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Three Separate Conferences Held to Unify Syrian Opposition

Next Cold War Roundup 12/11/15

M/W/F 10ish Eastern.

Syrian Opposition Meetings

_ Three different conferences were held yesterday to try to create a set of representatives for the fractious, complicated and scattered Syrian opposition in preparation for the continuation of the Vienna talks where actual Syrians are expected to take part in the negotiations soon.

_ One conference was held in Riyadh. Ben Hubbard does a good job of explaining the outcome of that conference in the latter part of that article, way too complicated for a roundup blog post. The result was that the conference delegation chose a new delegation and will hold more meetings.

Participants said issues that have long divided the opposition remained, with fighters dismissing politicians, exiles writing off domestic dissidents and Islamists and seculars not trusting each other’s motives.


Islamist delegates objected to using the word “democracy” in the final statement, so the term “democratic mechanism” was used instead, according to a member of one such group who attended the meeting.

And one powerful Islamist rebel brigade, Ahrar al-Sham, announced that it was withdrawing from the conference, accusing other delegates of being too close to the Syrian government and saying that conference failed to “confirm the Muslim identity of our people.”

_ Hubbard also provides some “inside baseball” from his own Twitter account that was not edited by Anne Barnard like the NYT article was. It begins here:


_ Another conference, SANA-A, was held in Damascus, consisting of the Syrian opposition who we tend to hear the least about.  I believe that many of them are the groups who began the revolution in 2011 that was later co-opted by armed groups and foreign countries.

At the end of the meeting, the participants issued a statement which affirmed their support for any political solution in order to achieve the salvation of Syria.

The statement pointed out that what was agreed upon in Vienna is an appropriate form to start a consensual political process that could contribute to stopping criminality of terrorist organizations and reaching a pluralistic democratic state.

_ A third conference was held by Syrian Kurds, held in territory that they control

Ceasefire and Amnesty Agreement Between Government and Fighters in Homs, Syria

_ Another important negotiation happened in Syria between the Syrian government and the “rebel” groups holding Homs.  A truce was negotiated and coordinated by the UN. Some groups (700 people, fighters + families) left the last rebel-held  part of the city on buses and arrived later in Idlib. Others agreed to stay and cooperate with the government.


Northern Iraq

_ NYT has a big article on plans for more military bases in the name of combatting ISIS with bases and “hubs” including one in northern Iraq. “As It Fights ISIS, Pentagon Seeks String of Bases Overseas“.  Some see one of these “new” hubs in Erbil as as a plan to protect a KRG/Barzani “Mafiastan” with a US military base.

_ Some background: Erbil has been expanding rapidly since at least the summer of 2014, just before Obama relaunched the Iraq war in the name of fighting ISIS.

A supposedly secret but locally well-known CIA station on the outskirts of Irbil’s airport is undergoing rapid expansion as the United States considers whether to engage in a war against Islamist militants who’ve seized control of half of Iraq in the past month.

Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 9 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are American drones taking off and landing at the facility.

Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split _ complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State.

_ More background: The same 2014 McClatchy article revealed that Barzani’s “peshmerga has worked closely over the years with the CIA, U.S. special forces and the Joint Special Operations Command.” The article revealed that the U.S. never really withdrew from Iraq in 2010 as advertised but ramped up operations in Erbil. The expanded activity and construction in Erbil has been both military/intelligence and oil related and the area is blurred on Google Maps.  A Wall Street Journal article from September, 2014 revealed an arrangement between VP Biden, Pres Obama and Kurds in Erbil: “In return for the American military help last month, Kurdish and U.S. officials said, the Kurds postponed plans for an independence referendum and agreed to work more closely with the Iraqi government in Baghdad.” (Emphasis added).

_ Some insight from a journalist in Erbil (Prothero)  in a recent interview on the situation with US forces in Erbil, attitudes about Mosul, and the likelihood of the Baghdad government reclaiming this region.


Armed Services Committee Hearings

_ Secretary of Defense Carter doesn’t recommend “safe zones” in Syria because it would “require a sizeable force to protect.” Former Chairman of Joint Chiefs Dempsey laid out the resource requirements two years ago and that analysis presumably is still applicable or perhaps resources requirements have even grown since 2013. So Erdogan’s safe zones on the Turkish border take another hit. Russia, after their jet was shot down by Turkey, also said Erdogan could kiss his safe zones goodbye. This is yet another point that goes to the Kurds’ advantage.

Turkey and Iraq

_ Turkish troops remain in northern Iraq.  Kurdish leader in Iraq, Barzani, met with Turkey President Erdogan while Turkish warplanes shelled in Kurdish PKK region of in Iraq, the Qandil Mountains, near the Iranian border.

_ WaPo’s Ignatius, known for close ties to the White House and intelligence, joins John Bolton in calling for a Sunnistan, well funded and reconstructed. His reasoning is that this would get us some motvate Sunnis to become our proxy ground forces to defeat ISIS. Iraq, sliced and diced.

_ Iraq’s Shia Grand Ayatollah Sistani was quiet on the issue for several days but now has finally spoken, saying the Turkish troops must leave.  This might be the final word on the subject from the standpoint of the Shiites, 65% of Iraqis.

The issue is thereby decided. Turkish troops will have to leave or will have to decisively defeat all Shia of Iraq (and Iran). If Erdogan were smart he would now order the Turkish troops stationed near Mosul to leave Iraq.


_ Now here’s a shocker. The New York Times published a James Risen article reporting on how the credibility of Joe Biden’s anti-corruption message to the nation of Ukraine during last week’s visit was undermined by the fact that his son sits on the board of “one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma Holdings.” Well worth reading. Risen also mentions that chairman of Burisma is “Alan Apter, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker.”

_ This week’s discussion of Ukraine, Russia, NATO, Syria, with Stephen F. Cohen on the John Batchelor Show.

_ According to John Helmer, the IMF is robbing Peter Oligarch to prop up Paul Oligarch’s banks in Ukraine


_ UAE is using Blackwater to send mercenaries to fight in Yemen. An Australian, a Brit and a number of Colombian mercenaries were reported killed in Yemen.

_ “ANALYSIS: Syrian opposition share vision, but lack unity in the fight against Assad


More on Syria

_ Andrew Cockburn with defense analyst Pierre Sprey, analyzing the timeline of Turkey’s shootdown of the Russian fighter jet: “Mountain Ambush

_ The Syrian army (SAA) has advanced within 10km of the Turkish border in northeastern Latakia and the R4+1 coalition is “shaping the battlefield” for a cauldron in Idlib.

_ “Palmyra is the hub between the extraction or transfer of virtually all of Syria’s gas production and the processing and power plants further west that supply electricity and gas for domestic and industrial use to those parts of the country where most of the population lives”


Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.