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May 2015

She Sat With Many Strangers That Day, But When This Man Shows Up I Got Goosebumps

Artist Marina Abramovic was doing a live art performance that consisted of spending one minute of silence with a complete stranger. Many people showed up, but her response to one person in particular gave me the goosebumps, and you’ll soon see why.

At the 1:30 mark, Ulay, her former lover for many years sits down across from her. Marina and Ulay broke up more than 30 years ago and this is the first time that they have seen each other again since then.

This was obviously an emotional and shocking moment for her, and as you can see, she tries to carry on until the end, but seems almost unable to. I was fighting back tears myself with this one. This is really beautiful.

Corruption Devours One Third of Assad Regime’s Budget

Corruption Devours One Third of Assad Regime’s Budget

Alarabi Aljadid – May 25, 2015

The director general of the Monopoly Prevention Authority in Bashar al-Assad’s government, Anwar Ali, surprised everyone by revealing that the regime lost about 30% of its budget due to corruption and bribery. Experts interpreted this as a prelude to overthrow some ministers in the government and hold them responsible for the failure in reducing economic and livelihood crises exacerbated in areas that fall under the regime’s control, leading to a more growing public anger.

Economic expert, Imad Eddin Musabeh, explained for “Al Araby Al Jadeed”, that these statements come as an agenda of an organized campaign by some regime officials. This included an earlier attack by the President of the Workers Union, Shaaban Azzouz, on the government and accusing it of corruption, in order to evade the regime’s responsibility for the collapse of economy and hold some officials responsible.

Musabeh pointed out that corruption is rooted in the successive governments for decades, and got worse recently following the dissipation of wealth and the loss of the public treasury resources. Things came to the point of begging Iran for a 1 billion dollar loan through a new credit line after the previous$ 3.5 billion line ran out.

He added that the regime’s statements about the corruption that have been lately detected devoured about one third of its budget. The corruption is related the banking sector and import operations. The 2015 budget is about 1554 billion Syrian Pounds ($ 5.2 billion).

Musabeh confirmed that Assad regime’s official did not mention the exclusive Food deals granted to the Assad family and those who are pro-regime. Neither did he mention oil sale contracts, leasing the capabilities of Syria or the arms purchase contracts from Iran and Russia, led by a few, like Mohammed Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s uncle. The Director General of the Monopoly Prevention Authority of the Assad regime has claimed in a press release two days ago, that his establishment began to delve deeper into corrupt files to maintain public money. He explained that the Monopoly Prevention Authority considers the decision to allow exchange companies to finance import licenses is a wrong decision. This is due to the presence of expert entities such as public banks that are subject to monitoring that can continue its work, while it is proven through past experience with exchange companies that they are not trustworthy, and the evidence shows many of them committed violations. A financial analyst from the city of Idleb (north Syria), Ibrahim Mohammed, said that the corruption of the regime is now taking different and new forms and methods following the outbreak of the revolution four years ago. These methods went beyond the traditional methods; form the manipulation of procurement processes and giving away of tenders and government auctions, to the selling of assets and the wealth of Syria. The corruption also included selling the houses of the displaced, oil, gas, minerals, ruins and even human organs. Syria had a ranking among the most corrupted countries on the regional and international level, where it ranked 159 worldwide and fifth among Arab countries, according to Transparency International report last year, which emphasized that corruption has taken many forms in light of the ongoing war in the country, poor oversight and lack of transparency in government entities.

(This article is translated from Arabic)

Original Article

Chelsea writes on 5 years in confinement in new Guardian op-ed

May 27, 2015 by Chelsea E. Manning

“The years since I was jailed for releasing the ‘war diaries’ have been a rollercoaster.”

It can be difficult, sometimes, to make sense of all the things that have happened to me in the last five years.

“In the years before these documents were collected, the public likely never had such a complete record of the chaotic nature of modern warfare”, writes Chelsea E Manning.

Today marks five years since I was ordered into military confinement while deployed to Iraq in 2010. I find it difficult to believe, at times, just how long I have been in prison. Throughout this time, there have been so many ups and downs – it often feels like a physical and emotional roller coaster.

It all began in the first few weeks of 2010, when I made the life-changing decision to release to the public a repository of classified (and unclassified but “sensitive” ) documents that provided a simultaneously horrific and beautiful outlook on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. After spending months preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2008, switching to Iraq in 2009 and actually staying in Iraq from 2009-10, I quickly and fully recognized the importance of these documents to the world at large.

I felt that the Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries” (as they have been dubbed) were vital to the public’s understanding of the two interconnected counter-insurgency conflicts from a real-time and on-the-ground perspective. In the years before these documents were collected, the public likely never had such a complete record of the chaotic nature of modern warfare. Once you come to realize that the co-ordinates in these records represent real places, that the dates are our recent history and that the numbers represent actual human lives – with all of the love, hope, dreams, hate, fear and nightmares with which we all live – then you cannot help but be reminded just how important it is for us to understand and, hopefully, prevent such tragedies in the future.

A few months later, after spending months poring over at least a few thousand classified US diplomatic cables, I moved to also have these documents released to the public in the “cablegate” archive. After reading so many of these documents – detailing an exhaustive list of public interest issues, from the conduct of the “global war on terrorism” to the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries – I felt that they, too, belonged in the public domain.

In 2010, I was considerably less mature than I am now, and the potential consequences and outcomes of my actions seemed vague and very surreal to me. I certainly expected the worst possible outcome, but I lacked a strong sense of what “the worst” would entail. I did expect to be demonized and targeted, to have every moment of my life re-examined and analyzed for every possible personal flaw and blemish, and to have them used against me in the court of public opinion or against transgender people as a whole.

