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Monday, April 23

This photo from ANNA news made me smile

Local of Saqba district in E. Ghouta talks with Syrian Army soldier 


The photo accompanies a March 26 Al Masdar News report, Tens of thousands of civilians [able to] stay in their East Ghouta homes after Syrian Army takeover – details

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Go. In the name of God go.

 Essam Al-Sudani / Reuters

The photo is included in RT's April 23 report US, France & allies should not leave, must build ‘new Syria after war’ – Macron. I'm refusing to read the report because I don't feel like barfing at this time in the morning. 

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Very helpful analysis of Syrian Army endgame from Sic Semper Tyrannis

"It is a strategy carefully planned and executed to avoid attrition warfare."

I'll post just the opening paragraphs from the sitrep/analysis, which includes a wonderfully clear map of the four 'official' de-escalation zones. Click on the map image to enlarge it.

The strategy behind the de-escalation zones
By "TTG"
April 21, 2018
Sic Semper Tyrannis

The recent advances by the R+6 in Ghouta, Yarmouk, Qalamun and beyond have laid bare the true strategy of the de-escalation zones established by the Astana Accords. They certainly were not meant to establish a new status quo of rebel safe areas guaranteed to torment Damascus for years to come. They are, I contend, a blueprint for ending the armed resistance to Damascus and reestablishing the territorial integrity of Syria west of the Euphrates. The eventual Turkish-Syrian border will remain a question for future resolution, one way or another.
The reduction of the Ghouta pocket, or de-escalation zone 3 as it was referred to at Astana, was a perfect example of the de-escalation strategy, a strategy to limit the death, destruction and suffering to a minimum while still attaining R+6 objectives. 
It is a strategy carefully planned and executed to avoid attrition warfare. It begins with an offer/ultimatum to the rebels. You can reconcile with Damascus or be bussed to the Idlib area. If you choose Idlib you will leave all heavy weapons and vehicles to the SAA. If you refuse this offer, the R+6 will unleash a massive punch of artillery and air power followed by a violent strike by elite SAA units. This cycle is repeated until the targeted rebels surrender, reconcile or fall in defeat. This strategy saves civilian lives and infrastructure and preserves SAA combat forces.
This is how the Ghouta pocket was reduced, piece by piece. As that battle wound down, pressure was kept on the Yarmouk pocket while the Tiger Force moved to Qalamun. That battle just ended with another victory for the R+6. It appears the SAA captured a battalion worth of older but serviceable main battle tanks (or more) along with much other equipment and ammunition. Damascus has also gained additional forces for their NDF units from reconciled rebels.
With the Qalamun pocket eliminated, the Tiger Force now is reported to be moving to Yarmouk to assist in the reduction of that pocket. Some of the rebels and even some Daesh elements already took the offer for bus tickets to Jarabulus after a savage artillery and air strike followed by a quick, savage advance by the SAA 4th Mechanized Division and the Liwa al-Quds Brigade. It’s just a matter of time [before] the last of the Daesh holdouts are no more.
[...]
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Especially important review of Moon of Alabama posts for the week.

MoA's "b" posts reviews of his writings for the week and often adds new commentary to these. Here's the one for this past week, which I think is a 'must read' along with his April 21 report:

[BEGIN REVIEW]

The MoA Week In Review And Open Thread 2018-19

The U.S. is currently attempting Color Revolutions by Force in Nicaragua and Armenia. This form of 'regime change' uses the typical 'peaceful demonstrators' schemes and media push but adds an armed element that is supposed to shoot at both sides - the protesters as well as government forces - to create marketable victims and chaos. The war on Syria was started this way as was the war in Libya and the violent regime change in Ukraine.

Telesur TV has a good write up on the situation in Nicaragua. Earlier today a journalist was shot in Bluefields, Nicaragua, during live reporting, probably by the opposition which now accuses the government.

AFP has an overview of the conflict in Armenia. It is sympathetic to the 'western' sponsored opposition. Just an hour ago the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was arrested after a short talk with the Prime Minister. He demanded total surrender of the government. I expect that further demonstrations will be shut down.

Last week's posts on MoA:
Yesterday, a week after arriving in Damascus, the OPCW fact finding mission finally reached one of the sites and took some probes to be analyzed elsewhere. It will take several weeks before the results are in.
I reported that the ISIS Takfiris in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp had given up and were ready to be transported into the eastern desert. But, as happened before in Douma, some hardliners killed the lead negotiator of the Takfiris and the fighting resumed. Artillery fire and aerial bombing continued today. The Syrian army has now plenty of capacities and, unless they give up, will turn all the Takfiris into fertilizer without taking many losses.

The Bolivian actress Carla Ortiz is back from Syria where she produced a new documentary. Jimmy Dore interviews her (vid, 40 min) and shows some of her footage. It is excellent and I recommend it.
(This was the longest piece I have ever written for this site and, I believe, it is quite important. Please spread it.)

