MIDEAST MIRROR 22.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Facing the consequences
2-No dialogue with the Houthis, no room for Iran
1-Facing the consequences
The very idea that ISIS will soon begin destroying those magnificent columns, arches, buildings and inscriptions [in Palmyra], horrifies every civilized person. And it is now clear that ISIS destroys only what it cannot carry off; the rest is not subject to the rulings of takfir [apostasy] but to the dictates of money. For ISIS sells everything that it can cart away… Can anybody tell us what in the world is going on? We, who do not easily accept facile and simplistic conspiratorial explanations based on nothing but readymade imaginings and suppositions, stand in amazement, unable to explain what is happening. Our minds are disturbed by a question concerning ISIS's strength and its renewed ability to advance and succeed, whereas we previously believed that the international coalition’s intensive aerial intervention had stopped this organization in its tracks as a prelude to turning it back--Jamil an-Nimri in Jordanian al-Ghad
[The] changes in U.S. priorities, the confusion in choosing allies and the absence of a political and military focus have all served ISIS, which has exploited them to good effect. As a result, it took everyone by surprise with its expansion and battleground victories in the Syrian east and Iraqi center. We would not find it strange, nor do we deem it unlikely that the Syrian forces' withdrawal and the fact that they did not fight ferociously to defend Tadmur [Palmyra] were intended as a message to Washington, saying frankly that the fall of this historic city in ISIS hands was the direct result of the change in Washington’s list of priorities and its decision to push the confrontation with ISIS to the bottom of that list. Therefore, the message says, Washington must bear full responsibility and confront ISIS alone, with all the ensuing consequences-- 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
By capturing Ramadi in Iraq and Tadmur (Palmyra) in Syria, ISIS is now in effective control of the Syrian and Iraqi deserts, and is threateningly deployed along Jordan's borders, notes a commentator in a Jordanian daily. But the mystery is why the U.S.-led coalition air force failed to prevent this by intensifying its air attacks on ISIS forces. The fall of al-Ramadi and Tadmur is forcing the U.S. to review its strategy and its list of priorities in the region once again, notes the editor-in-chief of a pan-Arab online daily. But it is not easy to see what new policy Washington can pursue in order to stop ISIS’s advances.
OPEN GATES: "The occupation of al-Ramadi and Tadmur opens the gates of the Syrian and Iraqi deserts to ISIS," writes Jamil an-Nimri in Friday's Jordanian daily al-Ghad.
It is as if ISIS were compensating for the limited areas it has lost or retreated from in northern Syria and central Iraq by capturing even larger and more important areas elsewhere. And it is as if the international coalition set red lines for ISIS in the north and the east, to which the organization responded by heading south.
We saw what happened in the Kurdish town of Kobani, half of which was occupied by ISIS, which fought desperately to capture it totally. But the Kurds fought bravely in its defense, and they received effective air support that allowed them to repulse ISIS and put an end to all its hopes of making further advances in that location and in the remaining Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish areas.
This is unlike what happened in al-Ramadi. ISIS first occupied a limited area, then completed its invasion despite its inhabitants’ requests and the resounding official declarations of Iraq’s military preparations to save the city. Nor did we see any effective air support or Iraqi ground forces coming to the rescue. This continued until the forces defending al-Ramadi fled in haste without looking back.
Something similar happened in Tadmur. ISIS was two kilometers away from the town when the entreaties and calls to protect this historical site began. The Syrian regime said it was sending reinforcements to defend it; but we then saw ISIS storming the city and the regime's forces beating a hasty retreat.
Tadmur – or Palmyra – is one of the most beautiful and greatest historic cities on the UNESCO world heritage list. It was the capital of the Arab Queen Zenobia who rebelled against the Romans. The very idea that ISIS will soon begin destroying those magnificent columns and arches and buildings and inscriptions, horrifies every civilized person. And it is now clear that ISIS destroys only what it cannot carry off; the rest is not subject to the rulings of takfir [apostasy] but to the dictates of money. For ISIS sells everything that it can cart away. The forces withdrawing from Tadmur seem to have taken that into consideration; they carried all the historic relics they could take and stored them in a safe place, according to official statements.
Can anybody tell us what in the world is going on? We, who do not easily accept facile and simplistic conspiratorial explanations based on nothing but readymade imaginings and suppositions, stand in amazement, unable to explain what is happening. Our minds are disturbed by a question concerning ISIS's strength and its renewed ability to advance and succeed, whereas we previously believed that the international coalition’s intensive aerial intervention had stopped this organization in its tracks as a prelude to turning it back.
