Sunday, February 3, 2013

Of Lions & Monkeys!

It seems that reports claiming that Asma Al-Assad was pregnant and that her husband was sent into outer space by his allies, the Iranians, were utterly false. Assad, we are now assured, is no longer virile or space-worthy. Months of bloodshed have taken their toll. These shocking revelations seem to lend credence to reports of Assad’s impending extinction followed by an inevitable descent into the lower depths of Hell.

Saturday February 2, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 120 martyrs, including 10 children, 8 women. 2 were martyred after being tortured. 58 martyrs were reported in Damascus and Damascus Suburbs, 25 in Aleppo, 11 in Idlib, 7 in Daraa, 6 in Homs, 5 in Hama, 4 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Lattakia, and 1 in Banyas (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 268 points: 18 were hit by air strikes, 3 by cluster bombs, 2 by barrel bombs, 1 by thermobaric bombs, 111 by mortars, 87 by artillery, and 46 by rocket missiles (LCCs).

Clashes: 88 points. Successful operations included the downing of a MiG in Abu Dohour airport, taking control of the road connecting Heesh and Babuleen and securing the defection of several soldiers from Wadi Daif in Idlib Province. Several regime headquarters in Deir Ezzor City and Raqqa were liberated. In Adra, Damascus Suburbs, the liberation of the Chemical Unit, left 48 loyalist soldiers dead (LCCs).

News
Syrian Rebels Advance Near Aleppo Airport The capturing of the Sheik Said neighborhood, southeast of Aleppo, is a significant blow to regime forces because the area includes a major road, linking the northern city with the airport. The army has used the road to supply troops.
Syria Opposition Leader Meets with Russian FM The meeting Saturday between Lavrov and Moaz al-Khatib did not include U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, despite initial suggestions that all four might meet in southern Germany. Biden instead held separate meetings with Lavrov, Brahimi, and al-Khatib. US Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, Syria's top opposition leader, shake hands at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 2, 2013. ​​This year's Munich Security Conference is designed to revive efforts to find a means to end the civil war in Syria. Earlier this week, al-Khatib said he is willing to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. Syrian opposition talks with Russia and Iran After a 45-minute meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Alkhatib told Reuters: "We agreed we have to find a solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people." He also met separately with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. Alkhatib's purpose in his meetings was "to discuss finding a way to remove the regime with the least possible bloodshed and loss of life," he said.
Syria Sugar Consumption Falls 40% as War Shuts Down Sweet Shops Syria’s sugar consumption fell by as much as 40 percent over the past 12 months as the civil war shut down its confectionery shops, T. Akhras Group Chairman Tarif Akhras said today. Demand for sugar in the Middle Eastern nation fell to 450,000 metric tons to 500,000 tons a year, from 700,000 tons to 750,000 tons a year earlier, Akhras said today in an interview at the Kingsman sugar conference in Dubai. Akhras’s company is based in Homs, Syria.
Syria strikes back? Hackers break into Haaretz emails, threaten more attacks Hacker group Syrian Electronic Army breaks into newspaper employees' emails by impersonating publisher Amos Schocken in an email. Readers' information was not compromised.
New Images of Syria’s First Lady and Iran’s Space Monkey Cast Doubt on Two Reports

Special Reports
The uprising to unseat President Bashar al-Assad is now almost two years old. While Western governments have long worried that its self-declared leaders, many of whom operate from Turkey, cannot jell into a coherent movement with unifying leaders, the fighting across the country has been producing a crop of field commanders who stand to assume just these roles. These men — with inside connections, street credibility and revolutionary narratives that many of the Western-recognized leadership lacks — have taken the reins of the war. They hold the weapons. They have their own international relations and financing. Should they survive, many of them could become Syria’s postwar power brokers.
… the big question is how to deal with all these mounting crises as at least part of the post-Ottoman state system in the Levant comes crashing down, without getting deeply involved in ways that can only hurt Israel. We know that Netanyahu has opened a channel of coordination with Jordan in this regard; now is the time to do whatever is necessary to make amends with Turkey, too. And it might be wise to keep Barak at the Defense Ministry.
The Islamization of the Syrian opposition is giving the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its local affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a new source of strength and local support. The Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Al-Nusra’s willingness to militarily target the PKK/PYD has helped reinforce the radical Kurdish nationalist group’s image as a defender of a secular Syrian state and Kurdish rights. This trend is occurring as moderate opposition groups fail to coalesce into a viable alternative distinct from Turkish interests. Left unchallenged, the PKK/PYD will become increasingly difficult to extricate from Kurdish-populated territories, making it the only real power broker with whom to negotiate among the disparate Kurdish groups.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

