if they do not hand over their airports to the Iraqi authorities:

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued his ultimatum a day after the landmark vote, which he said was a “historic and strategic mistake by the Kurdish leadership.”

“I will not give up on the unity of Iraq, that is my national and constitutional duty,” he said, adding that any ban would still allow for humanitarian and other “urgent” flights.

That’s rich coming from the leader of a country which is so fractured that it barely exists any more.

Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president who spearheaded the referendum, called for “dialogue” with Baghdad. “Negotiations are the right path to solve the problems, not threats or the language of force,” he said in a televised address.

The US remained cool to downright cold, refusing to recognize “illegitimate referendum“:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the recent referendum on the independence of Kurdistan as “unilateral,” saying the vote held on September 25 lacks legitimacy.

US Secretary of State Reg Tillerson

“The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday,” Tillerson said in a written statement on Friday (September 29).

Tillerson said his country supports a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.

He expressed concern over the possible “negative consequences” of the Kurdish referendum, adding the vote may hinder efforts to promote stability and prosperity for the people of the Kurdistan Region.

Tillerson said the U.S. asks all parties, including Iraq’s neighbors, to reject unilateral actions and the use of force.

“We urge calm and an end to vocal recriminations and threats of reciprocal actions. We urge Iraqi Kurdish authorities to respect the constitutionally-mandated role of the central government and we call upon the central government to reject threats or even allusion to possible use of force.”

But an interesting article in the New York Times of all places praised Israel’s endorsement of the Kurds’ bid for independence:

JERUSALEM — With a two-sentence statement supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ plan to hold a referendum on independence this Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put Israel at odds with nearly every other major player in the Middle East.

Mr. Netanyahu, who endorsed not only the referendum but also the establishment of a Kurdish state, had ample strategic reason: A breakaway Kurdistan could prove valuable to Israel against Iran, which has oppressed its own Kurdish population.

But given the interwoven history and shared emotion underlying his statement, present-day geopolitics can seem almost beside the point.

The Kurds and the Jews, it turns out, go way back.

Back past the Babylonian Captivity, in fact: The first Jews in Kurdistan, tradition holds, were among the last tribes of Israel, taken from their land in the eighth century B.C. They liked it there so much that when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews go back home, many chose instead to stick around.

Sixteen centuries later, Saladin, a Kurd, treated the Jews humanely after he conquered Jerusalem, and notably hired a Jewish doctor, Maimonides, as his physician.

In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later.

Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds — both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies — have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. The Kurds have long patterned their lobbying efforts in Washington on those of Israel’s supporters.

Israeli flags often appear at Kurdish rallies, like this one in Erbil, Iraq

And while Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum, for fear of antagonizing the Arab world, the Israeli flag can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in Erbil and across Europe.

The Kurds in turn have friends and supporters all across Israel, including some 200,000 Kurdish Jews. But 83-year-old Tzuri Sagi, a retired brigadier general, has more reason than most Israelis to root for Kurdish independence.

Read the rest of that fascinating article about the ties between Israel and the Kurds.

A Jerusalem Post article also agrees with the Israeli position of supporting the Kurds bid for independence:

In the wake of Iranian aggression across the Middle East, the most effective strategy Israel can adopt is to recognize an independent Kurdistan and fully support it.

Across the Middle East Israel faces a variety of security threats, from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad’s regime in Syria to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula. These already existing threats are exasperated by Iran seeking to establish a Shi’ite Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

To prop up Assad’s regime and Hezbollah, Iran needs territorial contiguity from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This way, it can import supplies with ease to its proxies via land routes, for Israel has already demonstrated that it can infiltrate and stop Iranian sea or air shipments more easily. However, an independent Kurdistan in Syria and Iraq would territorially break up the Shi’ite Crescent, thus making it more difficult for Iran to carry out its terrorist activities across the Middle East. The Kurdistan region of Iraq led by President Masoud Barzani’s government will not permit Iranian shipments to terrorist groups to pass through its territory.

If Kurdistan becomes a full-fledged independent state in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria, the logistical obstacles for Iran will greatly increase.

It is not only for the purely practical geopolitical advantages that Israel should support the Kurds, but because it is morally right:

It is critical to note that Israel should support an independent Kurdistan because it is the moral thing to do. The Kurds were promised a country in the Treaty of Sevres but this promise was reneged on in the Treaty of Lausanne, leaving the Kurds as the largest nation on earth without a country, a reality that affects 40 million people. The Kurds have their own unique culture, history and language, which are distinct from those of their Turkish, Persian and Arab neighbors. Furthermore, in the past the Kurds had strong leaders who befriended the Jewish People, such as Saladin.

In addition, the Kurds ruled themselves in the past, under the Ayyubid dynasty and the Bohtan Emirate, to name a few. In fact, they were only absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1908. For this reason, the Kurds have a strong sense of nationalism.

The Kurds passionately believe that their culture, language and historic destiny can be best realized by granting them the same rights that other nations possess.

Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor also praises the Kurds’ readiness for statehood (unlike, say, the Palestinians):

An independent Kurdish state would be a victory for democratic values, national self-determination and the rights of women and minorities. Is there a more iconic image of the fight against the Islamic State than that of female Kurdish peshmerga fighters doing battle on the front lines against jihadists who demand the subjugation of women? An independent Kurdish state would empower these warriors in a part of the world where women and girls are typically second-class citizens.

Kurdish Peshmerga women fighters

In addition to its commitment to gender equality, Kurdistan has also shown its commitment to minority rights. Over the past three years, Kurdistan, which is about the size of Maryland, has taken in nearly two million refugees, including Assyrians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Shabaks and Christians fleeing the Islamic State and sectarian violence in other parts of Iraq and in Syria.

Even without a formal state, the Kurds have built a society that meets many of the criteria of statehood. They are economically viable, with a well-developed energy industry. They have functioning institutions, including elections for Parliament and a relatively free media. And they’ve proved capable of defending themselves against the Islamic State without attacking others.

Kurdistan is already, in values and governance, a democratic nation in waiting. Is it a perfect Jeffersonian democracy? No. Does it have a long way to go? Yes. But in a region where tyranny is the norm, it’s on the right track.

We should all pray that Kurds are successful in their bid for independence and that there will be a peaceful solution to this brewing crisis. Israel should certainly give it as much support as it can. And shame on the world for denying this brave, big-hearted people their rightful claim to their own territory and self-determination.

Meanwhile over in Spain, Catalonians held a referendum today asking their people if they wanted independence. The answer was not clear. Nevertheless the Spanish rejected the referendum, calling it illegal, and sent in the riot police which violently repressed the independence rallies, injuring almost 500 people:

Nearly 500 people were injured Sunday as Spanish security forces attempted to shut down a referendum vote on the future of the northeastern Spanish province of Spain.

Spanish police break into a Catalonian voting booth

Catalonia, a semi-autonomous province with its own official language, held the controversial vote Sunday on whether to remain a part of the Kingdom of Spain, or to seek independence.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who supports a Catalan separation from Spain, said earlier that if the referendum saw a majority of “yes” votes, he would declare an independent Catalonia within 48 hours.

While polls show some 60% of locals oppose independence from Spain, a wide majority back the plebiscite.

Girls stroll through the center of Figueras with the Spanish and a pro-independence ‘Estelada’ Catalan flag

The Spanish government, however, has declared the referendum illegal and ordered security forces to bar voters from entering polling stations.

“There has not been a referendum or anything remotely similar,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said.

In polling places across Catalonia, including the local capital, Barcelona, police clashed with crowds of voters as they attempted to enter voting stations.

During the clashes, officers opened fire with rubber bullets, hitting dozens of protesters.

According to The Independent, local firefighters formed human shields around voters to protect voters from police.

Catalan officials say police managed to shut down 319 voting stations across Catalonia.

“What the police are doing is a real scandal, a savagery,” said Catalan spokesperson Jordi Turull.

“The Spanish state is in a very difficult situation before the world… What the police is doing is truly an international embarrassment.”

Yet it seems that what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Or maybe that statement should be reversed. The very independence that is rejected by the world for their own minorities is enthusiastically advanced for the Palestinians. The Kurds do not seek to replace anyone or to kill them. They simply want their own indigenous territory back in their hands and under their control. But the world rejects their bid.

The Catalonians want to run their own affairs outside of Spanish jurisdiction. Here too their bid for self-determination is rejected by the world.

But somehow, the Palestinians, who already have independence from Israel, and who run their own affairs, are considered perfectly legitimate when they demand not only independence, but an end to the State of Israel. They demand this loudly and clearly and can be heard in demonstrations across the world: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. This is no less than an Arabic “final solution” for the Jews. In case you haven’t looked at a map lately, the space between the river (Jordan) to the (Mediterranean) Sea is occupied, for want of a better word, by Israel with over 6 million Jews as well as another 2 million Muslims, Christians and other minorities.

“From the river to the sea Palestine will be free” – of Jews and of Israel. This is an Arab Final Solution

The inherent hypocrisy in this stance was called out today by Eli Dahan, Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister:

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) blasted the Spanish government’s crackdown against a regional referendum in the province of Catalonia Sunday, which left nearly 500 people injured, most of them pro-independence demonstrators.

Deputy Minister Ben-Dahan slammed Madrid’s crackdown on the referendum, noting Spain’s decades-long support for Palestinian statehood.

“For many years, Spain lectured us about how we need to give [national] rights to the Palestinian Arabs,” wrote Ben-Dahan on Twitter. “Today we see their hypocrisy, as [Spain] doesn’t even allow the Catalans to hold a referendum on independence.”

I found this Facebook post by Tsuriel Rashi, a lecturer at Bar Ilan University, to be particularly apt:

 

He writes:

Two states for two people
Spain and Catalonia
Kurdistan and Turkey
“They are there and we are here”.
Or is this a solution limited to a particular region?

