New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 November 2016
Save Aleppo, Save the World — From
By Oubai Shahbandar
Aoun Won Lebanon’s Presidency but
Lost His Voice
By Diana Moukalled
Unlike Mosul, Obama Lacks Allies in
By Osama Al Sharif
It Is Time to Rethink Strategy in
By Sabria S. Jawhar
Russia Has Already Won In the US
By Joyce Karam
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Save Aleppo, Save the World — From Daesh
2 November 2016
“We could not do both”; those were the
words of Vice President Joe Biden in a recent interview when he was asked why a
no-fly zone has not been enacted in northern Syria. Biden essentially explained
that the fight against Daesh and the military’s will to save Syrian civilians
from the Assad regimes’ airstrikes were mutually exclusive.
This false choice has been at the centre of
the Obama administration’s justification for not having an actionable policy in
Syria. Administration officials time and time again cited the need to allocate
resources to fight Daesh in Iraq as one of the reasons — if not the main reason
— why military action in Syria, beyond limited airstrikes against Daesh
positions, was not feasible.
The reality is that to believe in the
veracity of such a claim requires a sudden onset of amnesia. This because as
the world’s collective attention remains fixated on the ongoing military
campaign to liberate the city of Mosul from the grasp of Daesh, many pundits
and policymakers in the West seem to have forgotten how Daesh came to capture
so much territory in Iraq after being allowed to consolidate and expand in
northern and eastern Syria.
Mosul would not have fallen, if Raqqa, Deir
Ezzor, Abu Kamal, Al Bab, Menbej, Tal Abyad — all cities in Syria — were not
allowed to steadily fall one by one to Daesh that for three years was allowed
to consolidate its territory at the expense of rebel forces, while the Assad
regime and its Iran-backed militias conveniently avoided fighting Daesh along
the frontlines in Aleppo province.
Daesh did not arise in a vacuum, yet the
US-led anti-Daesh coalition’s entire strategy to fight the terrorist
organization is entirely devoid of any understanding of how Daesh was able to
gain its foothold in the first place. This willful amnesia will all but surely
ensure that any tactical success in the fight against Daesh in northern Iraq
will prove to be ultimately Pyrrhic in nature.
Here’s why: In 2008 Al-Qaeda in Iraq — the
seed from which Daesh grew, and from whose ranks many current senior Daesh
military commanders came from — seemed to be all but decimated in northwestern
Iraq, from Sinjar to Tel Afar to the strategic Rabiah crossing along the
Syrian-Iraq border. Yet it retained a redundant capacity to regenerate
precisely because the Assad regime and its military security apparatus allowed
remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s logistical and key command and control network
safe haven inside Syria.
To his credit, late in 2008, President
George W. Bush reportedly authorized a daring cross-border raid deep into
eastern Syria in the Abu Kamal area to kill or capture Al-Qaeda’s senior
foreign fighter facilitator Abu Ghadiya. But it proved to be a one-off
The Assad regime calculated back then —
just as it does today — that it could leverage a level of tolerance for
extremist operations under its watch — if not indirect facilitation — if it
could be used as a bargaining chip with the West. Fast forward to 2016, and
Assad seems to be getting exactly what he wanted in that regard.
Today, Aleppo has been all but forsaken by
the Obama administration; in the false hope that by betting on a military
campaign in Mosul that Daesh could eventually be then dealt with in a separate
campaign in Syria. But this approach is sheer military folly. A linear campaign
against an asymmetric adversary is bound to fail.
A military campaign that refuses to take
into account the very source that generated Daesh’s expansion in the first
place is bound to repeat the mistakes of the past that left space for extremists
to rebound and regain lost territory. Ignoring the siege of Aleppo has real
consequences in the fight against Daesh. Allowing Aleppo to fall to Assad and
his Iranian auxiliaries would surely negatively impact the ability to gather
the necessary coalition of Sunni Arab fighters needed to take and hold
territory once held by Daesh.
Again, history should serve as a useful
reminder on what works and what does not in sustaining success against Daesh
and its ilk. Take for instance when the Obama administration opted to cede to
former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki — an unabashedly Iranian proxy par
excellence — total oversight and control over the Sunni Arab Sahwa forces that
had spearheaded the fight against Al-Qaeda in the very same provinces that eventually
came to fall to Daesh.
Maliki wasted no time in persecuting key
Sahwa commanders and either tortured, imprisoned, or exiled them all. The West
should have learned then the policy mistake of ignoring the sectarian paranoia
of a political leader who was more concerned about proving himself to Tehran
rather than re-fertilizing the conditions for Daesh to rise like a Phoenix from
Yet, alas Assad is allowed to continue his
scorched earth policy against Syrian civilians — with the blessings of Russia
and Iran — without considering its detrimental consequences in the fight
Today, an amalgamation of rebel factions
are attempting to break the blockade instituted against eastern Aleppo by a mix
of Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan Shiite militias and Assad regime’s local militias. To
the world, this fight seems to be a sideshow to the made-for-TV qualities
imbued in the assault on Mosul.