Despite the slow pace of the counteroffensive and U.S. President Barack Obama's talk of a confrontation that may last for three years, the advances made by the Iraqi forces and the recapture of Tikrit had sent a positive signal. There was talk of preparations for the battle of Mosul. Instead, however, we saw the [largely Shiite] Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militias committing violations in the liberated areas, sending a miserable message as to the nature of the supposed liberation project. And we saw the Iraqi army acting in a weak and impotent manner, while the Baghdad government was begging for more arms despite the billions of dollars spent on such weapons by previous Iraqi governments.
Could the Iraqi forces not have reacted more quickly and prevented the fall of al-Ramadi? Or do they wish to prove that only the PMU, with its bad sectarian reputation and not the army, is capable of fighting and defeating ISIS? Was it not possible for the air force to intervene effectively and bomb ISIS forces so as to prevent them from entering Tadmur?
ISIS is now expanding and has taken control of half of Syria and Iraq. After a year of aerial bombardment, the organization has doubled the areas under its control in the Syrian and the Iraqi deserts that border us [in Jordan].
'We in Jordan have every reason to fear what lies in store," concludes Nimri.
U.S. STRATEGY REVIEW: "The U.S. administration has announced that it is in the process of reviewing its months-long strategy for destroying the Islamic State (IS/ISIS), after the latter has taken control of the Iraqi city of al-Ramadi," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on Friday on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
But was there really an American strategy to begin with for it to be reconsidered? And, anyway, even if such a strategy exists, it is one that is shaky, confused, and proven to have failed.
Washington formed a military coalition consisting of sixty countries including a number of Arab states. Its warplanes have waged over 3700 air raids since last summer, and its spokespersons have been boasting about its success in restraining ISIS and preventing it from expanding. They also began to prepare for celebrating this great achievement.
But ISIS forces have now blown this entire theory sky high. They have proven that the American spokespersons' statements are nothing more than wishful thinking. For over the past couple of days, we woke up to two resounding slaps to the Americans and their coalition’s face with the capture of the city of Tadmur deep in the Syrian desert, and al-Ramadi at the gateway to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
U.S. strategy is based on intensifying air raids and relying on them as the main means of blocking ISIS's expansion, leaving the ground war to the Iraqi army which it has armed and trained, hemorrhaging over 25-billion dollars of the Iraqi coffers to cover these expenses in the process. This plan led to the recapture of Tikrit with the aid of the PMU forces that consist mostly of Shiite militias such as the 'Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Forces, and the Abul Abbas Brigades.
ISIS's capture of al-Ramadi and Tadmur – which effectively means that it is now in control of almost half of Syria and one-third of Iraq – has dispersed all the rising American and Iraqi optimism. It has forced Washington to call for a meeting of coalition foreign ministers in Paris next week to find out where the fault lies and amend the current strategy, or adopt an alternative one.
But what more can Washington do than it has already done throughout the past ten months of its air raids? More training? More armament? More air raids? Send ground forces into Syria and Iraq?
To begin with and before answering these questions, let us first speak of the U.S.’s mistaken strategy and the holes with which it is riddled. These can be summarized as follows:
- First: The first main feature of the confusion that surrounds U.S. strategy concerns the sudden, unstudied, and unrehearsed changes in its list of priorities, especially in Syria. It initially placed toppling the Syrian regime at the top of this list. Then it abruptly changed course, and convinced itself and its allies that absolute priority should be given to fighting terrorism and ISIS as its main manifestation. Now, however, Washington has returned to the first alternative; namely, to toppling the regime in compliance with Saudi/Turkish pressure. And all these acrobatic changes have occurred within the space of no more than two years.
- Second: U.S. strategy in Iraq is based on backing Mr. Haidar al-'Abadi's government, but at the same time, it does not want to anger the Sunnis; or, rather, it does not want to serve as a military tool in the hands of the Shiite and (Sunni) Kurdish majority. This is why it asked Mr. 'Abadi to arm the Sunni clans in order to confront ISIS as happened in the case of the ‘Awakening Forces’ formed by General David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq to fight al-Qa'ida. But just like his predecessor PM Nuri al-Maliki, Mr. 'Abadi continues to reject this American demand. He insists on seeking help from the PMU instead, because he does not trust the Sunni clans and believes that they will turn against him after they have been armed, and that they – or a large part of their fighters – will join ISIS.
