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Ceasefires, Christmas Bombs and “Diplomatic Offensives”

In today’s Next Cold War round-up: Ceasefire between Syrian coalition and rebels. Peace talks in Kazakhstan. US may join after Obama. US-led coalition Christmas bombs on Syria and Iraq. Damascus water supply poisoned. Ukraine oligarch wants compromise. Realist/globalist Henry Kissinger ‘s”diplomatic offensive” with Russia. Turkey and Iraq struggle with ISIS terrorist attacks and blowback.


 Turkey: ISIS Shooter Attacks Night Club on the Bosphorous

_ An ISIS militant, who reportedly came to Turkey from Syria, shot civilians who were at one of Istanbul’s most elite night clubs for New Year’s celebrations, killing 39 people from 14 different countries with an automatic weapon, and injuring even more. About 180 bullets were fired during the 7 minute attack. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. The attacker was able to hide and escape the club and remains at large but his wife and others have been detained. The Reina club was popular among tourists and Istanbul’s elite and is situated on the scenic Bosphorous. The latest attack is causing further polarization among political foes in Turkey. The Turkish military is currently fighting ISIS in northern Syria, along the Turkish border, after having facilitated their transport and supply during the Syrian war for some years.

Iraq: ISIS Attacks in Baghdad

_ 29 people were killed by 3 bomb attacks across Baghdad on Saturday.  ISIS claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack targeting Shiite Muslims in Sadr City. The bomber was pretending to hire workers and then detonated the bomb as people wanting to be hired crowded around him. 36 people were killed and dozens wounded.

Syria: Ceasefire Deal

_ On Thursday, Russian president Putin announced a ceasefire deal for Syria. (video) 3 documents were signed. 7 major opposition groups agreed to the ceasefire which will begin on Friday, Dec. 30 and the guarantors for the ceasefire are Turkey and Russia.

_ Some “early clashes” occurred shortly after the ceasefire went into effect, with some fighting reported near the Idlib-Homs border, according to Reuters, who spoke to a “rebel official” and monitors. There is some confusion about which rebel groups have accepted the ceasefire deal. Ahrar al-Sham said it had some reservations. The Russian defense ministry published a list of rebel groups who had signed on.

_ The pro-rebel, UK-based monitoring group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that rebels violated the ceasefire and overtook some territory in Hama, and a rebel leader said Syrian forces shelled villages in Idlib, which may be under the control of al Nusra, the al Qaeda jihadi group which is not covered by the ceasefire.

Syria: Reuters Reports Deal for Dividing Syria Into Zones of Influence

_ Reuters’ sources say that Russia, Turkey, and Iran, with Russia in the lead, have a deal in mind for Syria which would create a federated structure with zones of influence. Assad would stay until the next election and another “less polarizing” Alawite would take his place. Iran might be the biggest stumbling block. Syria and the three regional powers would begin peace talks in Kazakhstan in early 2017 and the Syrian opposition would participate. The US, Gulf States and EU would be brought into the talks later.  Reuters made no mention of the Kurds in the talks but did mention that Turkey wants to control a buffer zone in northern Syria along their border.

Reuters: “Syria would be divided into informal zones of regional power influence and Bashar al-Assad would remain president for at least a few years under an outline deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, sources say. […] would allow regional autonomy within a federal structure controlled by Assad’s Alawite sect, is in its infancy.”

_ Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that the US could join the peace process after President-Elect Trump takes office on Jan. 20. Relations between the Putin administration and the Obama administration are at a record low, as Obama just imposed more sanctions on Russia and kicked 35 diplomats/intelligence officers out of the United States, seized waterfront estates from the Russian embassy, and threatened cyberattacks in retaliation for alleged Russian hacks related to the 2016 presidential election. Lavrov also wants Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Nations to join in the talks.

Syria: Interview With Free Syrian Army Officer

_ Hayder al-Khoei, research director at Shia Research in London, provided translations of some shocking quotes from a video interview with Free Syrian Army (FSA) Colonel Zakaria, about the rebel groups in Syria.

Zakarai (via al-Khoei): “incompetent, violent rebels killed more Syrians than Assad regime. Biggest mistake was entering Aleppo.”

FSA Col. Zakaria: Syrian opposition side-lined 5000+ defected army officers and handed security positions to carpenters and blacksmiths.”

FSA Col. Zakaria: unfortunately not a single bullet is fired in Syria without orders. Kasim: foreign orders? Zakaria: yes, foreign orders.”

FSA Col. Zakaria: Syrians used to fear the mukhabarat but now they fear so-called revolutionaries. We have more factions than fighters.”

FSA Col. Zakaria: Rebel operation rooms are where thieves meet up to divide the wealth, fire a few bullets & then send young men off to die.”

Syria: Photos and Comments by Photo Journalist & Peace Activist in East & West Aleppo

_ Jan Oberg, a photo journalist, conflicts reporter and peace activist spent 10 days in Syria, 4 in East and West Aleppo, taking photos and talking to people. He has documented that trip and has a lot to say about the contrast in Western media reporting vs. the reality he saw.

