Tag Archives: War

Syria’s Civil War Is Ending. But The War For Syria Is Just Beginning.

Syria Civil Defence volunteers try to extinguish a fire in Maaret al-Numan in the rebel-held Idlib province following reported regime air strikes.

Amer Alhamwe / AFP / Getty Images

ISTANBUL – Seven years after it began, Syria's messy, bloody civil war could finally be nearing its end. But a conflict that has left half a million people dead — and displaced nearly 13 million more — is being replaced by something even more dangerous.

Despite the heavy involvement of the UN and the international community, chances of a lasting peace between the government of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting him seems more distant than ever, even as some governments begin denying fleeing Syrians shelter in the belief the conflict is “winding down.”

“The Syria war seems to be just getting started”

Russia has taken on a key role since its direct intervention in the conflict in 2015, launching decisive air strikes and expanding its military footprint to support Assad's regime, but it has failed to quell the conflict on a number of fronts, and questions remain about its ability to ever do so.

Supported by Russia and Iran, and an assortment of allied militias, Syrian dictator Assad appears close to triumph in his battle to fend off an armed rebellion — having inflicted horrific punishment on civilians in territory still controlled by his adversaries — while a US-led coalition is on the verge of stamping out the last traces of ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

But those two major developments only appear to have hastened the next chapter in the conflict, as local, regional, and global powers vying for influence and turf scramble to assert themselves and shape Syria’s future.

“While the Syrian civil war may be winding down,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, told BuzzFeed News. “The Syria war seems to be just getting started.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a Russian air base in Northwestern Syria last December.

AFP / Getty Images

In less than a month, a number of extraordinary events have catapulted Syria back into the headlines and heightened a sense of dread across the Middle East.

  • Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on Jan. 20, pummeling a corner of Syria controlled by a Kurdish militia loyal to imprisoned separatist leader Abdullah Öcalan with air strikes and artillery as troops and allied Syrian fighters fought fiercely on the ground.

  • Syrian rebels formerly tied to al-Qaeda shot down a Russian Sukhoi fighter jet on Feb. 3; its pilot parachuted to land alive, only to die in clashes with fighters.

  • The regime stepped up air strikes and alleged chlorine gas attacks against remaining pockets of rebel-held territory, apparently targeting hospitals, triggering warnings of a spike in civilian deaths that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein condemned as “one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

  • Pro-Assad forces attacked US-backed Syrian Kurds in the country’s northwest on Feb. 7, prompting retaliatory American air strikes that reportedly killed at least 100 regime military personnel.

  • Early on the morning of Feb. 10, Israelis said an Iranian surveillance drone — reportedly of the same design of a US drone downed by Iran in 2011 — crossed into Israel from Southwest Syria. Israel downed the aircraft and launched a retaliatory air strike on a trailer, where it said the drone was being operated. During that operation, an Israeli F-16 fighter was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft guns, its pilots ejecting to safety. Israel responded with a wave of air strikes on what it described as joint Syrian and Iranian military outposts in Syria.

  • That same day, Turkey reported that one of its T129 ATAK helicopters was downed by Syrian Kurdish forces in the mountainous border region adjacent to Afrin, Northwest Syria, killing both military personnel aboard. Nine other Turks died in fighting elsewhere in Afrin.

The warfare highlighted a dangerous phase in the Syria conflict, a potential new normal where international powers fight each other to establish red lines and spheres of influence inside the country.

“We’re really reaching an endgame in terms of different stakeholders starting to carve their spheres of influences,” said Randa Slim, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The intra-Syrian fight is finished. It’s about Iran. It’s about Israel. It’s about Turkey. It’s about Russia. It’s about the US. They are now involved in waging the fight on the ground.”

Emile Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies in London, said, “You had four foreign powers in the last few days that have lost helicopters, drones, or planes over Syria. This is not a contained conflict. This is a fully regionalized conflict.”

A man walks in the dust following regime air strikes on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region.