When the military ordered me into confinement, I was escorted (by two of the friendliest guys in my unit) to Kuwait, first by helicopter to Baghdad and finally by cargo plane. It was not until I arrived at the prison camp in Kuwait that I actually felt like I was a prisoner. Over the succeeding days, it only got worse as the public and the media began to seek and learn more about what happened to me. After living in a communal setting for about a week, I was transferred to what amounted to a “cage” in a large tent.

After a few weeks of living in the cage and tent – not knowing what my charges were, having very limited access to my attorney and having absolutely no idea of the media firestorm that was beginning to swirl in the world outside – I became extremely depressed. I was terrified that I was not going to be treated in the dignified way that I had expected. I also began to fear that I was forever going to be living in a hot, desert cage, living as and being treated as a male, disappearing from the world into a secret prison and never facing a public trial.

It didn’t help that a few of the Navy guards delivering meals would tell me that I was was waiting for interrogation on a brig on a US cruiser off the coast of the horn of Africa, or being sent to the prison camps of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with. After getting caught, I was placed on suicide watch in Kuwait.

After being transferred back to the US, I was confined at the now-closed military brig at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. This time was the most difficult for me overall, and felt like the longest. I was not allowed to have any items in my cell – no toothbrushes, soap, toilet paper, books, paper and on a few occasions even my glasses – unless I was given permission to use them under close supervision. When I was finished, I had to return these items. At night, I had to surrender my clothing and, despite recommendations by several psychiatrists that I was not deemed suicidal), wear a “suicide prevention” smock – a single-piece, padded, tear-proof garment.

Eventually, after public outcry regarding the conditions of my confinement at Quantico and the resignation of PJ Crowley, the former press secretary of the Department of State, I was transferred to medium custody and the general population at an Army prison. It was a high point in my incarcerated life: after nearly a year of constantly being watched by guards with clipboards and having my movements controlled by groups of three-to-six guards while in hand irons and chains and limited contact with other humans, I was finally able to walk around and have normal conversations with human beings again.

The government pressed forward with charges of “aiding the enemy” – a treasonable offense under the US constitution – and various charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Over nearly two years of hearings, I witnessed firsthand just how much the the government was willing to invest in my prosecution: the stacks of money spent; the gallons of fuel burned; the reams of paper printed; and the lengthy rolls of personnel, lawyers and experts.

For over 100 days, I watched the lawyers who prosecuted my case present me as a “traitor” and “enemy of state” in court and then become friendly people giving greetings and making chit-chat out of court. It became clear to me that they were basically just decent people doing their jobs. I am convinced that they did not believe the treason arguments they made against me – and was, even as they spoke them.

The verdict and sentencing at the end of my court-martial was difficult to predict. The defense team seriously worried about the aiding the enemy charge and the very wide range for a sentence, which was anything between “time served” and life without parole. After the judge announced my 35-year sentence, I had to console my attorneys who, after years of hard work and effort, looked worn out and dejected. It was a low-point for all of us.

After years of hiding and holding off because of the trial, I finally announced my intent to change my name and transition to living as woman on 22 August 2013 – the day following my sentencing – a personal high point for me, despite my other circumstances. However, the military initially declined my request to receive the medically-mandated treatment for my diagnosed gender dysphoria, which is to live as a woman and receiving a regular regiment of estrogen and androgen blockers. Just like during my time at Quantico and during my court-martial, I was subjected to a laborious and time consuming legal process. Finally, just under four months ago – but nearly a year and a half after my initial request – I began my hormone treatment. I am still fighting for the right to grow out my hair to the military’s standard for women, but being able to transition remains one of the highest points for me in my entire life.

It can be hard, sometimes, to make sense of all the things that have happened to me in the last five years (let alone my entire life). The things that seem consistent and clear to me are the support that I receive from my friends, my family and the millions of people all over the world. Through every struggle that I have been confronted with, and have been subjected to – solitary confinement, long legal battles and physically transitioning to the woman I have always been – I manage not only to survive, but to grow, learn, mature and thrive as a better, more confident person.

Help us provide support to Chelsea in prison, maximize her voice in the media, continue public education and build a powerful movement for presidential pardon.

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Frederick Deknatel on Syria : The Fall of the House of Assad

The Syria I Knew: On the Fall of the House of Assad

January 29th, 2013RESET+

THE FIFTEEN BRANCHES of Syria’s intelligence apparatus, themukhabarat, count some 50,000 to 70,000 full-time officers, along with hundreds of thousands of part-time personnel and informers. By 2011 it was estimated there was one intelligence officer for every 240 or so Syrians. A third of the country’s military budget has historically gone to the security services, including the Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence, which does not gather intelligence against Israel (the regime’s nominal enemy), but rather monitors Syria’s 500,000-strong Palestinian population (along with many Syrians) and runs a notorious detention and torture center in Damascus. “The garbage collectors are intelligence agents,” a protester told the Associated Press after 120 people were killed in two days of protests in April 2011. “Sometimes we think even our wives are working with the intelligence. All the phones are monitored. We live in hell.”

Read here

An Account Syncopated by Death: Littell’s Syrian Notebooks


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This review was published at the National.

Book review: Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising
 The Kindly Ones, one of the 21st century’s great novels, is an epic inquiry into the intersection of state power and human evil. Its narrator is supremely civilised but also – and somehow without contradiction – an SS officer engaged in industrial-scale murder. The novel is set in the battlefields and death camps of the Second World War.

The author, Jonathan Littell, previously worked for humanitarian agency Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) in various war zones including Chechnya, in whose fate he sees Syrian parallels. In 1996 Chechnya won de facto independence. Then collusion between Russian security services and religious extremists weakened Chechen nationalists, made the country too dangerous for journalists, and drained international support. This facilitated Russia’s 1999 reinvasion and the total destruction of the capital, Grozny. The Russian strategy is echoed today in what French foreign minister Laurent Fabius describes as the “objective complicity” between Bashar Al Assad and the militant group ISIL.

