The resignation and resilience of Syrian refugees stuck in Zaatari

The New York Times reports: As the West grapples with a new flood of asylum seekers bursting across Europe’s borders, the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in the region: 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon and 630,000 registered here in Jordan. Underfunded aid agencies and overburdened host countries have been struggling for years to support them.

With the World Food Program having cut vouchers this month to 229,000 Syrians living in Jordanian cities — where it is illegal for them to work — the once-reviled Zaatari (pronounced ZAHT-ah-ree) is increasingly seen as the most stable spot for refugees. While growing numbers yearn to join the exodus to Europe, many in the camp have all but surrendered to a life of limited possibilities.

Until recently, virtually every family imagined an imminent return to Syria as soon as President Bashar al-Assad fell. Now, many see their beloved homeland as lost, and grudgingly accept that Zaatari is somewhere they will be a while.

Refugees have planted vegetables, flowers, even trees that will not bear fruit for years in their compounds cobbled from corrugated tin and trailers. Unicef is spending $37.7 million to install water and sewage systems and Germany $20 million to build a solar field. A recent United Nations report estimated that residents run 2,500 shops — scores of new ones repair bicycles — generating $14 million a month.

“We’ve become used to a system here, and a way of life,” explained Ola Mahmeed, 26, a mother of five who was applying for a two-day “vacation” to visit relatives in nearby Irbid. “There’s order, in terms of security, in terms of services. Anything I can think of I can find now in the market.”

Zaatari’s occupants say they would still jump at any chance to leave. Complaints are rife about electricity, which since June has been available only at night; rationed water; and, especially, the dismal quality of the schools. Last year, classes in the camp were crammed with up to 90 children; of those who took Jordan’s 12th-grade exam, 3 percent passed. [Continue reading…]


Palestinian refugees being sent by force back to Syria

Nina Strochlic writes: Ahmad is invisible. He uses a fake name, rarely ventures outside, and moves his family between apartments in Jordan’s capital of Amman frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice if he thinks his cover has been blown.

Ahmad is a refugee twice over. His family fled land that now belongs to Israel for refuge in Syria, where he grew up. Now, he’s hiding from his foster country’s civil war in Jordan. Meanwhile, residents of his former neighborhood in Damascus who couldn’t escape survive by eating grass.

Ahmad is one of the estimated 70,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria living undercover in Syria’s neighboring countries, all but one of which explicitly turn away Palestinians at the border. In Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, hundreds of people like Ahmad have been caught and deported back into Syria.

A mutual acquaintance took me to meet Ahmad on a Friday. The narrow streets of his neighborhood in eastern Amman were empty — I later learned our visit had been timed to coincide with Friday’s prayers, when a foreign visitor attracts less notice. We parked down the block and walked to his apartment, which was completely obscured behind a tall gate.

Tracking down this hidden demographic feels like making contact with a sleeper cell: phone calls come in from unknown numbers; fake names are used; middle men choose anonymous meeting spots. These people have everything to lose if they’re discovered, so they remain undercover, trusting their existence to only a few outsiders.

Palestinians refugees from Syria — known as PRS — are the shadow refugees of a four-year crisis with no end in sight. They are flat-out barred from entering any of Syria’s neighbors other than Turkey. If they do find a way in, they’re rejected by humanitarian organizations, banned from refugee camps, and face deportation back into Syria’s nightmare. [Continue reading…]


FBI opens inquiry into Chapel Hill shootings; Obama calls killings ‘brutal and outrageous’

In a conversation recorded by the storytelling project StoryCorps just last summer, Yusor Abu-Salha, a victim from the recent Chapel Hill shooting, described her experience of being an American.

The Washington Post reports: The FBI is opening an inquiry into the shootings of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., a move that followed multiple calls this week for authorities to investigate the violence as a hate crime.

On Friday, President Obama issued a statement on “the brutal and outrageous murders,” saying that the FBI would look to see if federal laws were broken during the shooting.

“No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship,” Obama said.

Police are investigating the shootings of three people — newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — on Tuesday afternoon at a housing complex near the University of North Carolina.

As the shooting has attracted global attention, Obama has been criticized for not speaking out about it sooner.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to Mexico on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The Embassy of Jordan in Washington said Friday that Alia Bouran, the country’s ambassador to the United States, went to North Carolina on Friday. Jordan’s foreign ministry issued a statement a day earlier saying that the sisters killed in Chapel Hill also had Jordanian citizenship.