Indeed Dr. Rashi has pointed out the world’s hypocrisy in one short pithy paragraph. “Do as I say, not do as I do” is what the world tells Israel.

It’s about time Israel told the world where to get off.

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis

April 30, 2017

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis, Washington Times, Seth J. Frantzman, April 30, 2017

An Iraqi Special Forces vehicle displays a Shiite flag bearing the likeness of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali with Arabic words reading “At your service Hussein” in Mosul, Iraq. State

HAMAM AL-ALIL, Iraq — The road to Mosul is littered with the detritus from almost three years of war: burned M1117 armored vehicles, sandbagged berms and trenches from defensive positions once manned against Islamic State fighters, houses pancaked by airstrikes. The long supply line of the Iraqi army stretches through villages, with bulldozers, camouflaged trucks and temporary base camps.

Particularly noticeable are the frequent checkpoints manned by young armed men. But the fighters often aren’t from the Iraqi army or the Federal Police, but are members of various Iran-supported Shiite militias in the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units.

While taking part in the U.S.-backed assault on the Islamic State group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, many of these units fly flags celebrating Shiite religious figures such as the Imam Hussein, and some have posters of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Life in those areas under control of the Shiite militias provides a window into Iran’s influence and the sectarian tensions that still dog Iraq as the campaign for Mosul enters its seventh grinding month.

A tour of these areas shows that Shiite militias and Iran have been empowered in the fight and that Iraq remains a state even more divided along religious and ethnic lines.

The battle for Mosul, once a city of more than 2 million residents, began in mid-October. In a lightning assault in 2014, the Islamic State, a radical Sunni Muslim group, took the city, expelled Christians and massacred Shiite and other minorities, and dynamited shrines and archaeological sites as part of its Salafi policy. When the Iraqi army began its campaign last fall, Mosul’s population had been reduced to around 1 million people.

Complicating the battle has been the presence of thousands of fighters allied with the Popular Mobilization Units. Composed of numerous militias that answered a 2014 fatwa by Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to fight the Islamic State, the units have many leaders with shadowy pro-Iranian pasts.

Qais Khazali was a follower of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who attacked U.S. troops in Karbala in 2007 and now runs the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia. Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, fought alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, also fought with the Iranians in the 1980s.

In December, the PMU was incorporated as an official paramilitary force of the Iraqi government. But fears remain that its role in northern Iraq will inflame tensions with Sunni Arabs and the Kurdish population.

In an October speech, Mr. Khazali called the battle for Mosul the “revenge for the killing of Hussein.” He was referring to a historic killing that Shiites blame on Sunnis and tying it to the modern sectarian war with the Islamic State.

“If they exact widespread revenge against the Sunnis and expel them, this might create a conducive environment for ISIS to come back,” Kawa Hassan, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Brussels-based EastWest Institute, told a European Parliament hearing in November.

Quietly expanding

The worst fears of mass revenge killings and expulsions have not been realized in or around Mosul to date. Instead, Shiite militias are more quietly extending their presence and visible control in a new part of the country, as a tour of the region repeatedly demonstrates.

Driving out of the Kurdish autonomous region from Irbil, the closest major city to Mosul, one leaves the Kurdish flags behind and immediately enters the uncertain terrain of militias. In the Christian town of Hamdaniyeh, the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a Christian militia paid by and affiliated with the PMU, guards the entrance and exit. Its members are relaxed and friendly. Most of them live in the Kurdish region, where they fled the Islamic State and have only recently returned.

After Hamdaniyeh, the road crosses hillocks and fields with long-dilapidated chicken coops and the militias are from a Shabak unit. The Shabak are a local minority, some of whom are Shiite and recently joined the PMU’s Badr Organization.

For some Shabak and Iraqi Christians, the PMU are liberators. Last year, the PMU released a video showing the church bells of Mosul ringing again, sending the message that they would liberate the city from the Islamic State and make it safe for Christians. Militia members hand out “Imam Hussein” flags to children in local hamlets.

But in some Sunni Arab villages, there is obvious fear of the militia members who wander the streets, rifles over their shoulders, peering into mud-caked compounds.

Leaving the Shabak behind, the road skirts the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which Islamic State fighters blew up in 2015. A floating pontoon bridge over the Tigris is all that connects the western and eastern sides today. Airstrikes have demolished the old bridges.

The pontoon bridge is in such bad shape that it washed out during flooding in April and took days to repair. Civilians trod this road, and Iraqi nongovernmental organizations bring food to some of the estimated 160,000 civilians who have fled the battle of Mosul for refugee camps.

One car flying a white flag drove by with a corpse in the back, transported for burial across the river.

But each civilian vehicle, often packed with people, must pass a strict checkpoint on both sides. The checkpoint stops are tense. Soldiers and militia members ask where the Arab passengers are from and check the cargo. They are looking for Islamic State fighters. A Shiite flag with the sketch of a sword dripping blood flutters on the bridge.