The war on dissenting opinions described therein continues with the Sunday Times smearing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn because one or two of the 2,444 people he follows on Twitter once wrote something the Sunday Times dislikes:

[See MoA for photo of the Times editorial page smear job]

[END REVIEW]

Lots of interesting comments already posted in the review's open thread. 

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More on possible attempted coup in KSA: "Saudi Officials Behind Saturday Night Raid on Royal Palace- Whistleblower"

It seems there could have been not one but two gunfire incidents in the area of the royal palace in Riyadh on successive nights -- Saturday April 21 and Sunday 22.

The April 21 incident is well-documented. Saudi security officials told Reuters that the gunfire lasted only about 30 seconds and brought down a recreational drone. There is amateur video footage of  the incident that posted to various websites but it's not time-stamped and it's impossible to peg the location from what I've seen of the videos.  See U.S. based "Right Side Broadcast Network" report at YouTube for a roundup of the videos and discussion about them. 

On April 22 FARS (Iran's state news agency), reported as 'breaking news' that heavy gunfire was occuring around the royal palace and noted it could signal an attempted coup in progress. The gunfire reportedly lasted an hour. Mainstream media and official Saudi sources have not commented about this supposed second incident.

Below is the second report published on Sunday the 22nd at FARS regarding the alleged April 22 attack. The report relies heavily on claims made by an anonymous 'whistleblower.' 

FARS has passed along statements from the same whistleblower several times over the past few years; it seems he -- or she -- has enough readers of his Twitter page that FARS takes him seriously enough to quote. 

I haven't read enough of the FARS English-language reports on the whistleblower's claims to attempt to gauge how reliable his earlier predictions and 'inside scoops' have been.

I think the most interesting passage from the second FARS report on Sunday is the claim that while some assailants in the alleged April 22 incident were killed, several got away without a trace.    

FARS
April 22, 2018 - 4.1  [I have no idea what the 4.1 timestamp translates to, ahem FARS] 

TEHRAN (FNA)- Saudi whistle-blower Mujtahid, who is believed to be a member of or have a well-connected source in the royal family, underlined involvement of a number of Saudi officials in what he called a Saturday night coup against the royal dynasty.

"The attack was launched using a vehicle equipped with a 50-mm machinegun," Mujtahid wrote on his Twitter page on Sunday.

He also referred to a twitter post released by Sowt al-Arab, and claimed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been the target of the attack, adding that 7 soldiers have been killed on both sides, while other assailants have disappeared without a trace. [emphasis mine]

Mujtahid added that a number of Saudi figures affiliated with the royal family were involved in the attack.

He also said a drone has also been used to help the assailants to find their target but the whole incident was a gunfire [gunfight?] which lasted one hour.

Heavy gunfire was heard near the Saudi King's palace in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, while King Salman was taken to a bunker at an airbase in the city.

A growing number of videos surfaced in the media showing that heavy gunfire erupted around King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's palace in the capital, Riyadh. [Pundita note:  It's not clear whether these are videos taken on the 22nd or ones from the 21st.]

Reports said the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were evacuated to a bunker at an airbase in the city that is under the protection of the US troops.

While Saudi officials and media were quiet over the incident, there were conflicting reports about the incident. Witnesses and residents of the neighborhoods near the palace said a coup was underway, while other reports said a drone had been flying over the palace.

Saudi opposition members claimed that "a senior ground force officer has led a raid on the palace to kill the king and the crown prince".

Videos also showed that a growing number of armored vehicles were deployed around the palace. 'Bin Salman's special guard' had taken charge of security in the capital. Riyadh's sky had been closed to all civil and military flights as military helicopters from 'Bin Salman's special guard' were flying over the palace.

There is yet no official report on any possible casualties.



[END REPORT]

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Sunday, April 22

"Popular Forces Uprising Against US-Backed Militants in Eastern Syria" - reports


FARS
April 22, 2018

TEHRAN (FNA)- People in regions that are under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Eastern province of Deir Ezzor poured into the streets on Sunday and called for expulsion of SDF militants from their region.

Anti-SDF movements by pro-government residents have recently been reported in the regions that are under the US-backed militants in Eastern Deir Ezzor.

A commander of the pro-government Jeish al-Ashayer (Tribal Army) has moved into the SDF regions, including al-Sha'aytat, to plan a coup or rebellion by the residents against SDF's rule, locals said.

In the meantime, local sources in Eastern Deir Ezzor reported that the Syrian Army flags have been hoisted by unknown people in the towns of al-Shahil and al-Kashakiyeh that are under SDF control.

In a relevant development but in Raqqa province earlier this month, people in Raqqa hoisted the country's official flag in the city after popular uprising against the US occupation.

Field sources reported that a group of people in Raqqa named 'Popular Forces in the Eastern Region' hoisted the Syrian government's flag over one of the buildings of Raqqa city.

They also vowed to fight against the US forces and their affiliated militants in the region, according to the sources.

Tensions and clashes have increased between Raqqa residents and the American and US-backed Kurdish forces in recent days.