Hamza al-Ajweh / AFP / Getty

Making that conflict all the more dangerous, most of the diplomatic attention given to Syria so far has focused on the war between the regime and its people. Diplomats have devoted little attention to the burgeoning conflicts between Israel and Iran and its proxies; Turks and Kurds; and the US and its allies against pro-regime forces. In fact, in an illustration of Syria’s complexity, any impending political deal between the regime and the opposition could actually exacerbate the country’s other wars.

“Always, when a political solution approaches, we see a military action on the ground from all sides – Israel, Turkey, Iran, Russia,” said Mona Ghanem, one of the pro-regime delegates who attended a largely failed peace conference in the Russian resort city of Sochi this month. “It is a bone-breaking game. Each side wants to preserve its interests before the agreement takes place.”

“The situation is so messy that the Russians can’t deliver for anyone”

Russia intervened in Syria to help prop up a longtime ally and undermine the credibility of the West. The assumption that Russia now owns Syria and was in control of the battlefield has given policymakers in Western capitals a way of putting the conflict on the back burner. Even opposition figures who once scoffed at any communications with Moscow now accept its role.

“We are aware that the Russians are the strongest in the Syrian crisis, and we are keen to communicate with them because we have reached the stage of dividing up power in Syria,” said Alice Mufrih, a Syrian opposition activist now based in Germany. “This war is no longer the war of the Syrians now.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, likely to urge him to rein in Iran, which has become a junior partner in the Kremlin’s Syria gambit. Netanyahu has accused Iran of deploying allied militias along its Syrian frontiers and establishing missile factories aimed at producing weapons to target Israel.

But the idea that Moscow will bring about a settlement in a multilayered conflict as tangled as Syria may be illusory. Moscow’s track record on enforcing red lines in Syria has been poor. Russia failed to ensure Assad would stop using chemicals, failed to rein in Iran’s influence as requested by Israel and Moscow’s own Arab allies, and failed to deliver on in its own plan to work with Iran and Turkey to establish so-called de-escalation zones meant to draw down the war. The Sochi conference this month was also largely regarded as an abject failure.

“Russia is the central actor, they are the architect,” said Hokayem. “But the situation is so messy that the Russians can’t deliver for anyone. There’s a question of Russian will and competence. But they’re the only ones in the game at this point.”

From left: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at November's Sochi summit.

Mikhail Metzel / AFP / Getty Images

None of the regional and global powers involved in the Syria conflict are seeking to provoke an all-out war with their rivals over Syria, say diplomats and experts. But as casualties and rhetoric escalates, so does the risk of an all-out confrontation between these powers.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to the Middle East this week to meet with leaders in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey in likely attempts to ease tensions. One European diplomat focused on Syria said the emergence of a plan from the Sochi conference this month to create a 150-member body to write up a new Syrian constitution could give peace efforts some life.

“The idea is to come up with a pool of candidates for a constitutional committee to look at how constitutional reform could lead to a process of reconciliation and eventual transition,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There was a time to shape this. But we lost it”

But others argue that the Syria conflict has become so complex and volatile that it will require more than just parachute diplomacy, sparsely attended occasional peace conferences, and secretive backchannels like the ones that likely exist via Moscow between Iran and Israel. Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East director at the International Crisis Group, says the Syria conflict appears so intractable because it has come to embody all of the major Middle East crises of the last 100 years: the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Arab Spring uprisings, the rise of Iran and Hezbollah, the aspirations of region’s ethnic Kurds, and the emergence of jihadist groups.

There is no single solution,” said Hiltermann. “We must look at the various layers of conflict, and make sure if we address one conflict layer we don’t aggravate another. We need to look at all of them individually and with extreme care.”

Such delicate diplomacy seems unlikely. For now, most players understand that diplomacy will take a back seat to air strikes and rockets. Diplomatic platforms serve as occasional brakes on escalation. “[All sides in the conflict need to] understand that one party can't dominate Syria, and develop enforceable ground rules through deescalation to implement ceasefires,” said Tabler.