As the road from the Tigris nears Mosul, it merges with a large highway that runs to Baghdad and the presence of the militias appears to thin out. The Iraqi army and Federal Police take the lead at checkpoints. Many vehicles of the Iraqi armed forces display Shiite flags, but the militias are not playing an official role in the battle for the city — only in rural areas around it.

A massive new United Nations camp at Hamam al-Alil is largely unoccupied. A giant sign by the PMU indicates that Shiite militias control access to the camp and claim they are “confirming the [safety]” of the camps and will provide aid equally.

The Shiite militias know that they are viewed by many with suspicion and are accused of discrimination and sectarianism. When a reporter tries to enter an older part of the Hamam al-Alil camp, militia members wearing black balaclavas and masks with skulls on them block the way.

Civilians in these neighborhoods have transitioned from Islamic State rule to another form of religious rule, with militarized checkpoints controlling their movements. A young man who fled one of these villages when the Shiite arrived and now lives in a reformatory in Irbil said the Shiite militias don’t belong in his Sunni village or northern Iraq.

In many ways, civilian life has an air of normalcy — even in Mosul with the sound of gunfire in the background. Women in black abayas wait for food to be distributed. Men stand around smoking, observing. Children play, some with visible burns from the war.

Most of these people have lived with years of war. Since the 1980s and particularly since 2003, they have witnessed rounds of violence. In January 2008, for instance, the city was hit by more than a dozen attacks a day, including improvised explosive devices, car bombs and shootings.

By contrast, life under the Islamic State was relatively peaceful for many pious Sunnis, many of whom greeted the takeover warmly in 2014.

“This too shall pass,” seemed to be the overall feeling in and around Mosul. Saddam came and went, then the Americans, the jihadis, the Americans, the Islamic State and now the Shiite militias. If Shiite militias continue to hoist flags over Sunni mosques in the city and the militias continue to man dozens of checkpoints in the rural countryside, then it is likely only a matter of time before insurgent attacks begin again.

The end of Turkish democracy

April 19, 2017

The end of Turkish democracy, Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May, April 19, 2017

(Please see also, Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Why It Matters so Much in the Fight Against Radical Islam. — DM)

I made my first visit to Turkey 13 years ago. With the 2001 attacks on the United States still a vivid memory, Turkey struck me as a hopeful place. The people were friendly. The food was good. Istanbul was vibrant and cosmopolitan. This was not a Muslim country but rather a Muslim-majority country, a distinction made repeatedly and with pride. Turks, I was told, understood the importance of separating mosque and state.

Those who campaigned for a “no” vote had limited access to media and in some instances were prevented from holding rallies. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party complained of unstamped ballots affecting 3 million voters — more than the margin of Erdogan’s victory.

************************************

On the grounds of the Turkish Embassy facing Massachusetts Avenue in Washington is a statue of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, father of the Republic of Turkey, the nation-state he built from the rubble of the defeated Ottoman Empire and Islamic caliphate.

He is wearing a three-piece suit that would look stylish today, although he is steely-eyed in a way peculiar to early 20th century revolutionaries. He appears to be gazing into the future — a future in which Turkey would be modern, prosperous, secular and democratic.

If truth in advertising applied to governments, that statue would now be removed.

In a referendum on Sunday, Turkish voters were asked to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. To no one’s great surprise, it was announced that they did, albeit by a narrow margin of 51.2% approving to 48.8% opposing, according to the state-run news agency. People in rural areas mostly voted yes, people in the cities — including Istanbul where Erdogan was once mayor — mostly voted no. But a win is a win and Erdogan has won.

I made my first visit to Turkey 13 years ago. With the 2001 attacks on the United States still a vivid memory, Turkey struck me as a hopeful place. The people were friendly. The food was good. Istanbul was vibrant and cosmopolitan. This was not a Muslim country but rather a Muslim-majority country, a distinction made repeatedly and with pride. Turks, I was told, understood the importance of separating mosque and state.

A NATO member, Turkey appeared to be the one sturdy bridge between the Middle East and Europe. It maintained cordial relations with Israel, too. While no Jeffersonian democracy, Turks had been going to the polls on a fairly regular basis for decades. Surely democratic habits were being acquired and democratic institutions were being built. A persuasive argument could be made that this was the direction history was taking throughout the Middle East and perhaps the world.

Sunday’s referendum contradicts that thesis. For a decade, Erdogan has been slowly concentrating power in his own hands. After a failed coup last summer — it’s unclear who launched it or why — he went full throttle, firing or arresting more than 140,000 military officers, academics, judges and civil servants, shutting more than 150 media outlets, and jailing journalists who dared criticize him.

The new referendum will significantly diminish whatever checks and balances the legislature and judiciary have left. And the rules on term limits will be adjusted so that the 63-year-old Erdogan can remain in the new 1,150-room presidential palace until 2029 or longer. In democratic societies, presidents do not serve for so many years. In the Ottoman Empire, sultans occasionally did.