While in North Carolina, Bouran met with the families of the victims and expressed the sympathies of Jordanian King Abdullah II. The embassy said Friday that it was “closely following the ongoing investigation” in North Carolina.

The FBI probe announced on Thursday stops short of being a full investigation, as had been reported in multiple media outlets since the inquiry was announced. Rather, it is a review that could ultimately become an investigation down the line. It was opened by the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle district of North Carolina. [Continue reading…]


Destroying ISIS is about more than vengeance

Hassan Hassan writes: Less than three weeks before ISIL captured Jordanian pilot Maaz Al Kassasbeh on December 24, Jordan’s King Abdullah described the fight against the extremist group as “our third world war”. He said that Muslim leaders should take ownership of the fight, which requires a pan-regional strategy to counter extremism.

Two months later, Jordan is now finding itself being pushed to the forefront of this “generational fight”, as the king put it then. Since the terror group burnt Al Kassasbeh to death in a cage, the country’s air force has carried out at least 56 sorties, and been joined by F16s of the UAE. Jordan’s fight against ISIL is no longer someone else’s war.

The greatest mistake that Jordan can make is to define its battle against ISIL purely in the language of vengeance. The pain and anger that define the atmosphere in Jordan today might abate in coming weeks, but the country’s commitment to the destruction of ISIL should become part of a long-term strategy. The rise of ISIL was a result of reactionary and inconsistent policies in the first place – something Jordan must avoid if it is to win this war.

Jordan must heed the king’s own advice during his interview with CBS News in December, when he said that ISIL would not go away without a “holistic” strategy that views the group as part of greater challenges facing the region. ISIL, he said, is one face of many extremist groups in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]


Jordan says conducted 56 air raids in three days against ISIS

Reuters reports: Jordan’s air force chief said on Sunday his country’s jet fighters had conducted 56 bombing raids in three days against Islamic State militants in northeast Syria, targeting key bases and arms depots.

Jordan stepped up its bombing of the jihadist group on Thursday in response to the brutal killing by Islamic State of a captured Jordanian pilot, and continued until Saturday.

No new strikes were announced for Sunday.

“We achieved what we aimed for. We destroyed logistics centers, arms depots and targeted hideouts of their fighters,” General Mansour al-Jbour, head of the Jordanian airforce, told a news conference.

Jordan has carried out nearly a fifth of the sorties of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria to date, Jbour said. U.S. aircraft joined the mission to provide intelligence, surveillance, a U.S. official told Reuters earlier on Sunday. [Continue reading…]


Killing of Jordanian pilot unites the Arab world in anger

The New York Times reports: There was one sentiment that many of the Middle East’s competing clerics, fractious ethnic groups and warring sects could agree on Wednesday: a shared sense of revulsion at the Islamic State’s latest atrocity, burning alive a Jordanian pilot inside a cage.

In Syria, the government denounced the group that has been fighting it for months, but so did Qaeda fighters who oppose both the government and the Islamic State. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government for once agreed on something, the barbarity of the militant group for the way it murdered the Jordanian, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh. And in Cairo, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of the 1,000-year-old Al Azhar institute, was so angered that he called for the Islamic State’s extremists to be “killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off.”

That leading Sunni scholar’s denunciation was even harsher than similar outbursts from the region’s Shiite leaders, theologically the more traditional foes of the Islamic State.

In a way that recent beheadings of hostages had not, the immolation of Lieutenant Kasasbeh set off a regionwide explosion of anger and disgust at the extremists, also known as ISIS or ISIL, or to most Arabs by the word “Daesh.” Even more significant, in a chronically embattled region that bequeathed to the world the expression, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Islamic State suddenly found itself friendless in the extreme.

Name almost any outrage in the Mideast in decades of them — the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the Achille Lauro hijacking, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the gassing of the Halabja Kurds, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole — and the protagonists would readily find both apologists and detractors. But with one breathtakingly vicious murder, the Islamic State changed that dynamic, uniting most of the region against it.

Martin Chulov adds: The day after the horrific images of the caged pilot being burned alive were released, the streets of the capital Amman were subdued, except for the crowds that lined the road from the airport to the royal palace to welcome home their monarch King Abdullah from his shortened visit to Washington.

