Archive | March 10th, 2018

US-backed Wahhabi Militants Are Planning to Attack Syrian Army in Daraa 

NOVANEWS

Jaysh al-Islam along with several US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups are preparing to launch a new military operation against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies in the southern governorate of Daraa, the Syrian pro-opposition news outlet Enab Baladi reported on March 11.

The media outlet revealed that the attack’s goal will be to besiege the SAA and its allies in the city of Daraa and to cut off the Daraa-Damascus highway. The government-held towns of Mahajjah and Izra in northern Daraa will be a target of the US-backed FSA during the first phase of the attack, according to Enab Baladi.

Other Syrian opposition sources said that the FSA attack will be a response to the ongoing SAA operation in the East Ghouta region and hoped that it will help militants there.

Local sources reported that the FSA is already massing their forces around the Daraa-Damascus highway. Civilians have also begun to flee the area ahead of the upcoming attack.

Southern Syria, including Daraa governorate, is a part of a de-escalation agreement between Russia and the US. The agreement will likely collapse once the US-backed FSA launch its attack against the SAA there.

The US-backed FSA in Daraa governorate has received loads of weapons and ammo from the US, Jordan and Israel recently, according to Syrian pro-government sources. Due to this, it is possible that the attack will achieve some success just like the last attack of the FSA in Daraa which took place in February-June 2017.

Back then, the FSA received huge support from the US, which had supplied it with dozens of TOW ATGMs and Switchblade suicide drones. Jordan even went further and flew its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the provincial capital to support the FSA.

The US-backed FSA will likely receive a similar level of support, if not higher in any upcoming attack especially from Jordan and Israel.

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Double Agent Sergei Skripal – There’s More to This Story Than Meets the Eye

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As we mentioned in our report last week “What You Are NOT being Told About Russian Spy Sergei Skripal” – it should not be forgotten that Skripal is a traitor who sold the identities of dozens of Russian agents abroad to the UK, in exchange for hard cash. This may very well have caused the deaths of some of those Russian agents operating in conflict zones. Skripal is also a known double agent – or double traitor. Without doubt, Skripal had enemies, probably quite a few.

There are many permutations as to who his attempted murderer may be.

Accusations and speculation are rife, with little hard evidence being made public other than some basic details. Russia is disputing their involvement.

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said,

“That forensic analysis has revealed the presence of a nerve agent and the incident is therefore being treated as attempted murder.”

While Britain has not accused any Russian state actors of involvement in the poisoning, Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, last Tuesday called Russia “a malign and disruptive force” and threatened new sanctions on Russia, if the Kremlin were found to have been responsible.

Johnson’s comment drew a Russian rebuttal. Earlier government-linked media and politicians in Russia took a defensive stance, claiming in advance that the Russian state had nothing to do with the crime.

The Russian embassy’s claim that Skripal was a “British spy working for MI6” rather than a Russian spy is based on the fact that he was a double agent working simultaneously for both the Russian and British intelligence services.

Here is a short bio of Skripal compiled by Reuters:

Who is Sergei Skripal - the Russian ex-spy poisoned in London, U.K.? BY REUTERS

Who is Sergei Skripal – the Russian ex-spy poisoned in London, U.K.? BY REUTERS

While the Russian Embassy’s claim about the double agent is not completely wrong, it is inaccurate to imply that Skripal was not a Russian spy, and even now there are questions surrounding Skripal’s allegiances.

Valery Morozov, another former Russian intelligence officer who now lives in exile in Britain, said Skripal was still working with Russian military intelligence.

You have a Russian military intelligence officer working in the Russian diplomatic service, living after retirement in the U.K. working in cybersecurity and every month going to the [Russian] embassy to meet military intelligence officers,” Morozov told Channel 4 News.

Deepening the mystery of Skripal’s loyalties, the Telegraph newspaper claims it has obtained information that the poisoned spy was a close confidant of Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who compiled the so-called “Trump dossier.”

Steele raised the stakes in the USA by stating that Donald Trump was vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail. Steel is a former MI6 officer who then had to disappear into hiding. He was lambasted in a highly politicized memo by the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican chair, and been referred for a criminal probe by two top Republican senators. Both the US and Russian presidents now consider him an enemy.

And there is Vladimir Putin’s infamous reaction to the 2010 exchange of a group of captured Russian “illegals” – undercover spies – living in the United States for a group of Russian intelligence agents accused of working for the West, including Skripal. Putin, who was then prime minister, said:

“Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers in arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them.”

Putin was referring to the enemies that traitors like Skripal would have created.

In the meantime, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed yesterday that the investigation now involved more than 250 counter terrorism police officers and more worryingly, that Britain is to raise the case with its Nato allies.

Some big questions arise, as to how do you stand up to a clandestine and sinister attack deliberately done to play havoc in our society?”

This firm line appeared to be backed by the security minister Ben Wallace, who mentioned Britain’s “powerful allies” as he said the Government was ready to respond with “the full force of the United Kingdom’s resources”

There are lots of things that the United Kingdom can do,” Mr Wallace threatened.  “It is a powerful country with a powerful economy, powerful allies, powerful military and powerful other capabilities – and we shall look at all those.”

On Monday, hours before it became clear that Mr Skripal had even been poisoned, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was telling MPs:

“Vladimir Putin has made it quite clear that he has hostile intent towards this country. We have to wake up to that threat and we have to respond to it.”

Since his appointment, Williamson as Defence Secretary has been provoking Russia. He was relentlessly mocked for famously saying in January that Russia wants to “Damage (Britain’s) economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths” as well wanting to “create total chaos within the country.”

Russia has vehemently denied involvement in the nerve agent attack and accused British politicians of engaging in “pure propaganda”.

British security officials, however, have said the specific chemical used would have been difficult to obtain and could only have come from a state run or state-licensed laboratory.

Nerve agents including Sarin and VX are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Sergei Skripal was attacked and is the largest stock of deadly nerve agents and gases anywhere in Europe.

Craig Murray, ex British ambassador even hints at something more sinister: “nor in this murky world should we overlook the fact that he must have known interesting things about his MI6 handlers. “Litvinenko II” is rather too pat and obvious, and could be a false flag set-up.”

The Times reports that “Theresa May is on the verge of publicly blaming Russia for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and ordering expulsions and sanctions against President Putin’s regime.”

One other fact that the mainstream press have not mentioned is that even after prosecutors had convicted Skripal of high treason in their own country, the Russian state gave him a full state pardon, placed him on a spy swap list and was willingly freed. Hardly the actions of a state that already had him in prison for the highest of crimes and wanting him silenced. And as Time reports the “if the obvious suspects in the case are the Russian intelligence services, it would suggest a major break from the rules they are taught to follow.

It’s still possible, of course, that Skripal did something to provoke retaliation from Moscow. The GRU (foreign military intelligence agency of Russia), of which Skripal reached the rank of Colonel, was recently implicated in the hacking of the U.S. elections in 2016. If Skripal was tapping his old sources to get fresh intelligence, rather than enjoying his retirement in silence, he could have turned himself into an target. But then, that’s what double agents do isn’t it. There’s an old saying in Britain – “if you live by the sword” – and Skripal lived on a double edged version of it.

