Next Cold WarUncategorized

Misinformation Causes Confusion About Madaya And Other Besieged Syrian Civilians

Next Cold War Roundup 1/11/16

Misinformation from Media and Activists Caused Confusion About the Status of Starving Population Under Siege in Syria

_ There is no doubt that siege is used as a weapon by all belligerents in the Syrian war — the Syrian government, the opposition fighters, Al Qaeda and ISIS — and that civilians are suffering and dying as a result. Aid agencies work to arrange humanitarian aid for besieged areas and do their best to control and distribute the scarce resources over time in war zones controlled by various forces.  Some areas are held by “rebels” or Al Qaeda and under siege by the government. Other areas are controlled by the pro-government forces and under siege by the opposition. Other areas are under siege by ISIS. Opponents must agree to a safe corridor for humanitarian aid before it can be implemented in all of these cases.

_ MDF/Doctors Without Borders reported on the rebel held town of Madaya, under siege by the pro-Syrian government forces:

8 January 2016 Update: The MSF-supported medics in Madaya have identified 250 people with severe acute malnutrition, including 10 patients who are in immediate need of life-saving hospitalisation care. The number of people in need of medical care is growing. If a safe medical evacuation procedure can be agreed, MSF is prepared to facilitate the identification of patients in need of evacuation at that time.

_ There are numerous areas under siege but the one that has gotten the most attention has been Madaya, northwest of Damascus.  There has been a media blitz on Madaya though it’s not clear why it was singled out as there are other areas that have been besieged for a longer time and might be worse (though they might not — for instance they may have a more porous blockade, it’s not clear).  But one thing that is not helping the situation with Madaya is that in this media blitz, news organizations are using photos and videos they received from what they call “activists” and some of those photos and videos of horrific starvation are not from Madaya nor are they recent. So this has caused push back from pro-government activists. That push back is being falsely characterized as denial of the starvations, in some cases.  These political battles between activists and warring parties and muddy a situation where people are suffering and dying. Five more starvation deaths in Madaya were reported on Sunday alone.

_ Example: In this BBC story about Madaya, though the “activists released images” may be questionable (video is reportedly from Yarmouk in 2014 and there has been no correction by BBC), the other facts seem pretty accurate.  They at least note that there were medical evacuations in December, and that many areas in Syria are besieged by the different combatant sides:

Where are the sieges?

Government forces are besieging various locations in the eastern Ghouta area, outside Damascus, as well as the capital’s western suburb of Darayya and the nearby mountain towns of Zabadani and Madaya. Rebel forces have encircled the villages of Foah and Kefraya in the northern province of Idlib, while IS militants are besieging government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. [Emphasis added]

_ Below is one debunking of video used by the BBC in the article above. The original video is dated 2014 and is from a different location (Yarmouk). There are several other cases that were brought to the attention of various news organizations but no corrections were issued. So the siege and suffering are real, but misleading propaganda techniques seem to be employed as well — publish mostly accurate facts but include photos and videos from other locations at other times and attribute those to “activists”, then fail to remove the images even after they’ve been clearly proven to be from other places and times.  It is clear that the video below from 2014 is the same as the one used in this week’s BBC story.

_  Another example involves the tragic photo of a boy in extreme malnutrion, starving. The photos being used as current are proven to be from a different place and time — a video report from May, 2015 in Ghouta (south of Damascus).  One more example involves another girl whose picture was also used which angered her family and resulted in a video response of the girl, who is not in Madaya, saying she is in Lebanon and is fine.  All of this causes confusion and misinformation that ultimately hurts the people who are already victims of war sieges.

_ From the perspective of pro-Syrian government media: Residents of Madaya say the opposition groups in control of the town seize the humanitarian aid and sell it to locals for exorbitant prices.  Two other articles from the pro-Syrian government perspective: “Madaya: Why would Assad starve his own supporters?” and  Crisis in Madaya exposes double standards in humanity.



Humanitarian Aid

_ Reports on humanitarian aid for cities under seige

_ International Red Cross says they are preparing their humanitarian aid convoy for Madaya

_ Syrian Arab Red Crescent said, two days ago, they were fully ready to deliver aid to Madaya


_ In better news, Syrian government confirms, via its foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, it is “ready to take part in Geneva meetings at the appointed time,” currently scheduled for Jan. 25. It wants to review the lists of participating opposition groups. The Syrian opposition, or whoever is speaking for them (The Independent article doesn’t specify) is demanding that some things happen “ahead of the talks including lifting sieges imposed on rebel-held areas, releasing some detainees and ending airstrikes.”  The still maintain that Assad staying in power is “incompatible with their goals.”

_ There are various reports saying the battle for Salma has begun.  Salma is a town in a mountainous area of Latakia (northwest coastal area of Syria) under control of al Nusra.

_ US coalition doing airstrikes in Manbij in support of SDF (YPG Kurds + local Arab militias). R4+1 coalition moving north from Kuweires air base to ward al-Bab with Russian air support — is this coincidental cooperation?

_ Heavy shelling in Efrin and Azaz area by “AQ/Nusra/Ahrar and their ‘rebel’ allies.'”  Two weeks ago, the same pro-SDF source noted “It was Turkey who handed over mortars/artillery to Ahrar + allies, that were used to shell Afrin town yesterday acc to local sources to ANHA.” At that time, Ahrar and allies were shelling US-backed SDF and allied Jaish al-Thuwwar (JaT) positions. The Turkish daily “Today’s Zaman” run by the Gulen movement reports it as Turkish military hitting ISIL targets in Syria.