While those very TV cameras cannot enter
the besieged Aleppo, it would behoove us all to remember that as Daesh plots
its international attacks and its comeback, that to save Aleppo may just very
well prove necessary to save the world from this evil.
• Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser and
currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern
and Gulf Affairs.
Aoun Won Lebanon’s Presidency but Lost
1 November 2016
For a while, the main hall of the Lebanese
parliament was overwhelmed by worry and suspicion wrapped by smiles and jokes.
All seem to be repeatedly switching from laughs triggered by sarcastic comments
to fears from any last-minute surprises. Everyone was questioning what was
behind these ballots cast in the box. MPs mostly suspected that there was a
problem at hand when they were requested to write the name of their
presidential candidate four times after the number of votes did not match the
number of envelopes for three consecutive times. But all suspicions soon
diminished when loud claps were heard as Gen. Michel Aoun was declared the
president of Lebanon during the fourth round of election.
It was previously expected that the
political settlement reached prior to yesterday’s session was going to make the
session quick and predictable. Now while one could argue that it was indeed
quick and predictable, however it seemed that the Parliament Speaker Nabih
Berri, the most prominent member of those who opposed Aoun’s presidency, still
wanted to show his ability to manoeuvre and “play with nerves” as we say in
Lebanon. No one except Berri would have been able to perform something such as
the envelopes trick. Now, while he certainly hadn’t plan to block Aoun’s
election, but I suppose Berri thought a bit of breath holding and delivering a
few subliminal messages - before Aoun realizes his 26-year-old dream of
presidency - wouldn’t hurt.
Of course, the envelope “joke” ended, and
Aoun took the oath which made him the 13th president of Lebanon. However,
President Aoun’s speech was not similar to the former General’s usual
discourse. President Aoun’s speech lacked that nerve that was characteristic of
the former army commander and the strong Christian leader. Aounism has for long
been based on hostility. He had enmity with Christian rivals like the Lebanese
forces, and was involved in bitter hostility with the Syrian regime in Lebanon.
These hostilities even continued when he returned from French exile, extending
to several parties, like the Future Movement and the Lebanese Sunnis.
Today, Aounism has reconciled with the
Syrian regime and reached compromises with its arch foe Samir Geagea, the
leader of the Lebanese Forces, as well as a settlement with the leader of the
Future Movement Saad Al-Hariri. Today Aoun is the president, yet without his
usual voice and without his nerve.
This was obvious in Aoun’s monotonous
speech in which the new president seemed keen to begin a new and quiet era
without any kind of clashes. What has caused Aounism to change? Is it the
presidential post alone?
That’s what seemed to be clear since the
initiative of the presidential settlement. It was even more obvious in the
inaugural address, which came as a repetition of general headings. Of course,
no one expects Aoun to practice politics in a way that is unusual to the
established Lebanese traditions. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that
Aoun only came to the presidency after the post had been weakened and divided
among allies and opponents.
What kind of authority will President Aoun
have in his next six years in office? How will he react to the fact that
Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria and its violation of both the Lebanese and Syrian
borders? Would it be then a strong presidency that cannot deal with such a
Aounism has always been a loud voice in
Lebanese politics. Michal Aoun has always been termed “the strong president” as
his supporters would like to call him. However, the question now if he is still
strong today, or does the strength belongs to his allies in Hezbollah. The
answer is probably obvious!
Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both
traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary
producer. She can be reached on
Despite stiff resistance Iraqi forces
appear to be inching closer to the outskirts of besieged Mosul, two weeks after
a major offensive to liberate the city from Daesh had begun. But fiercer battles
are expected as the offensive moves into second phase and into the heart of the
second largest city in Iraq. No one really knows what kind of a fight the
stranded militants, numbering between 4,000 and 8,000, will put in this major
battle whose outcome will decide the fate of the terrorist organization in Iraq
So far they have launched suicide attacks,
set oil fields on fire and waged surprise attacks in Kirkuk and Rutba.
Militarily, they are outnumbered and have no defence to intensive airstrikes
carried out by the US-led coalition. On the ground, Iraqi forces, backed by the
Kurdish Peshmerga, appear to be coordinating well and are now moving in from
the east in a sustained effort to penetrate Daesh defences.
Daesh is carrying out atrocities against
civilians in the city and neighbouring villages as they attempt to flee. They
have executed hundreds and appear to be ready to destroy Mosul, as they did in
Ramadi and Fallujah, before giving it up. There is no doubt that the human toll
will be hefty. Mosul, a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, will suffer massively
before final victory is declared.
