December 20, 2013
As the Saudi backed plan to seduce US into military intervention against Syria failed due Russia’s successful initiative about destruction Syria’s chemical weapons some new developments e.g. in form of the new Islamic Front are ongoing as well investigative reporting brings more light to the question whodunnit in Damascus on Aug. 2013.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—along with certain Arab League countries, plus Turkey and Israel, have early December 2013 committed themselves to raising nearly $6 billion seed money for new Islamic Front (IF) in Syria. This coalition wants also USA to particapate onto a plan to oust the Syrian government by funding, arming, training and facilitating a front formed out of an alliance of seven “moderate” rebel factions. Beside of toppling the Assad regime the other benefit would be truncating Iran’s growing influence.
$6 billion might look big investment. However the ”marketing slogan” for US involvement is ”better six billon than six trillion”. The claim is well based to the definitive Brown University study (The Costs of War project), which examined costs of the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the total amount for all three topped six trillion dollars . This never before released figure includes costs of direct and indirect Congressional appropriations, lost equipment, US military and foreign contractors fraud, and the cost of caring for wounded American servicemen and their families (war costs to date 4 trillion + interest rates 2 trillion for 40 years). In this sense few billions US money for IF could be a good bargain.
The new Islamic Front
Among the Islamist militia joining the new Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-backed coalition are Aleppo’s biggest fighting force, Liwa al-Tawhid (Tawhid Brigade), the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, al-Haq Brigades, Ansar al-Sham and the Islamic Army, which is centered around Damascus. The Kurdish Islamic Front also reportedly joined the alliance. None of these groups have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the US, and therefore, as an Israeli official argued in a meeting with AIPAC and Congress this week, nothing stands in the way of US funding and support for them. IF’s declared aim is to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whatever the human and material cost it may require, and replace it with an “Islamic state.”
This combined force – IF – is estimated by the CIA to number at around 75,000 fightersthat will fight under one command. What is not included to this new front is other Muslim militia—Daash or al-Nusra or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, for instance—that comprise the IF’s chief rivals.
According to sources in Aleppo and Damascus, the IF’s top leadership positions have been parceled out among five of the seven groups. Four days after the IF was announced, the organization released an official charter. The charter calls for an Islamic state and the implementation of sharia law, though it does not define exactly what this means. The IF is firmly against secularism, human legislation (i.e., it believes that laws come from God, not people), civil government, and a Kurdish breakaway state. The charter states that the group will secure minority rights in post-Assad Syria based on sharia, which could mean the dhimma (“protected peoples”) system, or de facto second-class citizenship for Christians and other minorities.
Figure credit: Institute for the Study of War Syria
Some Washington officials and analysts are wondering if US participation would help unify notoriously hostile rebel ranks and curtail the growing power of al-Qaeda in Syria, or whether it is simply another Saudi project to create a hierarchical revolutionary army with the aim of fighting the Syrian regime essentially alongside al-Qaeda? (Source: Bibi and Bandar Badger Obama: Better Six Billion than Six Trillion! by Franklin Lamb – TRANSCEND Media Service)
A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. While the initial conflict was disingenuously portrayed as the spontaneous militarization of unarmed protesters fighting against a “brutal regime,” in reality Al Nusra was already inside the country and operating on a national scale. The US State Department itself would reveal this in its December 2012 Terrorist Designations of the al-Nusrah Front as an Alias for al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which stated:
Since November 2011, al-Nusrah Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks – ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and improvised explosive device operations – in major city centers including Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib, and Dayr al-Zawr. During these attacks numerous innocent Syrians have been killed.
The terror implemented by those groups who are not included to the new Islamic Front continues against civilians. Recently Al-Qaeda linked Islamists have kidnapped at least 120 Kurdish civilians from a village in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey, Observatory for Human Rights reported. The incident is the latest in the armed conflict between Syrian Kurds and Islamic factions. 51 Kurdish civilians from the towns of Manbij and Jarablus, northeast of Aleppo, have been kidnapped by Islamist fighters since the beginning of December.