[END REPORT]

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'Whole story was staged' German reporter says about Douma chem attack

By the way I have a question for the U.S. Department of State: Are you still looking after al Qaeda 'rebels' and their families in Idlib? If so, will you extend the same charity to Jaysh al-Islam head-choppers who were evacuated there from Douma?  Or will they have to join al Qaeda before you'll help them?

I don't want to hear 'We're assisting a great many rebel groups in Idlib.'  You know very well al Qaeda rules in that area of Syria. 

RT
April 22, 2018 - 22:08

The alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma was staged by local militants, who tried to frame it as a Syrian Army strike, a German TV correspondent, who travelled to Damascus, has said publicly, citing local witnesses.

“People told us in a very convincing manner that this whole story was staged,” Uli Gack, a reporter with the German ZDF public broadcaster, said (referring to the alleged Douma chemical attack) while he spoke live on ZDF Heute (‘Today’) show on Satuday.

Gack had travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damascus, where “some 20,000 people from Eastern Ghouta and particularly from Douma” were living.

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post”of a local Islamist group, the reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants.

According to other witness accounts, the militants deliberately exposed people to chemical agents during what they called “training exercises” then filmed it and later presented as an “evidence”of the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

The reporter then said he could not verify the people’s statements and cannot say if they are all true but called them quite “convincing” and added that they deserve attention.

Earlier, the Russian military said that they had found a laboratory operated by militants in central Douma, which was capable of producing chemical weapons.

In particular they found a cylinder filled with chlorine, which looks similar to the one that was shown in one of the videos of the alleged chemical attack in Douma and presented as a “chemical bomb dropped from a helicopter.'

The purported chemical incident in Douma allegedly took place on April 7. A week later, Washington and its allies launched a massive retaliatory missile strike against Syria, without even waiting for the Organization for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to start its investigation of the incident.

Russia denounced those US-led strikes, calling them “hooliganism” in international relations and “an aggression against a sovereign state.”

In the meantime, western media embarked on a massive campaign of accusing Moscow and Damascus of “blocking” the OPCW investigators from accessing the scene of the alleged attack. Gack, however, also seemingly dismissed this narrative, saying that the delay in the OPCW team’s work may indeed have been caused by security issues.

The German reporter also pointed out that some hidden extremist cells might be still operating and carrying out attacks in the recently liberated areas, even “weeks” after they had been retaken from militants.

Gack’s report was immediately labeled as “propaganda” by some of his fellow journalists in Germany. A reporter with the German Bild daily, Bjoern Stritzel, who in particular is said to have been working undercover and actively communicating with Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) terrorists, lashed out at Gack, calling his report an “unbelievable pro-Assad propaganda on German Television.”

Last week, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that there are still militants in Douma who “terrorize citizens and, among other things, impede the normal work of representatives of the international community – the UN and the OPCW.” On Saturday, the OPCW eventually confirmed that its team visited one of the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Douma and collected samples for analysis.

[END REPORT]

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Uh oh. Is an attempted violent coup underway in Riyadh?

The 'breaking news' report is from Iran's state news agency so who knows, but it looks like something more than a drone flying near the palace is going on.



BREAKING NEWS
URGENT: Heavy Gunfire Ongoing Around Saudi King's Palace
April 22, 2018 - 12:55
FARS

TEHRAN (FNA)- Heavy gunfire is ongoing near the Saudi King's palace in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, while King Salman has been taken to a bunker at an airbase in the city.

A growing number of videos are surfacing in [social] media showing that heavy gunfire is underway around King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's palace in the capital, Riyadh.

Reports said the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have been evacuated to a bunker at an airbase in the city that is under the protection of the US troops.

While Saudi officials and [state] media are quiet over the incident, there are contradicting reports about it. Witnesses and residents of the neighborhoods near the palace said a coup is underway, while other reports said a drone has been flying over the palace.

Saudi opposition members claimed that "a senior ground force officer has led a raid on the palace to kill the king and the crown prince".

Videos also show that a growing number of armored vehicles have deployed around the palace. 'Bin Salman's special guard' has taken charge of security in the capital. Riyadh's sky has been closed to all civil and military flights as military helicopters from 'Bin Salman's special guard' are flying over the palace.

There is yet no report on any possible casualties.

Yet a number of Saudi activists said in their twitter accounts that a drone has been flying over the palace and the palace guards started spraying bullet at the UAV as they are afraid that it could be a Yemeni military aircraft sent on a bombing mission to the King's palace.

Yemen's Ansarullah movement recently warned that it would use more drones in the war against Saudi Arabia.

The first such drone mission happened few weeks ago when the Yemenis sent pilotless aircraft on a mission over the Saudi Aramco oil company in Southern Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh's Police spokesman confirmed the shooting incident minutes ago, claiming that the guards have observed a helishot flying over the Al-Khazami Palace and started shooting at it.