There are Second World War parallels too. Aleppo is the most bombed city since that conflict. Syria’s refugee crisis is the greatest since 1945. And the Assad regime, like Hitler’s, produces “thousands of naked bodies tortured and meticulously recorded by an obscenely precise administration”.

Perhaps these commonalities explain why Littell chose to bring his clear sight to bear on Syria’s war. He went in, for 17 days in January 2012, with renowned French photographer Mani. The experience led to a series of reports in Le Monde in February, and now to a book: Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising.

Reporting from Syria has been cursed by journalists who embed with the regime’s army or fall prey to regime-planted conspiracy theories. Littell mentions an article penned by Georges Malbrunot for Le Figaro blaming the Free Army for journalist Gilles Jacquier’s death “on the basis of an anonymous source in Paris citing an anonymous source in Homs”.

Similar blame-the-victims hoaxes were retailed by Assad’s useful idiots after the Houleh and Ghouta massacres.

Littell’s account is unembedded, and his narrative – pared down to the physical, psychological and political details – is never gullible. He records an informational chaos in which contradictory versions swirl, and remarks, for example, on revolutionaries feeding Al Jazeera a false report of captured Iranian officers – they turned out to be engineers working at a power plant. The civilian media office of the revolution, then still clinging to the uprising’s non-violent image, persistently obstructs Littell’s investigations. The armed resistance is more helpful, although it too betrays anger that foreign coverage doesn’t translate into solidarity.

“The period when we showed things is over,” complains one officer. “If your peoples haven’t understood for eleven months, there’s no point.”

Littell travels not by permission of the regime’s security grid, but via the “counter-grid” that circumvents it, a network including revolutionary Christians, an Alawi resistance fighter, and a woman who, having lost three sons to Assad, has vowed to cook for the fighters daily. He drinks with a man who “believes in Karl Marx the way others believe in Jesus or Mohammed”, and affectionately finds the Free Army to be “novice guerrillas; novices in PR, above all”. Littell crosses from Lebanon’s Tripoli with a driver called Fury, a former carpenter, who keeps a grenade beside the steering wheel. His first stop is Qusayr, the liberated border town that the regime would eventually claw back in May 2013. Assad’s forces in that battle were led by Lebanon’s Shia militia Hizbollah, making it a key stage in the conflict’s sectarianisation.

From Qusayr then, to Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Formerly known to Syrians as a nondescript sprawl beside an oil refinery, and the butt of a thousand jokes, in 2011 Homs was rethought as the capital of the revolution. Goalkeeper Abdel Baset Al Sarout and (Alawi) actress Fadwa Suleiman sometimes led its large and carnivalesque protests. On April 18, 2011, a huge crowd occupied the central Clock Square, which briefly became Syria’s Tahrir. The resulting regime massacre tolled an early bell for the death of peaceful protest as a realistic strategy. Homs was where the conflict first militarised.

By Littell’s visit, the citadel and university are regime fortifications; revolutionaries must move through a maze of basements, gardens and abandoned apartments. Holes are punched through walls, large ones for the passage of men, smaller ones for the snouts of guns. Cars speed across avenues, lights out, to confuse the snipers who aim at vehicles, adults, children, cats. Skirmishes alternate with singing and boredom. There’s “a curiously unreal feeling to it all”. The surrealism intensifies under bombardment: “We hear a loud impact … Everyone laughs.” This during the bitter cold of the Levantine winter, a pale sun shining through fog. Death syncopates the account.

A hospital in Bab Al Sba’a is regularly raided, its doctors systematically targeted for arrest. It accepts only emergency cases because it can offer no protection from the regime’s constant gunfire. The walls and windows are pocked with bullet holes; if they stack sand bags they’re accused of sheltering activists. The makeshift hospitals in private homes are still more perilous. The regime has no sense whatsoever of medical neutrality; by illustration, a Red Crescent nurse is told angrily at a checkpoint: “We shoot at them, and you save them.”

Worse still, and a sign of the regime’s inconceivable cruelty, hospital wards are sometimes used as torture chambers, state doctors and nurses implicated in the crimes. Littell criss-crosses the city, from besieged, working-class Baba Amr to Insha’at, which seems “a thousand miles” away – there are people in the streets here, traffic, open shops, and no piles of festering rubbish, though still there are snipers and competing checkpoints.

In less-conservative Khalidiyeh, where women mingle with men, the Free Syrian Army guards access to the main square, renamed The Square of Free Men. Here there’s a wooden copy of the old Clock Tower plastered with photos of the martyrs. It prompts Littell to reflect on the function of the protests:

“It’s a collective, popular jubilation, a jubilation of resistance. And they don’t just serve as an outlet, as a moment of collective release for all the tension accumulated day after day for eleven months; they also give energy back to the participants, they fill them every day with vigour and courage to continue to bear the murders, the injuries, the grief.” And the chants, “like the Sufi dhikr whose form they take – generators and captivators of force”.

Sectarian hatred is the grim counter-force. Littell witnesses the aftermath of a whole family’s slaughter – Sunnis on an Alawi street – children with throats cut or shot at point-blank range. Such killings are premonitions of the string of sectarian massacres through the summer of 2012. “It’s a form of ethnic cleansing,” one Homsi says, and after its victory at Qusayr the regime would indeed burn the Homs Land Registry and hand Sunni property to Alawi loyalists.

Littell hears of Sunnis killing Alawis too – people whose relatives have been raped or murdered, who think they therefore have the right. The book gives the sense of a situation hurtling into the abyss.