Can we be confident that the announced results of the referendum are accurate? Those who campaigned for a “no” vote had limited access to media and in some instances were prevented from holding rallies. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party complained of unstamped ballots affecting 3 million voters — more than the margin of Erdogan’s victory.

In Cermik, a town in northeastern Turkey, two members of the opposition CHP party were reportedly killed and two ballot observers were wounded as they were trying to prevent “ballot stuffing.” On Monday, European election monitors said the vote “fell short” of international standards.

Erdogan quickly fired back.

“The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us,” he told a crowd at Ankara’s airport. That is not the kind of language you expect to hear from the leader of a secular country. It is the kind of language you expect to hear from an Islamist demagogue.

Erdogan claims he will use the additional powers he is being granted to solve Turkey’s not insignificant problems, including political and economic instability, the strain caused by the refugees pouring in from Syria, and unrest among Turkey’s Kurdish minority, estimated at up to 20% of the country’s 80 million people.

What I think we can more realistically expect is for Turkey to become less free, less democratic, and less secular. Already we’ve seen Erdogan closing churches and detaining Christian clergymen. He has implied that only Muslims, not Christians, should be helped to rebuild their ancient communities in and around Mosul in Iraq, where he has sent Turkish troops, uninvited by the Iraqi government.

He appears to expect Turks living in Europe not to assimilate or even integrate but to remain loyal to Turkey and, of course, to him. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, he dispatched envoys to campaign in the large Turkish communities of the Netherlands and Germany. When local officials turned them away he leveled accusations of Islamophobia and even Nazism.

“Those who treat me, my ministers, my deputies with disrespect will pay the price for their actions,” he threatened. That is not the way leaders of NATO nations generally address one another.

Many Turks regard the referendum as illegitimate. It’s possible that Erdogan will feel the need to make peace with them. On the other hand, he may feel the need to make them submit.

More than a quarter of a century ago, when he was Istanbul’s mayor, Erdogan quipped that democracy was “like a streetcar. When you reach your destination you get off.”

In other words, he sees liberal democracy not as the best way to organize a government but only as a means to an end. If that’s correct, April 2017 marks the failure of Turkey’s democratic experiment. An Islamist, neo-Ottoman and neo-imperialist experiment began instead. It should surprise no one if a statue of Erdogan replaces that of Kemal Ataturk on Massachusetts Avenue.

No Refuge for the Victims of Jihadist Genocide

June 3, 2016

No Refuge for the Victims of Jihadist Genocide, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, June 3, 2016

christian-syrian-refugee-900

President Obama sharply criticized the suggestion that persecuted Christians be given preference for admission as refugees.   He said that “when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted… that’s shameful.”  Obama added: “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.” 

The Obama-Trudeau policy of opening doors widely to Muslim refugees, while allowing hardly a crack to open for the Christian and Yazidi victims of jihadi-inspired genocide, is risky, to be sure. It is also immoral.

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The Obama administration is rapidly accelerating its admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees.  The administration is well on its way to meeting its target of taking 10,000 Syrians into the country by the end of the current fiscal year on September 30th.  In the first five months of 2016, 2,099 Syrian refugees have been admitted, compared with 2,192 for the whole of 2015, according to a report by CNS News. However, only a very tiny percentage are Christians, a beleaguered minority who are facing genocide in their home country. The Obama administration is immorally discriminating against Christian Syrian refugees.

“Out of the 2,099 Syrian refugees admitted so far this year, six (0.28 percent) are Christians,” CNS reported.  Ten (0.3 percent) are Yazidis. Over 99 percent are Muslims. And the trend line is worsening as the year progresses.  Last month, only two Christians (0.19 percent) were admitted compared to 1,035 Muslims.

Christians are estimated to have made up approximately ten percent of the total Syrian population at the outset of the conflict in Syria, according to the CIA Factbook. As Christians have come under attack by both the regime and jihadist groups, including ISIS, the Christian population in Syria has declined.

Patrick Sookhdeo, the founder and international director of the charity group the Barnabas Fund, which has worked to rescue Syrian Christians, said: “In Aleppo, to give you one illustration, there used to be 400,000 Christians four years ago. Today there may be between 45,000 and 65,000.”

Yet, according to data compiled by the U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center, only 47 Syrian Christians have been admitted to the United States in all that time – slightly over 1 percent of the total number of Syrian refugees admitted. The current rate of Christian admissions is running far below even that miniscule level.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the crime of genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

After receiving significant pressure, the Obama administration finally yielded to the obvious. Secretary of State John Kerry declared last March that the Islamic State has been committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East.

Note that while Kerry included Shiite Muslims on his list of ISIS’s genocide victims, Sunni Muslims were not included. Nor should they be, considering the fact that ISIS jihadists are themselves Sunni Muslims. Al Qaeda jihadists are Sunni Muslims. The ideology of Wahhabism fueling the jihadists’ reign of terror, exported by Saudi Arabia, is of Sunni Muslim origin.

