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September 2014

Children in Chains

5 Things we don’t know about the Caliphate

August 26th, 2014 – Right now, a lot of people (and media) are asking for information on the “Islamic State”, the “Caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other things related to Jihadist activities in Syria and Iraq. That’s perfectly understandable. But while I am answering as many of these questions as I can, I think it is equally important that we (and by “we” I mean those of us who have followed events there since, let’s say, the days of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi) don’t forget that there are a whole lot ofquestions we can’t answer (even if these are not the questions we are usually asked).So in the interest of self-discipline, academic transparency and self-questioning, here is a brief list of the five most important things we (or I, at least) do not know about the Caliphate, butreally wish I knew:1.- How important is the role of al-Baghdadi?

He is obviously the poster guy of IS, but in what ways does he direct operations, how much power of command does he yield, and what is his relation to his deputies and field commanders, given that at least some of them are apparently former Ba’ath regime military men? How much initiative are commanders in the field allowed? Have rules been laid out of whether or not and if so how to execute people – and if so, before or after the first instances occurred? Mind you, I haven’t read a single article in which even three commanders of IS have been plausibly named. But understanding the extent of al-Baghdadi’s control and wether he is all micro or macro would be very helpful indeed.

2.- Is there a plan for expansion of the “Caliphate”?

And by that a mean: A real, tangible one, not the ideological version. In propaganda videos, all sorts of targets are being named: Samarra, Najaf, Baghdad in Iraq; Damascus, Mecca, Jerusalem on a more ideologically motivated level; Rome as a symbol. But that is not helpful in predicting the IS’s next moves. These will be determined by their reading of military conditions on the ground, or so I assume. So will they sit in Mosul and Raqqa and consolidate before their next move at a big city or town? Are they busy forging new alliances elsewhere in order to repeat what happened in Mosul? Are they clever enough not to try and take Baghdad – or stupid enough to play with that idea at this point? I can make assumptions, but they are based on my idea of IS, rather than facts.

3.- Does al-Baghdadi/IS want to strike in the West? 

The thing is: With al-Qaida, we always had a pretty good idea of what they thought was in their interest. With IS, we do not. With al-Qaida, we knew that – to a degree – we could rely on their words; they hardly ever struck in places they didn’t mention/threaten/warn before. With IS, we do not know. IS is not like al-Qaida. There is no reason to assume they follow the same lead here. Al-Baghdadi may in fact be plotting huge attacks in the West without ever mentioning any desire of that sort. Or the opposite may be true: He may be all about focusing on the region and not give a thought to striking anywhere in the West.

4.- Is there communication between IS and al-Qaida’s branches? 

Success is sexy. Aiman al-Sawahiri is not. Is it conceivable that one day we will wake up to a video message by the leadership of AQAP or AQIM or both pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi? Absolutely. Or so I believe. And that would be a game changer. Because the “Caliphate” as a state would suddenly become much more supranational/supra-state than it is. Such a move would spell the end f al-Qaida and likely be a rallying cry for many more recruits to come. It is, in a way, a very-bad-case-scenario. Right now, I can’t assess the likelihood of this happening. AQ and its branches haven’t been saying a whole lot about IS at all. So: Is there communication? Perhaps even negociations? I don’t know. I daresay no-one really does. Which means that this 3-a.m.-scenario lingers above our heads….

5.- How stable/instable are relations to allies and helpers? 

It is evident that IS could not have taken Mosul by itself. We have hints that the relation to former regimes cadres and Sunni Sheikhs in Iraq are at least instable. But that’s about it. We don’t know these parties’ calculations well enough to foresee how far these alliances may carry IS. And whether they can be brokered in other areas than the ones where they already exist. Is money a factor here? And if so, how convincing is it? And how much of it does IS have?

There are more questions, of course. Maybe some of you have strong opinions on one of these, maybe some of you have entirely different questions. In any case, I believe that admitting to what we don’t know will eventually help us more than pretending we have all the answers.

As always, I am looking forward to your comments!

