ISIS/ISIL conflict in Syria/Iraq (No OpEd, No Politics)


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Syria's Assad highlights importance of long-term cooperation with Iran
Xinhua| 2018-08-27 00:36:30
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday underscored the importance of placing long-term cooperation plans between Iran and Syria in the face of the challenges, according to the state news agency SANA.

Assad made the remarks during his meeting with the visiting Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who arrived in Syria on Sunday to hold meetings with top Syrian officials and to discuss various issues such as expanding military and defense cooperation.

During the meeting, Assad slammed the policies of the U.S. and its allies, saying the U.S. wants to prolong the Syrian war through supporting the terrorist groups and via adopting the policy of threats.

The U.S. threats increase every time the Syrian army launch an offensive against the terror groups, Assad said, referring to the recent threats of the United States, Britain and France, which threaten to use force if a chemical weapon attack was carried out by the Syrian army.

The three powers' stance comes as the army is preparing to launch a wide-scale offensive on Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria.

Damascus slammed the warnings as threats, saying these powers are pushing their allies of the rebels to use chemical weapons to frame the government forces to justify a foreign strike on Syria.

Assad said the U.S. stance proves "the rightness of the policies of the anti-terror axis (Iran, Syria, and Russia) and the need to strengthen such axis in the face of the sabotaging U.S. approach, which undermines the international stability."

Hatami, meanwhile, stressed his country's supportive stance in preserving the independence and unity of Syria far from foreign interventions.

He stressed that Iran will continue to work to support Syria no matter how far the threats and pressure go from the countries that support the terror groups.

The visit of the Iranian minister comes at a time when the Syrian army has achieved major progress with the help of Iran and Russia as well as Hezbollah.


Junior Member
Well from strategic stand point, where we can see how America, Britain and France are actively supporting so-called "moderate rebels" against Assad (we all know how splendid that turned out to be). That is only natural that Russia's premier ally, China, would step in and join the fight against terrorists such as ISIS & HTS.

Turkey, China, Iran and Russia should work together for peace in Syria. Where once the terrorists have been cleared out. Then work can begin in the rebuilding of infrastructure in the country. And at the same time, talks can begin between the Syrian government and the rebels for a peaceful solution to make Syria whole again.

It is not just Syria where China and Russia need to work together to establish peace. But also in Afghanistan, where (according to news reports) 10000 ISIS terrorists have managed to get into, traveling thousands of miles of territory of several countries. One wonders, how on God's green earth, did 10000 ISIS terrorists get into Afghanistan.

Syria and Afghanistan, are both very important countries where Russia and China must work together with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.
Most of those ISIS guys are ex-talibans not foreigners.


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Spotlight: Last major battle looms in Syria as post-war plans on the table
Xinhua| 2018-09-05 01:50:09
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As the last major battle against the rebels in Syria looms, the pro-war plans such as the return of refugees and the reconstruction process are already on the table.

Since earlier this year, the rebels were driven out of key areas in the capital Damascus, the central province of Homs and the southern region, including Daraa province, which was the birthplace of the Syrian war.

While it is not only the place where rebels are still located, Idlib is also the last major one as it has become the gathering place for all the opposition fighters, who were dislodged from other parts of the country.

The Syrian army has been amassing forces and military gears around Idlib in recent weeks, as well a few rebel-held areas adjacent to Idlib such as the northern countryside of Hama province and the countryside of the Latakia province in northwestern Syria.

The preparations for the battle were coupled with a heated Western pressure by the United States, Britain and France, which alleged that the Syrian army was planning a chemical attack in Idlib.

The allegations were slammed by Damascus and its allies of Iran and Russia as a new wave of Western threats to prolong the crisis and to prevent the army from moving on with its offensive on Idlib.

After more than seven years of investing into the rebel factions and other opposition groups, the West is finding itself facing a reality that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has almost won the war.

The Russian and Iranian sides, both key allies to Damascus, have been exerting major efforts to pave the way for the upcoming offensive in Idlib to close the chapter of battles and open a new chapter in the country's long-standing conflict.

Iran will host a summit on Friday that will group the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey to discuss the situation in Idlib as Turkey has a considerable sway over the rebels. The Turkish alliance with Russia and Iran is crucial at this stage amid a rift between Ankara and Washington.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Syria's capital Damascus on Monday and held talks with Assad and top Syrian officials after he had visited Turkey.

He made it clear that the extremist group of the Levent Liberation Committee (LLC), also known as the al-Qaida-linked Nsura Front, must be "cleaned out" of Idlib.