Therefore, one would think that Christians and other targeted minorities would receive preference for refugee status in the United States, not Sunni Muslims. Think again. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, approximately 96% of the Syrian refugees admitted to the United States by the Obama administration have been Sunni Muslims.

President Obama sharply criticized the suggestion that persecuted Christians be given preference for admission as refugees.   He said that “when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted… that’s shameful.”  Obama added: “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.”

It is President Obama’s Syrian refugee policy that is both “shameful” and “not American.” It has amounted to what is in effect a “religious test,” vastly favoring the one group of migrants from Syria who needs refugee protection the least– Sunni Muslims. Moreover, some of these Sunni Muslims are bringing their Wahhabi jihadist ideology with them.

Whatever self-righteous statements Obama, Pope Francis and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon make regarding the moral responsibility of Western nations to admit many more refugees, there is no moral imperative to commit cultural suicide. That is perhaps why the Dali Lama warned a German newspaper this week that “too many” refugees from the Middle East and North Africa are heading into Europe. He knows of the problems Buddhists have been having with their own Muslim populations. He is also aware of the history of many Buddhist countries that were converted to Islam, including Afghanistan where invading Muslims overran the native Buddhist and Hindu populations.

We don’t even have to look as far as Europe to see what can happen to a culture under the increasing influence of Islamization. For example, the Muslim population in Canada is growing faster than that of any other religion. A majority of Muslims already living in Canada have favored being able to live under some form of sharia law, and a number of local governments have made accommodations in that direction.

Now enters the Barack Obama of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as Canada’s new prime minister. His Liberal government is hoping to admit 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. 25,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted in just four months.  Trudeau also appointed Member of Parliament and senior adviser Omar Alghabra, a sharia law supporter who has denied that Hamas is a terrorist group, as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Alghabra was born in Saudi Arabia, but emigrated to Canada from Syria several decades ago.

While Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper had prioritized the admission of persecuted Christians, Yazidis and Kurds, Trudeau said that he will “absolutely not” continue that practice. He and Obama are in sync that saving persecuted Christians from an ongoing genocide is less important than reaching out to Muslim refugees as proof of the country’s diversity and inclusiveness. When the two leaders met at the White House last March, they were effusive in mutual admiration for each other’s compassion towards the refugees. However, they are oblivious to the enhanced security risk to both countries they have created.

For example, some of the recently arrived refugees in Canada were welcomed last February with a call for jihad by the Imam of a Muslim congregation in Edmonton, Alberta, who was previously a “scholar” at al-Azhar theological school in Egypt:

“O Allah! Strengthen the mujahideen [jihad fighters in the path of Allah] everywhere, make their hearts firm and strong, let them hit their targets, give them victory over their enemies.

“O Allah! Destroy the oppressors.

“O Allah! Destroy your enemies, the enemies of religion (Islam).”

The Obama-Trudeau policy of opening doors widely to Muslim refugees, while allowing hardly a crack to open for the Christian and Yazidi victims of jihadi-inspired genocide, is risky, to be sure. It is also immoral.

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria?

May 30, 2016

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria? Al-Monitor, May 29, 2016

A terrorist group linked to the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh in Syria on May 23 that killed more than 150 civilians and wounded more than 200 others. Maxim Suchkov points out that the attack in Tartus occurred deep inside government-controlled territory. Russia maintains a naval base in Tartus and an air base and reconnaissance center in Khmeimim in the Latakia region. The suicide attacks, Suchkov suggests, could be a catalyst for a Russian “first strike” strategy against terrorist and aligned Salafi groups.

Moscow had already signaled the prospect of escalation against Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups prior to the May 23 attacks. The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced a pause in its air campaign to allow armed groups allied with Jabhat-al Nusra to distance themselves from the al-Qaeda affiliate. On May 26, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and allied groups seized the town of Dirkhabiyah near Damascus. Ahrar al-Sham has coordinated more closely with Jabhat al-Nusra in response to increased US and Russian targeting of the al-Qaeda affiliate over the past few months.

This column last week suggested that the United States take up a Russian offer to coordinate attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra, which is not a party to the cessation of hostilities. For the record, we have no tolerance or empathy for groups or individuals who stand with al-Qaeda. We hope that this is at least part of the message the United States is conveying to its regional partners who have backed these groups.

With the Geneva talks suspended for several weeks, the prospect of a Russian campaign to deliver heavy and potentially fatal blows to Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, especially in and around Aleppo and Idlib, could signal yet another turning point in the Syria conflict.

Turkey’s failed proxy war

The United States and Turkey are struggling to keep up appearances in Syria, despite even further signs of division and discord.