Cheers, Y

bandannie got to this article via Syria Comment and it was posted by Juergen

Below is a retort from Syria Lover

96. SYRIALOVER said:

JUERGEN #87 I disagree with that exercise. It is not realistic or worthwhile to waste time and energy analysing ISIS like that.

I repeat, the only purpose of ISIS is to make their dic*s feel bigger (to quote Racan Alhoch after experiencing them)

That Der Spiegel journalist urgently needs to get real and read what is posted in #70 by Hamoudeh, “Fatwa Against ISIS by the Syrian Islamic Council”

Those guys know the reality, not the social media games that Der Speigal guy is excited by.

He needs to realise that ISIS members are dumb thrill seekers, not holy warriors (see article linked below*). Just an irrational and unstable killer cult, with no ability to plan, create or provide anything of substance.

Every ISIS member inside Syria who comes from elsewhere – including Iraq – has no future but displacement, imprisonment or death. They have lost the right to participate in any society anywhere.

And yes, ISIS-admiring fools and fantasists will attack the west if governments there don’t start seriously challenging and kicking ass inside the communities in their countries that are producing them.

The frequently feeble response, defensiveness and sulking of those communities and their representatives is starting to wear thin. If the President of Indonesia and the religious head of Saudi Arabia can denounce ISIS as an embarrassment and enemy no 1 of all Muslims why can’t Muslims in the west stand up and loudly say the same? (see #28.)


ISIS’ Antiquities Sideline (bis)

SEPT. 2, 2014

The territorial gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have provoked fears — as well as tentative news reports — that archaeological sites in those countries are being attacked and looted, much as sites in Iraq were at the outset of the second Iraq war.

We have recently returned from southern Turkey, where we were training Syrian activists and museum staff preservationists to document and protect their country’s cultural heritage. That heritage includes remains from the ancient Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, along with some of the earliest examples of writing and some of the best examples of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian mosaics.

In extensive conversations with those working and living in areas currently under ISIS control, we learned that ISIS is indeed involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but in a way that is more complex and insidious than we expected. (Our contacts and sources, whom we cannot name out of concern for their safety, continue their work under the most dangerous of conditions.)



CreditNeil Webb

ISIS does not seem to have devoted the manpower of its army to the active work of looting archaeological sites. Rather, its involvement is financial. In general, ISIS permits local inhabitants to dig at these sites in exchange for a percentage of the monetary value of any finds.

The group’s rationale for this levy is the Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay the state treasury a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground. ISIS claims to be the legitimate recipient of such proceeds.

The amount levied for the khums varies by region and the type of object recovered. In ISIS-controlled areas at the periphery of Aleppo Province in Syria, the khums is 20 percent. In the Raqqa region, the levy can reach up to 50 percent or even higher if the finds are from the Islamic period (beginning in the early-to-mid-seventh century) or made of precious metals like gold.

The scale of looting varies considerably under this system, and much is left to the discretion of local ISIS leaders. For a few areas, such as the ancient sites along the Euphrates River, ISIS leaders have encouraged digging by semiprofessional field crews. These teams are often from Iraq and are applying and profiting from their experience looting ancient sites there. They operate with a “license” from ISIS, and an ISIS representative is assigned to oversee their work to ensure the proper use of heavy machinery and to verify accurate payment of the khums.

In addition to the looting, ISIS seems to be encouraging the clandestine export of archaeological finds, which is primarily centered on the border crossing from Syria into Turkey near Tel Abyad, an ISIS stronghold. There is reason to suspect that ISIS has approved and encourages the transborder antiquities trade. In institutionalizing this system, which provides ISIS with one of its many diversified income streams, ISIS has caused irreparable damage to Syria’s cultural heritage.

Stopping this illicit trade is imperative not only because it is a source of income for a terrorist organization, but also because it jeopardizes the possibility of post-conflict stabilization and reconciliation. In Syria, cultural heritage is part of everyday life. Syrians live in ancient cities and neighborhoods, pray in historic mosques and churches and shop in centuries-old bazaars. If and when the fighting stops, this heritage will be critical in helping the people of Syria reconnect with the symbols that unite them across religious and political lines.