The length and sustainability of the battle
will depend on other factors as well. Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi will have
to walk a tightrope as he tries to appease the Americans while not distancing
himself from Iran and his Shiite allies. The US has warned him not to involve
the notorious Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in the military operations in
Mosul. Mosul is a predominantly Sunni city and the PMF’s record in persecuting
Sunni Arabs is dismal. PMF’s participation will surely anger local tribes who
are seen as instrumental in the fight to liberate their city from Daesh.
Furthermore, the presence of Turkish troops
in nearby Bashiqa base has strained relations between Ankara and Baghdad and
has triggered statements from Tehran that Iran will seek to place its own
troops in the beleaguered Nineveh province. On the other hand Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that the Shiite-led PMF’s advance on the border
town of Tel Afar, with its mainly Turkmen residents, will not be tolerated.
For President Barack Obama liberating Mosul
is a major goal in his strategy to defeat Daesh before the end of his
presidency. Keeping the coalition together in the fight against the terrorist
group is hard enough and will affect the course of the battle and its
But if keeping various parties in play in
Mosul is hard enough imagine how difficult it will be when the US turns its
attention to Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh, in eastern Syria. US
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter promised that the battle for Raqqa can go in
parallel with the war on Mosul and may even start in few weeks. But the
challenge in Syria differs in scope and nature.
In Iraq, the US can depend on the Iraqi
Army, the Peshmerga and local tribes in addition to some Shiite groups that are
not necessarily loyal to Iran and its agenda in Iraq. But in Syria the picture
A loose Arab-Kurdish coalition of the
Syrian Democratic Forces and the YPG, is the only reliable fighting force that
the US can depend on. In Syria the US lacks the support of the regime and its
main ally, Russia, whose military goals are strikingly different. Damascus and
Moscow are now completely focused on securing what is left of Aleppo and have
resisted international pressure to put a stop to the blood bath there.
Furthermore, Turkey, which has secured
large territory along its border with Syria, has warned the US against
involving Syrian Kurds in the battle for Raqqa. Instead, Erdogan has vowed to
march, along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) units that are backed by Ankara,
towards Al Bab, Manbij and eventually Raqqa. Damascus, on the other hand, sees
Turkey’s incursion as an aggression and has warned that it will shoot down
Turkish jets providing air cover to the FSA. This has put Washington in a bind:
Without reliable local forces on the ground conquering Raqqa will prove messy
and difficult. Erdogan is forcing it to choose its allies and that will prove
difficult for Washington.
From a military point of view liberating
Raqqa is a much easier goal than Mosul. But logistics and politics will make it
tougher for President Obama to chart a clear course to move forward. But the
temptation of dealing a fatal blow to Daesh in the waning days of his
presidency will prove too tempting to let go.
• Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in
It Is Time to Rethink Strategy in Syria
The report about the death of Iranian Brig.
Gen Mohammad Ali Mohammad Husseini, commander of the commando battalion in the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Special Force, in Syria provides yet irrefutable
evidence that Iran is putting its best troops on the ground in the war-torn
country to aid the brutal Assad regime.
Husseini, a veteran of the Iraq-Iran war,
was a principal player in the battles in northern Syria and had waged a
campaign against the Kurds in north-western Iran.
With the Iranians on the ground and the
Russians pounding Aleppo with airstrikes, Assad has two powerful allies that
could very well turn the tide of the war and virtually annihilate Kurdish
resistance and keep Assad in power. The consequences of a victory for Assad
would not only be devastating to the Kurds and Syrians, but also to the region.
The Middle East would remain unstable for decades to come and Iran would pose a
major threat to every nation in the Levant and the Gulf regions.
Wilful denial by western allies, although
making major military pushes in Mosul and continuing airstrikes in Syria, only
highlight an obtuse foreign policy that is doomed to tragic failure. The
Iranians have never been closer to controlling the fate of Syria than now.
According to the Institute for the Study of
War, Iran “has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep
President Bashar Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to
retain its ability to use Syrian territory and asset to pursue its regional
interests should Assad fall.”
Remarkably, Iran has set in motion plans to
help Assad achieve victory, but if he loses the war the alternative would be to
keep Iran the leading power in the region. Can anybody provide a more
clear-headed and far-reaching strategy forged by the western coalition?
Absolutely not. Which makes an Assad — or Iranian — victory far more likely
than the West achieving its goal to liquidate Assad and his army.