- Third: The imminent nuclear agreement with Iran has shocked the (Sunni) Arab states that are members in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. As a result, these states are 'lukewarm' and distrustful of the U.S. strategy for fighting ISIS and their official and unofficial media have begun to accuse Washington of stabbing the Gulf states in the back, and relying on Iran as a strong regional ally at their expense.
These changes in U.S. priorities, the confusion in choosing allies and the absence of a political and military focus have all served ISIS, which has exploited them to good effect. As a result, it took everyone by surprise with its expansion and battleground victories in the Syrian east and Iraqi center.
We would not find it strange nor do we deem it unlikely that the Syrian forces' withdrawal and the fact that they did not fight ferociously to defend Tadmur were intended as a message to Washington, saying frankly that the fall of this historic city in ISIS hands was the direct result of the change in Washington’s list of priorities and its decision to push the confrontation with ISIS to the bottom of that list. Therefore, the message says, Washington must bear full responsibility and confront ISIS alone, with all the ensuing consequences.
It follows that we do not agree with the claim that the Syrian army is now exhausted because of the length of the war and Saudi/Turkish/Qatari armament and financing of the armed opposition, which has led to the fall of major cities, such as Idlib, Jisr ash-Shughour, and Mastouma military base, the Syrian regime's last stronghold in Idlib.
We do not know how Washington will deal with the major and shocking defeats inflicted on it and its Iraqi allies by ISIS forces. Increasing the number of air sorties will not do much to change the situation. Retraining and arming the Iraqi army is unlikely to yield positive results; for how many times can this army be armed, trained, and rehabilitated? Did they not say the same and make the same plans after the fall of Mosul [last year]?
What Washington does not seem to realize is that ISIS forces are not only made up of bearded fellows and hard-line Islamists. They are more a mixture of those who drive trucks carrying tons of explosives in suicide attacks in pursuit of martyrdom (as they see it), and senior former officers of the Iraqi Republican Guard and Iraqi army. These officers who have studied in major military colleges and academies in West and East, were driven by Paul Bremer Iraq's military governor in the first days of the occupation, into the lap of hard-line Islamism after disbanding their army and guard, and towards desperation, frustration, and marginalization as a result of the de-Baathification process based on the advice of those [Iraqis] who backed their country's occupation.
But what theory could the military trainers of the Iraqi forces resort to regarding the means of confronting these explosive trucks? Can they show them how to blow them up? But they are prepared for that precise purpose to begin with.
It may be that the American and Iraqi military forces mobilized for regaining al-Ramadi will succeed in ousting ISIS from the city, but this does not mean that it will not fall into its hands again.
ISIS’s capture of al-Ramadi has delayed the battle to regain Mosul. The organization has added to its arsenal very advanced American weaponry and equipment, left by the Iraqi army when it fled the city to escape death. This is exactly what happened in Mosul, al-Raqqa, and Deir az-Zour. And to this should be added the psychological and moral effects of this defeat, which will be difficult to address.
Iraq is in the midst of a crisis that is no less intense than that of its Syrian neighbor. The main cause of all that has and is still happening there are the Americans, their occupation, and the readiness to trust them. For after all, the Americans are pulling the sectarian and ethnic strings; and they ultimately want to tear the region apart, break it down and drown it in civil wars.
"Anyone who claims otherwise is living on a different planet," concludes 'Atwan.
2-No dialogue with the Houthis, no room for Iran
Yemen’s legitimate government must not attend the UN-sponsored Geneva Conference or accept any role for Iran in Yemen, says Mohammad Saleh al-Musfir in today's Qatari Asharq
Now that the Riyadh conference on Yemen has been held, it is clear that the legitimate Yemeni government’s attendance at next week's UN-sponsored Geneva conference would constitute an admission of the former conference’s failure, maintains a Qatari commentator. In all circumstances, the Yemeni government and its allies must adamantly refuse any Iranian role in any humanitarian effort or any attempt to resolve the Yemen crisis.
MANY RESOLUTIONS: "The Riyadh Yemeni conference has ended by issuing many resolutions, recommendations and statements, such as the call to form a federal state, and a united federation, one that President Hadi said will 'raise the republic's flag over the Marwan Mountains in Sa'da Province' – a reference to the effort to defeat al-Houthi’s militias," writes Qatari commentator Mohammad Saleh al-Musfir in Friday's Qatari daily Asharq.
Meanwhile, al-Houthi responded to President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi saying: 'The republic's flag is already raised over Sa'da, but al-Qa'ida flags are the ones raised in Aden.' Others claim that the flags of secession are being raised in the southern Yemeni cities.