The armed opposition has been opportunistic and bloody from the start, targeting security forces, on and off duty, and pro-government civilians since March 2011. While there were indeed Syrian army defectors who joined the “revolution” early on in the conflict in response to government clampdowns and/or their own genuine political sentiments, much of the armed rebellion has been funded, assisted and organized from outside Syria’s borders. It is known, that non-Syrians were entering the country right from the beginning. These people were provided with wages, weapons, intelligence and training, with the expectation that a hard thrust against al-Assad’s government would unseat him in short shrift, much like what had already happened in other Arab states.
This opposition has been funded and assembled by foreign foes of Syria for geopolitical gain. Their goal was to unseat a “dictator” so that they could then come in and establish their own foreign-backed “dictatorship” at the heart of the Resistance Axis. The reason this opposition has never been able to articulate a cohesive, inclusive, political platform for the Syrian people is because they are all backed by different, sometimes competing, interests, and because their goal is not a politically reformed Syria, but instead the establishment of their own power and economic bases.
The new UN report
“The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic,” (Åke Sellstrom, chief UN investigator )
A new UN report states that in addition to the widely publicised chemical weapons attack on August 21 near Damascus, such weapons were probably used in four other locations in Syria between March and late August. The findings show that in at least 3 attacks, civilians as well as soldiers were targeted, which is a strong indication that the rebels were in possession of chemical weapons and that these chemical weapons were used against both Syrian government forces as well as civilians. For example assessment reletaed to CW attack against soldiers (government forces) and civilians in Khan Al Asal on 19 March 2013 (p.19 in UN report) was in response to a formal request by the Syrian government. In a letter (dated 19 March 2013), the Representative of Syria to the UN informed the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council of its allegation that, at 0730 hours on 19 March, armed terrorist groups had fired a rocket from the Kfar De’il area towards Khan Al Asal in the Aleppo governorate.
“What is written in the current report does not change but even confirms our conviction that fighters, not the Syrian government, are behind the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Russian Permanent Envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said on Rossiya-24 news television channel.
But the revised UN analysis, attached to a new UN report on several other alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria, punched a new hole in the notion that the Republican Guard fired a Sarin-laden missile into Moadamiyah. The UN inspectors found no chemical weapons agents on the remnants of the crudely made missile that landed in Moadamiyah (or for that matter no Sarin anywhere else in the area). In the earlier UN report about the Aug. 21 incident, one of two UN labs had detected on a metal fragment what the lab thought was a chemical residue that can be left behind by degraded Sarin. But the new analysis withdraws that finding, an indication of how fragile the chemistry can be in getting false positives on derivative chemical residue. The two UN laboratories are now in agreement that there was neither Sarin nor possible derivatives of Sarin on the metal fragments from the Moadamiyah missile.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Sellstrom investigation after the Syrian government wrote to him accusing the rebels of carrying out the chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal. The United Nations has since received a total of 16 reports of possible chemical weapons use in Syria, mainly from the Syrian government, Britain, France and the United States. The experts looked closely at seven of those cases.
The new UN report suggests that Syrian rebels have developed a capability to produce at least crude chemical weapons and delivery systems, further adding to the possibility that the Aug. 21 attack east of Damascus could have resulted from a botched rebel launch of a makeshift missile aimed at government targets or as an accident. The investigation found likely use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal, near the northern city of Aleppo, in March; in Saraqeb, near the northern city of Idlib, in April; and in Jobar and Ashrafiat Sahnaya, near Damascus, in August. Rebels have seized all kinds of weapons from military depots across the country, according to the United Nations. Western powers say the rebels do not have access to chemical arms.
An annex to the UN report reproduced YouTube photographs of some recovered munitions, including a rocket that ‘indicatively matches’ the specifics of a 330mm calibre artillery rocket. The New York Times wrote that the existence of the rockets essentially proved that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack ‘because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency’. Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. However the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres.
Read the full (final) report here: United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Mother Agnes Mariam in her interview: One of the reasons that I would like to see the graves is because 1,466 deaths is a real “social tsunami” in the Syrian society where everybody knows everybody and everybody is related. In the case of East Ghouta, we did not even have one case show up. We did not know of one single person who is dead. You know, to have relatives claiming this – the brother, the friend – nobody did. We did not have the “echo” of the death of 1,466 people. We are asking for a neutral inquiry with the presence of witnesses from both sides, where they will open the pits, see the victims, they will take samples randomly – where they took it, how they took it, etc. Samples should be sent to 5 labs under the same conditions and precautions. Until then there is a question mark on everything.