One thing is for sure, Britain is playing an extremely high stakes and dangerous geo-political game – for what? A foreign traitor, despised by his own, passed on by America to be re-homed as part of a spy swap, with no perceptible allegiance to Britain.

There is more to this story than meets the eye.

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Trump-Kim Talks in Sweden?

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Trump-Kim Talks in Sweden? North Korea May Release American Detainees as a “Gift”? Wants U.S. Embassy in Pyongyang

But, as more details emerge from last week’s stunning announcement that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump have agreed to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization before May, South Korean news agency DongA reports that the North Korean leader may release American detainees as a “gift,” and that he would like to establish diplomatic relations with the placement of a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang. 

Now, the international community ‘s interest is when and how Kim Jong – un’ s declaration goes. Some have speculated that Kim Jong-un promised President Trump that he would release American detainees in North Korea and stop developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). However, a key official of the passport authority said, “The suspension of the ICBM development is included in the denuclearization process naturally, but it is not a promise.” The release of the detained American is a kind of gift as Kim Jong– “He said.

***

“The ultimate goal of Kim Jong Eun is to establish normal diplomatic relations with the North-US peace treaty. It also includes placing the US embassy in Pyongyang.”

DongA (translated)

President Trump surprised the world last week with the announcement that he had agreed to talk directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a historic meeting. Both Russia and Sweden have offered to host the talks – while North Korea is reportedly sending foreign minister Ri Yong Ho to Stockholm ahead of the Trump-Kim talks.

South Korean special envoy Chunt Eui-yong announced last week that North Korea has signaled its willingness to abandon its nuclear program “if regime security can be guaranteed.” 

North and South Korea have had a contentious relationship for decades – which thawed during the 2018 Winter Olympics. The fact that South Korea is effectively brokering the North Korean meeting is notable in itself, as it could also set the stage for the reunification of the two Koreas.

Of course, as President Trump tweeted yesterday, the domestic news media is playing down the progress apparently being made, and any Trump involvement:

“North Korea has not conducted a Missile Test since November 28, 2017 and has promised not to do so through our meetings. I believe they will honor that commitment!

In the first hours after hearing that North Korea’s leader wanted to meet with me to talk denuclearization and that missile launches will end, the press was startled & amazed. They couldn’t believe it. But by the following morning the news became FAKE. They said so what, who cares!

Ahead of the summit between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told Fox News Sunday that the United States will make “no concessions” before the denuclearization talks, and that Kim must stand by the concessions he’s offered – including ceasing nuclear and missile testing, allowing U.S. – South Korean military exercises, and leaving denuclearization on the table.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo tells @johnrobertsFox the U.S. will make “no concessions” during negotiations with North Korea. Watch the full interview at 2P/7P ET on @FoxNews Channel.

As we wrote earlier, Pompeo justified Trump’s decision by suggesting that the US leverage over North Korea has never been greater: “Never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk, and where their leadership was under such pressure that they would begin conversations on the terms that Kim Jong Un has conceded to” and added that the discussions with North Korea, should they occur, “will play out over time.”

Pompeo also said that sanctions on North Korea will continue, especially as they are having an impact on North Korea’s economy and have brought Kim to the negotiating table, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Now we have a situation where the president is using diplomacy but we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal.

As a refresher, here’s Trump’s view on North Korea from 1999 – in which he said “first I’d negotiate,” before preemptively striking Pyongyang. “The biggest problem this world has is nuclear proliferation,” said Trump.

With word of a Kim’s prisoner release “gift” and his desire to establish a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang, one wonders exactly who the new ambassador would be?

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The Death of Milosevic and NATO’s Responsibility. Was He Assassinated?

NOVANEWS
  

On March 11, 2006, President Slobodan Milosevic died in a NATO prison. No one has been held accountable for his death. In the 12 years since the end of his lonely struggle to defend himself and his country against the false charges invented by the NATO powers, the only country to demand a public inquiry into the circumstances of his death came from Russia when Foreign Minister, Serge Lavrov, stated that Russia did not accept the Hague tribunal’s denial of responsibility and demanded that an impartial and international investigation be conducted. Instead, The NATO tribunal made its own investigation, known as the Parker Report, and as expected, exonerated itself from all blame.

But his death cannot lie unexamined, the many questions unanswered, those responsible unpunished. The world cannot continue to accept the substitution of war and brutality for peace and diplomacy. It cannot continue to tolerate governments that have contempt for peace, for humanity, the sovereignty of nations, the self-determination of peoples, and the rule of law.

The death of Slobodan Milosevic was clearly the only way out of the dilemma the NATO powers had put themselves in by charging him before the Hague tribunal. The propaganda against him was of an unprecedented scale. The trial was played in the press as one of the world’s great dramas, as world theatre in which an evil man would be made to answer for his crimes. But of course, there had been no crimes, except those of the NATO alliance, and the attempt to fabricate a case against him collapsed into farce.

The trial was necessary from NATO’s point of view in order to justify the aggression against Yugoslavia and the putsch by the DOS forces in Belgrade supported by NATO, by which democracy in Yugoslavia was finally destroyed and Serbia reduced to a NATO protectorate under a Quisling regime. His illegal arrest, by NATO forces in Belgrade, his illegal detention in Belgrade Central Prison, his illegal rendition to the former Gestapo prison at Scheveningen, near The Hague, and the show trial that followed, were all part of the drama played out for the world public, and it could only have one of two endings, the conviction, or the death, of President Milosevic.

Since the conviction of President Milosevic was clearly not possible after all the evidence was heard, his death became the only way out for the NATO powers. His acquittal would have brought down the entire structure of the propaganda framework of the NATO war machine and the western interests that use it as their armed fist.

NATO clearly did not expect President Milosevic to defend himself, nor with such courage and determination. The media coverage of the beginning of the trial was constant and front page. It was promised that it would be the trial of the century. Yet soon after it began the media coverage stopped and the trial was buried in the back pages. Things had gone terribly wrong for Nato right at the start. The key to the problem is the following statement of President Milosevic made to the judges of the Tribunal during the trial:

“This is a political trial. What is at issue here is not at all whether I committed a crime. What is at issue is that certain intentions are ascribed to me from which consequences are later derived that are beyond the expertise of any conceivable lawyer. The point here is that the truth about the events in the former Yugoslavia has to be told here. It is that which is at issue, not the procedural questions, because I’m not sitting here because I was accused of a specific crime. I’m sitting here because I am accused of conducting a policy against the interests of this or another party.”

The prosecution, that is the United States and its allies, had not expected a real defence of any kind. This is clear from the inept indictments, confused charges, and the complete failure to bring any evidence that could withstand even basic scrutiny. The prosecution case fell apart as soon as it began. But once started, it had to continue. Nato was locked into a box of its own making. If they dropped the charges, or if he was acquitted, the political and geostrategic ramifications were enormous. Nato would have to explain the real reasons for the aggression against Yugoslavia. Its leaders themselves would face war crimes charges. The loss of prestige cannot be calculated. President Milosevic would once again be a popular political figure in the Balkans. The only way out for NATO was to end the trial but without releasing Milosevic or admitting the truth about the war. This logic required his death in prison and the abandonment of the trial.