Gen. Joseph Votel, US CENTCOM commander, met last week with Syrian Kurdish forces during a “secret” visit to northern Syria as part of a regional diplomatic tour that also included a stop in Ankara. Votel told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that he is seeking to “balance” Turkey’s role as a “fabulous” partner in the battle against IS with that of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), which is a “very good partner on the ground.”

In contrast to the YPG, Turkey’s proxy forces, including a worrying mix of Salafists who are willing to run operations with Jabhat al-Nusra, have been a flop. Last week, IS seized at least seven villages in the northern Aleppo region.

Fehim Tastekin reports that SDF-led military operations to liberate Jarablus, which is an essential gateway along with al-Rai to the outside world via Turkey, were postponed “because of Turkey’s red line against the Kurds.” The offensive against Raqqa has also been slowed, writes Tastekin, because “the SDF’s operational capacity still leaves much to be desired. It is not an option for the Kurdish YPG-YPJ to control Raqqa, because they will encounter local resistance. They also worry that scattering their forces in Arab regions could weaken the defensive lines of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Therefore, Arab forces would have to get in shape to control the situation in the post-IS period.” Laura Rozen reports from Washington that the United States is seeking to boost the numbers of Arab Sunni forces among the SDF in anticipation of an advance on Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon found itself in a public relations fiasco after Turkey complained that US special forces in Syria were wearing badges with the logo of the YPG, which Turkey considers the Syrian partner of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and therefore also a terrorist organization. This might be compared with what in the sports world is known as an unforced error, and made Votel’s already daunting diplomacy that much more complicated.

Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy also told Ignatius that US air operations against IS out of Incirlik Air Base were mostly “autonomous” of Turkish missions, saying that “we don’t discuss with them where we’re going.”

Adding it all up, the US-Turkish “partnership” against IS may be more fable than fabulous. The open secret is that Turkey is preoccupied first with thwarting advances by Syria’s Kurds, and second with shutting down the remaining lifelines for IS in northern Syria. These priorities are of a piece. No doubt Turkey is taking up the fight against IS, but first things first. Tastekin, who previously broke the back story on Turkey’s disastrous proxy efforts to retake al-Rai from IS in April, now concludes that “there is no room for optimism that Ankara will erase its red lines vis-a-vis the Kurds. Instead, Turkey is now trying to put together an even more formidable force with Jabhat al-Nusra, which it is trying to steer away from al-Qaeda.”

The catch might just be that many of the Syrian armed groups backed by Washington’s regional partners are proxies for a sectarian agenda that is mostly about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however unlikely that now appears, and, by extension, keeping the heat on Iran. The when and where of taking the fight to IS or Jabhat al-Nusra is more or less negotiable, depending on trade-offs and pressure. We do not feel we are out on a limb in suggesting that efforts by Ankara or others to wean Jabhat al-Nusra from al-Qaeda will come to no good. This column has repeatedly documented the fluidity of foreign-backed Salafi groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam shifting in and out of tactical alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, all the while preaching an ideology almost indistinguishable from al-Qaeda and IS.

The losers, of course, are the people of Syria, including those who suffer under IS’ tyranny that much longer because of Turkey’s concerns about the Kurds, and as Washington’s policymakers and pundits begin another maddening deep dive into how to rejigger ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Syrians fleeing IS terror in Aleppo, meanwhile, told Mohammed al-Khatieb that living under IS is “like hell … unbearable.” While we acknowledge the complexities and challenges of the raw ethnic and sectarian politics of Syria, as well as the potential for vendettas and mass killings, there is, in our score, an urgency and priority to focus on the destruction of IS and al-Qaeda above all else.

Sur’s aftermath

Diyarbakir’s historic district of Sur has witnessed some of the most brutal fighting between Turkish military and PKK forces over the past year. Mahmut Bozarslan reports from Diyarbakir that “historical landmarks in Sur, which was last year added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, also suffered their share of destruction. The walls of the Armenian Catholic church are partially destroyed, while the nearby Haci Hamit Mosque is missing its minaret, with a dome riddled with bullets. Another Armenian church, Surp Giragos, had its windows shattered and interior damaged.”

“Still, those ancient monuments were lucky compared with more ordinary structures in the area,” writes Bozarslan. “A building with an intact door was almost impossible to find. The warring parties had used some buildings as fighting bases, others as places to rest. Stairways were littered with empty tins; one was also stained with blood. At the bloodied spot, a piece of paper reading “body #1” was left behind, suggesting that the security forces had been there for a crime scene report. A couple seemed relieved that they had escaped with relatively little damage, but grumbled that their apartment had been broken into, with the bedroom and closets rummaged. They claimed it was the security forces who had entered, while their neighbor showed Al-Monitor binoculars that had been left behind.”