In a December article for the London Review of Books, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh confirmed that President Barack Obama misled the American people over the Aug. 21 (2013) Syrian chemical attack by cherry-picking evidence about the Syrian government’s presumed guilt and excluding suspicions about the rebels’ capability to produce their own Sarin gas. Hersh also reported that he discovered a deep schism within the U.S. intelligence community over how the case was sold to pin the blame on President Assad. Hersh wrote that he encountered “intense concern, and on occasion anger” when he interviewed American intelligence and military experts “over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence.” According to Hersh, “One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote.”
President Obama failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad. A quote from mentioned Hersh article:
[President Obama] cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence… A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.
Hersh describes also that in Syria there is also a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military. But far more important, in terms of early warning, is the sensors’ ability to alert US and Israeli intelligence when warheads are being loaded with sarin. A chemical warhead, once loaded with sarin, has a shelf life of a few days or less – the nerve agent begins eroding the rocket almost immediately. The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded. The sensors had worked in the past, e.g. last December (2012) the sensor system picked up signs of what seemed to be sarin production at a chemical weapons depot. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army was simulating sarin production as part of an exercise or actually preparing an attack. At the time, Obama publicly warned Syria that using sarin was ‘totally unacceptable’; a similar message was also passed by diplomatic means. This time there was not the same warning.
On 30 August the White House invited a select group of Washington journalists, and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, which laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. The document stated, that US intelligence knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. Later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. An unforseen reaction came in the form of complaints from the Free Syrian Army’s leadership and others about the lack of warning. ‘It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,’…‘Intelligence report says US officials knew about nerve-gas attack in Syria three days before it killed over 1400 people – including more than 400 children.’ (Razan Zaitouneh/FSA)
Already by late May (2013) the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta.
Independently of these assessments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assuming that US troops might be ordered into Syria to seize the government’s stockpile of chemical agents, called for an all-source analysis of the potential threat… All Op Orders contain an intelligence threat component and technical analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, weapons people, and I & W [indications and warnings] people working on the problem … They concluded that the rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas. The examination relied on signals and human intelligence, as well as the expressed intention and technical capability of the rebels.
(Source: Whose Sarin?by Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books Seymour M. Hersh is writing an alternative history of the war on terror. He has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1993. His journalism and publishing awards include a Pulitzer Prize, five George Polk Awards, two National Magazine Awards, and more than a dozen other prizes for investigative reporting.)
It remains to seen if GCC will succeed in enticing US into their fundrising and if the new Islamic Front will be created as significant opposition force in Syria. I doubt as local warlords are uniting to share in Saudi largesse for which their enthusiasm is probably greater than their willingness to fight. The Saudis are probably making a mistake. The artificial unity of rebel groups with their hands out for Saudi money is not going to last. They will be discredited in the eyes of more fanatical jihadis as well as Syrians in general as pawns of Saudi and other intelligence services.
It might be possible that US did not implemented planned military intervention against Syria as its political leadership knew first that Syrian rebels had chemical weapons, second it knew that Al Assad regime maybe not used CW in Damascus August 2013 and third that Syrian opposition might on the end not be better alternative than Al Assad.
The UN resolution, which was adopted on 27 September by the Security Council, dealt indirectly with the notion that rebel forces such as al-Nusra would also be obliged to disarm: ‘no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [chemical] weapons.’ The resolution also calls for the immediate notification of the Security Council in the event that any ‘non-state actors’ acquire chemical weapons.
After Syrian CW agreement came Iran nuke deal and both these against the will of the Saudis. It seems that US has been rapidly altering its regional approach shifting weight from Saudi Arabia towards Iran. Maybe US has came conclusion that it needs more Iran to stop the growth of terror groups, networks and activities of Salafi extremists, both in and out of the Middle East – with Iran stabilization of chaotic region might be possible.
Some of my previous articles about Syria:
Syria Chemical Weapons Attack – Whodunnit II
Demolition Of CW Stockpiles Is Only Contributory Factor In The Syria War
The Four-stage Plan For Syria – Can It Work
Whodunnit in Syria
Syrian Rebels Admit Chemical Attack InDamascus???
Syria: From War To Dissolution With Help Of Media