The Parker Report contains facts indicating that, at a minimum, the Nato Tribunal engaged in conduct that was criminal regarding his treatment and that conduct resulted in his death. The Tribunal was told time and again that he was gravely ill with heart problems that needed proper investigation, treatment and complete rest before engaging in a trial. However, the Tribunal continually ignored the advice of the doctors and pushed him to keep going with the trial, knowing full well that the stress of the trial would certainly kill him.

The Tribunal refused prescribed medical treatment in Russia seemingly for political reasons and once again put the Tribunal’s interests, whatever they are, ahead of Milosevic’s health. In other words they deliberately withheld necessary medical treatment that could have lead to his death. This is a form of homicide and is manslaughter in the common law jurisdictions.

However, there are several unexplained facts contained in the Parker Report that need further investigation before ruling out poison or drugs designed to harm his health: the presence of the drugs rifampicin and droperidol in his system being the two key ones. No proper investigation was conducted as to how these drugs could have been introduced into his body. No consideration was given to their effect. Their presence combined with the unexplained long delay in getting his body to a medical facility for tests raises serious questions that need to be answered but which until today remain unanswered.

The Parker Report, despite its illogical conclusions, exonerating the Nato tribunal from blame, provides the basis for a call for a public inquiry into the death of President Milosevic. This is reinforced by the fact that the Commandant of the UN prison where President Milosevic was held, a Mr. McFadden, was, according to documents exposed by Wikileaks, supplying information to the US authorities about Milosevic throughout his detention and trial, and is further reinforced by the fact that Milosevic wrote a letter to the Russian Embassy a few days before his death stating that he believed he was being poisoned. Unfortunately he died before the letter could be delivered in time for a response.

All these facts taken together demand that a public international inquiry be held into the entirety of the circumstances of the death of President Milosevic, not only for his sake and the sake of his widow Mira Markovic and his son, but for the sake of all of us who face the constant aggressive actions and propaganda of the NATO powers. Justice requires it. International peace and security demand it.

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Is US/China Trade War Looming?

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Trade wars assure losers, not winners.

So far, Trump announced tariffs on imported solar panels and modules, washing machines and parts, steel and aluminum fall far short of waging one.

At the same time, his rage to reduce America’s trade deficit with China could launch a bilateral one hurting both countries.

Countless numbers of US corporations moving production and other facilities to China caused the growing trade gap between both countries.

Companies seek a comparative advantage by producing goods or services where production and other costs are cheaper – a lower opportunity cost of doing business.

The Trump administration would be delighted if foreign companies produced more from US plants than elsewhere.

China is attractive for foreign companies to invest in, cheap labor a key incentive.

While America prioritizes militarism and warmaking, China focuses heavily economic growth domestically and through foreign markets, taking advantage of its increasing technological expertise in numerous industrial, high-tech and other sectors.

The nation is an economic powerhouse already matching America on a purchase price basis – heading toward becoming the world’s dominant economic power.

On Sunday, China’s Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan stressed the importance of resolving bilateral trade disputes cooperatively to benefit both countries, adding trade war will harm them and the global economy.

Trump’s announced tariffs target China more than other nations. Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised a “justified and necessary response.”

Prior to his announced steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump tweeted:

“China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States.”

“Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!”

Separately, he tweeted:

“The US is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft. We cannot allow this to happen as it has for many years” – aiming his remark at China without naming it.

Beijing doesn’t decide which US and other foreign companies move production and other facilities to China. It’s a private enterprise decision.

Companies operating from its territory can export goods and services wherever markets can be developed.

According to China’s Global Times, the country “must retaliate against US tariffs that forcibly interfere with Sino-US trade and violate World Trade Organization rules. China must show it won’t be bullied,” adding:

“Beijing must never consider stabilizing relations with Washington by compromising on trade.”

“We would only become increasingly passive. China and the US must resolve the issue through cooperation and both sides should try.”

“If the US cannot adjust its own industrial structure to reduce its trade deficit and orders the world to follow its words, China and the rest of the world will have no choice but to meet the challenge head-on.”

Canada and Mexico will be exempt from Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs if NAFTA differences between them and Washington are successfully resolved in ongoing talks.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said NATO countries will be exempt if their military spending increases to levels Washington demands – a way to boost sales for US arms makers, unrelated to any global threats.

Countries bending to Washington’s will may be exempt from steel and aluminum tariffs, including China.

According to Mnuchin, Trump will consider national security in deciding which countries are excluded from tariffs.

Imposing them is more for political than economic reasons. As of now, it’s unclear how this will shake out.

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Malaysia: Banks Collude with Speculators to Force House Sales

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The poor are the first victims of Malaysia’s house price bubble

Banks are using a fast-track procedure to repossess and sell houses of poorer Malaysians who fall behind with mortgage repayments. The Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) demands an investigation. Many of the victims are former urban poor, rehoused 10 years ago in slum clearance programmes. Because their new houses have increased rapidly in value, banks and speculators are keen to get their hands on this real estate, without regard to the human cost.

The Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) has urged the National Bank (Bank Negara) to investigate whether there is a secret partnership between banks and property agents for the forced sale of low cost housing when working class Malaysians’ fall behind with their mortgage payments.

Malaysian banks have begun requiring apartment buyers to sign agreements giving the banks the right to auction the apartment without prior notice at the bank’s discretion.[1]

PSM secretary-general A Sivarajan said his party has come across cases where apartments have been quickly auctioned off to property agents..

“The original buyer had failed to pay the loan for a couple of months and as has happened numerous times, the apartment was auctioned off without the original buyer’s prior knowledge,” he said.

According to Sivarajan, PSM investigations suggest that most of the apartment houses which have been auctioned off in this manner are those that belong to the poorest 40% of society. Richer Malaysians get several opportunities to reschedule their payments or, in the worst case, to organise the sale of their apartment to pay their debts. in contrast, it seems that banks move quickly to sell the apartments of poorer Malaysians to property developers, with callous indifference to the misery this causes.

According to Sivarajan, most of the cases the PSM has identified relate to people, especially those living in the country’s biggest cities, who had been forced out of their squatter houses during state-wide operations between 2004 and 2005.

“They were asked to move to low cost houses, and they bought these apartments for around RM42,000. Now, more than 10 years later, these houses have gone up in value with some costing as much as RM150,000.”

By forcing a non-transparent sale of these apartments, the banks and their connected property dealers benefit from the rise in property prices, while the owners of the apartments find themselves expelled from their homes a second time. They are unlikely to get the best possible price for their homes, and will probably be unable to find affordable alternative housing in urban areas.

*

Note

1. A Deed of Assignment and a Power of Attorney.

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Russia and the Middle East Conflict. The Meaning of Russian Influence in the Region

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Below is an interview of Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos by Iran’s Quds newspaper on Russia’s military standpoint on the crisis in the Middle East.

Q: How extensive are the chaRussia and the Middle East Conflictnges in Russia’s approach towards the Middle East in light of the defeat of ISIS?

Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos: Firstly, ISIS has not been totally defeated yet. There are ISIS pockets east of Palmyra, on the border of Iraq (in the Kurdish zone) and in the Golan, close to the occupied Golan Heights. Furthermore, since the illegal Turkish invasion of Afrin, ISIS has begun a fightback, mainly against the Kurds. Whilst it is extremely unlikely that ISIS will reemerge in Syria as the force it once was – because of the grievous losses it has incurred at the hands of the Syrian, Russian and Iranian militaries, together with Hezbollah – we must not be complacent about this abominable Wahhabist terrorist group, which stems from Saudi Arabia. We can only truly rejoice once every ISIS terrorist in Syria has either been liquidated or taken prisoner.

Due to ISIS being on the verge of a total defeat in Syria, which is largely on account of Russian firepower, ordinary people across the Middle East are increasingly looking to Russia as a safeguard against the menace of Wahhabism, which threatens the very existence of Muslims and Christians, alike, in the region. Russia prevented ISIS from achieving its goal in Syria of turning the country into a massive springboard upon which to conquer most, if not all, of the Arab world, including North Africa. Had ISIS succeeded, then the Middle East and North Africa could have been turned into a massive playground for sadists and perverts. But, alas, that was not to be because of Russia. Ordinary Arabs, Kurds, Iranians and other groups in the Middle East know that the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been supporting ISIS – this will not be forgiven or forgotten by them. Conversely, those same people know who saved them from that scourge – Russia. So the Russians now have a wide appeal in the Arab world and in Iran. Russia is back in vogue in the Middle East. Russia has set a precedent in Syria for all Arabs to see: that Moscow will stand by its allies no matter what.

Q: To what extent were those changes brought about by the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West?

DMP: Russia was compelled to act in Syria because of the attempt by the West and its regional allies to overthrow the Syrian Government and replace it with a Wahhabist one (we must not forget that all of the terrorist groups in Syria are Wahhabist in nature – from ISIS to Al-Qaeda to FSA and so on and so on).

Moscow and Damascus have been close allies and friends for over half a century, and this relationship has been mutually beneficial, for it has given Syria tremendous security, while affording much influence and power to Russia to exert in the Middle East. Had Russia not militarily intervened in Syria – which was carried out legally as the Syrian Government asked the Russians for assistance – then it is very likely that Damascus would have fallen to the Wahhabist terrorist groups, which would have meant the annihilation of the Syrian people and the end of Russian influence and power in the Middle East.

That said, however, Russia also acted in Syria for humanitarian reasons – to prevent the Syrian people from apocalyptic destruction at the hands of Wahhabism. And Moscow has sent extraordinary amounts of food, water and medical supplies to meet the needs of those Syrians who have now been liberated from the terror of Wahhabist occupation.

Finally, Russia understands that the threat of Wahhabism in Syria is also a threat to Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union, most notably Central Asia, which is in Moscow’s sphere of influence. Neutralising Wahhabism in Syria has the double-effect of helping to neutralise Wahhabist activity and appeal in Russia and Central Asia.

The West has only itself to blame for its ever deteriorating relations with the Russians. It is the US and the UK who will not tolerate a strong Russia in the world and who will do anything, including targeting Moscow’s allies, such as Syria, in order to try and derail Russian resurgence. The world has become an exceptionally dangerous and unstable place because of the lengths which Washington and London will go to so as to maintain American global hegemony.

Q: What are Russia’s economic, political and security interests in the Middle East?

DMP: Like America, Russia has economic, political and security interests in the Middle East.

In economic terms, Moscow is looking to increase its defence exports to the region, gain further access to investment capital, intensify cooperation on oil prices, increase agricultural exports, especially wheat, and sell more metal, including iron ore. Further to that, Moscow may direct some of its Muslim regions, such as Tatarstan and Chechnya, to spearhead Russian economic expansion in the Middle East.

Politically speaking, the Kremlin understands that America will remain the dominant foreign force in the Middle East, as it was even during Soviet times. Nonetheless, there is every reason for the Russians to believe that they can renew Soviet-era friendships, principally with Palestine, Iraq and Yemen, while forging new inroads in countries which are well within Washington’s political orbit, such as Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Regarding the last point, whilst the Russians can make significant amounts of money through business dealings with the Turks, the Israelis and the Saudis, these three countries will remain steadfast in their commitment to America – nothing can break the alliance between America, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which, incidentally, could soon come up against another alliance in the Middle East: Moscow-Damascus-Tehran. Alas, the Middle East will remain a most coveted region.

Finally, in terms of security, the Kremlin will want use its new leverage in the Middle East to try and keep Wahhabism in check. Wahhabism was behind the terrorist campaigns in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia during the 1990s, and many Saudis went to those regions to fight, including the infamous Ibn al-Khattab. Whilst the North Caucasus is today a far more stable place than how it was during the 1990s and early 2000s, it remains quite fragile and could quickly again become Russia’s bleeding wound, threatening the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

Q: Do Russian activities in the Middle East represent a challenge to the West?

DMP: Yes, without a doubt. The Americans now have to look over their shoulder, so to speak. Like in Soviet times, Russia is again the second strongest foreign force in the Middle East. But, as I said earlier on, Russia will not usurp America’s position as they key outside power in the Middle East. The vast majority of Middle Eastern countries are in America’s sphere of influence, from Turkey to Israel to Jordan, to Iraq to Saudi Arabia to all other Gulf countries.

Q: What are the means and limits of Russian influence in the region?

DMP: The Kremlin’s means are military, economic and cultural (using its Orthodox faith and its Muslim regions to appeal to swathes of people in the Middle East).

Turning to limits, this is simple: economics. If the Russian economy remains stable, then Moscow will be able to continue with increasing its hand in the Middle East. But if the Russian should go into recession, then Russian plans in the Middle East will be severely curtailed. It is economics that helps to explain America’s stranglehold of the Middle East. Nothing can surpass the Dollar.

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The Largely Unrecognized US Occupation of Syria. Nearly One Third of Its Territory

The United States has invaded Syria with a significant military force, is occupying nearly one-third of its territory, has announced plans for an indefinite occupation, and is plundering the country’s petroleum resources. Washington has no authorization under international or even US law to invade and occupy Syria, much less attack Syrian forces, which it has done repeatedly.

Nor has it a legal warrant to create new administrative and governance structures in the country to replace the Syrian government, a project it is undertaking through a parallel invasion of US diplomatic personnel. These actions—criminal, plunderous, and an assault on democracy at an international level—amount to a retrograde project of recolonization by an empire bent on extending its supremacy to all the Arab and Muslim worlds, including the few remaining outposts of resistance to foreign tyranny. Moreover, US actions represent an escalation of Washington’s long war on Syria, previously carried out through proxies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, into a full-scale conventional war with direct US military involvement. Yet, despite the enormity of the project, and the escalation of the war, the US occupation of Syria has largely flown under the radar of public awareness.