Privately though, inside tea houses, universities, shopping malls and restaurants, people seethed. Radio and television stations played patriotic hymns on high rotation and all 23 minutes of the gruesome images were being widely circulated on social media. Occasionally, passions flared.

“I swear to God we will kill all those pigs,” said Musab Ibrahim, from inside a cafe in Amman’s Old City. “Whatever it takes to finish them is what we will do.”

On a nearby table, four men interrupted a card game to condemn the executioners and eulogise Kasasbeh. “He is our son, he is a hero. All of Jordan is with him and with our king,” said Yousef Barghouti, a primary school principal.

“We are all Hashemites and we are following the government with no reservations in this fight against these godless terrorists,” said another man, Yousf Majid al-Zarbi. “Have you seen that video? I mean really, how in humanity could this be a just punishment for any person?”

At intersections in the heart of Amman, street vendors sold flags and funeral bouquets prepared for Kasasbeh. There were few takers, though. A society that had been gripped for almost a month by the plight of Kasasbeh, and the pleas for mercy from his desperate parents, had seen the raw horror of his death eclipse their worst fears. Ghader Shathra, a nurse, said she had been numbed by the news and the reality that it would likely lead the country to war.

“We have watched as the region has disintegrated. We have taken in almost 2 million refugees and we have hoped it wouldn’t come our way. But sometimes you have to stand and fight. We have no option.”

Sophia Jones reports: despite the king’s vow to wage a “relentless war” against the Islamic State group — a declaration backed by many Jordanians who are demanding revenge for the pilot’s murder — there is an undeniable sense of doubt among other citizens. They question Jordan’s role in the U.S.-led air campaign desperately trying to reel in the group that has claimed large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

“I support this crisis to be solved, not Jordan fighting ISIS,” explained Souheil, a 23-year-old shopkeeper in Amman who referred to the late pilot as Jordan’s “martyr.”

Atef Kawar, a member of the Jordanian parliament representing the kingdom’s Christian minority, also expressed concerns over the United States and other Arab countries invested in combating the Islamic State group.

“I think that we should all unite as one hand to fight terrorism,” he told The WorldPost over the phone. “It’s to our country’s benefit [to be part of the coalition]. But clearly, the coalition doesn’t have a plan.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports: The United Arab Emirates has suspended its air attacks against the Islamic State in Syria since the capture of a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by the jihadi group, it has emerged.

US officials confirmed that the UAE, one of the four Arab states in the anti-Isis coalition, had ceased its participation because of concerns over a lack of contingency plans to rescue downed aircrew.


Jordan’s foreign fighter problem

Huffington Post reports: As Jordan reels from the horrific killing of one of its fighter pilots by Islamic State militants, the death also highlights how inextricably involved the country has become in the conflict in Syria.

Jordan shares an extensive border with Syria, and the proximity has made it one of the main recipients of refugees from the country, as well as a host for covert U.S.-led training of Syrian rebels. While this flow of Syrians into Jordan has raised concerns over security and strain on resources, there’s also worry over the significant number of Jordanians who have become foreign fighters in Syria.

Out of the countries adding to the militants in Syria and Iraq, few are in the same league as Jordan. According to the most recent figures by The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Jordan has an estimated 1,500 citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq. Only Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are believed to have contributed higher numbers of militants, with high-end estimates of 2,500 and 3,000, respectively.

Both of these countries have millions more citizens to draw from as well, giving Saudi Arabia a fighters per capita ratio of 107 per million and Tunisia 280 per million, Radio Free Europe reports. Jordan’s ratio is reported as 315 per million, putting them as the top contributor of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria per capita. [Continue reading…]


Patience is better than revenge

With the burning alive of Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh — a Jordanian fighter pilot whose gruesome death was videotaped and celebrated by ISIS and its supporters — followed by the swift execution of two prisoners in Jordan, the Middle East’s proverbial cycle of violence keeps on revolving.

Just as swiftly, Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, praised Jordan for this act of vengeance, expressing the hope that “soon other imprisoned terrorists in the kingdom will be executed as well.”

Revenge is always popular in that it briefly satisfies a visceral desire that scores can be settled — it offers the vain hope that order can be reestablished just as quickly as it was lost.

And it applies a theory of justice that has proved demonstrably ineffective throughout history.