Just a few years ago, Western policymakers imagined Assad’s victory would be the worst-case scenario for Syria. That now seems quaint. Among the potential disasters now are an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah that would encompass parts of Syria, or a shooting war between Turkey and Assad regime forces.

Other new dangers include clashes between US and Russian military personnel on the ground, or fighting breaking out between NATO partners Turkey and America over Kurds that Washington considers allies and Ankara regards as terrorists.

“There is a recognition by policymakers of how bad the situation is, and how complex, and an acknowledgement that the tools to deal with this are no longer present,” said Hokayem. “Even some kind of dialogue is not going to make a difference. People are set on capturing whatever territory they can seize. There was a time to shape this. But we lost it.”

Civilians flee the aftermath of air strikes in the rebel-held town of Jisreen, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region.

Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images

Trump Declares War On The #MeToo Movement Because He Says It Hurts CEOs

Donald Trump despises the #MeToo movement because he says it hurts CEOs by making it easy for female employees to sue. Axios reported, “Donald Trump despises the #MeToo movement because he says it hurts CEOs by making it easy for female employees to sue.” The article also states the Trump’s believes Rob Porter’s ex-wives and […]

The post Trump Declares War On The #MeToo Movement Because He Says It Hurts CEOs appeared first on Politicus USA.

This Woman Spoke Out Against A War. Then Police Broke Down Her Door And Took Her Away.

A Kurdish demonstrator chants slogans during a protest against the operation in Afrin, outside the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

Bilal Hussein / AP

ISTANBUL – Nurcan Baysal expected her tweets and writing opposing Turkey’s recent military intervention in Syria and calling for peace would prompt an official reaction, maybe even an arrest.

But what the writer and activist didn’t anticipate was police storming into her house on Jan. 22 in the southeast city of Diyarbakir, terrifying her family. She was hauled away, and held at a police station for two days before being released pending trial.

“Detention was not a surprise,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I have been writing on human rights violations, war crimes in the region for so long, so I was expecting it. But I didn’t expect them to break down my door. I tried to keep my children safe when I heard the noise.”

Turkish authorities have cracked down vehemently on those publicly opposed to an ongoing military intervention in Syria’s Afrin region; an example of the constriction of public dissent that occurs in countries during times of war.

Turkish armed forces and allied Syrian Arab fighters launched their offensive in the Afrin section of Syria, since when at least 15 Turkish soldiers have been killed according to the pro-government Aksam newspaper. The 1,000-square mile pocket of northwest Syria is controlled by a Kurdish militia, the YPG, and a political party, the PYD, that independent analysts consider branches or outgrowths of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

“I didn’t expect them to break down my door”

An outlawed separatist group, the PKK has been fighting the Ankara government for nearly four decades. Turkey, the US and EU list the PKK as a terrorist group, though many European countries tolerate its presence and Washington has allied with what the CIA calls its Syrian branch in the fight against ISIS.

Turkey has accused opponents of the Afrin intervention of supporting terrorists. It has detained more than 400 people who have signed on to statements against the conflict or posted statements on social media, though most have been quickly released ahead of trial. In the most high-profile action, authorities on Jan. 30 began detaining the entire leadership board of the Turkish Medical Association for issuing a statement opposing the conflict on public health grounds. All have been released pending trial.

“We have never heard these terrorist-lovers ever say yes to peace up to the present day,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Jan. 26, denouncing the doctors’ statement as disingenuous and harmful to Turkish armed forces at a time of war. “Did we ever hear of the slightest statement aimed at those carrying out domestic terrorism?”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Adem Altan / AFP / Getty Images

During a wide-ranging meeting with international journalists in Istanbul on Saturday, Erdogan’s spokesperson and senior adviser Ibrahim Kalin insisted that Turkey welcomed constructive criticism of the war effort so long as it didn’t serve as a propaganda tool for the enemy, or violate laws that bar the glorification of terrorism.