Atop multiple indignities and affronts to liberty and democracy visited upon the Arab world by the West, including the plunder of Palestine by European settlers and the political oppression of Arabs by a retinue of military dictators, monarchs, emirs and sultans who rule largely at the pleasure of Washington and on its behalf, now arrives the latest US transgression on the ideals of sovereignty, independence, and the equality of nations: marauders in Washington have pilfered part of the territory of one of the last bastions of Arab independence—Syria. Indeed, Washington now controls “about one-third of the country including most of its oil wealth”, [1] has no intention of returning it to its rightful owners, has planned for an indefinite military occupation of eastern Syria, and is creating a new Israel, which is to say, an new imperialist outpost in the middle of the Arab world, to be governed by Kurdish proxies backed by US firepower. [2] The crime has been carried out openly, and yet has hardly been noticed or remarked upon.

Here are the facts:

In January, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that US “troops will remain in Syria” indefinitely “to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over areas” [3] the United States captured from ISIS, even though these areas belong to the Syrian Arab Republic, by law and right, and not to Washington, or to Washington’s Kurdish proxy, the SDF. The SDF, or Syrian Democratic Force, is a US-constructed outfit which, in journalist Robert Fisk’s words, is neither Syrian (it’s dominated by Kurds, including those of Turkish origin) nor democratic (since it imposes Kurdish rule over traditionally Arab areas and dances to a tune called by a foreign master.) Moreover, it’s not much of a force, since, without US airpower, artillery, and Special Operations support, it is militarily inconsequential. [4] “US President Donald Trump’s rollout of an updated Syria policy,” reports Aaron Stein, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, “commits US forces to maintaining a presence” in northeast Syria in order to “hedge against” any attempt by Damascus to assert sovereignty over its own territory. [5]

The Pentagon officially admits to having 2,000 troops in Syria [6] but a top US general put the number higher, 4,000, in an October press briefing. [7] But even this figure is an “artificial construct,” as the Pentagon described a previous low-ball figure. On top of the infantry, artillery, and forward air controllers the Pentagon counts as deployed to Syria, there is an additional number of uncounted Special Operations personnel, as well as untallied troops assigned to classified missions and “an unspecified number of contractors” i.e., mercenaries. Additionally, combat aircrews are not counted, even though US airpower is critical to the occupation. [8] There are, therefore, many more times the officially acknowledged number of US troops in Syria, operating out of 10 bases in the country, including “a sprawling facility with a long runway, hangars, barracks and fuel depots.” [9]

In addition to US military advisers, Army Rangers, artillery, Special Operations forces, satellite-guided rockets and Apache attack helicopters [10], the United States has deployed US diplomats to Syria to create government and administrative structures to supersede the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. [11] Plus, the United States “is now working to transform Kurdish fighters into a local security force” to handle policing [12] while US diplomats on the ground work to establish local governments to run the occupied territory’s affairs. [13]

“The idea in US policy circles” is to create “a soft partition” of Syria between the United States and Russia along the Euphrates, “as it was among the Elbe [in Germany] at the end of the Second World War.” [14] On top of the 28 percent of Syria the United States occupies, it controls “half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates Dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land.” [15]

During the war against ISIS, US military planning called for the Kurds to push south along the Euphrates River to seize Syria’s oil-and gas-rich territory. [16] While the Syrian Arab Army and its allies focussed mostly on liberating cities from Islamic State, the Kurds, under US direction, went “after the strategic oil and gas fields”, [17] “robbing Islamic State of key territory,” as The Wall Street Journal put it. The US newspaper correctly designated the seizure of key territory as a robbery, but failed to acknowledge the victim, not Islamic State, which itself robbed the territory, but the Syrian Arab Republic. But this skein of equivocation needs to be further disentangled. It was not the Kurds who robbed ISIS which earlier robbed the Syrians, but the United States which robbed ISIS which robbed Syria. The Kurds, without the backing of the US armed forces, are a military cipher incapable, by their own efforts, of robbing the Arab republic. The Americans are the robbers, the Syrians the victims.

The United States has robbed Syria of “two of the largest oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzour”, including the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest. [18] Last September, the United States plundered Syria of “a gas field and plant known in Syria as the Conoco gas plant” (though its affiliation with Conoco is historical; the plant was acquired by the Syrian Gas Company in 2005.) [19] Russia observed that “the real aim” of the US forces’ (incontestably denominated) “illegal” presence in Syria has been “the seizure and retention of economic assets that only belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.” [20] The point is beyond dispute: the United States has stolen resources vital to the republic’s reconstruction (this from a country which proclaims property rights to be humanity’s highest value.)

Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Syria, has argued that by

“controlling half of Syria’s energy resources…the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced.” [21]

Bereft of its petroleum resources, and deprived of its best farmland, Syria will be hard-pressed to recover from the Islamist insurgency—an operation precipitated by Washington as part of its long war on nationalist influence in the Arab world—a war that has left Syria in ruins. The conclusion that “Assad has won” and that the war is over except for mopping up operations is unduly optimistic, even Pollyannaish. There is a long road ahead.

Needless to say, Damascus aspires to recover its lost territory, and “on February 7 sent a battalion-sized column to [recuperate] a critical gas plant near Deir Ezzour.” [22] This legitimate exercise of sovereignty was repulsed by an airstrike by US invaders, which left an estimated 100 Syrian Arab Army troops and their allies dead. [23] The significance of this event has been under-appreciated, and perhaps because press coverage of what transpired disguised its enormity. An emblematic Wall Street Journal report, for example, asserted that the US airstrike was a defensive response to an unprovoked attack by Syrian forces, as if the Syrians, on their own soil, were aggressors, and the invading Americans, victims. [24] We might inquire into the soundness of describing an aggression by invaders on a domestic military force operating within its own territory as a defensive response to an unprovoked attack. Likewise, we can inquire into the cogency of Washington’s insistence that it does not intend to wage war on the Syrian Arab Army. That this statement can be accepted as reasonable suggests the operation of what Charles Mills calls an epistemology of ignorance—a resistance to understanding the obvious. It should be evident—indeed, it’s axiomatic—that the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a country constitutes an aggression, but apparently this is not the case in the specially constructed reality of the Western media. Could Russia invade the United States west of the Colorado River, control the territory’s airspace, plunder its resources, establish new government and administrative structures to supplant local, state, and federal authority, and then credibly declare that it does not seek war with the United States and its armed services? Invasion and occupation are aggressive acts, a statement that shouldn’t need to be made.

Washington’s February 7 attack on Syrian forces was not the first.

“American troops carried out strikes against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of Syria several times in 2017,” reported the New York Times. [25]

In other words, the United States has invaded Syria, is occupying nearly a third of its territory, and has carried out attacks on the Syrian military, and this aggression is supposed to be understood as a defensive response to Syrian provocations.

It is incontestable that US control of the airspace of eastern Syria, the invasion of the country by untold thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel, the plunder of the Levantine nation’s resources, and attacks on its military forces, are flagrant violations of international law. No country has more contempt for the rule of law than the United States, yet, in emetic fashion, its government incessantly invokes the very rule of law it spurns to justify its outrages against it. But what of US law? If, to Washington, international law is merely an impediment to be overcome on its way to expanding its empire, are the US invasion and occupation of Syria, and attacks on Syrian forces, in harmony with the laws of the United States? If you ask the White House and Pentagon the answer is yes, but that is tantamount to asking a thief to rule on his or her theft. The question is, does the US executive’s claim that its actions in Syria comport with US law stand up to scrutiny? Not only does it not, the claim is risible.