[END REPORT]


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Over 30 killed in Kabul suicide blast – Islamic State claims responsibility

RT
8:42 - April 22, 2018

A suicide bombing in Kabul has left at least 31 dead and more than 50 wounded, according to a spokesperson for the public health ministry. The attacker detonated an IED inside a voter registration and ID center, police say.

The explosion happened at about 10am local time in Dasht-e-Barchi. According to eyewitnesses the death toll is thought to be higher than what officials have said, TOLO News reports.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to its affiliated Amaq website.

Afghanistan is holding elections in October and voter registration centers have been set up around the country. Sunday’s blast is the latest attack on election centers over the past week. On Tuesday, armed men kidnapped three employees and two police officers at a center in Ghor.

MORE TO FOLLOW

[END REPORT]

"Militants Hand Over Munition Depots, Armored Vehicles to Syrian Army"

If you like your machine gun you can keep your machine gun. Russia's Center for Syrian Reconciliation working overtime.
  
Reuters/Bassam Khabieh

The photo is of Jaysh al-Islam members on a government bus, evacuating Douma on April 1. They don't look all that broken up about having to leave, do they? And look at those soft hands and clean fingernails. They were living it up at the expense of Douma's captive civilians. We'll see how they like life in Idlib, where other 'militant' groups including al Qaeda don't like Jaysh al-Islam.  

Sputnik 
06:37 - April 22, 2018

MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Extremists have handed over warehouses with a large amount of ammunition, 30 armored vehicles and different types of weapons to the Syrian armed forces, Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, the commander of the Russian reconciliation center for Syria, said on Saturday.

"Extremists handed 30 armored vehicles, three pick-ups with large-caliber machine guns, 36 AT grenade launchers, six mortars, three AT guided missiles, 23 tactical missiles, 111 mines, 60 hand grenades, and more than 63,000 munitions for small arms to the Syrian Arab Army," Yevtushenko said.

"The government troops have taken storages with large amount of munitions under control," he added.


Meanwhile, the militants and members of their families started to leave the area of Eastern Qalamoun in Syria's province of Damascus, according to Yevtushenko.

The 
Russian Defense Ministry's Center for Syrian Reconciliation  also reported that sixteen residential buildings have been cleared from explosives in the Syrian city of Douma, located in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, over the past 24 hours.

"Houses and infrastructure objects are being cleared from mines and explosive devices in Douma. Over the last 24 hours, 16 houses and their territories have been cleared. Twelve explosive devices have been defused," the center said in a daily briefing, published on the Russian Defense Ministry's website. Clearing the city from the rubble, and road maintenance works are underway in Douma, the center added.

Earlier, local media reported that the Syrian government forces found large amounts of militants’ weapons in the city of Dumayr. The Syrian state TV reported that in the southern part of the city, the Syrian army has found stockpiles of ammunition with several US-produced TOW anti-tank missiles among the equipment.


[END REPORT]

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Saturday, April 21

Peace agreements snowball in Syria


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Friday, April 20

Trump Foreign Policy, more or less simply explained

Several weeks ago President Trump, while enumerating for reporters his accomplishments as POTUS said, "We drove ISIS off our land." He was referring to Raqqa and Mosul. 

 blurted, "What you mean our land, Kemosabe?" 

Could it have been a slip of the tongue? If so it was a Freudian slip. I have no idea what's going on with the U.S. in Iraq; I'm afraid to find out. But the U.S. and U.S.-backed proxy forces have already grabbed one-third of the entire country of Syria, which includes resources -- oil, water, and fertile farmland -- that are critically needed to rebuild the country and sustain the Syrian populace.

Mr Trump has said he wants to sell this Syrian land to the Saudis. But as near as I can figure his plan is to sell the land then have the Saudis pay him to have American troops or proxies guard the land, thereby realizing a profit for the U.S. from the deal. Another payment option would be for the Saudis to buy more U.S. weapons, which they'll store in a warehouse along with all the other weapons they bought from the U.S. and don't want. 

Either way, when Mr Trump says he wants to pay somebody, what he means is that he wants to make an appearance of making a payment although he's actually making a sale.  

I suppose it's not as complicated as it sounds if one is in real estate. Anyhow he's looking at the Syrian land he grabbed as real estate, to be auctioned off if he doesn't consider it worth his while to develop. 

There, in a nutshell, is the Trump foreign policy. So where does this policy fit with Mr Trump's talk about invoking a "righteous power" to punish Syria's president for poisoning little babies? 

It doesn't fit. His excuse for bombing Syrian government installations was hot air. 

As to whether Mr Trump plans to develop Raqqa somehow I don't think so, and lots of luck with trying to auction it. More than 80 percent of Raqqa was left uninhabitable after the US-backed SDF operation to cleanse the city of ISIS.

Mosul fared a little better:
... six of the 44 districts in western Mosul were destroyed, according to the United Nations. Every district in Mosul received damage that was at least ‘light,' or ‘moderate.'
The UN stats on Raqqa and Mosul were mentioned in Sputnik's April 20 report, US Military Focus Shifts from Iraq, Syria to Afghanistan, Bombing Report Shows.