Kurdish Alwaites/Alevis

The PYD/PKK’s influence has been further encouraged by the Jihadist push into Aleppo, where the PKK/PYD power base is strongest. Although the approximately 10,000 Kurdish Alawites concentrated in the mountainous areas outside Aleppo are small in number, they are influential in the region and back the PYD/PKK, alongside fellow Syrian Alawites who are equally committed to a secular Syrian state. PYD leader Dr. Bahouz Ardal is an Alawite and old school friend of Assad. Salih Muslim, the PYD spokesman, also is an Alawite Kurd.

These deep-rooted political, economic and cultural Alawite networks, alongside a weakened Syrian state, have enabled the PYD/PKK to expand its territorial gains and regional leverage. In addition to key border regions, the PYD-PKK now controls the Efrin Mountain, which is only about five miles from the Turkish commercial town of Gaziantep. This gives the group yet another base from which to launch its cross-border operations against Turkey, alongside its headquarters in Qandil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

There is one aspect to Kurdish politics that often gets ignored, but the article by Denise Natali quoted above gets it right, namely: the role confessional minorities play in shaping the Kurdish political order. In the case of Syria, Kurdish Alawites, albeit few in number (10-15,000 in all), tend to be fervent supporters of the PKK in Turkey and its affiliated PYD in Syria. As such they are extremely secular, and maintain some rapport with Arab Alawites.

However, it is important to note here that, in academic terms, Kurdish Alawites are actually Alevis, that is, their religious beliefs are closer to those of Turkey’s Alevi population than to those of the Alawites of Syria (and the Hatay Province in Turkey). In political terms, Turkish Alevi population is for the most part left-leaning and tend to be more sympathetic to the Assad regime, as part of their ongoing opposition to US policies in the region, and AKP domestic programs. Kurdish Alevis in Syria have similar tendencies, and seem to be well-represented, if not over-represented, in the higher ranks of PYD, but, on account of the national issue involved, they have tried to maintain in a more neutral stand vis-à-vis the Syrian Revolution, and to keep local Kurdish communities as neutral as possible as well. The increasing Islamization of the revolutionaries and the recent clashes in Ras Al-Ain pitting Islamist rebels against local Kurdish protection units (YPGs), which are ideologically linked to the PKK, are helping their case.

Video Highlights

Rebels pound the Military Airport in Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/3iXKf8dacTY Elsewhere in the city clashes continue http://youtu.be/kYEbp8DXlSU

In Idlib Province, MiGs bombard the town of Heesh http://youtu.be/fWp9vp65xdM , http://youtu.be/v0367Vq8brQ Still, rebels using confiscated tanks targeted several loyalist positions in town http://youtu.be/GKGcyYrU4lQ

Explosives barrels thrown by helicopter gunships on the neighborhood of Jobar, Homs City leave many dead http://youtu.be/jFLFOpZXPEw , http://youtu.be/85ovQYNkD3k Major sections of the city lie now in ruins http://youtu.be/IpvO1dwvS2A

An aerial raid on the town of Tal Rif’at, Aleppo http://youtu.be/ON8B2D8porc , http://youtu.be/75oExnQuCoc

In Aleppo City, intense clashes took place in Allairamoon http://youtu.be/DU52NdwPCCo , http://youtu.be/hDiBP9sROJk The neighborhood is pounded by pro-Assad militias http://youtu.be/DCojkRXcnWY , http://youtu.be/2x0gALZ5pEw