Syria
Syria oil map

Kurds betrayed in new Russo-Turkish alignment?

Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey.  (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

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Idlib

Idlib demonstrators revive Syrian revolution

Reviving Friday demonstrations that were a tradition of the Syrian revolution, activists in besieged Idlib province in the north filled the Idlib city center, flying the Free Syria flag, chanting slogans against the Assad regime and Russia, and demanding international action against the ongoing bombardment of the province. The demonstrators especially expressed sympathy and support for the displaced from Maarat al-Nuaman, a town which has come under especially intense bombardment. The Assad regime and Russia launched their bombing campaign in April, violating the “de-escalation” zone deal reached between Russia and Turkey. Since then, some 700,000 people have been forced to flee. (Photo: OrientNet)

Iran
Iran protests

Podcast: solidarity with Iran —the people, not the state

In Episode 46 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls out the racist imperial narcissism in coverage of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani—all of which (left, right and center) is solely concerned with whether he was responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of Americans.” Safely invisible is the reality that Soleimani and his militia networks were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. Iranian forces in Syria have been carrying out a campaign of sectarian cleansing, with Shi’ite militia leaders usurping the lands of displaced Sunnis. Soleimani’s militias in Iraq have meanwhile been serially massacring protesters. Over this same period, hundreds of protesters have been killed in state repression in Iran itself. Anti-war forces in the West must not be confused by Trump’s cynical pretense of support for the Iranian protesters. Our opposition to Trump’s war moves must be in explicit solidarity with Iran —meaning the people of Iran, not the state. And that includes solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people against an oppressive regime. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Image: @iranprotest2019)

Iran
Syria shepherds

Syria: ‘retaliatory’ massacre after Soleimani killing

More than 20 shepherds were killed in eastern Syria, with pro-opposition activists claiming that Iran-backed militias were responsible. The shepherds were slain in the Maadan area, on the border of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, and also near the line between territory held by the Assad regime and that held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The regime is being massively backed by Iranian forces, and Iran-backed militia units had establsihed checkpoints along the border of the zones of control. The media-activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently claimed that the shepherds were shot and stabbed in retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Damascus state media blamed the massacre on ISIS. Soleimani’s elite Quds Force intervened in Syria to prop up the Assad regime along with Russia in 2015.  (Photo: EA Worldview)

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soleimani

Trump and Soleimani: clash of barbarisms

Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. In fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a “dirty war” in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. This is why all the media talk (echoing Trump) about how he “killed Americans” reeks of racism and imperial narcissism. However many US troops Soleimani may have been responsible for killing, this was the least of his massive crimes. Similarly, calling him a “terrorist,” implying he was responsible for attacks on Westerners (always the connotation of that label in mainstream Western discourse), is a vast understatement. He was worse than a terrorist: he was a war criminal. And so is Trump—in his destruction of ISIS-held Raqqa and Mosul (which could only have cheered Soleimani), in his targeted-assassination drone strikes, and now in his threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites. (Photo: Iran Briefing)

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Idlib displaced

Syria: thousands flee intensified Idlib offensive

More than 235,000 people have fled from their homes in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province over the past days, as the Assad regime and Russia escalate their campaign of aerial bombardment. A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that Ma’arrat An Nu’man and other towns in the province are now “almost empty,” while internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the extreme northwest of the province are rapidly swelling. “Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected,” the report states. Perversely, the renewed offensive comes days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid convoys into Idlib from Turkey for another year—essentially condemning many of those not directly killed by the bombs to death by starvation and exposure. (Photo: UNHCR)