The headline would strike fear among many Afghans including Afghanistan's former president, Hamid Karzai. He recently confessed to a Sputnik interviewer that while president he'd tried without success to eject the Americans from Afghanistan. 

Darn right he didn't succeed. The Americans branded him mentally ill when he started saying loudly that NATO-ISAF military operations in the country sucked. He's lucky he wasn't carted off to a mental institution somewhere in Alaska.

He also told Sputnik that he hoped the Russians would come to Kabul's aid in dealing with the Taliban and Islamic State given all that the Americans excelled at was getting a lot of Afghans killed. But then Karzai always was a complainer.

I should remind him that the U.S.-led NATO/ISAF mission also excelled at getting a lot of American soldiers killed for no good reason, beyond trying to help the Saudi and British regimes mollify Pakistan's overlords. 

To return to Trump Foreign Policy in Syria. Given the April 20 Sputnik report, is it possible that Mr Trump will actually order all U.S. troops out of Syria as soon as ISIS is wiped out there? 

To feel our way to an answer, consider RT's April 19 report, Iraqi air forces carry out strikes on ISIS positions in Syria:
Iraqi air forces have launched strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said. They were carried out in coordination with the Syrian government, the Iraqi military confirmed.

The airstrikes demonstrate the increased capacity of the Iraqi forces to “pursue and eliminate terrorism,” the statement from the Iraqi PM office added.
“Our heroic air force carried out, on Thursday, in Syria near the Iraqi border, deadly airstrikes against Daesh's [Islamic State] terrorists gangs,” the statement from the PM’s Media Office on Twitter said. ...
And this April 17 Military Times report Why US forces remain near Manbij while ISIS has moved elsewhere in Syria:
The final pockets of Islamic State fighters in Syria are hundreds of miles from the northern Syrian town of Manbij, but U.S. forces will remain there to prevent ISIS fighters from returning, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The U.S. will say publicly it has about 2,000 troops in Syria. An untold number of them are concentrated around Manbij. The city is located in the north, near the Turkey-Syria border and has become a hot spot for potential skirmishes between Turkish forces and the Kurdish-partnered forces the U.S. has worked with to drive ISIS from the country.
While most ISIS fighters are located farther south and along the Syria-Iraq border, Manbij is still vulnerable to ISIS resurgence, Dillon said.
[I think the reporter, Tara Copp, is referring to Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, U.S. Central Command. People who read Military Times are expected to know these things.]
[...]
Turkish president Recep Erdogan has repeatedly challenged the coalition’s presence in Manbij and vowed to remove many of the same fighters the U.S. has worked with from the border region.
Dillon said the U.S. presence in Manbij would continue.
“Even though ISIS is not, you know, flying their black flag in certain areas, that doesn’t mean that it is not a threat in these areas,” he said.
[END REPORT]
So. U.S. troops can't leave Manbij in case they might spot ISIS pussyfooting around near there. 

As to whether other American troops in the country plan to go after the Islamic State pocket "farther south and along the Syria-Iraq border," this is the odd part. The ISIS pocket under discussion is located behind American lines along the Iraq-Syria border. As I've noted before every time Syrian troops try rout the pocket, the Americans bomb the troops to shoo them away.

Is this why the Iraqi air force is now bombing ISIS positions along the same border? Maybe it's the only way considering that the U.S. hasn't done anything about the pocket. 

Why haven't they done anything? 

A guess is that bombing isn't enough. It could take boots on the ground to wipe out those ISIS fighters. The U.S. command might not be able to find enough reliable proxy forces for the operation -- remember that several Kurdish fighters are ticked off at Washington right now -- and wouldn't want headlines in the USA about American soldiers dying in battles with ISIS in Syria or being captured.   
   
If the guess is in the ballpark, why in Sam Hill wouldn't the U.S. simply allow the Syrian army to go after the ISIS positions?

I might get the answer from my correspondence course on how to get rich in real estate, which I'm taking to study how Trump Foreign Policy works out in practice. 

As soon as I finish the course I'll let you know. 

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Thursday, April 19

"A state of panic was deliberately caused by someone."



A handful of testimonials has emerged about the Douma incident in Syria, some asserting that a chemical weapon was used on civilians, others dismissing the claim. The above video, published at YouTube by Syria Alikhbaria (Syrian News Channel), records testimonials given by medical personnel attached to the clinic in Douma at the time of the incident. (The testimonials are interrupted by a brief discussion of the White Helmets.) 

The personnel recounted that they were treating patients for various conditions when a White Helmet member entered and yelled that there had been a gas attack. The pandemonium that erupted was then videotaped by at least one White Helmets member (or possibly a Jaysh al-Islam militant).  

The personnel claim that none of the patients suffered from exposure to a chemical agent although a number of them had bronchitis and other lung ailments caused by poor ventilation in their living quarters. 