He said the upcoming tripartite summit in Tehran will discuss ways to confront the extremist groups, mainly the LLC, amid efforts to separate this group from other less-radical militants who could agree on a reconciliation deal with the government without a broad military operation.

These efforts to end the situation in Idlib is also supported by Damascus officials, who said that achieving reconciliation in Idlib is a priority.

Analysts believe that a limited military campaign could be launched against the extremist groups while at the same time reconciliation deals could be made with other factions that want to achieve reconciliation with the government.

The main challenge to this battle, which could be the last major one in Syria, would be the threats of the United States and its allies.

The United States has been outright about its demands, which mirrors the Israeli ones, that are mainly about the rejection of the growing Iranian influence in Syria and the need for the Iranian-backed forces to leave the country.

Additionally, the end of the war against the rebels in Idlib would put Damascus in the face of a new task, which is the presence of the U.S. forces, which have entered the country without the consent of Damascus.

Hamidi Abdullah, a political expert, said the departure of the foreign forces that have come to Syria uninvited will be the next phase after the war on the rebels in Idlib.

The U.S. forces are now backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against the Islamic State's last positions on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in the countryside of Deir al-Zour province in eastern Syria.

Representatives of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, have held talks with Damascus about the future of the Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria.

According to observers, a deal could be reached in a later stage about those areas with no military confrontation expected.

Syria and its allies are now attaching importance on two major post-war projects, namely the return of refugees and the rebuilding of Syria.

Over the past few months, government officials in Syria have called on the Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and abroad to return to Syria as the situation has become better.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that the government welcomes the return of the refugees to their country, stressing that their return would be safe and that the government would try to facilitate all economic and social conditions for them.

Several batches of refugees have already returned from Lebanon in recent weeks and months.

Pro-government al-Watan newspaper said in an article published Tuesday that nearly 1.4 million Syrians have returned to the country in 2018.

In August, Alaa Ibrahim, governor of Rif Damashq Governorate, told Xinhua that 25,000 refugees had returned from Lebanon within four months amid ongoing process.

Ibrahim said the government even grants the draft dodgers who are returning to the country six months to settle down before reporting to the military service.

No retribution is being practiced against returnees, including those with criminal records who had fled the country illegally, he noted.

Out of an estimated pre-war 22-million population in Syria in 2016, 13.5 million were identified by the United Nations as in need of humanitarian assistance, with more than six million forced into internal displacement, and about five million fleeing outside Syria.


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US begins military exercise in Syria in response to Russian military threats
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More than 100 US troops began an unexpected exercise in southern Syria on Friday in direct response to a series of Russian military threats, according to a US defense official.
The exercise was detailed in a statement from the US Central Command but did not mention that the command ordered the exercise specifically after a September 1 warning from Russia that it was going to enter a restricted area of southern Syria where US troops are located, the official said.
The exercise, which may last for several days, involves US troops flying into the coalition's At Tanf garrison by assault helicopter and conducting live fire drills.
"Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces and conduct rapid exfiltration," said Capt. William Urban, the chief Central Command spokesman. The exercise is specifically designed for Russian and regime units in the area to see the activity and understand US capabilities, defense officials say.
Russia on Thursday, via a note, had warned the US for the second time it was going to attack the At Tanf area to go after militants there. But the second warning specified Moscow would use "precision strikes," according to Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman. The use of the wording "precision strikes" in a written note to the US sparked alarm with US commanders that the Russians are signaling their intent to strike with aircraft firing precision weapons, or missiles launched from Russian ships in the Mediterranean, US defense officials tell CNN.
Attacking with those types of weapons in a specific campaign against the US protected area at At Tanf would be a significant escalation in the sporadic violence in the area. The Pentagon has been unusually public in disclosing the potential Russian threat, in hopes that its statements will warn the Russians off the area.
The first Russian warning came via the US Russian deconfliction line that has been used for the last several years to ensure both sides have visibility on what is happening in the area. In turn, the US used the deconfliction line to tell the Russians the ongoing US military activity is an exercise.
"The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war. However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances," Robertson said.
The exercises come as the Trump administration continues to deliver increasingly strident warnings over an assault on Idlib.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned Friday that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran carry out an assault on Idlib, "the consequences will be dire."
"The United States has been very clear," she said at a UN Security Council meeting, "with Russia and with the broader international community: we consider any assault on Idlib to be a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Syria."


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Fears surge before the Idlib operation, locals prepare for the worst
Updated 2018-09-08 09:58 GMT+8
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Fear has risen in regards to what may happen once the Syrian government and Russian forces carry out a much anticipated offensive in Syria’s Idlib province.

As one of the last rebel strongholds, Idlib is currently the main target for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Taking back Idlib from opposition forces may bring Assad closer to victory in this eight-year-old war.