Mitchell Prothero reports:

Jordan state television said Tuesday night that Jordanian authorities believe Kasasbeh’s killing was filmed nearly a month ago, and that that was why the Islamic State refused to provide proof that Kasasbeh was still alive during recent negotiations. That belief was consistent with tweets from rebel activists opposed to the Syrian government who posted on Jan. 8 that the pilot had been executed.

Jordan’s King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh were in Washington meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry just moments before the video was made public. There was no hint that any of the men knew of the death as they exchanged pleasantries during a signing ceremony marking increased U.S. assistance – from $660 million to $1 billion – to help Jordan cope with the Syrian refugee crisis and rising energy costs.

Immediately after the ceremony, however, the video hit the Internet, and statements of condemnation and condolences began flowing from the Obama administration to Jordan. The president called it “one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization.”

Islamist groups often behead captives who’ve been convicted, fairly or not, of dire crimes in an Islamic court, and beheading is a common form of execution in Saudi Arabia, which claims the Quran as its legal code and constitution. But burning alive is a rarity, and its religious foundation was uncertain.

Jihadist supporters on social media said the justification for burning comes from a Quranic verse that authorizes Muslims to “punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed,” according to several postings on Twitter and other forums.

Zaid Benjamin, a Radio Sawa journalist who monitors extremists online, noted that the same scripture was invoked after a mob set fire to the bodies of four American security contractors and strung up their charred corpses on a bridge in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. Today, Fallujah is part of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.

At the time, mainstream Muslim scholars condemned the act, saying that Islam does not allow for the desecration of corpses. The clerics also pointed out that the second part of the verse jihadists use as justification suggests that revenge isn’t the preferred reaction: “It is better for those who are patient,” the verse states.

Here’s the complete verse from the Quran:

And if you punish [an enemy, O believers], punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed. But if you are patient – it is better for those who are patient.

Contrary to the widespread assumption in the West that the Middle East is governed by a philosophy of vengeance, this verse seems more than anything to be a counsel on restraint.

It says if you punish — not when you punish. And to say that the punishment should be equivalent to the harm, while also saying that patience is better, sounds much less like a call for vengeance than a call for restraint.

But if patience is better than punishment, does that mean there should be no war against ISIS? Not in my opinion.

Unopposed, ISIS will continue to advance. Even so, thus far if success can be determined by numbers, ISIS appears to be winning as its losses are more than replenished by new recruits.

That said, raw numbers might be a misleading metric upon which success can be measured.

Obviously it would be preferable if ISIS was visibly losing its appeal, but whereas last year it was ISIS’s unopposed success and its ability to create some kind of caliphate that drove its increasing popularity, those who are now flocking to its ranks are surely being drawn by their desire to die for their chosen cause. In other words, as ISIS becomes increasingly nihilistic, it appeals above all to those who see almost no value in life.

A group that terrorizes the people it wants to govern — that does things like executing children for watching soccer on TV — is demonstrating its own lack of faith in its ability to win popular support.

No doubt ISIS can continue drawing on an unfortunately abundant supply of death-hungry fanatics, but no one can construct a caliphate or any other kind of state with hands whose only skills are destructive.


How hostage pilot drama is feeding an antiwar movement in Jordan

Taylor Luck reports: The ongoing drama of a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the Islamic State has escalated into a political crisis for King Abdullah II, threatening the position of a stalwart US ally and leading player in the coalition against the jihadist group.

Jordanians have been gripped by the detention of Lt. Muath Kassasbeh, whose fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria on Dec. 24.

A sunset deadline passed Thursday with the government refusing to pull the trigger on a prisoner swap with the jihadist movement, saying IS had failed to provide proof Lt. Kassasbeh was still alive and well.

Rather than blame IS for the protracted hostage crisis, the public at large and members of the pilot’s family have turned on the government. They are hitting the streets and faulting Amman for putting Jordanians into harm’s way in a war they say is not their own. [Continue reading…]


Rapid deterioration in living conditions of Syrian refugees in Jordan

UNHCR: UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres says large numbers of Syrian refugees are sliding into abject poverty, and at an alarming rate, due to the magnitude of the crisis and insufficient support from the international community.

He made the statement at the launch of a new UNHCR study, Living in the Shadows, which reveals evidence of a deepening humanitarian crisis. High Commissioner Guterres is on a two-day visit to Jordan, where he will meet refugees profiled in the study in Amman and others at the Za’atari refugee camp.