Their claims comport with those of a doctor interviewed by veteran journalist Robert Fisk and published in the (U.K.) Independent newspaper on April 17:
... It was a short walk to Dr Rahaibani. From the door of his subterranean clinic – “Point 200”, it is called, in the weird geology of this partly-underground city – is a corridor leading downhill where he showed me his lowly hospital and the few beds where a small girl was crying as nurses treated a cut above her eye.

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.

Then someone at the [clinic] door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”
Fisk reported that Dr Rahaibani and the other physicians  were not eyewitnesses at the clinic at the time of the incident:
By bad luck, too, the doctors who were on duty that night on 7 April were all in Damascus giving evidence to a chemical weapons enquiry ...
That meant they were filled in by the medical personnel on duty (e.g., nurses) as to what had happened.  

The Syrian News Channel is supportive of the Damascene government so the question is whether the personnel had been coached on what to say. I think one argument in favor of their version of events is evident in this photograph and ones like it taken in the Douma clinic on the night of the incident:


 If you are familiar with the symptoms displayed by a victim of a real chlorine gas attack or sarin, one look at the photograph would indicate that the children were most definitely not suffering from sarin, and that if they'd inhaled chlorine fumes they'd gotten a very mild exposure.   

I should add that perhaps not all the people in the Douma clinic were suffering any ill effects whatsoever when they arrived:
"We were in the basement. Mom told me that today we don't have anything to eat and that we will eat tomorrow. We heard a cry outside, calling "go to the hospital." We ran to the hospital and as soon as I entered, they grabbed me and started pouring water on me," Hassan Diab said.
His father continued the story. He was at his work when he heard that his son was in hospital. He rushed to the hospital and found his family there in good health.
"There were no chemical weapons. I smoked outside and felt nothing. I entered the hospital and saw my family. Militants gave them dates, cookies and rice for participating in this film and released everyone to their homes," Hassan's father said.
Hassan is not enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Dad is.



Were father and son coached by the Syrian government to lie about their experience in the clinic, or did they cook up a lie on their own? It's possible. But their version of events has some weight when considered alongside accounts given by the medical professionals in the Douma clinic. 

As I noted there are accounts that would contradict the ones discussed above. From CBS News April 16:
On Monday, CBS News made it to the house where the suspected chemical attack took place.
"All of a sudden some gas spread around us,"  one neighbor recounted. "We couldn't breathe, it smelled like chlorine."
However, I think everyone can agree that it's easy to set off a panic by yelling 'Gas attack!' in a crowded hospital clinic.

At least the people in that particular clinic and town had a good excuse to panic. Those who watched video of the pandemonium from the comfort of their homes far away from Syria have no excuse. They especially don't have an excuse to be stampeded into supporting a military version of a lynch mob, which is what the U.S.-led attack on Syrian government facilities last week amounted to. 


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Wednesday, April 18

Yes Mr Gorbachev they're plotting another strike on Syria

Gorbachev Calls Western Missile Attack on Syria 'Preparation for Shooting' - Sputnik, April 15:
... "I think that nobody needs the attack in the form it is spoken about and with such results. It very much looks like training before you start shooting in earnest," Mikhail Gorbachev told Latvia's Baltkom radio station. ...
I believe the operative word for the April 13 strike is "probing" rather than training. 

 Testing testing one two three: Syria says false alarm set off its air defences Reuters, April 17:
... Syrian state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying a number of air defence missiles had been fired but no foreign attack had taken place.

Separately, a commander in the regional military alliance backing the government attributed the malfunction to “a joint electronic attack” by Israel and the United States targeting the Syrian radar system.

The issue had been dealt with by Russian experts, said the commander, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. ...
Senators leave classified briefing on Trump's Syria policy 'very unnerved' - CNN, April 18:
... "I am very unnerved by what I'm hearing and seeing," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who said the briefing on the strikes from, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, made him more worried, not less. The administration is "going down a dangerous path" with regards to Syria, he said, without offering details.
Graham told reporters that the administration has no military strategy to counter Iranian and Russian influence and seems willing "to give Syria to Assad, Russia, and Iran."
"I think Assad, after this strike, believes we're all tweet and no action," Graham said. ...
Well I think Assad believes the United States is run by a bunch of extremely dangerous psychopaths with a god complex.

STILL trying to overthrow Assad. US Threatens to Use Force against Russia, to Strike Syria Once Again - SouthFront, April 18
The US is ready to use force against Russia in Syria and already warned Moscow of this, Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State has said in a written statement to congressional committee on foreign affairs.
Mitchell added that Russian mercenaries have allegedly tried to attack US military positions in Syria.

“In the upcoming days and weeks the US and our allies will weaken and defeat IS, support stable Syria and limit malicious influence of Iran,” he continued.
The Assistant Secretary of State claimed that the conflict in Syria can only be solved via the so-called Geneva format calling on Russia to join the talks and also bring the Syrian government along.
After the success of the Astana format involving Russia, Iran and Turkey, the US is attempting to relaunch the Geneva format in order to restore its political influence on the conflict.
Meanwhile, United States House of Representatives Chairman Ed Royce claimed that the April 14 US-led missile strike on Syria had been “legal and justified”. He also threatened Syria with further strikes.