Littell meets Abd Ar Razzaq Tlass, who claims to head the Baba Amr military council – although this is disputed. Tlass originates from Rastan in the Homs countryside, a rural Sunni constituency and traditional military recruiting ground. His family includes Hafez Al Assad’s co-conspirator General Mustafa Tlass, and his sons Firas, a tycoon, and Manaf, a general in the Republican Guard. All three had left Syria by 2012, the latter making a public defection. Abd Ar Razaq is Manaf’s cousin, and an important resistance commander until his implication in a sex scandal (the regime bugged his Skype calls). The Tlass defections demonstrate the extent to which the Baath’s old cross-sect peasant alliance had collapsed.

Only 26 when interviewed, Tlass seems immature on several counts, not least his threat to call for jihad if the world failed to help. The civil activists disagree vehemently: “Our revolution is not a religious revolution, it’s a revolution for freedom.” Another predicts that jihad would “internationalise it, bring in Saudi Arabia, Iran … Lots of foreign groups would like to come fight here, the revolution would get out of the hands of the Syrian people”. This speaker wants Nato intervention and a no-fly zone. The protesters call for that too.

Baba Amr fell on March 2, 2012, the rest of Homs by May last year. International intervention never arrived. The revolutionaries’ “joyful despair” lost its joy entirely. Jihad won out. Littell’s burning anger at this outcome animates his book.

Robin Yassin-Kassab is the author of the novel The Road From Damascus. He is writing a book with Leila Al Shami on the Syrian revolution.


Syria: The Imperative of Protecting Civilians

Judy, age 7, carries 8-month-old Suhair along a street near the Syrian Arab Red Crescent center, minutes before what activists said was shelling by forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus May 6, 2015. (Reuters/Bassam Khabieh)

That which is painfully clear amid the complexity of Syria’s horrific conflict is the operational absence of the Obama administration in protecting Syrian civilians. Some two years ago, a senior White House official told visitors from Capitol Hill that there were no attractive parties in Syria: that there was merit in simply allowing the fire consuming the country to burn itself out. That civilians—many of them women and children—would be disproportionately incinerated in the resulting inferno seems not to have struck the official as morally relevant or policy pertinent. Yet now, as reports of regime shakiness begin to accumulate, some additional practical, policy consequences of having done virtually nothing to protect Syrian civilians from an Assad regime campaign of mass homicide come into focus. 

To put the matter succinctly, the willingness of the Obama administration to make do with moralistic rhetoric about Assad regime war crimes and crimes against humanity has led it to an astounding analytical conclusion: he who has authorized acts of mass homicide on a daily basis—Bashar al-Assad—ought not be removed from power too quickly lest Islamist rebels take Damascus and conduct massacres in communities involuntarily implicated by regime criminality. The barrel bombing, starvation sieges, chemical attacks, and door-to-door atrocities have been so widespread, so intense, and so unopposed by a hollowed-out West that now the specter of additional mass atrocities—perhaps genocide—transcending Arab Sunni Muslims presents itself.

Assad’s strategy from the beginning has been to bind with blood his own Alawite community and others to the political survival of his corrupt clan. One key facet of the strategy has been mass homicide directed largely (though not exclusively) at Syria’s Sunni sectarian majority. Another has been to facilitate the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and secure its help in marginalizing non-jihadist nationalist alternatives. The rhetoric-rich, action-free response of the Obama administration has been an unintended but decisive enabler of Assad’s survival strategy; an accidental but instrumental underwriter of his clan’s political insurance policy. Now, the prospect of mass murder enveloping other Syrian communities emerges as yet another unintended consequence of substituting strategic communication for strategy itself.

If the administration had considered civilian protection operationally important from the beginning, would the result have been getting bogged down in someone else’s civil war; the doing of stupid stuff? President Barack Obama continues to insist that the only alternative to leaving people utterly unprotected—the alternative he insists his critics favor—would have been the invasion and occupation of Syria. The President has misleadingly made it a matter of all or nothing, thereby justifying his choice of nothing. He did so as recently as May 15 in an interview with Al Arabiya’s Nadia Bilbassy.

Whatever use a straw man argument might have as a here-and-now excuse for inaction or as an alibi for future historians, it fails the test of truth telling. No one has advocated invading and occupying Syria. Even the most dedicated advocates of protecting human beings from mass murder have not recommended such a step. Ways and means that are much more modest are available to an administration willing to transcend talk and do actual things. Examples abound.

Is the protection of Syrian civilians from Assad regime mass homicide at or near the top of talking points employed whenever senior administration officials meet with Iranian and Russian counterparts? Is there a diplomatic strategy aimed specifically at persuading Tehran and Moscow to pressure their client into abandoning mass homicide? Has President Obama wrung from his military advisors every conceivable option—short of invasion and occupation, and even short of bombing airfields—to stop (or at least complicate) the barrel bombing and (if necessary) neutralize possible mass murder alternatives such as Scud missiles and field artillery trained on residential neighborhoods? Is there an ongoing diplomatic offensive aimed at binding regional partners to the creation of safe havens inside Syria? Is there a move afoot to transcend an anemic train-and-equip program by creating an all-Syrian national stabilization force capable of protecting Syrian civilians? 

Are any of these alternatives in play? Or is the President indifferently content to believe there is an ungovernable slippery slope to invasion and occupation that inevitably overrides his commander-in-chief prerogatives? Just how engaged has the President been in elucidating ways and means of mitigating the 21st century’s premier humanitarian abomination? Is the leisurely, terrifying traverse of barrel bomb-laden regime helicopters immune from countermeasures?

Blaming the United Nations Security Council for US inaction is not enough. Yes, Ambassador Samantha Power was right in Kuwait to suggest that Russia and Iran are accomplices to Assad regime atrocities. True, those who developed the “responsibility to protect” doctrine could not have anticipated that a facilitator of mass murder would be a permanent member of the Security Council and therefore able to block the kind of international community intervention deemed legitimate by the doctrine’s advocates. Yet even as the Assad regime returns defiantly and contemptuously to chemical warfare against civilians, the administration that drew a red line and took full credit for relieving the regime of chemicals seems operationally inert. 