Promises were made at the Riyadh conference to compensate, equally, all those harmed by the war in Yemen. And there was talk of accelerating the civil administration’s return inside the country in order to pursue its national duties there.
This is wonderful news to tell the truth, and these are carefully framed speeches. But the fundamental question to which we have yet to see an answer is this: How will compensation be offered as the war continues to rage on most of Yemeni lands? And how will this compensation be computed when destruction consumes all of Yemen's achievements, whether as citizens or as a state? And what is to be done when, according to reports from Yemen, all of the country’s cash has been stolen from the Central Bank and its branches.
I wish that the Riyadh conference had focused on three issues: The first is the return of all Yemeni military commanders and tribal sheikhs to secure positions inside the country from where they can conduct the battle. Second, the rejection of any Iranian help that reaches Yemen by any means, with the Arab states and the states that are taking part or supportive of Operation Decisive Storm taking it upon themselves to provide aid to the Yemeni people. And, third, taking a decision to mine all the regional waters so as to prevent any supplies from being smuggled to al-Houthi and [former president] 'Abdullah Saleh.
Regarding foreign aid, the Sultanate of Oman set a precedent in the region's history when it refused to accept any aid when it suffered natural disasters; namely, the strong storms that inflicted enormous losses and caused torrents and floods. With this in mind, I emphasize the Yemeni authorities' right to reject any help from Iran under any guise or pretext. Such a stance would be to the credit and honor of Yemen and its brave leaders.
If the legitimate Yemeni leadership were to agree to participate in the Geneva conference called for by the UN secretary-general on May 28th, this would effectively constitute an admission that the Riyadh conference has failed. It would be contrary to the Yemeni position that the Riyadh conference was a success.
Moreover, Iran's participation in any official or unofficial Yemeni dialogue should be opposed by the Yemenis first, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab and other friendly states on the Red Sea littoral. Iran has no geographical borders with Yemen. It has no interest of any sort connecting it to the Yemeni people. Its relations with a sect [Zaidi Shiite Houthis] that is a minority in Yemen does not justify its intervention in Yemeni affairs or the Red Sea, which is effectively a purely Arab sea closed to those outside it.
The Red Sea and its eastern coastlines from the Aqaba Gulf to Bab al-Mandab in the south are all Arab lands, and from Suez in the north and to Bab al-Mandab in the south also are Arab lands. In light of this, Iran has a right to pass through these international waters similar to that enjoyed by all other states, and nothing more.
Yemen’s legitimate leadership, headed by 'Abed-Rabbo Hadi, has no right to meet and hold a dialogue with those who took up arms against the nation and state. That tyrannical force looted all the Yemeni army's camps; occupied the capital by force of arms, arrested the country's supreme leadership (the president, the PM, and the members of his government), expanded across the entire state, and is now destroying the cities of southern and central Yemen with great hatred.
On what basis can a dialogue be held with these usurpers? There is no room for any dialogue with these usurpers before they lay down their arms and withdraw from all the cities and countryside that they have occupied, and before they recognize the legitimate government led by President Hadi.
The public and secret American pretexts for imposing a dialogue between Yemen’s legitimate leadership on one side, and al-Houthi and 'Abdullah Saleh's cronies on the other, for fear that al-Qa'ida and ISIS will expand in the region, are all risible excuses that should not be taken seriously.
Based on the above, it is our right to remind the U.S. administration and our leaders in the Arab world, especially the GCC states, of what Henry Kissinger said about Iran earlier this month: 'Iran poses a greater and more serious threat than that posed by ISIS and al-Qa'ida.' While we are fighting al-Qa'ida in Yemen as well as the vanguard of ISIS, we must also reject the Iranian presence in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.
It is the duty of the Yemeni president as well as of PM Khaled Bahah to pay official visits to the states that backed Decisive Storm, accompanied by a chosen elite of military and political officials to express the Yemeni people and their leadership's gratitude for these state’s support in their battle to regain Yemeni sovereignty which has been hijacked by the Houthis and their supporters.
They must address the world's capitals to explain the Yemeni situation and ask these states to act in solidarity with the Yemeni people and their legitimate government. We may understand the reasons that limit President 'Abed-Rabbo Hadi's ability to move outside; but we do not understand why he does not delegate this mission to the PM.
Finally, there is no room for Iran on the Arabian Peninsula's soil, especially in Yemen, or for any Iranian effort even if it is of a humanitarian character. Iran's actions are never innocent.
"And there can be no negotiation or dialogue with those who have taken up arms against the Yemeni people and their legitimate government on which there is accord by all Yemeni parties," concludes Musfir.
Someone who confiscates the freedom of the justice system and who changes police commanders and judges in order to cover up government corruption, has no right to criticize other states or complain about their laws, says Mohammad Noureddin in today's Emirates’ al-Khaleej
Turkish President Erdogan and his PM Davutoglu's criticisms of the death sentence passed against former Egyptian president Mursi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, smack of double standards, maintains a Lebanese commentator on Turkish affairs writing in a Gulf daily. But these also betray a deeper hostility towards Egypt whose roots go back to the Ottoman period.
PAINFUL HEADACHE: "Egypt presents one of the most painful headaches for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in particular, but also for his PM and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ahmet Davutoglu," writes Mohammad Noureddin in Friday's UAE daily al-Khaleej.
Erdogan has continuously dealt with Egypt as if it were an Ottoman province, even though it was the first such province to rebel against the Ottoman sultans' rule and to secure semi-independence under Mohammad Ali Pasha’s leadership. In fact, had it not been for British intervention, Mohammad Ali's project would not have ended where it did; yet despite that intervention, he laid the foundations for Egypt's independence and its modern renaissance.
The Turks never forgave the Egyptians for confronting the sultanate and what came after it. Despite its secular government and NATO membership, the same Ottoman spirit continued to prevail in Turkey after the Second World War in confronting Egypt under 'Abdul Nasser, and in opposing all Arab liberation causes, with Algeria as the prime example.
With Erdogan and his party's ascent to power in 2002, and the consequent revival of the Ottoman project, Turkish hostility towards Egypt, and even its Gulf allies, was forcefully revived. It peaked when the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government was toppled and its president Mohammad Mursi was deposed after the June 30th 2013 revolution. Since then, Erdogan and Davutoglu have never wasted an opportunity to attack the new Egyptian President 'Abdelfattah as-Sissi. Erdogan's impudence went so far as to attack Sissi from the UN podium last September, thereby demonstrating a total disregard for all international courtesies.
Despite some Gulf efforts to improve relations with the Gulf states as well as with Egypt specifically, Turkey’s negative discourse towards Egypt and the Gulf states in general – with the exception of Qatar – did not change. But Turkey’s discourse is not confined to what is said officially; there is also the discourse of the media loyal to the AKP. For example, the Turkish daily Yeni Safak, which is the most loyal to Erdogan, used foul language in reference to Gulf states after the sentences were passed on Mursi and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
But the truth is that Erdogan and Davutoglu's reactions to these sentences betray their double standards. Erdogan says that 'the death sentence against Mursi is a death sentence against the ballot box.' Erdogan still understands democracy as nothing but the ballot box. He forgets that elections are the less significant part of the democratic process. The simplest requirement of democracy is for the winner to respect the choices of the minority, of the groups that did not vote for the ruling party. But in Turkey itself, and because of an unfair and unjust electoral law, Erdogan has gone far in denying the rights of opposition groups, deeming it his right to confiscate the opposition's freedoms and choices, even though it represents nothing less than 50% – that is, half the nation.
Moreover, Mursi as well as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government were loyal to the path chosen by their political mentor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Within a very short time and in a hasty manner, they worked hard to take over the judiciary, the administration, and the military establishment. That, in turn, led to the people and that very same military establishment’s uprising in 2013.
Erdogan says: 'The world, especially Europe, has stood by watching the death sentences in silence, even though capital punishment has been banned in Europe.' But Erdogan must surely realize that the ban on the death sentence in one country does not provide justification to criticize sentences passed in another based on that country's laws. In the U.S., the death penalty is still in use; so should we criticize this, or is this a matter for the U.S. to choose and decide?
Moreover, does Islam not condone the death penalty, as well as stoning and cutting off of hands? Does this not mean that when Erdogan criticizes the EU because it failed to criticize the death sentences in Egypt, he is thereby criticizing Islamic shari'a law, which permits this penalty?
We are making this comparison not to defend or criticize the death penalty in Egypt or elsewhere, but to highlight Erdogan's double standards. After all, he once said that, had he been in power in 2001 when the death sentence was passed against [imprisoned Kurdish leader] Abdullah Ocalan and before it was later canceled under pressure from the EU, he would have carried it out immediately.
"Someone who confiscates the freedom of the justice system and the freedom to protest, and who changes police commanders and judges in order to cover up a government corruption scandal, has no right to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states, or to speak about freedom and democracy," concludes Noureddin.
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