Syrian Opposition Official: West Responsible For Assad Remaining In Power; U.S. Enabled Russia To Become Main Player In Syria Crisis

May 19, 2016

Syrian Opposition Official: West Responsible For Assad Remaining In Power; U.S. Enabled Russia To Become Main Player In Syria Crisis, MEMRI, May 18, 2016

Khaled Khoja, who served as president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces until March 2016, gave an interview to the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on April 17, 2016, in which he harshly attacked the international community and particularly the U.S. Khoja argued that the U.S. never desired regime change in Syria and therefore did not take a decisive stand against Bashar Al-Assad despite his many crimes, and did not significantly support the Syrian opposition. According to him, the Americans showed apathy regarding the crisis, enabling Russia to fill the vacuum that they had created in a way that suited Russian interests. He added that the purpose of American military aid to the Kurds was to create a Kurdish canton, which would effectively lead to the splintering of Syria. Khoja stressed that the Syrian High Negotiations Committee remains insistent that the first step is to establish a transitional governing body, and only then can a new constitution, elections, and other topics be addressed.

It should be mentioned that the interview was given prior to the April 19 announcement by the head of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, Riyad Hijab, that its delegation was suspending its participation in the Geneva talks.

Following are excerpts from the interview:[1]

28054Khaled Khoja (image: Zamanalwsl.net)

We Insist On A Serious Transition Of Power And All Authority

Khoja started by mentioning the Syrian High Negotiations Committee’s expectations from the current round of the Geneva talks: “We are here to focus on forming the governing body for the transitional phase. U.S. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is continuing his relentless efforts to begin discussing the political transitional phase, which will be based on establishing the ‘governing body,’ as stated in the Geneva announcement, UN Security Council Resolution 2218, and other resolutions. We have been empowered by opposition forces to discuss realizing these goals and we cannot deviate from them. Negotiations today should pick up where Geneva II left off [in February 2014] under the supervision of [former UN Special Envoy to Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi. We must start by forming this [governing] body and then proceeding to discuss the issues of the constitution, the elections, and other matters that fall under the governing body’s authority. Naturally, we have clear views on all these issues, which we will reveal at the appropriate time. I wish to say that we reject the verbal slips replacing the phrase ‘transitional governing body’ with ‘transitional regime’ or ‘transitional government’ and adhere to ‘transitional phase governing body’ and all it implies – meaning a serious transition of power and all authority.”

International And American Support For The Opposition Is Feeble

According to Khoja, “the position of international, and especially American, support for the Syrian opposition is feeble. The sad thing is that the true positions [of the U.S. and international community] regarding Assad is still feeble and vague despite all the evidence marking Bashar Al-Assad as a ‘war criminal,’ and despite the many official American statements that hold him responsible for ongoing killing and acts of slaughter. The lack of international political desire to push for the start of the transitional political phase in Syria has provided Assad and the parties supporting him, whether Iranians or Russians, with room to maneuver, enabling him [Assad] to continue heading the regime and to remain a chaos-creating factor in the region, [a factor] which exacerbates the refugee crisis and uses it as a card for pressuring neighboring countries and Europe, and which exports ISIS and terrorism…”

U.S. Apathy Is A Main Factor In Russia Becoming The Main Player In The Crisis

Khoja said further: “There is clearly American apathy regarding the Middle East, which opens the door for Russia to fill the vacuum left by the Americans… When we speak of the mass extermination of the Syrian people, their expulsion, the use of chemical weapons against them, the documentation of regime crimes in detention centers, forced disappearances, preplanned acts of murder, and red lines that have become green lights – all this causes observers to lose faith in the American position… Had the Americans not created this vacuum, we would not have been in the state we are in today, and Russia would not have become the main player in the crisis, holding the reins of initiative… Politically speaking, I believe the American position has not changed much since the onset of the Syrian revolution… [From the start] there was no real American support for change… The military aid we received [from the U.S.] is no match for the [American] military aid received by the Kurdish [Democratic] Union Party and the Kurdish People’s Defense Unit militias [YPG]. We believe that this aid for the Kurds was meant to create a new Kurdish ‘canton’ and to enforce a new reality as a foregone conclusion. American apathy has turned Syria into a series of ‘cantons’. The ‘Southern Canton,’ which is apart from the ‘Northern Canton,’ the ‘Kurdish Canton,’ and the ‘Alawi Canton.’ We cannot discount the possibility that as part of the political process, we will see a strengthening of [the phenomenon] of these cantons, but we will absolutely not agree to this…”

Syria Cannot Remain A Group Of Cantons In The Medium And Long Term

Khoja said that during the second round of negotiations there was talk of a federal solution that was “marketed by the Americans, the Russians, and UN Special Envoy de Mistura, who spoke openly and explicitly in one press conference on the topic of federation. Except that he did not discuss this issue with us, but rather only with other parties. The Russians did not hide their support for the federal solution and in my opinion, there is a serious attempt to create facts on the ground in Syria in order to strengthen the ‘canton’ situation.

“Any international solution, regardless of which parties promote it, cannot impose a situation that the Syrian people do not agree to. It is possible that the current situation will continue in the near future, but not in the medium and long term. The proof of this is that in the 1920s, the French tried to establish four statelets in Syria, but they only lasted a few years.”

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 17, 2016.