“I am here to express my solidarity with Syrian refugees, as the impact of snowstorm Huda is still tangible and posing an even greater strain on their already dire living conditions.” Guterres is also meeting with Jordanian officials and with donors to coordinate efforts to improve living conditions for Syrian refugees and support the communities hosting them.

Conducted by UNHCR and International Relief and Development (IRD) the study is based on data from home visits with almost 150,000 Syrian refugees living outside of camps in Jordan in 2014.

According to the study, two-thirds of refugees across Jordan are now living below the national poverty line, and one in six Syrian refugee households is in abject poverty, with less than $40 per person per month to make ends meet.

Almost half of the households researchers visited had no heating, a quarter had unreliable electricity, and 20 per cent had no functioning toilet. Rental costs accounted for more than half of household expenditures, and refugee families were increasingly being forced to share accommodations with others to reduce costs.


ISIS captures Jordanian pilot after warplane downed in Syria

Reuters reports: Islamic State fighters took a Jordanian pilot captive after his warplane was downed in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, the first captive taken from the U.S.-led coalition battling the jihadi group.

Jordan’s armed forces said one of its pilots had been captured after his plane fell during an air raid over the northeastern Syrian province of Raqqa on Wednesday.

“Jordan holds the group (IS) and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life,” an army statement read on state television said. It did not say whether the plane was shot down.

Islamic State social media accounts published pictures purportedly of the warplane’s pilot being held by the group’s fighters as well as images of what they said was his Jordanian military ID card. [Continue reading…]


Brotherhood leader’s arrest in Jordan is seen as warning from monarchy

The New York Times reports: Zaki Bani Rushaid, the provocative deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, has never been shy with his opinions.

For years, Jordan did nothing as he railed — often on nationwide television — against Jordan’s “meager” political reforms and what he sees as continued attempts to cozy up to the United States, which he calls “the cause of tyranny in the Middle East.” Despite his high profile, the kingdom appeared not to see him, or the Brotherhood, as a threat.

Then, on Nov. 17, Mr. Bani Rushaid took to his Facebook page with a new complaint, inveighing against the United Arab Emirates, which had recently branded the Muslim Brotherhood movements as terrorist groups. Among his accusations: that the Emirates plays the role of the “American cop in the region,” “supports coups” and is a “cancer in the body of the Arab world.”

Within days, he was behind bars, accused under a recently strengthened antiterrorism law for “acts harmful to the country’s relations with foreign countries.” Last week he lost an appeal for bail, and he is now awaiting trial and a possible sentence of at least two and a half years in prison.

The reason for the government’s sudden shift, analysts say, was that he crossed a political line by lashing out at the Emirates, an important ally of Jordan’s and one of several countries in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are on a campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]


The collapse of order in the Middle East

freemanIn a speech delivered in Washington DC today, Chas Freeman said: Da`ish [ISIS] and the 15,000 foreign jihadis it has attracted are an existential threat to Arab societies and a potential menace to Muslim societies everywhere. Da`ish poses no comparable threat to the United States. Some Americans argue therefore that Da`ish doesn’t matter. A few suggest that, because tight oil and shale gas production is making North America energy self-sufficient, what happens in the Middle East as a whole should also no longer matter much to Americans. But the Persian Gulf is where international oil prices are set. If you doubt this, ask an American tight oil producer what’s happening in today’s energy markets and why. Without stability in West Asia, the global economy is also unstable.

Da`ish aspires not only to destroy the states of the Mashriq – the Arab East – but to conquer their territories and use their resources to mount attacks on the United States, European countries, Russia, and China. It wants to get its hands on the world’s major energy reserves. Its depredations are a current threat only to stability in West Asia, but its recruitment efforts are as global as its aspirations. Quite aside from the responsibility the United States bears for creating the conditions in which this dangerous cult could be born and flourish, Da`ish threatens American interests abroad today. It promises to threaten American domestic tranquility tomorrow. It sees inflicting harm on the West as a central element of its mission.

For all these reasons, Da`ish cannot be ignored by the United States or other nations outside the Middle East. It requires a response from us. But Da`ish must be actively countered first and foremost by those it targets within the region, not by the United States and its Western allies. This means that our response must be measured, limited, and calculated to avoid relieving regional players of the primary responsibility for protecting themselves from the menace to them that Da`ish represents.