This inertness may well persist until January 20, 2017. For some of those who have supported Barack Obama and even served in his administration, it is the source of unceasing anguish, frustration, anger, and regret. True: no administration containing Samantha Power can be deemed perpetually and irretrievably hopeless on matters of civilian protection. Still, the moral and operational failure to date of the United States to try as best it can to protect Syrians from the heartless, merciless depredations of the Assad regime ought to convince all Syrians—except, of course, for the family whose greed has turned Syria into a charnel house—that they are on their own. If patriotic Syrians cannot find ways to overcome their divisions and unite against both Iran and ISIL while themselves pledging to protect civilians, they will lose their country forever. If Iranians, Russians, Turks, and Gulf Arabs see civilian vulnerability merely as an inevitable cost of doing business, Syrians should rise up against the lot of them.

It is humiliating for administration officials to suggest that the man who President Obama said, on August 18, 2011, should step aside, perhaps ought not leave too quickly. Yet it is humiliation well earned. Failure to protect civilians—failure even to try—has fueled a fire that has consumed Syria and burned all of its neighbors. It has perhaps set the stage for new horrors yet to come. Giving the protection of Syrian civilians operational priority as opposed to lip service can save lives, build a foundation for political conflict resolution, and prevent ongoing mass homicide from assuming the additional dimension of genocide. Yet it will take more than words. It will take this President changing course. For as bad as Syria and its neighborhood are today, they can be immeasurably worse twenty months from now.

Frederic C. Hof is a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The Moderate Rebels: A Complete and Growing List of Vetted Groups


(UPDATE May 10: 2015: Hasan Mustafa has the most up to date version of this list and there have been some significant changes. Please visit his blog by clicking here.)

Shortly after U.S. president Obama declared war on the so-called Islamic State (ISIS/IS), a bogus claim by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) about a non-aggression pact between ISIS and an unnamed unit of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) went viral largely due to ignorance about which moderaterebels the U.S. and its “Friends of Syria” allies are supporting. This guest post byHasan Mustafa (@hasanmustafas) is an attempt to cure that ignorance and make future pseudo-scandals less likely by detailing who the U.S.-backed moderate rebels are using open-source information.

Those who oppose arming the FSA often claim that advanced weapons have already fallen or will fall into the hands of extremists, but the results of arming rebel forces thus far indicate otherwise. A recent report by the Carter Centerfound that of the foreign-supplied tube-launched optically-tracked wireless-guided anti-tank missiles (TOWs), HJ-8s, and RAK-12s that:

“… few of these weapon systems appear to have been distributed beyond their intended recipients or captured by the IS during its recent offensives throughout Syria. Of the total 274 times these weapons have been seen in the possession of armed opposition groups, they have only been observed six times in the use of an organization unlikely to be a direct recipient. All six of these instances were in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates in the possession of Harakat Ahrar al-Sham.”

The most notable form of direct American support has been the supply of TOWs to certain rebel groups vetted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The missiles themselves most likely come from Saudi Arabia’s stockpile, although by law the supply of American-made weapons to a third party must be approved by the U.S. The approved groups overwhelmingly belong to the FSA, many have recognized the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (Etilaf), and all are committed to letting the Syrian people decide their own future.

5Corps5th Corps: The 5th Corps is a recently declared formation consisting of five moderate rebel groups linked to the FSA’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) that have all adopted the revolutionary independence flag as their symbol. Led by a joint command council, it consists of the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Knights of Truth Brigade, Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya Brigade, and the 1st Brigades. All five have received TOWs provided by the international “Friends of Syria” alliance led by the U.S. through the Military Operations Command center in Reyhanli, Turkey. Active in northern Syria, the 5th Corps commands a few thousand men who fight against both the Syrian regime and ISIS. Social Media:YouTube; Facebook.

The 5th Corps’ constituent brigades are described in detail below:

1313th Division (Furqa 13): Formed in 2013, the 13th Division commands more than 1,800 fighters in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama governorates. The division is divided into 10 companies and is headquartered in the town of Ma’arrat al-Numan in Idlib. It was among the first rebel brigades to begin receiving TOWs. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Al-Sa’oud, the 13th Division has fought in the battles of Aleppo, Morek, Khan Shaykhun and participates in the sieges of Wadi al-Deif and Al-Hamdiyyeh military bases. It is a part of theSyrian Revolutionary Command Council, a grassroots bottom-up effort to unitefighting factions across the secular-Islamist ideological divide. The 13th Division receives funding from the U.S. through the SMC. It advocates the creation of acivil (meaning non-religious) state. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter; Facebook.ForsanAlHakKnights of Truth Brigade (Liwa’ Fursan al-Haqq): An FSA-banner group sanctioned by Etilaf. The Knights of Truth Brigade is active in Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates. The group controls the town of Kafranbel where it formed in early 2012. It fought in the battles of Aleppo, Morek, Khan Shaykhun and the sieges of Wadi al-Deif and Al-Hamdiyyeh military bases. This brigade is also active in the fight against ISIS. It is among the 32 rebel factions that make up the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and receives funding from Qatar.Social Media: YouTube; website; Twitter; Facebook.101101st Division (Furqa 101): Led by defected air force pilot Colonel Hassan Miri’l Hamdeh, the 101st Division of the FSA is an Etilaf-sanctioned group that was among the early recipients of TOWs. Like other 5th Corps members, the 101st Division operates in the Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates and is active in the fight against both the Syrian regime and ISIS. It too recently joined the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and notably includes religious minorities in leadership positions. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook.FalconsFalcons of Mount Zawiya Brigade (Liwa’ Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya): An FSA unit that was once part of Ahfad al-Rasul and later the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) coalition led by Jamal Marouf that formed in early 2014 to fight ISIS. After leaving the SRF due to its internal disputes, Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya joined the 5th Corps. The group was funded by Qatar and is now funded by the U.S. government and receives TOWs. It is based in the Jabal al-Zawiya region and operates mainly in Idlib governorate. Social Media:YouTubeYouTube, YouTube.1stBrigades5thcorps1st Brigade Infantry (Liwa’ al-Awwal Masha’): An FSA group active in the Idlib governorate, in the vicinity of Ma’arat al Numan which is an important opposition stronghold. 1st Brigade Infantry is a constituent of the 5th Corps.Social Media: YouTube; Facebook.hazmMovement of Steadfastness/Hazm Movement (Harakat Hazm): The first group to receive TOWs and the most well-known FSA group officially designated “moderate.” The Movement of Steadfastness fields 5,000 fighters dispersed throughout Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, and Homs governorates as well as the northern areas of Damascus governorate. It was formed in early 2014 after the union of 22 smaller rebel brigades. Leaders of the Movement of Steadfastness include Bilal Atar and Abdullah Awda. The Movement of Steadfastness has received the most international support due to its moderate political leanings and strong military organization. Along with TOWs, the group also fields a large number of artillery pieces and armoured vehicles. The Movement of Steadfastness fights in a number of fronts and battles including Sheikh Najjar, Khan Shaykhun, Morek, northern Homs, and in the Aleppo countryside (against ISIS). It is an important constituent of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and it fights ISIS as part of the Nahrawan al-Sham Operations Room alongside mostly Islamist groups (but excluding Jabhat al-Nusra). A number of its fighters have been trained in Qatar. Social Media: YouTube; Twitter;website.zenkiNour al-Din al-Zenki Movement (Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki):Named after Nour al-Din Zenki, Emir of the Seljuk Sultanate’s Syrian province who battled the Crusaders and was a contemporary of Saladin, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is one of Aleppo governorate’s most powerful rebel factions despite being an independent rebel grouping. It played an important role in seizing large parts of Aleppo in 2012. Once part of the One-ness Brigade (Liwa’ al-Tawhid), the Authenticity and Development Front, and later the Army of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen), Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement now fights independently against the regime and ISIS. Described as non-ideologically Islamist and commanded by Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement recently voiced its support for Etilaf and is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and fights against ISIS in northern Aleppo through the aforementioned Nahrawan al-Sham Operations Room. It receives funding primarily from the Saudi Arabian and U.S. governments as well as shipments of TOWs. Its Islamist rhetoric has shifted towards pragmatism and it believes in a political solution with the current regime. Social Media: YouTube;Facebook.abdo2Ahmad al-Abdo Martyrs Brigades and Battalions (Alwiyat wa’ Kata’ib Shuhada Ahmad al-Abdo): An FSA-linked group that operates primarily in the Qalamoun and northern Rif Dimashq regions. Ahmad al-Abdo Brigades first used TOW missiles in May of 2014 and have also been in possession of Chinese-made HJ-8 anti-tank missiles paid for by Qatar and supplied from Sudan. The brigades have been involved in the capture of Brigade 559 and the siege of Dumayr airbase. This group was one of the earliest recipients of TOWs and was most likely vetted several months ago. It is under the command of a defected colonel, Bakur Salim al-Salim, who also heads the military council in Damascus governorate. The group is named after Ahmad al-Abdo al-Saeed, a civilian killed by the regime early in the 2011 protests. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook.alGhabFalcons of al-Ghab (Tajammu Suqour al-Ghab): An FSA brigade operating throughout western Hama governate under the authority of the Hama Military Council. They are headquartered in the town of Qalaat al-Madiq which is situated in the al-Ghab plain. Falcons of al-Ghab is affiliated with the SMC and has received TOWs. It was formed early in the revolutionary war and played an important role in captured the al-Ghab region. More recently, the group has been involved in the Great Badr al-Sham offensive in northern Hama. This group is also a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council and is led by Jamil Raadoun, a defected lieutenant from the air defence forces. Social Media:YouTube; Twitter; Facebook.chargersBrigade of the Chargers (Liwa Al-Adiyat): An FSA brigade that operates in Idlib governate and the northern Latakia countryside. The group was a former member of Grandsons of the Prophet Brigade (Ahfad al-Rasul). Brigade of the Chargers was vetted by the “Friends of Syria” alliance several months ago and was an early operator of TOWs. It has taken part in the Al-Anfal Offensive and is active on fronts near the cities of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur. A number of its fighters have been trained in Qatar and the brigade also receives funding from Qatar. It is led by Muhammad Haj Ali and contains mostly local fighters. Social Media: YouTube; Google+.

mujArmyArmy of Holy Warriors (Jaish al-Mujahideen): An Islamist rebel coalitionin the Aleppo governorate originally formed to fight ISIS in early 2014, Army of Holy Warriors splintered after the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement seceded along with a number of other substituents. Nonetheless, it remains an important rebel group in the Aleppo governorate. They are a member of the Ahl-e-Sham Operations Room (alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front) and fight against ISIS through the Nahrawan al-Sham Operations Room. As of September 27, 2014, Army of Holy Warriors has completed the U.S. vetting process but advanced arms have yet to arrive. It is led by Captain Mohammed Shakerdi and estimates put the group’s current strength at around 5,000 fighters. Army of Holy Warriors maintains close relations with local civilian governing councils and with Etilaf. Social Media: Youtube; Twitter.martyrsSyrian Martyrs’ Brigades and Battalions (Tajammu Kata’ib wa’ Alwiyat Shuhada Souriya): Led by Jamal Maarouf, it was one of the earliest FSA brigades formed. The Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade today makes up the leading component in SRF. Their powerbase is in the Jabal al-Zawiyah region, an important opposition stronghold. Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade operates throughout the Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates. They have received support from Saudi Arabia and were recently supplied with TOWs. Presently, many of its operations are carried out under the SRF name. The overall SRF coalition played an important role in ridding Idlib governorate of ISIS completely early in 2014.Social Media: Facebook; YouTube.omariOmari Brigades (Alwiyat al-Omari): The first FSA unit formed in the Daraa Governorate, the Omari Brigades are a part of the SRF and the Southern Front coalition. This group has been supplied and funded by Saudi Arabia and was one of the first operators of TOW missiles. Their main powerbase is the Lajat region in southern Syria. The brigade is named after the Omari Mosque in Daraa city, which was an important symbol for the opposition in the early days of protests. (The mosque, in turn, is named after Caliph Omar.) Social Media: Twitter;YouTube.yarmookfinalYarmouk Brigade (Liwa’ al-Yarmouk): A prominent FSA group operating in southern Syria’s Daraa and Quneitra governorates, the Yarmouk Brigade fields over 4,000 men and several tanks. They are a key component in the Southern Front coalition and their leader, Bashar al-Zoubi, is the overall leader of the Southern Front. The group recognizes the SMC, has received support from Saudi Arabia, and is equipped with TOWs. It is named after the Yarmouk river which flows through the area. Social Media: YouTube.jabhatPartisans of Islam Front (Jabhat Ansar al-Islam): An independent Islamist brigade operating against the regime across the Quneitra and Daraa governorates, Jabhat Ansar al-Islam is the most hardline Islamist group to be provided with TOWs. This group recently partook in the Quneitra offensive that saw 80% of the province seized by rebels. Social Media: YouTube.hamzaHamza Division (Forqat al-Hamza): An FSA-banner group composed of six substituent brigades that operate mostly in Inkhil, Daraa and have received TOWs. The division works under the supervision of the Daraa Military Council and receives foreign support from Western and Arab state backers. It is a member of the Southern Front coalition. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook.swordshamSword of al-Sham Brigades (Alwiyat Saif al-Sham): A group hailing originally from Damascus, the Sword of al-Sham now fights primarily in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates. They have participated in the recent rebel advances in Quneitra and were a part of the 2012 and 2013 rebel offensive into central Damascus and its suburbs to the north. A component of this group, the Ezz Brigade, has received TOWs. It is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition.Social Media: YouTube; Facebook.martyrsofislamMartyrs of Islam Brigade (Liwa’ Shuhada al-Islam): An FSA-banner group that operates in Daraya, a southern suburb of Damascus. The Martyrs of Islam Brigade is the largest group in Daraya, with most of its fighters being from the local area. It is the only rebel group that is completely under the authority of a local civilian council and operates with its approval. It has recently been vetted and supplied with TOWs despite Daraya being under a tight siege. This group is also a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. Social Media: YouTube;website.dawnofislamDawn of Islam Division (Forqat Fajr al-Islam): One of the earliest FSA groups to arise in the Daraa governorate, the Dawn of Islam Brigade recently merged with a number of smaller groups to create the Dawn of Islam Division. The division has been supplied with TOWs and is closely affiliated with the Daraa Military Council and is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. This group is active in the ‘Uthman and Tafas districts of Daraa city as well as in Busra al-Harir in the north-east of the province. It is under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Hassan Salama. The Dawn of Islam Division contains mostly local tribal fighters from Daraa and Quneitra. It is not to be confused with a number of other rebel brigades with similar names operating in Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo.Social Media: Facebook: YouTube.helpersSunna3Helpers of Sunnah Brigade (Liwa’ Ansar al-Sunnah): A group operating in Daraa and Quneitra that is affiliated with SRF, the Helpers of Sunnah Brigade is also a member of the Southern Front coalition. They are recipients of several TOW missiles that have been used against regime tanks and vehicles. Not to be confused with a number of groups operating throughout the region with theexact same name, many of whom espouse an extreme ideology. Social Media:YouTube.Helpers Alwiyat al-AnsarHelpers Brigades (Alwiyat al-Ansar): An FSA group, the Helpers Brigades are a founding member of SRF. This group operates in the Idlib and Hama governorates. Formed in 2012 in the southern suburbs of Ma’arat al Numan, they are led by Mithqal al-Abdullah. This group has recently been supplied with and deployed TOWs against a number of regime vehicles. Social Media:YouTube; Facebook.

Amoud Horan Brigade: An FSA-banner unit operating in Daraa and Quneitra and member of the Southern Front coalition. Like all Southern Front signatories, the Amoud Horan Brigade has called for democratic governance and a state built on human rights. Such moderate leanings are an important reason why so many groups like the Amoud Horan Brigade operating in the south have been supplied with TOWs. Important leaders include Colonel Ahmed al-Omar and Colonel Jihad Saad al-Din. The Amoud Horan Brigades participated in the recent capture of Tell Harrah. The name refers to the Horan region in southern Syria, a rocky plateau. Social Media: Facebook; YouTube.HelpersEmigrantsEmigrants and Helpers Brigade (Liwa’ Muhajireen wal Ansar): One of the earliest FSA battalions declared in the Daraa governorate, it was created and led by two military defectors, Captain Iyad Qaddour and Captain Khalid Fathallah. It is affiliated with the Daraa Military Council and is a member of the moderate Southern Front coalition. Its leaders are also affiliated with the SMC. Emigrants and Helpers Brigade have been vetted and has received TOWs. This group is not to be confused with the Chechen-led group in Aleppo, Army of Emigrants and Helpers (Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar). The name refers to the original community of believers in Medina under the Prophet Muhammad. The emigrants (muhajireen) were those who emigrated from Mecca and the helpers (ansar) were natives of Medina who aided the Prophet and the emigrants. Social Media: YouTube.

onenessOne-ness Battalion of Horan (Tawhid Kata’ib Horan): An FSA-banner group based in the Horan region of southern Syria. This brigade is active in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates and is a signatory of the Southern Front coalition. The group was originally formed by Major Mohammad al-Turkmani who was later killed in battles with the regime. The One-ness Battalion of Horan has been provided with TOWs and has participated in a number of important battles in Daraa such as the recent capture of Tall Harrah. Social Media:YouTube; Facebook.1stArtillery1st Artillery Regiment: As the name signifies, this armed group operates mostly rockets, mortars, and artillery. The 1st Artillery Regiment is an FSA-banner group that is also a part of the Southern Front coalition. This group was formed by the Daraa Military Council in an effort to create functionally named military units. It is under the command of the defected Major Abd al-Latif al-Hawrani. The presence of defected officers in leading positions of many of these groups is notable since those holding extremist views would not have risen to high ranks in the Syrian army. The 1st Artillery Regiment has been supplied with TOWs and also fields a variety of other anti-tank guided missiles. Social Media:YouTube.QuenitraMC2Quneitra Military Council: An FSA coalition that operates in Quneitra. At least one substituent, the Grandsons Brigade (Liwa’ as-Sabiteen) has fielded TOW missiles. The Quneitra Military Council was once led by Brigadier General Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir who is now Chief of Staff of the SMC. The Military Council in Quneitra has played an important role in the recent advances here. Social Media: Facebook; YouTube.YouthOfSunnaYouth of Sunnah Brigade (Liwa’ Shabbah al-Sunnah): An FSA brigade in the Daraa and Quneitra governorates, the Youth of Sunnah have received TOWs and are members of the Southern Front coalition. Social Media:YouTube; Facebook.

anfalAl-Anfal Brigade: An SRF affiliate in southern Syria. Al-Anfal Brigade is also a member of the Southern Front coalition and has received TOWs. Social Media:Facebook.

1st Brigade: A Southern Front coalition member that also possesses TOWs. It is active in the Daraa governorate and is perhaps an example of the wider trend to adopt military rather than religious or symbolic nomenclature. Social Media:None known.damascusMartyrsDamascus Martyrs’ Brigades: The Damascus Martyrs’ Brigade appear to be an independent Islamist group in Daraa, Quneitra, and southern Rif Dimashq. They are also a member of the United Sham Front, a group with a limited presence in the south. The Damascus Martyrs’ Brigade have recently deployed TOWs against regime vehicles and positions in the seizure of Tell Harrah. Social Media: YouTube; Facebook; United Sham Front Facebook.

Works Cited/Recommended Reading

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Israel’s new justice minister considers all Palestinians to be ‘the enemy’


By Ishaan Tharoor May 7

Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party is known for her strident views on Palestinians and the Israeli left. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

An 11th-hour deal on Wednesday led to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming the most right-wing government in his country’s history. Netanyahu’s slim majority in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, was secured after a pact with the Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, an ultra-nationalist who draws much of his support from Israel’s settler population and rejects a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of the terms of the alliance was that Netanyahu would tap Bennett’s de facto lieutenant, Ayelet Shaked, to be the next justice minister. This is a move not without controversy.

Shaked is known for her strident (some would say extremist) views regarding Palestinians and the enfeebled Israeli left. In July, in a controversial post on Facebook, the then-member of the Knesset posted the text of an article by the late Israeli writer Uri Elitzur that referred to Palestinian children as “little snakes” and appeared to justify the mass punishment of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The post has since been deleted, but an archived version remains.

It was put up shortly after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens kidnapped last year while hiking in the West Bank. Their killing eventually escalated into a 50-day war in which Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave dominated by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which launched barrages of rocket fire at Israel. The Gaza war killed more than1,400 Palestinian civilians and reduced whole swaths of the impoverished territory to rubble.

The leftist site Mondoweiss offers a full translation of Shaked’s controversial posting, which quotes Elitzur, a former Netanyahu adviser,here. Some excerpts:

The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started…

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

Even if these aren’t Shaked’s own words, the sentiment is noteworthy, and it reflects what critics say is the Israeli nationalist right’s widespread intolerance of the Arabs in their midst, who make up one-fifth of the Israeli population.

Bennett and Shaked’s Jewish Home party are avowed opponents of Palestinian statehood. Bennett’s proposal for settling the “Palestinian question” involves the creation of semiautonomous territories that some have likened to the bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa.

Shaked’s appointment as justice minister also has raised fears that Netanyahu’s new government will attempt to rein in the Israeli judiciary, as my colleague William Booth reports. Some are rather worried about what may follow.

“The demand to give Ayelet Shaked the Justice portfolio is like giving the Fire and Rescue Services to a pyromaniac,” opposition lawmaker Nachman Shaitold the Arutz Sheva news site.

Shaked, a photogenic former tech executive, doesn’t seem too bothered about the opinions of her opponents. She once dismissed Haaretz, arguably Israel’s most internationally respected newspaper, as a publication “read by a mere 30,000 Israelis.”

After all, Shaked is about to gain a cabinet post in a climate in which an Israeli former foreign minister can call for the “beheading” of disloyal Arabswith no political cost and in which warning of Arabs “voting in droves” helped Netanyahu’s Likud party win Israel’s general election earlier this year.

“Shaked is going and taking her place in the pantheon of the extreme right,”says leftist Israeli legislator Michal Rozin, “and represents an ideology where her own racism doesn’t embarrass her.”

Read more:

Israel’s election was fought along class and religious lines

Israel remembered terror victims today, but honoring Palestinian teen burned alive by Jews proved controversial

Why Israel’s top right-winger wants his people to ‘stop apologizing’

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.



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