Geopolitics

From Syria To Iraq, Can Allies Of Circumstance Take Down Jihadists?

A Syrian bomb maker from Deir Al Zour, in eastern Syria, in 2013.
A Syrian bomb maker from Deir Al Zour, in eastern Syria, in 2013.
Fehim Tastekin

ISTANBUL — The Syrian regime today presents itself to the international community as a partner in "fighting terrorism," and Bashar al-Assad is happy to leave his enemies on the northern front (where the Nusra, Islamic Front, Free Syrian Army, and YPG fight ISIS) to wear each other out.

The proposed anti-terror partnership would function just like the cooperation the Assad regime has practiced with surrendering chemical weapons in order to reduce international isolation and block plans for foreign military intervention.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) had not been perceived as a major threat in Syria, but by expanding to Iraq, and setting off alarms in the international community, both Assad and his other opponents inside Syria see a chance to turn this crisis into an opportunity.

The opposition groups hope the new situation will pave the way for more weapons to come their way. However, the outside supporters of these opposition groups, the United States foremost, wants them to direct all their energy to the battle against ISIS. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared last month that "the moderate opposition in Syria has the potential to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIS not just in Syria, but also in Iraq." President Barack Obama has asked for $500 million from Congress to support the "moderate" opposition. This is a striking shift, now focused on fighting ISIS instead of fighting Assad.

A secret plan

The second problem is the loss of credibility amongst the opposition, which continues to splinter into more and more factions. Ahmad Tome, prime minister of the temporary government founded by the opposition, disbanded the High Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and relieved Chief of the General Staff Abdul-Ilah Bashir from duty due to charges of corruption and bribery. This move caused a crisis within the Syrian National Council.

Meanwhile, ISIS is gaining the edge on these opposition groups in the field. Commanders in Aleppo, Raqqa and Deyr Zor have made threats of giving up their arms if they do not receive aid.

Several plans were developed before in order to strengthen the moderates; some were put into motion, some were shelved. The result is a fiasco. For example, according to a press reports last month, General David Richards, former chief of the general staff of the British Military, had prepared a secret plan in 2012 for a massive 100,000-strong opposition force to be armed and trained at camps in Turkey and Jordan.

When they were ready, this force would march to Damascus with air support from Gulf countries and the West. However, this one year action plan was found to be "too risky" by both the U.S. and UK political leadership. We do not know whether a similar plan may be made against ISIS but the situation is much more complex than it was two years ago.

There are not many organizations left on the field that have the ability to resist ISIS except the Islamic Front, which has Salafist elements in it, and the Nusra, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. The Nusra and the Islamic Front are partners and they do not recognize the Syrian National Council. Groups such as the Hazm Movement, which has been labeled as "moderate" by the U.S., and the Martyrs of Bedir lead by the Halid Hayani are the only ones left. The Martyrs of Bedir played a part in the clashes during January and February to drive ISIS out of Aleppo. They also control two prisons that house not only Assad supporters but some members of the opposition too. The Martyrs are known as exploiters, rapists, thieves and pillagers, but are also considered as a necessary evil due to their resistance against ISIS.

Another factor that worries the U.S. is where the weapons will end up. Misel Kilo, a member of the Syrian National Council, was quoted in al Kuds al Arabi newspaper: "Approximately $500 million worth of weapons were brought to Syria. However these weapons were lost due conflicts and chaos. The weapons were sold to neighboring countries. Especially the weapons that came from Turkey were returned to Turkey and sold there. Warlords have appeared. They stole the people's grain, oil and property; now they are busy with the weapons trade."

So what strategy could the U.S. use against ISIS in this situation? The options for the U.S. are few:

- A struggle of power with the dirty, disorderly and untrustworthy opposition

- A secret partnership with the salafist Islamic Front and the Nusra

- Forget about the opposition in Syria and the rebelling Sunni clans in Iraq, and form an alliance of convenience with the Assad administration in Syria and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq

Obama could also just pray for his last two years in the Oval Office to pass quickly.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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