Muslims – whether Shiite or Sunni or Arab, Kurd, Persian, or Turk – now have an expanding piece of Hell in their part of the Earth, a growing foulness near the center of Islam. It is almost certainly a greater threat to all of them than they have ever posed to each other. Da`ish will not be contained and defeated unless the nations and sects on its regional target list – Shiite and Sunni alike – all do their part. We should not delude ourselves. The obstacles to this happening are formidable.

Virtually every group now fighting or being victimized in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon has engaged in or been accused of terrorism by the others. Sectarian violence continues to stoke hatred in the region. The religious animosities between Shi`ites and Sunnis are more intense than ever. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and the Gulf Arabs remains acute. The political resentments between Turks, Kurds, and Arabs and between Arabs and Persians are entrenched. Each describes the other as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Unity of command, discipline, and morale are the keys to both military and political success. Da`ish has all three. Its opponents do not. Some are dedicated to the defense of Shiite privilege. Others assign priority to dislodging Shiite or secular authority. Some insist on regime change. Others seek to prevent it. A few support Islamist democratic movements. Others seek to suppress and eradicate them. Some fear terrorism from the victims and enemies of Da`ish more than they fear Da`ish itself. Most treat opposing Da`ish as a secondary strategic objective or a means of enlisting American and other foreign support in the achievement of other priorities, not as their primary aim.

With few exceptions, the states of the region have habitually looked to outside powers for leadership as well as firepower and manpower with which to respond to major security challenges. Despite vast imports of foreign weapons systems, confidence in outside backing has enabled the countries in the region to assume that they could avoid ultimate responsibility for their own defense, relying instead on their ability to summon their American and European security partners in times of crisis. But only a coalition with a strong Muslim identity can hope to contain and shrink Da`ish.

There is no such coalition at present. Every actor in the region has an agenda that is only partially congruent with the Da`ish-related agendas of others. And every actor focuses on the reasons it cannot abide or work with some or all of the others, not on exploring the points it has in common with them. [Continue reading…]


Let them eat bombs: The cost of ignoring Syria’s humanitarian crisis

Aron Lund writes: Winter is coming, and the humanitarian situation in Syria has never been so dire, with more than 3 million refugees abroad and some 6.5 million internally displaced — nearly half of the country’s population.

According to UN figures, more than 10 million Syrians now need outside aid to survive, nearly half of them stuck in areas under siege or otherwise hard to access. The power infrastructure and agricultural sector are breaking down due to the strains of war and a lack of upkeep. Across Syria, the prices of fuel, food, and everyday goods are skyrocketing due to systemic failures in the power supply structure, war, and bombings. Millions of Syrians are left to face the winter cold in appalling conditions, at a time when wealthy Western and Arab nations spend billions on counterterrorism and renewed rebel training missions.

This is not simply callous neglect. Even if the Syrian conflict were to be viewed solely through a security prism, the international community’s tepid response to this humanitarian crisis is clearly counterproductive. The spiralling poverty, social breakdown, and despair is precisely what has paved the way for extremist sectarian militias, not only inside Syria but also among refugees scattered in countries like Lebanon and Jordan, and there is little hope for a solution for as long as the humanitarian crisis persists.

Yet while funds are readily available for military interventions of last resort — such as “Operation Inherent Resolve,” the U.S.-led coalition striking jihadi targets in Syria and Iraq—the international community remains unwilling to summon up a humanitarian coalition to get Syrians through the winter. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading…]


Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria


U.S. and allies launch airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]


To beat ISIS, the Arab world must promote inclusive politics

Rula Jebreal writes: Last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Jeddah can be summed up in two words: lost opportunity. Why? None of the participants were representative of an independent, democratic or critical voice in the Middle East. Rather, the Muslim scholars who participated were voices of their inept governments, who condemn every dissident voice as a terrorist.

In the backdrop of the conference, President Barack Obama made his case for war against ISIS in Iraq to the American public last week as well. Obama also sent a direct message Muslims around the world that ISIS is not really Islamic and America is not at war with Islam. This message was meant to hit the heart of the Arab Muslim world, but it fell on deaf ears.

Nonetheless, Secretary of State John Kerry is lobbying Arab allies to play a central role to insure the success of the initiative, since ISIS poses a much greater threat to them than it does to the United States. While this is a more responsible strategy on the part of the United States, the truth is that Arab and Muslim states continue to pursue myopic and delusional policies that produce more extremism, rather than countering it. [Continue reading…]