Numerous local and international organizations such as The Syria Campaign are advocating for the United Nations Security Council to ban the trade in undocumented and most likely recently looted antiquities. The success of such a resolution could become the most effective means available to save Syria’s past.

And saving Syria’s past is about saving Syria’s future.

Amr Al-Azm is an associate professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern history at Shawnee State University. Salam al-Kuntar is a lecturer of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Brian I. Daniels is the director of research and programs of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Syrian refugees trigger child labour boom in Turkey

Thousands of young refugees are missing out on school to support families left destitute after fleeing the fighting in Syria

child worker in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border

Hassan, a 13-year-old from the southern Syrian town of Deraa, at work in Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border, where many refugee children have had to become breadwinners for their families. Photograph: Murad Sezer /REUTERS

Counting in Arabic, Hamza is carefully stacking freshly-baked flatbreads on the shop counter. It is a Saturday afternoon in the southern Turkish town of Antakya, blisteringly hot. The seven-year-old boy has been working in the small bakery ever since his family of five fled from Aleppo in Syria.

“I really want to go to school, I like school,” he says, now balancing a basket full of firewood. “But my mother won’t enrol me. She says we need the money to eat.”

The oldest of three siblings, Hamza works six days a week, often up to 12 hours a day, to support his family. His mother begs on the street. “My father is hurt and cannot find work here,” he says. “Life in Turkey is very expensive.”

His two child colleagues, brothers from Hama, are 12 and 13. Both have been working in the bakery ever since they came to Turkey more than six months ago. “I would rather go to school,” said 12-year-old Nasir.

The rent for the two rooms they share with 23 family members is 750 Turkish lira (£209) a month. “We need to contribute to the family income,” says Nasir.

According to the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), about half the million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey are children. Whereas more than 60% of children in refugee camps are enrolled in school, 73% of those outside the camps – the overwhelming majority of refugees – do not go to school. A recent Unicef report estimates that one in 10 Syrian refugee children is working – in agriculture, restaurants and shops, as mobile vendors or begging on the street.

“There is a massive increase in child labour here. It didn’t used to be that way. The authorities try to fight against it, but in many cases families have little choice,” said a Turkish human rights activist who wished to remain anonymous.

Almost 900,000 children are estimated to be working in Turkey, around 300,000 of them between the ages of six and 14, according to official figures. The legal working age is 15. Hakan Acar, a children’s rights expert from Kocaeli University, underlined that the real numbers were probably much higher: “Children working on the streets are not included in these statistics, for example – children selling water, tissues or those who are begging.”

As refugees from Syria do not receive work permits in Turkey, underage Syrian workers are not being recorded at all. “It makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse,” warned Acar. “Syrian women and children are probably amongst the most vulnerable groups in Turkey right now.”

In Kilis, a town where there are now more Syrians than local residents, child labour has soared.

Samir, 12, from Aleppo, fled to Turkey two years ago with six siblings, his mother, father and his aunt, all of whom share one small flat. He has not attended school since. In order to support his family he worked at a butcher’s for a year, and he started a job in a shoe shop in the city centre in March. Samir works seven days a week, from 8am until nightfall, earning 35 TL a week – a small fraction of the legal minimum wage.

The employer, a Turk who has owned the shop for 29 years, says that business has been booming since the Syrians came, and that Samir is a diligent worker.

Acar criticises the authorities for failing to tackle child exploitation and punish offenders: “There are too few labour inspectors, no clear procedures for what to do about child labour. Workplaces that employ children are rarely penalised.”

Muhannad al-Nader, a Syrian political activist involved in child protection in Gaziantep, explains that desperation may make refugee families complicit: “Many families might hide the fact that their children are working, because they are afraid that humanitarian organisations might reduce the aid if they find out about it.”

The lack of schools outside of refugee camps in Turkey adds to the problem of increasing child labour among the Syrians, he adds: “Schools are overcrowded. Privately-funded schools are sometimes too expensive. Many children who should continue their education thus end up working.”

While the large majority of child workers from Syria are boys, a growing number of girls can also be found working in shops, private homes and in the fields.