“Under both Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump,” explains the New York Times’ Charlie Savage, “the executive branch has argued that the war against Islamic State is covered by a 2001 law authorizing the use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks [my emphasis] and a 2002 law authorizing the invasion of Iraq.”

However, while “ISIS grew out an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the two groups by 2014 had split and became warring rivals,” and ISIS did not perpetrate the 9/11 attacks. What’s more, before the rise of ISIS, the Obama administration had deemed the Iraq war over. [26]

Washington’s argument has other problems, as well. While the 2001 law does not authorize the use of military force against ISIS, is does authorize military action against Al Qaeda. Yet from 2011 to today, the United States has not only failed to use force against the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s largest branch, it has trained and equipped Islamist fighters who are intermingled with, cooperate on the battle field with, share weapons with, and operate under licence to, the group, as I showed in my book Washington’s Long War on Syria, citing the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, which have extensively reported on the interconnections between US trained and armed fighters and the organization founded by Osama bin Laden. [27]

Finally, by implication, since the law does not authorize the use of force against ISIS, it does not authorize the presence of US aircrews in Syrian airspace or US military and diplomatic personnel on Syrian soil. In addition, it certainly does not authorize the use of force against a Syrian military operating within its own borders.

Let’s look again at Washington’s stated reasons for its planned indefinite occupation of Syria: to prevent the return of ISIS; to stop the Syrian Arab Republic from exercising sovereignty over all of its territory; and to eclipse Iranian influence in Syria. For only one of these reasons, the first, does Washington offer any sort of legal justification. The latter two objectives are so totally devoid of legal warrant that Washington has not even tried to mount a legal defense of them. Yet, these are the authentic reasons for the US invasion and occupation of Syria. As to the first reason, if Washington were seriously motivated to use military force to crush Al Qaeda, it would not have armed, trained and directed the group’s auxiliaries in its war against Arab nationalist power in Damascus.

Regarding Washington’s stated aim of eclipsing Iranian influence in Syria, we may remind ourselves of the contents of a leaked 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report. That report revealed that the insurgency in Syria was sectarian and led by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of Islamic State. The report also disclosed that the United States, Arab Gulf oil monarchies and Turkey supported the insurgents. The analysis correctly predicted the establishment of a “Salafist principality,” an Islamic state, in eastern Syria, noting that this was desired by the insurgency’s foreign backers, which wanted to see the secular Arab nationalists isolated and cut-off from Iran. [28] The United States has since decided to take on the role that it had once planned for a Salafist principality. A planned Saudi-style state dividing Damascus from Tehran has become an indefinite US occupation, from whose womb US planners hope to midwife the birth of a Kurd mini-state as a new Israel.

The reality that the US operation in Syria is illegal may account for why, with Washington’s misdirection and the press’s collusion, it has largely flown under the radar of public awareness. Misdirection is accomplished by disguising the US occupation of eastern Syria as a Kurd-, or SDF-effort, which the United States is merely assisting, rather than directing. The misdirection appears to be successful, because the narrative has been widely mentally imbibed, including by otherwise critical people. There are parallels. The United States is prosecuting a war of aggression in Yemen, against a movement that threatens US hegemony in the Middle East, as the Syrian Arab Republic, Iran and Hezbollah do. The aggression against Yemen is as lacking in legal warrant as is the US war on Syria. It flagrantly violates international law; the Houthis did not attack Saudi Arabia, let alone the United States, and therefore there is no justification for military action on international legal grounds against them. What’s more, the Pentagon can’t even point to authorization for the use of force against Yemen’s rebels under US domestic law since they are not Al Qaeda and have no connection to the 9/11 attacks. To side step the difficulty of deploying military force without a legal warrant, the war, then, is presented as “Saudi-led”, with the involvement of the United States relegated in the hermeneutics to the periphery. Yet Washington is directing the war. The United States flies its own drones and reconnaissance aircraft over Yemen to gather intelligence to select targets for Saudi pilots. [29] It refuels Saudi bombers in flight. Its warships enforce a naval blockade. And significantly, it runs an operations center to coordinate the bombing campaign among the US satellites who participate in it. In the language of the military, the United States has command and control of the aggression against Yemen. The only US absence is in the provision of pilots to drop the bombs, this role having been farmed out to Arab allies. [30] And that is the key to the misdirection. Because Saudi pilots handle one visible aspect of the multi-dimensional war, (whose various other dimensions are run by the Americans), it can be passed off to the public as a Saudi affair, while those who find the Saudi monarchy abhorrent (which it is) can vent their spleen on a scapegoat. We do the same to the Kurds, hurling rhetorical thunderbolts at them, when they are merely pawns of the US government pursuing a project of empire-building. Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, has seen through the misdirection, declaring that it is the West, not the Saudis, who are ‘directing the war’ in Yemen. [31]

It would profit us to heed the words of Ibrahim Al-Amin, who, on the occasion of the White House recognizing Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel, asked Arabs whether it wasn’t time to realize that the United States is the origin of all that plagues them. Let us leave ‘Israel’ aside, he counseled. “Whatever is said about its power, superiority and preparation, it is but an America-British colony that cannot live a day without the protection, care and blind support of the West.” [32] The same can be said of the Saudi monarchy and the SDF.

I leave the last word to the Syrian government, whose voice is hardly ever heard above the din of Western war propaganda. The invasion and occupation of eastern Syria is “a blatant interference, a flagrant violation of [the] UN Charter’s principles…an unjustified aggression on the sovereignty and independence of Syria.” [33] None of this is controversial. For his part, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has pointed out incontestably that foreign troops in Syria “without our invitation or consultation or permission…are invaders.” It is time the US invasion and occupation of Syria—illegal, anti-democratic, plunderous, and a project of recolonization—was recognized, opposed, and ended. There is far more to Washington’s long war on Syria than Al Qaeda, the White Helmets and the Kurds. As significant as these forces are, the threat they pose to the Syrian center of opposition to foreign tyranny has been surpassed by a more formidable challenge—the war’s escalation into a US military and diplomatic occupation accompanied by direct US military confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.

*

Notes

1. Neil MacFarquhar, ‘Russia’s greatest problem in Syria: It’s ally president Assad,’ The New York Times, March 8, 2018.

2. Anne Barnard, “US-backed force could cement a Kurdish enclave in Syria,” The New York Times, January 16, 2018; Domenico Losurdo, “Crisis in the Imperialist World Order,” Revista Opera, March 2, 2018.

3. Gardiner Harris, “Tillerson says US troops to stay in Syria beyond battle with ISIS, The New York Times, January 17, 2018.

4. Robert Fisk, “The next Kurdish war is on the horizon—Turkey and Syria will never allow it to create a mini-state,” The Independent, January 18, 2018.

5. Aaron Stein, “Turkey’s Afrin offensive and America’s future in Syria: Why Washington should be eying the exit,” Foreign Affairs, January 23, 2018.

6. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.

7. Andrew deGrandpre, “A top US general just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500,” the Washington Post, October 31, 2017.

8. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017; Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017).

9. Dion Nissenbaum, “Map said to show locations of US forces in Syria published in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017.

10. Michael R. Gordon, “In a desperate Syrian city, a test of Trump’s policies,” The New York Times, July 1, 2017.

11. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to send more diplomats and personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2017.

12. Dion Nissenbaum, “US moves to halt Turkey’s drift toward Iran and Russia,” the Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2018.

13. Nancy A. Yousef, “Some US-backed Syrian fighters leave ISIS battle to counter Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2018.

14. Yaroslav Trofimov, “In Syria, new conflict looms as ISIS loses ground,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017.

15. Gregory Shupak, “Media erase US role in Syria’s misery, call for US to inflict more misery,” FAIR.org, March 7, 2018.

16. Trofimov, September 7, 2017.

17. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.

18. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.

19. Abdulrahim and Adnan, November 3, 2018.

20. Raja Abdulrahim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tension rise,” the Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018.

21. Joshua Landis, “US policy toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey,” Syria Comment, January 15, 2018.

22. Yaroslav Trofimov, “As alliances shift, Syria’s tangle of war grows more dangerous,” The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2018.

23. Raja Abdulralhim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tensions rise,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018; Nancy A. Yousef and Thomas Grove, “Russians among those killed in US airstrike is eastern Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2018.

24. Yousef and Grove, February 13, 2018.

25. Charlie Savage, “US says troops can stay in Syria without new authorization,” The New York Times, February 22, 2018.

26. Savage, February 22, 2018.

27. Stephen Gowans. Washington’s Long War on Syria. Baraka Books. 20017. Pp. 149-150.

28. DIA document leaked to Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.
http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf

29. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Quiet support for Saudis entangles U.S. in Yemen,” The New York Times, March 13, 2016.

30. Stephen Gowans, “The US-Led War on Yemen, what’s left, November 6, 2017.

31. William James, “May defends Saudi ties as Crown Prince gets royal welcome in London,” Reuters, March 7, 2018.

32. Ibrahim Al-Amin, “Either America or Al-Quds,” Alahednews, December 8, 2017.

33. Syria condemns presence of French and German special forces in Ain al-Arab and Manbij as overt unjustified aggression on Syria’s sovereignty and independence, SANA, June 15, 2016.

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Towards the Liberation of East Ghouta by Syrian Forces?

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Syria’s battle strategy is working – the way East Aleppo was liberated from US-supported terrorists in December 2016.

These elements are clearly on the back foot in East Ghouta after holding its civilian population hostage since 2013, brutalizing them, preventing them from fleeing to safety in government controlled areas – supported by Washington and its imperial partners.

East Ghouta’s liberation is likely in the coming weeks, maybe sooner. Operations begun on February 18 freed 70% of the enclave.

Over the weekend, it was split in two, heading for three pockets of isolated US-supported terrorists. They’re not “rebels,” as falsely reported. They’re brutal cutthroat killers.

Early Monday morning, AMN news, a reliable source of information on the war, reported the following:

“Following the split of rebel-held areas across Damascus’ East Ghouta region into two along the Masraba-Arbeen axis on Sunday afternoon, the Syrian Army is now making an all-out assault to force a third isolation of militant-controlled territory.”

“Since midnight on Monday until right now, assault units of the Syrian Army’ veteran 4th Mechanized Division have been in the midst of a major battle with jihadist fighters near the district town of Harasta in what is now the northern East Ghouta pocket.”

According to AMN, Syrian forces are within 200 – 300 meters of dividing East Ghouta into three isolated pockets. Achieving it could come in hours.

Isolated/surrounded pockets of US-supported terrorists are weakened, more vulnerable to defeat – an inevitable outcome unless Washington intervenes against Syrian forces to save them, risking confrontation with Russia if undertaken.

Given US rage for dominance, anything is possible. Syria remains an unresolvable conflict because Washington and its rogue partners want endless war continued.

Turkish aggression in northern Syria against Kurdish YPG fighters complicates things further, including reported use of CWs, a YPG statement saying:

“(O)n March 8, 2016 at 15:00, shelling (occurred) with rockets that carry chemical material, which we believe to be yellow phosphorous chemical weapon, on Sheikh Maqsud neighborhood by the (Turkish-supported) Syrian armed opposition factions and battalions.”

In February, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said Turkey fired shells on Kurdish fighters containing “toxic substances.”

On February 17, AP News said civilians in Kurdish-controlled Afrin “suffered breathing difficulties and other symptoms indicative of poison gas inhalation after an attack launched by Turkey on the” enclave.

On Sunday according to the Russian reconciliation center in Syria, 52 civilians fled East Ghouta captivity to government-controlled territory, the first successful exodus of significant numbers – many more likely to follow.

Russian General Vladimir Zolotukhin said they’ll “be provided with all the necessary assistance, including medical help.

For the first time, longtime civilian hostages are able to explain what they’ve endured, one now free saying:

“We lived in fear under the militants. There were very harsh conditions. They drove up food prices, introduced a strict regime. You could lose your head for the slightest fault.”

Another said

“(s)even years we have suffered. All of us in Misrab remained neutral. But we couldn’t leave from there, couldn’t do anything. They didn’t let us go, controlled us and pressured us.”

“We haven’t seen anything that was sent to us. No money, no dollars, they took everything away. They completely robbed us.”

These are the elements Washington and its rogue partners support.

Liberating East Ghouta from their control won’t end seven years of devastating war, especially with US plans to create a 60,000-strong terrorist army to continue combating government forces.

How Russia responds to this development will greatly influence the course of war ahead and whether resolution is possible.

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New Evidence of Africa’s Systematic Looting

NOVANEWS
New Evidence of Africa’s Systematic Looting, From an Increasingly Schizophrenic World Bank

Featured image: Nchanga copper mine, Zambia (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A brand new World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, offers evidence of how much poorer Africa is becoming thanks to rampant minerals, oil and gas extraction. Yet Bank policies and practices remain oriented to enforcing foreign loan repayments and transnational corporate (TNC) profit repatriation, thus maintaining the looting.

Central to its “natural capital accounting,” the Bank uses an “Adjusted Net Savings” (ANS) measure for changes in economic, ecological and educational wealth. This is surely preferable to “Gross National Income” (GNI, a minor variant of Gross Domestic Product), which fails to consider depletion of non-renewable natural resources and pollution (not to mention unpaid women’s and community work).

In its latest world survey (with 1990-2015 data), the Bank concludes that Sub-Saharan Africa loses roughly $100 billion of ANS annually because it is “the only region with periods of negative levels – averaging negative 3 percent of GNI over the past decade – suggesting that its development policies are not yet sufficiently promoting sustainable economic growth… Clearly, natural resource depletion is one of the key drivers of negative ANS in the region.”

The Bank asks, “How does Sub-Saharan Africa compare to other regions? Not favorably.” Contrary to pernicious “Africa Rising” mythology, the ANS decline for Sub-Saharan Africa was worst from 2001-09 and 2013-15.

Other regions of the world scored strongly positive ANS increases, in the 5-25 percent range. Richer, resource-intensive countries such as Australia, Canada and Norway have positive ANS resource outcomes partly because their TNCs return profits to home-based shareholders.