“The US and our allies were justified in taking limited military action against Bashar al-Assad in response to his barbaric use of chemical weapons. Hopefully, the Syrian dictator gets the message. If not, I have no doubt there will be more military strikes,” Royce said on the Foreign Affairs Hearing.
He noted that Washington needs a strategy to get a “political solution that moves beyond Assad to secure a lasting peace.”
[END REPORT]
"In foreign policy, Royce's voting record has earned a 0% rating from the peace organization SANE." (WikipediaThis organization has a problem with putting nuclear weapons in space. 

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Yes, the worst part is that stability in Syria could spread to nearby countries

The US doesn’t even care about Syria — but we keep the war going
By Stephen Kinzer [an American]
April 12, 2018
Boston Globe

DURING SEVEN DEVASTATING years, war in Syria has killed at least 150,000 people, turned more than ten million into refugees, and reduced once-thriving towns and cities to rubble. Finally it is winding down. Syria now has a chance to begin rebuilding. The country can be reunited, its economy can start to function again, and a measure of political stability can return. 


None of that, however, is likely to happen. American military and security planers are determined to prevent it as long as President Bashar al-Assad is in power. The specter of a peaceful and prosperous Syria under Assad’s leadership terrifies them. They believe that until he is gone, it is in America’s interest to keep Syria divided, unstable and impoverished.

Much of Syria’s water, much of its oil, and much of its best agricultural land lie in regions controlled by US-backed rebel factions. This gives the Americans a magnificent opportunity. We could encourage our Kurdish allies and other rebel groups to negotiate a peace accord with Assad, who seems likely to remain in power for years to come. That would lay the foundation for a stable Syria—which is why we are unlikely do it.

According to the logic behind American strategy in the Middle East — and the rest of the world — one of our principal goals should be to prevent peace or prosperity from breaking out in countries whose governments are unfriendly to us. That outcome in Syria would have results we consider intolerable. First, it would signal final victory for the Assad government, which we deluded ourselves into thinking we could crush. Second, it would allow Russia, which has been Assad’s ally, to maintain its influence in Syria. Most frighteningly, it might allow stability to spread to nearby countries.

Today, for the first time in modern history, the governments of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are on good terms. A partnership among them could lay the foundation for a new Middle East. That new Middle East, however, would not be submissive to the United States-Israel-Saudi Arabia coalition. For that reason, we are determined to prevent it from emerging. Better to keep these countries in misery and conflict, some reason, than to allow them to thrive while they defy the United States.

War in Syria began as civil conflict — a dispute among Syrians. Soon after it turned violent, outside powers rushed in. Iran and Russia sided with the government. The United States supported rebel groups, including several that were part of the Al Qaeda and Nusra Front terror networks. Turkey also sent weapons to terror groups, but then changed course, became friendlier to the Assad government, and turned its fire on the Kurds. Syria has become an arena a for big-power conflict. It can no longer shape its own fate.

The United States is hardly the only outside power that is more interested in scoring points against perceived rivals in Syria than in stopping bloodshed. But our role is now crucial because our sway over mostly-defeated rebel groups allows us to push them toward either war or peace. From Washington’s perspective, peace in Syria is the horror scenario. Peace would mean what the United States sees as a “win” for our enemies: Russia, Iran, and the Assad government. We are determined to prevent that, regardless of the human cost.

Governments often make strategic calculations that place their own geopolitical interests ahead of humanitarian concerns. In this case, though, our determination that Syria not be stabilized under its present government is shortsighted. Stability in the Middle East is in our long-term interest. If we promote policies that allow strong middle classes to grow in Syria and nearby countries, those countries will be less warlike, and may even evolve toward democracy. The strategy we are pursuing will have the opposite effect. Poverty — not ideology or religion — is the main force driving young men into the ranks of terror groups. By keeping Syria poor, we provide those groups with an endless supply of recruits.

In Washington, this is considered an acceptable price to pay in order to prevent our rivals from racking up a “win.” In fact, though, our national security does not depend on how much influence various countries have in the Middle East. We wildly exaggerate that region’s importance. Our security will not be decisively affected by whether or not a gas pipeline is built from Iran to Syria’s Mediterranean coast, or how the political jousting between Iran and Saudi Arabia unfolds. These are Middle East issues and should be resolved by the people and governments of that region.

President Trump has declared repeatedly in recent weeks that he wants to pull American troops out of Syria. “We’re going to be coming out of there real soon,” he told a rally in Ohio. Later he trenchantly assessed the balance of our 21st-century misadventure in the Middle East. “Seven trillion dollars over a 17-year period,” he said. “We have nothing — nothing except death and destruction. It’s a horrible thing.”