Aisha, 12, from Azaz, and Hatice, 13, from Aleppo, have been in Turkey for two and a half years. Both work in a clothes shop in Kilis. Hatice, who works six days a week for 50 TL, says that she dropped out of school to help her family and because the Syrian school she attended in Turkey was bad.

“In Syria I liked going to school, but here the teachers were not good, it wasn’t nice. My favourite subject was geography, but here, I didn’t learn anything.” All of her three siblings work, including her younger brother, who is nine and works at a barber’s shop.

Ridwan, 12, from Aleppo, sells biscuits from a mobile tray together with his younger brother Mahmud, 8, on the streets of Kilis, earning around 12 TL a day. His feet are covered in bloody blisters caused by ill-fitting sandals. “In Syria, my favourite subject was maths. I would love to be a doctor for children when I grow up.”

Together with his mother, Muntaha, his seven siblings and another family of eight, Ridwan lives in a small depot without hot water. His father was killed in a bombing raid on Aleppo. One corner, separated from the rest of the small, unplastered space by an old blanket, serves as both the kitchen and the bathroom. They have to pay 200 TL in rent.

“Six of my children went to school in Syria,” Muntaha explains. “How is Ridwan ever going to become a doctor? All my children were so good in school in Syria. This situation makes me very sad as a mother.”

Ahmed, 10, whose family fled their Turkoman village six months ago after an Islamic State (Isis) attack, says that he misses going to school. He is the eldest of eight children, and now works at a Syrian restaurant in Gaziantep, often up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for 40 TL. In the three months he has been working, he had one free day, which he spent playing football with his cousins in a nearby park.

“I want to go to school again, and learn,” he says. “I don’t want Bashar [al-Assad], I don’t want Isis, and I don’t want the Free Syrian Army. I don’t care about them. All I want is peace, and my Syria back.”

*Some names have been changed


Anti-Assad Alawites Call for Brave and Fearless Commander

Mon 01 Sep 2014
By Zaman al-Wasl (Opposition website)  

Regime supporters have turned to social media to reflect their rage over the Islamic State’s humiliating defeats against the armed forces in eastern Syria

A decline in Bashar al-Assad’s popularity amid traditional supporters, reflected on social media, has gained momentum, with new calls for him to be replaced with one of his brutal commanders.


Online activists from Assad’s Alawite sect said that Colonel Suhail al-Hassan, who leads the military operations in Hama province is the most suitable man to replace Assad, saying Syria is in need of a strong leader who is brave and fearless.


Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk praised Hassan’s achievements in a report, calling him ‘Tiger’ and saying that he refused to take credit for a promotion to brigadier.


Regime supporters have turned to social media to reflect their rage and anger at Assad over the radical Islamic State’s (IS) humiliating defeats against the armed forces in eastern Syria.


The execution of scores of Syrian soldiers taken captive by IS at an airbase in Raqqa province has triggered unusually harsh social media criticism of the Damascus government by people who have taken its side in the civil war, Reuters reported.


Footage subsequently released on YouTube and broadcast by Arab news channels showed Islamic State fighters executing scores of Syrian soldiers after forcing them to march in the desert in nothing but their underwear.


Ahmed al-Ahmed, a Syrian writer from the Alawite sect, said on Facebook that “for who we should die, our sons are not puppets and they are not for sale or slaughter.”


Alawites are worried by both the Islamic State and recent attempts by Al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the Nusra Front, to advance closer to their areas, said an anti-Assad Alawite who lives near the coast, speaking via Skype to Reuters.


“The Alawite community is afraid. People here are angry. They’re upset that the government abandoned those soldiers. They are also worried now that the battles are coming so close,” Reuters quoted an activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his safety.


Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer


Hajo Meyer 2003 Interview – East Jerusalem

Ilan Pappe : My good friend Hajo Meyer died last week. He was an outstanding fighter for the freedom of Palestine. A Holocaust survivor who believed strongly the universal legacy of what he experienced was to struggle against human oppression, even if, and particularly if, the oppressors, are Jews.

Fox Dives Headfirst Into Snow | North America

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