Africa’s smash-and-grab ‘development policies’ aiming to attract Foreign Direct Investment have, even the Bank suggests, now become counter-productive: “Especially for resource-rich countries, the depletion of natural resources is often not compensated for by other investments. The warnings provided by negative ANS in many countries and in the region as a whole should not be ignored.”

Such warnings – including the 2012 Gaborone Declaration by ten African governments – are indeed being mainly ignored, and for a simple reason, the Bank hints:

“The [ANS] measure remains very important, especially in resource-rich countries. It helps in advocating for investments toward diversification to promote exports and sectoral growth outside the resource sector.”

Africa desperately needs diversification, but governments of resource-cursed countries are instead excessively influenced by TNCs intent on extraction. Even within the Bank such bias is evident, as the case of Zambia shows.

Zambia’s missing copper

Last year, the Bank appointed Zambia the main pilot country study within the project “Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services” (WAVES). Zambian forests, wetlands, farmland and water resources were considered the “priority accounts.” Conspicuously missing was copper, the main component of Zambia’s natural wealth.

Was copper neglected in WAVES because such accounting would show a substantial net loss? One Bank estimate of copper’s annual contribution to Zambia’s declining mineral wealth a decade ago put it at a huge 19.8 percent of GNI. Were such data widely discussed, it might compel a rethink in Zambia’s desperate privatisation of mines and export of unprocessed ore.

Naturally most World Bank staff work not in Zambians’ interests, but on behalf of other international banks and TNCs. This compels them to squeeze Zambia’s scarce foreign exchange: first, so TNCs can take profits home, and second, so Lusaka repays loans no matter how unaffordable and no matter how corrupt the borrowing government. Repayment is now especially difficult given that the kwacha declined from a level around 1 to the US$ in the 1990s to around 5 to the US$ from 2003-15, to the 9-12/US$ range since.

From 2002-08, the Zambian government led by Levy Mwanamasa (1948-2008) came under severe pressure from the World Bank to sell the most valuable state assets to repay older loans, including those taken out by his corrupt predecessor, Frederick Chiluba (1943-2011). That debt should have been repudiated and cancelled.

Even then, when selling Africa’s largest copper mine at Konkola, Mwanamasa should have ensured at least $400 million went into Zambia’s treasury. But the buyer, Vedanta chief executive Anil Agarwal, laughed wickedly when bragging to a 2014 investment conference in Bangalore, India, that he tricked Mwanawasa into accepting only $25 million. “It’s been nine years and since then every year it is giving us a minimum of $500 million to $1 billion.” (Agarwal is now in the process of buying Anglo American’s South African mining assets, having purchased 20 percent of the firm in 2016-17.)

Against the looting of Africa: top-down or bottom-up?

Zambia is not alone. The Bank reports that from 1990-2015 many African countries suffered massive ANS shrinkage (a process termed ‘dissaving’ as a polite substitute for ‘looting’), including Angola (68 percent), the Republic of the Congo (49 percent) and Equatorial Guinea (39 percent). As commodity prices peaked in the 2007-14 super-cycle period, resource depletion was the major factor for Africa’s wealth shrinkage.

What can be done? There are really only two ways to address TNC capture of African wealth: bottom-up through direct action blocking extraction, or top-down through reforms.

The futility of the latter is exemplified by the African Union’s 2009 Alternative Mining Vision (AMV). It proclaims (without any reference to natural resource depletion capital accounting), “arguably the most important vehicle for building local capital are the foreign resource investors – TNCs – who have the requisite capital, skills and expertise”

South African activist Chris Rutledge opposed this neoliberal logic last year in an ActionAid report, The AMV: Are we repackaging a colonial paradigm?: “By ramping up models of maximum extraction, the AMV once again stands in direct opposition to our own priorities to ensure resilient livelihoods and securing climate justice. It is downright opposed to any type of Free Prior and Informed Consent. And it does not address the structural causes of structural violence experienced by women, girls and affected communities.”

The first strategy – community-based opposition – could be far more effective. According to a pamphlet prepared by Johannesburg faith-based mining watchdog Bench Marks Foundationfor the civil society Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town this week, “Intractable conflicts of interest prevail with ongoing interruptions to mining operations. Resistance to mining operations is steadily on the increase along with the associated conflict.”

The Alternative Indaba’s challenge is to embrace this resistance, not retreat into reformist NGO silos – and not continue to ignore mining’s adverse impact on energy security, climate and resource depletion as it often has.

Indeed, three years ago, Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani conceded that due to community protests, “There’s something like $25 billion worth of projects tied up or stopped,” a stunning feat given that all new mines across the world were valued that year at $80 billion. (A map of these can be found at the Environmental Justice Atlas, http://ejatlas.org.)

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s lending staffers (distinct from the Changing Wealth of Nationsresearchers) are still subject to protests over mining here. Women living in the Marikana slums, organised as Sikhala Sonke, remain disgusted by the $150 million financing commitment made to Lonmin, which from 2007-12 the Bank bizarrely considered its ‘best case’ for community investment – until the police massacre of 34 workers there during a wildcat strike. (Bank president Jim Yong Kim even visited Johannesburg two weeks after that, but didn’t dare mention much less visit his institution’s ‘best case’ mining stake.)

The Bank’s other notorious South Africa operations included generous credits to the apartheid regime, relentless promotion of neoliberal ideology after 1990, a corrupt $3.75 billion Eskom loan in 2010 (the largest-ever Bank project loan, which still funds the most polluting coal-fired power plant under construction anywhere in the world), and ongoing lead-shareholder investments in the CPS-Net1 rip-offs of South Africa’s 11 million poorest citizens who receive social grants.

To top it all off, in spite of the embarrassing revelations about TNC exploitation unmistakeable in The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, the Bank is a financial sponsor of this week’s African Mining Indaba at the Cape Town convention centre. Each year, it’s the place to break bread and sip fine Stellenbosch wines (though perhaps not water in this climate-catastrophic city) with the world’s most aggressive mining bosses and allied African political elites, conferring jovially about how to amplify the looting.

On Bank methods for bean-counting nature

By way of a brief methodological explanation, the Bank calculates ‘consumption of fixed capital’ (wear and tear on machines), educational expenditure (‘human capital’), depletion of non-renewable resources (‘natural capital’) and pollution damage. In the calculation above, says the Bank, “About half of gross national saving is used for the consumption of fixed assets (depreciation), with a similar negative contribution (with some variation over the years) resulting from natural resource depletion. The losses from pollution are smaller, as is the positive contribution of spending for education.”

The negative contribution from mining is a conservative estimate, because “some important resources are still not included because of a lack of data, notably platinum group minerals, diamonds, and other minerals.” Hence while three of South Africa’s major mineral exports are calculated – coal, iron-ore and gold – the trillions of dollars represented here by 85 percent of the world’s platinum are not included. Vast levels of diamond extraction in Zimbabwe, Botswana, the DRC, Sierra Leone and Liberia are also ignored, so the alleged 3 percent annual decline in the region’s wealth is likely to be far worse.

Posted in AfricaComments Off on New Evidence of Africa’s Systematic Looting


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