“If they were consistent in their opposition to war under all circumstances, things would have been very different,” he said. “Whenever there is a issue that touches the YPG, PKK, PYD they suddenly turn into these global, humanist anti-war groups. Our soldiers are fighting for our country’s border and safety and the people of Afrin, and they’re spreading these kinds of views telling people that war is dirty, war is a health problem.”

Kalin said the doctors association was taking a “clearly political stance” that potentially harmed the morale of soldiers in harm’s way and couldn’t be ignored by the authorities. “How about those soldiers fighting on Syrian territories?” he told journalists. “What kind of message do they get? They put their lives at risk so that we can be safe and free here now you’re saying things that directly or indirectly knowingly or unknowingly end up supporting the people they’re fighting.”

Opponents of the war have countered that they have consistently spoken out against armed conflicts, including some in the region also vocally opposed by Erdogan and his allies. An article in the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet listed the times the Turkish Medical Association spoke out against wars, including against the US invasion of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as bombings carried out in Turkey by Kurdish separatists.

“We will keep struggling for a country where not a single person is killed or injured,” the association reportedly declared after a June 2016 bombing claimed by a PKK offshoot which killed five police officers and six civilians in the Vezneciler district of Istanbul. “Our struggle is for a peaceful and democratic country.”

Syrian Kurds, Arabs, and Syriacs bussed in from across northern Syria demonstrate against the Turkish offensive, in the centre of the Kurdish city of Afrin on Feb. 6.

Delil Souleiman / AFP / Getty Images

Most Turks appear to support the Afrin operation, which has been endorsed by three of Turkey’s main parties, including the secular and nominally social democratic opposition People’s Republican Party. One Turkish social scientist said Turkey’s move to stop Syrian Kurds from establishing a self-rule enclave to the south of its border calms public anxieties about Western schemes to carve up the country that date back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the first world war.

“The paranoia held by Turks is that foreigners are trying to divide up Turkey,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she didn’t want to strain relations with the authorities. “Nationalism is on the rise and a lot of Turks are supporting the war. “

Still, it remains impossible to know how many Turks oppose the Afrin operation, which is made all the more complicated by its entanglement in the Kurdish issue that has been a central theme of Turkish politics and identity for decades.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels watch as smoke billows in the village of al-Amud following artillery shelling as part of Turkey's operation Olive Branch against YPG militia in Afrin.

Saleh Abo Ghaloun / AFP / Getty Images

Kurds, one of the world’s largest ethno-linguistic groups without a homeland, number perhaps a fifth of Turkey’s 80 million people but have been discriminated against since the founding of the country in 1923. A decades-old on-and-off war between the PKK and the central government has left tens of thousands dead, millions displaced and entire stretches of the Kurdish southeast devastated. At the height of the war, when secular generals rather than Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted political party dominated the government, little public dissent was allowed.

“It was never easy to defend peace in Turkey, especially in Kurdistan,” said Baysal, who noted that she has also spoken out against terrorist attacks carried out by the PKK in Turkey. “But it was also not this difficult in the past. We used to organize meetings and bring representatives from both sides together even during the tough times. But today that is not possible. Today, defending peace is equal to terrorism. ‘Don’t say a word about peace. Applaud war.’ That is what they are telling us.”

Baysal continues to speak out against the Afrin war, both on social media and in her articles. Despite the crackdown, on Jan. 25, more than 170 signatories, including former ministers, writers, actors, journalists, sent a letter to the members of parliament calling for an end to the military operation.

Nurcan Baysal

youtube.com

“We know that an armed intervention on Afrin, which poses no threat to Turkey and is part of Syria’s territory, will not bring peace and security to our country and region, but rather bigger problems and more destruction and pain. It will create deep wounds in the hearts of our Kurdish citizens,” the letter said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the Turkish Doctors Association elaborated in vivid detail on the reasons for its opposition to the Afrin intervention, which it insisted was rooted in concern for civilian life and public health infrastructure.