‘War is Peace’ Prof Recommends Letting Russia Think they Won the War in Syria

_ Swarthmore associate prof Dominic Tierney, contributing writer at The Atlantic and fellow at “Turkish think tank on foreign policy” the Foreign Policy Institute Dominic Tierney (Zbig Brzezinski is a senior fellow at this think tank) recommends that in order to “get Putin out of Syria” the US should ” play along by avoiding boastful claims of a major Russian debacle” like we did with Gorbachev after the Berlin Wall fell. He says that Putin “can still save face by spinning the outcome as a success” and he “needs a story to tell the Russian people about the positive results of the mission.”  So we should let the Russians pretend they won in Syria to get them out of there so we can continue with our plans that were going so swimmingly well before Putin intervened in our intervention.  Tierney tosses a few threatening sentences about Stinger missiles and Afghan wars into the article before coming to this conclusion, interestingly.  That subject seems to come up with increasing frequency lately.  A survey of Tierney’s recent work show him to be a strong advocate of nation building — vigorously selling a “war is peace” strategy of nation building by peacekeeping with commandos.


_ New York Times published an op-ed by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, titled “Saudi Arabia’s Reckless Extremism.”

“By contrast, the Saudi government or its surrogates have over the past three years directly targeted Iranian diplomatic facilities in Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan — killing Iranian diplomats and locals. There have been other provocations, too. Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia have endured systematic harassment — in one case, Saudi airport officers molested two Iranian boys in Jeddah, fueling public outrage. Also, Saudi negligence was to blame for the stampede during the recent hajj, which left 464 Iranian pilgrims dead. Moreover, for days, Saudi authorities refused to respond to requests from grieving families and the Iranian government to access and repatriate the bodies. […]”

“Iran has no desire to escalate tension in the region. We need unity to confront the threats posed by extremists. Ever since the first days after his election, the president and I have indicated publicly and privately our readiness to engage in dialogue, promote stability and combat destabilizing extremism. This has fallen on deaf ears in Saudi Arabia.”


_ Nine Shia militia, Hashid Shaabi, members were killed by friendly fire near Tikrit when “an Iraqi army aviation drone opened fire due to mistaken coordinates.” This is how it was reported by Iraqi “joint police and military operations command in Salahuddin province.” The Shia militia blamed the incident on the US coalition in a statement saying “The American coalition renewed its attacks on the Hashid Shaabi resistance factions when an American drone bombed the headquarters of Kataib Jund al-Islam at Camp Speicher.” The US coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren said denied that any coalition aircraft were responsible. “‘It was Iraqi for sure,’ he said by phone.” Iranian state associated news agency FARS also reported the Shia militia version of the story.

Changes in US Military Command

_ Stars and Stripes says that a lot of military command changes are in the works. “the Army’s two most senior special operations officers, Gen. Joseph Votel and Lt. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, are the Pentagon’s new picks to lead two of its most influential four-star headquarters.”


Russian documentary on World Order

_ Gilbert Doctorow says that the  written about the new Russian documentary film titled “World Order” is a “wake-up call to avert nuclear war” . The documentary was published online (Russian version on YouTube — 1.5 million views since Dec. 20 and English subtitled version on LiveLeak ).  An abstract/intro of the article on EastWestAccord (Site run by Stephen Cohen, Bill Bradley, Gilbert Doctorow, Jack Matlock, et al) is as follows:

The first, by ACEWA Board Member and European Coordinator Gilbert Doctorow notes that the film “illustrates through graphic footage and the testimony of independent world authorities the tragic consequences, the spread of chaos and misery, resulting from US-engineered regime change and color revolutions, of which the violent overthrow of the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine in February 2014 is only the latest example.”

_ Stephen Cohen’s latest radio interview with John Batchelor “World Disorder in the New Year: Civil, terrorist, and trade wars are now destabilizing the international order, abetted by the US-Russian Cold War”

Cohen points out that the Cold War that erupted two years ago has now spread from Ukraine and Europe to Syria and Turkey. The old order is dying, but a new one is not yet clear.

Saudi Arabia

_ Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq and the bolstering of the governments of “Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Bahrain” are costing $12-14 billion per month, “a pace that will wipe out those reserves in less than three years.”  There is a “much higher degree of mobilization and violent confrontation among the Saudi Shiites than most realize.” They are openly admitting that “they can no longer control the oil market because there are too many other sources and all of the OPEC countries cheat like crazy whenever Riyadh tries to orchestrate a production cut.”

_ Bill Law at The Independent asks if Prince Reckless is “The most dangerous man in the world?” “Saudi Arabia’s defence minister is aggressive and ambitious – and his enemies within and without are in his sights”.


_The “Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001… To make matters worse, the Islamic State has also steadily expanded its presence in Afghanistan, battling it out with the Taliban in the country’s east”.

_ By Thomas Ricks, “‘Red Team’: A tale of how a general didn’t listen to internal criticism in Afghanistan


_ In a TV interview Houthi spokesman said so far they have had three indirect meetings with US officials, was lashing out at United States, said they would not resume UN talks until Saudi “Operation Restore Hope” stops bombing, that Russia is not playing the role they had hoped for, and they plan to visit Beijing in the coming days.

_ MSF/Doctors Without Borders reports that for the third time in three months, one of their health facilities in Yemen has been bombed. Haydan, Taiz, now Razeh.

North Korea

_ Sending the “we can annihilate you any time” message, I guess.


Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

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