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Battles in Idlib and Aleppo May Trump Peace Talks in Syria

Next Cold War Roundup 1/18/16

Iran Sanctions Lifted, Prisoners Swapped, US Treasury Slapped New Ballistic Program Sanctions


_ #JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) criteria were met and verified by IAEA. Meeting and pressers in Vienna all day, evening on Saturday. Around 4:15pm Eastern (10:15pm in Vienna) Federica Mogherini and Javad Zarif announced the sanctions were lifted. John Kerry “hereby confirmed” via State Dept communique that ” that Iran has fully implemented its required commitments.”  Now that sanctions are lifted Iran can “resume selling oil on international markets and using the global financial system for trade.” Some $100 billion in frozen assets overseas are also released.

_ Implementation of Iran deal includes prisoner swap. Reza Marashi frmo National Iranian American Council says the US-Iran prisoner swap is “yet another victory for diplomacy and human rights.”  Trita Parsi, also from NIA Council said it’s worth noting “these kind of prisoner swaps tend to happen b/w states who are putting conflict behind them and are in process of making peace.

_ Immediately after the last American prisoner was released, US Treasury slapped more sanctions on Iran. “The United States imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for supplying  Irans’s ballistic missile program, the U.S. Treasury Department said.”

MLK “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” April 4, 1967



Preparation for Syria Peace Talks

_ Kerry and Lavrov will meet in Zurich this week in preparation for resumption of peace talks on Jan. 25 and then will go to the Davos forum to “consult with world leaders from government and business.” They are expected to finalize the list of non-terrorist Syrian opposition groups who can participate by Jan. 20. Some Syrian opposition groups are saying they won’t take part in peace talks unless sieges are lifted and humanitarian groups have full access to all in Syria who need it. UN envoy de Mistura says the talks will go forward.  Riad Hijab, a former Syrian government official who is acting as coordinator for the Saudi “Supreme Commission for Negotiations” met with UAE foreign minister on Saturday.

Massacre in Deir Ezzor

_ “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State fighters killed at least 35 Syrian soldiers and pro-government forces in an attack on several areas in the city of Deir Ez-Zor (Deir Ezzor) on Saturday.”  Half of Deir Ez-Zor is held by the Syrian army and the entire city has been under siege by ISIS for more than a year. Other pro-Syrian media report 28 government troops killed.  The attack involved “tens of ISIS suicide bombers” who ” rushed across the Euphrates river by boat as to overwhelm local Syrian Army defenders” while other fighters attacked from another direction. There were further reports of hundreds of civilians executed by ISIS in Deir Ez-Zor because of their suspected allegiance to the Syrian army.

_ The reports of Deir Ezzor casualties and abductions vary. AFP reports 400 civilian abductions. The BBC later reported that “Syrian rebel activists have disputed accounts of mass casualties and abductions” but they do not identify their sources. Al Rai’s correspondent, Magnier, reports 135 killed and 400 abducted and says ISIS took advantage of weather conditions.


Syrian Army Gains on Turkmen Mountain, Closing in on Border Crossing

_ Al-Masdar News reports on Sunday the Syrian army and allies took two mountaintops, Jabal Kazbar and Jabal Al-Sindiyan, in the Turkmen Mountains near the strategic town of Al-Rabi’yah (Rabia) after a battle with al Nusra and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The “Syrian Army is very close to sealing off the entire Turkish border with the Latakia Governorate.”

Battles in Idlib and Aleppo May Trump Peace Talks in Syria

_ While progress is made toward peace talks, they may end up being a a “sideshow” as facts on the ground are created by the Syrian army with its local allied forces and the R4+1 coalition, including Russian artillery and air force. Al Monitor’s Week in Review says the “real trend” is the progress they are making in retaking territory from ISIS, al Nusra and other opposition groups where “the battle for Aleppo could determine Syria’s fate.”  Also, the mostly Sunni Aleppo “was sold a sectarian bill of goods by the opposition” and didn’t have as big a gripe with the Assad government from the start, which could be a good predictor on its residents actions and loyalties going foward.

Who is winning on the battlefield matters more than who fills the chairs in Vienna or Geneva, although this is not to disparage the many positive contributions the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) can and will make to help Syria’s transition. But the Syrian endgame is more likely to be found in Aleppo rather than in well-intentioned ISSG meetings in European cities.

_ These facts on the ground could explain David Ignatius’ column last week about how the US might have to ally with Russia in Syria after all. Kurdish news media reports preparation for the “major offensive against Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.”  Ret. Col Lang of US special forces and military intelligence suggests many opposition fighters will flee to Turkey or switch sides and there has been evidence of this in recent battles in strongholds like Salma. Russian (and German) military strategists are known for their “cauldron” techniques which are apparent on Syrian battle maps which could make escape complicated for the opposition fighters.

Airdrop Humanitarian Aid in Deir Ezzor

_ Just before the latest ISIS attack, Russia and Syria airdropped 22 tons of humanitarian aid to a city besieged by ISIS in east/central Syria.



_ Reports of Turkey bombing Christian village Kashan in Iraq, near Turkish border Saturday night. PKK nearby. ” Mass panic, families fleeing.”

_ US anti-ISIL coalition continues to assist in clearing Ramadi



_ “Congress Has Removed a Ban on Funding Neo-Nazis From Its Year-End Spending Bill


_ “Arms race in the Balkans

_ “German-Polish relations are in free fall


_ There is a lot of talk about ISIS, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups moving to Libya as they are forced out of Syria and there is evidence on the ground.

_ “Benghazi and American Covert Operations in Libya Three Years Later” What was the catalyst for the attack on the consulate in Benghazi? Covert operations run out of the White House by John Brennan and Tom Donilon, says Jack Murphy of SOFREP, who also wrote an ebook on the subject, after his friend was killed in the attack.  Their covert ops and a failed assassination attempt stirred the hornet’s nest and they failed to warn the consulate of the resulting danger.

_ “Former CIA chief in Benghazi challenges the story line of the new movie ’13 Hours’

_ Even after Joint Chiefs and SecDef advised against NATO “intervention” in Libya as serving no US interests, Obama sided with Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. Later, AFRICOM’s Gen. Ham had a proposal to keep Libya’s military intact and avoid destabilization of the country which was also refused.

The [Joint Chiefs of Staff] warned that overthrowing the Gadhafi regime would serve no U.S. security interest, but would instead open the way for forces aligned with al-Qaida to take over the country. After the Obama administration went ahead with a NATO air assault against the Gadhafi regime, the U.S. military sought to head off the destruction of the entire Libyan government. General Carter Ham, the commander of AFRICOM, the U.S. regional command for Africa, gave the State Department a proposal for a ceasefire to which Gadhafi had agreed. It would have resulted in Gadhafi’s resignation but retain the Libyan military’s capacity to hold off jihadist forces and rescind the sanctions against Gadhafi’s family.


_ “China Is On A Collision Course with ISIS

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

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