Watching the Shadows

Podcast: against the global detention state

In Episode 45 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with alarm the rapid consolidation of a global detention state, extending across borders and rival power blocs. In the United States, Trump moves toward indefinite detention of undocumented migrants, with horrific rights abuses widespread in the fast-expanding camp system. In China, up to a million Uighurs have been detained in “re-education camps,” and are facing such abuses as forced sterilization. As India hypocritically protests China’s treatment of the Uighurs, it is also preparing mass detention of its own Muslim population. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is similarly preparing mass detention of the Crimean Tatars. In Syria, the Bashar Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands, and is carrying out a mass extermination of prisoners, almost certainly amounting to genocide. In Libya, countless thousands of desperate migrants have been detained, often by completely unaccountable militias, and an actual slave trade in captured Black African migrants has emerged. Yet Trump exploits the mass internment of the Uighurs to score propaganda points against imperial rival China—and some “leftists” (sic) in the US are so confused as to actually defend China’s detention state. International solidarity is urgently needed at this desperate moment to repudiate such divide-and-rule stratagems. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo of Homeland Security’s Otay Mesa Detention Center from BBC World Service via Flickr)

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Syria oil map

Trump lays claim to Syrian oil

Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the US can do “what we want” with the oil-fields it now controls in northeast Syria. This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: “I’ll take the oil”—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon. A military showdown over the oil looms, as all sides to the conflict await the new order that will emerge from the current scramble for northern Syria. A contest between the US and Russian-backed Assadist forces is a terrifying possibility. One restraining factor is that the US holds the fields jointly with Kurdish forces—and Washington, Moscow and Damascus alike are attempting to groom the Kurds as proxies. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

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Syria prisoners

Syrian officers charged with crimes against humanity

German federal prosecutors have charged two former Syrian intelligence officers with “more than 4,000 alleged cases of torture” in the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. The case, anticipated to start in 2020, will be the “first criminal trial worldwide” over alleged crimes against humanity in Syria. The defendants, identified as Anwar R. and Eyad A., left Syria in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and sought asylum in Germany. However, both were arrested by authorities in February. The two are believed to have been members of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Syria’s most powerful civilian intelligence branch. The GID has faced accusations that it participated in the violent repression of opposition to the Assad regime and systematically employed torture in its prisons. (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

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troops return to Syria

Trump makes grab for Syrian oil-fields

A US military convoy was spotted headed back into Syria from Iraqi territory—just days after the US withdrawal from northern Syria, which precipitated the Turkish aggression there, had been completed. The convoy was traveling toward the Deir ez-Zor area, presumably to “guard” the oil-fields there, now under the precarious control of Kurdish forces. Following up on President Trump’s pledge to secure the oil-fields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now says that the troops being mobilized to Deir ez-Zor “will include some mechanized forces.” Despite the talk of protecting the fields from ISIS, it is Russian-backed Assadist forces that are actually now also advancing on Deir ez-Zor from the other direction. So a show-down appears imminent—with the Kurds caught in the middle. (Photo: Rudaw)

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Syria carve-up

Erdogan and Putin in Syria carve-up deal

Turkey and Russia reached a deal for joint control of northeast Syria, as Kurdish forces retreated from the so-called “safe zone” along the border. The 10-point agreement defines the dimensions of the “safe zone,” 480 kilometers long and 30 kilometers deep, enclosing the (former) Kurdish autonomous cantons of Kobani and Cezire. It supports Ankara’s demand for the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia. In Washington, Trump wasted no time in announcing that his administration will lift the sanctions it had imposed on Turkey in response to the aggression in Syria’s north. (Map: Cizire Canton via Twitter)

Syria
Kurdish protest

Syria: confusion, anger as US troops withdraw

US troops hastened their withdrawal from Syria, amid the anger of local Kurds and confusion over the future status of American forces in the area. Kurdish residents attempted to block a convoy of withdrawing US forces, with local youth pelting the vehicles with stones and rotten vegetables. But the Pentagon is now saying a remnant force of some 200 troops may remain—not to protect the Kurdish population from the Turkish aggression, but to help secure the Kurdish-held oil-fields from falling into the hands of ISIS. Trump actually broached turning the oil-fields over to “one of our big oil companies.” (Photo: ANHA via EA Worldview)