Iran is already advising and supplying
military equipment to the Shabiha militias, which support Assad, but are
dependent on Iran for support. Whatever the outcome of the war, the militias
will be in Iran’s pocket. Iran has won praise from some westerners for its
drive to use an Iranian-Iraqi Shiite army to capture Tel Afar in Western Iraq
to help dispose of Daesh in Mosul just 55 kilometres away. The real reason,
however, is to establish a land bridge from Mosul to Tehran to allow Iran’s
military an unobstructed route for Shiite soldiers and Hezbollah. This,
according to reports, is a plan that won approval from the Russians without the
consent, or perhaps even the knowledge, of the western coalition. To add insult
and humiliation to the West, the United States had supplied the Iraqi Army with
tanks, Howitzers and other military vehicles that ultimately will end up in the
hands of Iran and Russia and used against the Kurds if not the US-led
The US-led coalition is capable, but lacks
the will to protect its own interests in the Middle East. Russia and Iran have
flummoxed even the most seasoned western strategists who are attempting to halt
Assad’s progress with both hands tied behind their backs.
Without committing ground troops and the
courage to counter Russian and Iranian military personnel, Assad’s victory and
certainly an Iranian victory, is very likely.
Of course, committing ground troops in
Syria is too painful for the United States given the shellacking it received in
Iraq over a decade. The American public is not ready to contemplate another war
that could claim another 4,000 American lives, if not more. But the alternative
is too horrific to consider. Iran and Russia will claim the Middle East as
their own and mini-wars will erupt from one end of the region to the other,
which eventually will evolve into a conflagration.
• Sabria S. Jawhar, Ph.D. Assistant professor of Applied and Educational
Linguistics Languages and Cultural Studies Department King Saud bin Abdulaziz
University for Health Sciences National Guard Health Affairs (NGHA).
Whoever prevails next Tuesday in the US
presidential vote, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin have already carved
unprecedented influence and clout inside the American political landscape that
will go well beyond this one election.
With the latest revelations that the server
of the Republican nominee Donald Trump was communicating with a Russian bank
and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) looking into his ex-Manager Paul
Manafort’s ties to Moscow, the Kremlin shadow will be one of the major
hallmarks remembered of this campaign regardless of the fate of Trump’s
Coming on the heels of the recent
quarrelling between the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the FBI director
James Comey, and the continued Wikileaks dump of the Democrats’ hacked emails,
Putin has every reason to be ecstatic about this election.
Not in Putin’s wildest dreams would the
former KGB operative have envisioned a US candidate amplifying his propaganda,
while questions are being raised about the independence and legitimacy of
institutions that are at the heart of American democracy.
If you had somewhat just returned from a
two and a half decades’ exile with zero access to the news, and turned on the
TV and listened to Trump, you could fall under the impression that Russia has
won the Cold War.
Trump’s rhetoric from day one has been
complimenting, defending and justifying Putin’s actions, and at times putting
him at a higher standard of leadership than US President Barack Obama. His
embrace of “rigged election” slogans, and accusation that “Obama founded ISIS”
sound like a carbon copy of headlines in Russian propaganda outlets.
Even when Russia was accused by 17 US
intelligence agencies of hacking the DNC servers, Trump refused to blame
Moscow, joking that it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400
The connection grows deeper as the US
intelligence investigates Trump’s adviser Carter Page as well as Manafort for
their ties to the Kremlin. These connections have not stopped at electoral
politics, with Trump forcing policy adjustments to the Republican platform
before he was nominated.
The GOP platform was gutted from any
anti-Russia stance on Ukraine ahead of the convention, hours before Trump
backtracked on a major commitment to NATO refraining from defending Eastern
European allies if they were to face Russian aggression.
A Bet On Polarization
The slanderous, vicious and polarizing
nature of this US Presidential campaign has also been a gift that keeps on
giving to Russia and the Kremlin.
The current split between the FBI and the
Justice Department over Comey’s letter examining Huma Abedin emails, and the
sparring between him and the Clinton campaign could further undermine
confidence in US institutions. These divisions and doubts will unlikely go away
whoever wins on November 8th, making the mission of unifying the country a
priority and a challenge for the next president.
Absent of a landslide for one of the
candidates on voting day, however, a limited electorate mandate will only
complicate the job of bringing America together. If Trump wins, Russia would
have landed itself a chance at complete policy realignment with the US at the
expense of NATO.
But even if Trump loses, the rumours about
the possibility of launching a “Trump TV”, will mean that Russia at the very
least will have a friendly outlet in the United States. There are also reports
of Trump possibly running again in 2020, which implies he will remain a force
in US politics after the vote.
The extreme rhetoric and divisive forces
that 2016 has unleashed will not go away whether Trump wins or loses, and they
will remain a useful tool for Russia to meddle in American politics.
For now, Putin has every reason to smile
big at the US Presidential race and perhaps wishing it never ends. Russia has
already won, thanks to a rhetoric that has bolstered his policies, undermined
US institutions and could grant him long-term influence within American
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an
International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics
extensively since 2004 with focus on US policy towards the Middle East. Prior
to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war
situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace
and Conflict Resolution.