Trump’s instinct is based on common sense. That same instinct led him to declare that he would pull troops out of Afghanistan — until his generals persuaded him to send more instead. The security imperatives that keep us in Syria are fantasies of fevered military minds. We should stop trying to turn Syria into an American protectorate, and look for ways to withdraw our troops rather than justifications to keep them there forever.

[END OP-ED]

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer

Related

Putin’s crushing strategy for Syria
A daring plan to rebuild Syria — no matter who wins the war
The media are misleading the public on Syria

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Growing backlash in US Congress against Trump regime's bombing of Syria

Americans elected the presidential candidate who promised to be less interventionist than 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Insofar as Democratic candidates cling to the hawkish approach of their failed 2016 standard-bearer [Hillary Clinton], they are giving away votes in 2018 and setting up the U.S. for more imprudent wars. Insofar as Republicans let Trump wage war where he likes, without a direct threat to America or congressional permission, they are on the wrong side of the Constitution.
The above are the closing words in the following article, a small part of which I repost here. So. Getting tired of American presidents acting more and more like absolute monarchs, are we? It's a little late in the day to sound the alarm.  

The Backlash Against Trump's Syria Strike
By CONOR FRIEDERSDORF
April 17, 2018
The Atlantic

Members of Congress in both parties have declared his actions unconstitutional. Will Democrats campaign against their illegality?

Last week Donald Trump willfully violated the Constitution as even he once understood it, despite being warned against doing so by dozens of members of Congress.

Hours before the president ordered the U.S. military to strike three targets in Syria, 88 members of Congress sent him a letter to remind him of his legal obligations. Strikes “when no direct threat to the United States exists” and “without Congressional authorization” would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers, they declared. “We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering additional use of U.S. military force in Syria.”

That account of the law was bipartisan: The signatories included 15 Republicans and 73 Democrats, and a similar letter sent to President Obama in 2013 was signed by 119 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Surveying all the legal rationales offered in Trump’s defense, Jack Goldsmith and Oona Hathaway conclude at Lawfare, “there is no apparent domestic or international legal authority for the strikes.” And crucially, Trump himself explicitly shared their understanding of the law.

As he put it in 2013:

[Trump Twitter comments in 2013]

Today’s Republican-controlled Congress lacks a majority willing to punish Trump for his flagrantly illegal war-making. And that status quo alarms many. 

“This country now considers it perfectly normal for the president to launch a fierce assault against a foreign country 5,000 miles from our borders without any congressional involvement at all, let alone a declaration of war,” the commentator Damon Linker observed. “It’s just what presidents do, whenever they want.”

“If Congress does nothing to challenge the president’s illegal attack,” Daniel Larison warns, “they will be accepting own irrelevance in matters of war from now on.”

Yet there is a minority faction that wants to restore the Constitution.

“These offensive strikes against Syria are unconstitutional, illegal, and reckless,” Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, said. “The next speaker of the House must reclaim congressional war powers as prescribed in Article I of the Constitution. Speaker Ryan has completely abdicated one of his most important responsibilities.”

Members of the Senate have spoken up too. Prior to the strikes, Senator Rand Paul contested the notion that the president was constitutionally empowered to launch them.

And Democrats weighed in after the strikes, as well. “Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’s approval is illegal,” Senator Tim Kaine said. “We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it’s Syria, but what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”

[...]

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Why didn't FUKUS wait for OPCW to inspect the Douma site?

The French, UK and US regimes refused to delay their bombing raid on Syria until the OPCW had made its inspection of the site in Douma where a chemical weapons attack was alleged to have occurred. Not only did the regimes refuse to wait, the OPCW has had a devil of a time getting to the site even after the raid. Today they announced that their reconnaissance team had to withdraw because of gunfire in the town.  

Of course every day that passes after the alleged chemical incident makes it harder for the inspectors to find evidence.   

Given that the Syrian and Russian governments know full well that they weren't responsible for any chemical attack in Douma, if one took place at all, they've been eager for the OPCW to complete its inspection. 

But all that begs the question of why FUKUS didn't hold off a few days until the inspection was done. 

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Tuesday, April 17

"Reel de Joie" Rewind

God, do I need this right now! The incredible Savoy Family Cajun band. Reel of Joy is the first set. At YouTube. For a few minutes I'll go far away from the madness of war and politics to a place not touched by despair. I'll laugh and clap and dance, dance, dance! Pundita if you start crying I swear to God I'll kick you. Don't blubber, you fool. Dance!     


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American journalist describes life in Damascus under Animal Assad


https://twitter.com/PearsonSharp

Pundita comment: Pearson, who was in Damascus during the FUKUS (France-U.K.-U.S.) attack, has lots of fresh Syria news on his Twitter page. He reports that Syrians love Americans and can't understand why we're doing bad things to them.

Say, now that the Syrian military has secured the country's international airport, more real journalists can visit Syria! Was this one of the reasons the U.S. tried to bomb the airport?  

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