Security expert Huseyin Beyazit says that Idlib's location makes it a very critical spot because "it is very close to Turkey, but also is the cross point of the road that leads to Iraq, Syria and Jordan. If geography determines strategy, this location is definitely a strategic one."

This week, Russia carried out airstrikes in Idlib province, and its defense ministry says they have been targeting "terrorist locations."

Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials are set to meet in Tehran on Friday, September 7 to discuss options in Idlib. The three countries have been acting as guarantor states within the Astana peace process.

Meanwhile, Turkey has 12 observation posts around Idlib province within their agreement and has also increased its military presence with additional tanks along the Syrian border.

In August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that opposition groups who are ready to hold dialogue with the Syrian government should be separated from terrorists. Over the weekend of September 1, Russian naval forces carried out massive military drills in the Mediterranean Sea.

Beyazit says these exercises have strong political messages. He says these military drills say, "If you come here, I will respond."

Beyazit stresses that with these drills Russia intends to send a message to those with the power to attack with "tornado aircraft launched from Cyprus or from US missiles from ships." He says that in these cases, Moscow will not stand by.

The US has issued its own warning, stating that in case of any signs of chemical attacks, Washington will take action.

Russian officials had earlier stated that they expected rebels to stage such an attack.

The Turkish government is concerned the offensive could lead to a new flow of refugees to the border.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he believes civilians fleeing the fighting won't have many options and so a large proportion will likely head to Turkey, which is already hosting over 3.5 million refugees.

In case of a new refugee influx, efforts are expected to be made on the Syrian side of the border.

IHH is a humanitarian aid organization that has been actively operating in Turkey since the conflict began.

The organization's international relations and humanitarian diplomacy coordinator Izzet Sahin believes that "in case an attack causes a refugee flow, Turkey's and international aid organizations' priority will be to create a secure area close to the Turkish border and protect and support refugees there instead."

And for those who decide to stay in the area, difficult days are ahead. Civilians inside Idlib have reportedly been making their own preparations by creating makeshift gas masks for potential chemical attacks, building caves around their houses to take shelter during airstrikes and stockpiling on food supplies.


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UN chief calls for prevention of full-scale attack on Syria's Idlib
Xinhua| 2018-09-12 07:48:13
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that it is "absolutely essential" to avoid a full-scale attack on Syria's Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

"This (A full-scale attack) would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict," said the UN chief in a press encounter at UN Headquarters in New York.

Almost half of Idlib's population of 2.9 million people had gone there to seek refuge from conflict elsewhere in Syria, including nearly 1 million children. Their lives have been upended and they have nowhere to go, he said.

"Idlib is the last so-called 'de-escalation zone' in Syria. It must not be transformed into a blood bath."

Guterres reminded parties to the conflict of their obligations under international law to protect civilians.

"I understand that the present situation in Idlib is not sustainable and the presence of terrorist groups cannot be tolerated. But fighting terrorism does not absolve warring parties of their core obligations under international law," he said. "I make a clear appeal to all parties directly and indirectly involved -- and in particular the three guarantors of the de-escalation zone, namely Iran, Russia and Turkey: Spare no effort to find solutions that protect civilians. Preserve basic services such as hospitals. Ensure full respect for international humanitarian law."

It is important that the parties -- especially the three guarantors of the Astana process -- find a way in which it is possible to isolate terrorist groups and it is possible to create a situation in which civilians will not be the price paid to solve the problem of Idlib, he said.

The three guarantors bear a particular responsibility since they have their own posts around the situation in Idlib and they have negotiated for a long time the de-escalation zones and different other forms and arrangements, said the UN chief.

It also goes without saying that in the 21st century any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable, said Guterres. "Beyond the immediate human toll, such use would lead to a situation spiraling out of control," he warned.

He asked for peace-making efforts, particularly within the framework of the UN-led Geneva process.

There is an urgent need to make greater progress in the Geneva process, and in particular the creation of a constitutional committee as part of the overall political package, he said. "There is no military solution to the conflict. The solution must be political."

"We have a collective responsibility to protect people who have already suffered too much," he said.

Guterres made the appeal after the Security Council remained divided over Idlib on Tuesday.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a stern warning on the Syrian government, Russia and Iran over military operations in Idlib.

"We consider any assault on Idlib to be a reckless escalation of the conflict. If (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, Russia, and Iran continue down the path they are on, the consequences will be dire. The world will hold them responsible," she told the Security Council.

Russian and Syrian government air forces have launched over 100 airstrikes in Idlib this month, she noted.

Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia argued at the same Security Council meeting that there is a need to fight terrorists in Idlib.

"We cannot allow terrorists to hold hostage and use hundreds of thousands of people as human shields," he told the Security Council. "It is unacceptable to spare terrorists."

Feridun Sinirlioglu, the Turkish ambassador to the United Nations, made it clear that his country is opposed to an assault on Idlib.

"The Syrian regime seeks to legitimize its operation on counter-terrorism grounds. Let us make no mistake: such an operation would not achieve the stated goal," he told the Security Council.

"In a complex place like Idlib, traditional counter-terrorism methods would not yield the desired results. On the contrary, they would create further suffering, alienate and radicalize more Syrians. In this sense, a military operation in Idlib would only play into the hands of terrorists," he said.


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Spotlight: Why U.S., Turkey oppose Syrian operation in Idlib
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When the Syrian army is preparing for the last major battle against the last major rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib, the United States, its western allies and Turkey oppose it. Why?

Various rebel groups are located in Idlib, but not all of them are on the same page.

The striking force among all rebel factions is the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, otherwise known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for the Levant Liberation Committee (LLC).

Obviously, for the rebels, there is no other place that they could run to if they lose Idlib to the Syrian army.

For the Syrian army and its allies, liberating Idlib has become a priority as it will be the final defeat to the more than seven-year-long insurgency in the country after the army captured most Syrian areas.

But for the United States, its western allies and Turkey, such a move hasn't resonated with them yet.

Turkey, which is part of the Astana process along with Iran and Russia, sees Idlib as a place of interest, particularly after establishing 12 military observation points in Idlib and the countryside of the nearby Hama province.

Turkey-backed al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir, or the National Front for Liberation, was formed on August 1 from five rebel factions operating in Idlib and the northern countryside of Hama.

While acknowledging the fact that terrorist groups shouldn't be tolerated, Turkey wanted to establish cease-fire in Idlib and stressed that it was against any wide-scale military campaign in that province.

There are reasons behind the Turkish opposition to such a military offensive.

The first is the fact that Idlib is home to over three million people, with some estimates saying 3.5 million. Any wide-scale offensive could result in an influx of refugees toward Turkey, which already hosts nearly the same number of Syrian refugees.

Turkey can no longer take in more refugees amid a currency crisis and under both domestic and western pressures to put an end to the waves of refugees.

Military offensive in Idlib would also threaten the military observatory points set up by Turkey and would put those forces in front of two choices, either to confront the Syrian army and its allies or to withdraw.

The possible Syrian recapture of Idlib would also mean that areas under control of the Turkish-backed rebels in the northern countryside of Aleppo would be the next. Such areas are important to Turkey to ensure no expanding influence for the Syrian Kurds in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

The post-Idlib era is also what bothers the United States, as it has bases in northeastern Syria and also in the southeast in the al-Tanf area.

When the army captures Idlib, it would surely move toward the next stage, which is the departure of foreign forces that have entered Syria without the consent of the Syrian government such as the U.S.-led coalition and Turkey, according to Hmaidi Abdullah, a Syrian political analyst.

The U.S. forces are now backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against the Islamic State's last positions in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour province, an oil-rich area.

The United States has also carried out military training in southeastern Syria, which was seen as a message to the Syrian government and its allies that the United States is still present in Syria and is going nowhere anytime soon.

Also, establishing a strong foothold in the oil-rich areas in Syria is another reason of interest for the United States.

For that reason, the United States doesn't want to see Idlib returning under the government control, because that would move the game to the next level, which is the foreign forces in Syria.

The United States, Britain, and France have recently said the government forces in Syria were possibly planning a chemical attack in Idlib, a claim that has been completely slammed by Damascus and its allies of Russia and Iran.

The western powers are backing the United States in its opposition in Idlib because they fear the return of foreign radicalized fighters and the possible new wave of refugees.

The Syrian side and its allies think that the Idlib operation is a necessity particularly after several attempts to establish reconciliation with the rebels to avert Idlib a military operation has failed.

The Syrian and Russian sides have opened humanitarian corridors for civilians who want to flee the rebel-held area and they stressed that the civilians would be protected.

The Syrian side thinks that the western warnings of a "humanitarian catastrophe."

Bashar al-Jaafari, permanent representative of Syria to UN, said last week at a UN Security Council session that recapturing Idlib by the Syrian government is a "sovereign right" protected by the principles of the International Law and the charter of the UN.

He said that no country can undermine such a right.

Al-Jaafari stressed that the Syrian government has undertaken all measures and preparations to protect the civilians and offer humanitarian corridors to them.

He said the government also urged international organizations in Syria to get prepared to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs.