Michael Ratney, who has been the United States Special Envoy for Syria since July 2015, wrote a public letter on 11 March 2017 that labelled all constituent parts of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as members of al-Qaeda and therefore as terrorists. On 12 March, HTS’s “Administration of Political Affairs”—its newly-minted political office, perhaps evidence of an evolution in HTS’s thinking about an endgame in Syria—issued a statement in reply, which is reproduced below. Continue reading
Since the offensive against Mosul, the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State (IS), began five months ago, IS has expended a high number of lives quite deliberately in suicide attacks. One of the suicide-attacks conducted on 20 February 2017, a car bombing against an Iraqi base, was by Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a British citizen now identified as Ronald Fiddler from Manchester. In 2002, Fiddler, then calling himself Jamal Udeen al-Harith, was sent to Guantanamo Bay, before being released in 2004 while still protesting his innocence. After suing the British government over his imprisonment, Fiddler received a substantial cash settlement in order to avoid compromising state secrets. Fiddler’s demise invites some revisiting of widely-held assumptions surrounding Guantanamo. Continue reading
Four days ago, Chapo Trap House, a Left-wing politics and humour podcast, hosted Brace Belden, known to Twitter as “PissPigGranddad,” a 27-year-old from San Francisco who has joined the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was very interesting and informative on the state of play in northern Syria.
The YPG is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) front of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The most amusing part of the interview is Belden’s formal maintenance that the YPG, while fraternal comrades to the PKK and admirers of their ideology, have absolutely no organizational links at all, while at the same time letting the audience in on the fact that the YPG and indeed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition that it controls are parts of the PKK structure. Belden describes joining the YPG by first linking up with the PKK at its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, before being spirited across the border into Syria.
Belden gives a very interesting glimpse of the YPG’s method of governance. The YPG calls its rule “libertarian socialism,” says Belden, but it’s “pretty much a Stalinist state”. Belden describes the ascetic nature of the true believers in the PKK’s ideology—of which he, clearly, is not one—and the collectivized nature of life. Among other things, everyone is subjected to struggle sessions of the kind associated with Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading
Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold. Continue reading
Clashes have erupted today between al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), and its heretofore-inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham. For the overall insurgency, the bodes ill, in the short-term, but there might be some long-term political advantages if JFS isolates itself from the wider opposition. Continue reading
On The Ground News (OGN) interviewed Abu al-Abed Ashidaa on 10 January 2017. Abu al-Abed was appointed to lead all insurgents in the besieged areas of eastern Aleppo City on 1 December 2016. Aleppo City fell to the pro-regime coalition after a months-long campaign of siege, bombardment, and atrocity on 12 December, with the final deportation of the insurgency and tens of thousands of civilians—a crime against humanity in itself—on 22 December.
OGN is an outlet operating inside Syria that is best known for featuring American activist, Bilal Abdul Kareem. The organization claims independence but is clearly within the milieu of the more hardline insurgent forces in northern Syria, and in fact appears to favour the political line of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, against even other extremist Salafi groups like Ahrar al-Sham.
It was Kareem who interviewed Abu al-Abed. The transcript is below. Continue reading
Last week it was reported by The Daily Beast that United States defence and political leaders believe they can at least begin the operation to remove the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, before President Barack Obama leaves office on 20 January 2017. This seems unlikely. More to the point, if it is true it is highly dangerous, both in the short-term and especially over the long-term. Continue reading