“In our days wars are not fought as pitched battles,” said the statement, read aloud by a representative of the group in Ankara. “They take place in urban centres, settlements where children, women, elderly people, and civilians live. Civilians are killed and injured. Children succumb to nightmares. Water and sanitation systems are destroyed, Diseases spread, and farmlands are devastated, followed by hunger, famine, and migration. Health systems break apart and access to health services becomes impossible. Physical, biological and psychological effects of the weapons used bring along full disaster to civilians.

“It is for these reasons that doctors siding with human life and health in all circumstances define cases of armed conflict where all kinds of weapons are used as a preventable public health problem, and ask for urgent peace.”

This week in the war on workers: What do minimum wage increases mean for jobs?

A study last year claimed that Seattle’s minimum wage had hurt low-income workers, a claim that went against both the vast majority of previous minimum wage studies and Seattle’s booming economy. But a new study, co-authored by UMass economics professor Arindrajit Dube and incorporating 137 minimum wage increases, finds—again—that raises don’t hurt jobs:

On average, minimum-wage increases eliminated jobs paying below the new minimum, but added jobs paying at or above the new minimum. The two changes effectively cancel each other out. […]

The decline in jobs paying less than the new minimum wage is offset by an increase in those paying more. Jobs further up the pay scale are largely unaffected, as economists would expect — the minor fluctuations beyond $4 above the new minimum wage are not statistically significant, the study found.

Yet another data point—or 137 of them—for voters (looking at you, Massachusetts) and lawmakers alike to keep in mind as they consider future minimum wage increases. 

‘Living a catastrophe’: Post-ISIS, Syria’s civil war rages on at a horrific pace

Although the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) is greatly diminished in Syria, the civil war continues to take lives at a frightening pace there. For those near the capital of Damascus, this has been the deadliest week in nearly three years.

At least 229 people have been killed in airstrikes targeting rebels in Eastern Ghouta over the last four days.

“The people here have collapsed, people are seen talking to themselves in the streets,” a spokesman from the Civil Defence rescue service told Reuters. “They don’t know where to go. We are living a catastrophe.” A spokesperson for Save the Children also said that schools are being hit, leaving terrified children “starved, bombed and trapped.”

The United States has called for an end to the airstrikes, as has France. Meanwhile, things are getting evermore complicated in the country’s nearly seven-year war. U.S. forces have pivoted their focus from the fight against ISIS to fighting Russian-backed Syrian forces.

In retaliation for an attack on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Deir Ezzor, U.S. forces struck back with airstrikes on Wednesday.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Pentagon Chief Spokeswoman Dana White insisted that the strike did not represent a shift in U.S. strategy: “We are not looking for a conflict with the regime. Any action that takes away from our ongoing operations to defeat ISIS is a distraction.”

The Pentagon said that it was in communication with Russian forces in the area before, during, and after the strikes, but the Russian government accused the United States of mission creep, saying that the presence of U.S. troops there is “illegal” and intended to “seize Syrian economic assets.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also doubled down, calling the U.S. strikes “new aggression that poses a war crime and a crime against humanity.”

But Russia is busy with its own bombing campaigns. Casualties are mounting in Idlib, with Russia pounding rebel targets there after a Russian jet was struck down in Saraqib, near Damascus, over the weekend.

Civilians also continue to flee border towns where Kurdish and Turkish forces have been clashing since January 20.

Turkey has also been shelling towns and villages in northern Syria, claiming Kurds within Syria are tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which it considers a terrorist organization. Turkey has also repeatedly called on U.S. troops to leave the town of Manbij, further east along the Syrian border, so it can expand its operations. (The United States has declined to do so.)

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron also issued a statement saying he’s concerned that chlorine bombs have been used against civilians in the past few week, but according to the Associated Press, stopped short of holding any particular party responsible.