Syria: Saudis & Qatar Believed US Would Overthrow Assad for Them

_ Patrick Cockburn: “Getting the US to overthrow Assad was at the heart of the Syrian opposition’s [and their foreign backers, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar] policy since 2011, when they believed they could orchestrate regime change in Damascus along the lines of what had just happened in Tripoli with the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gaddafi.” But the Obama administration “very careful not to be dragged into a war in Syria to serve somebody else’s agenda.” Obama’s critics claim that the US is a “fading power” in the Middle East and Cockburn says this isn’t true, he just wasn’t willing to oppose Russia militarily in order to change the outcome in Syria.

Syria and Iraq: Christmas Bombs

_ “Over the Christmas weekend, members squadron were flying strikes against Islamic State from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates […] Many pilots wore a traditional red ‘Santa’ hat while flying on Christmas Day.”

Syria: Water Crisis in Damascus

_ The water crisis we reported on in our last roundup may have been the result of an errant airstrike. There are still claims about rebel sabotage of the water supply but there is also video of an alleged airstrike on a water facility in Ain Al Fijah.

_ RT’s Lizzie Phelan says that Western media has been blaming the Syrian government but “there is evidence that rebels are behind the water crisis, with renewed video threats.” A leaked UN memo shows that citizens of Damascus are very fearful. The reservoir at “Ein al Fija spring’s water pumping station” may have been contaminated with not just diesel but other poisons.

Turkey: US Embassy Denies Arming Syrian Kurds YPG

_ In an official statement from the US embassy in Turkey on Dec. 28, the US creating for supporting ISIS. They also denied arming and supporting the Syrian Kurds (YPG) who are their primary partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and that part of the statement is very difficult to understand because it is an obvious falsehood.  US special operations forces are arming, training and assisting the YPG Kurdish forces in Syria and US commanders have been very public about this.

US Embassy & Consulates in Turkey: “The United States government is not supporting DAESH. The USG did not create or support DAESH in the past. Assertions the United States government is supporting DAESH are not true.

“The United States government has not provided weapons or explosives to the YPG or the PKK – period. We repeatedly have condemned PKK terrorist attacks and the group’s reprehensible violence in Turkey.”

Iraq: US Uses ISIS as Means for Permanent Intervention

_ In an interview titled “Aleppo, Mosul, and the US Strategy of Permanent War,” Sabah Alnasseri, an Iraqi born in Basra who now teaches at York University in Toronto, says the US is not serious about fighting ISIS. ISIS is a means for permanent intervention in Iraq and Syria.  Aleppo was a serious war against terrorism, but Mosul is not, according to Alnasseri. Mosul will be a “protracted war of attrition for a long time to come” if led by the US. Whereas Syria, Iran, and Russia have a clear agenda of supporting the Assad government in Syrian and the Shia government in Iraq and are fighting ISIS in Syria. Iran and Iraq are fighting ISIS in Iraq. The US has a mixed agenda in Iraq and Syria, and really wants a justification for permanent war.

Iraq: Oil Companies Pull Out of Kurdistan

_ Al Monitor reports that Exxon Mobil has “pulled out of three of the six exploration blocks it operated in the Kurdistan region”  in Sulaimaniyah province. A Kurdish politician said it was related to production issues, not politics. Chevron, Exxon Mobil and other international oil companies have “relinquished interest” in 19 exploration blocks in Kurdistan. Exxon Mobil is still operating in other areas of the region.


Russia: New Sanctions From Obama

_ The Obama administration announced the new sanctions and other measures to punish Russia for its alleged hacking.

_ The New York Times editorial board published an editorial: “President Obama Punishes Russia, at Last.” They said it was probably too little too late, but “there should be no doubt about the correctness of President Obama’s decision to retaliate against Russia for hacking American computers and trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.” The editorial, which really reads like something written by outgoing CIA director John Brennan, expresses its grievance, multiple times, with President-elect Trump and his “stubborn refusal to accept the conclusion of American intelligence agencies.” The truth of the matter is, there is a lot of doubt about all of it.

_ The Russian foreign ministry responded harshly to the sanctions and said retaliatory action by Russia would follow. But the next day, Putin decided to abstain.

Putin’s statement: “We regard the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing US administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-US relationship. This runs contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people.  […] Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration. […] We will not expel anyone. We will not prevent their families and children from using their traditional leisure sites during the New Year’s holidays. Moreover, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin. […] “

_ A US State Dept. said, (via AP’s Matt Lee): “We have seen President Putin’s remarks. We have nothing further to add.”

_ Some members of the foreign policy establishment found Putin’s response to be damaging. Michael Kofman, a Russian and Eurasian affairs specialist said:

Kofman: “This is frankly the most damaging and embarrassing answer the US could receive […] It’s quite clear that both the Obama administration and Congress are trying to box Donald Trump in on Russia policy. But instead of responding to this latest salvo with predictable retaliatory measures, Russians have chosen to make them a nonissue.”


_ For the 2nd year, German prime minister Angela Merkel turned down an invitation to Davos Economic Forum.

_ The 33rd Chaos Convention of 12,000 hackers met in Hamburg and discussed civil liberties, encryption, and FBI surveillance.

Crimea and Ukraine

_ A Ukraine oligarch with close ties to the Clintons and the West, Viktor Pinchuk, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying that Ukraine must make painful compromises and should not let Crimea get in the way of a deal to end the war. Pinchuk said Ukrainians are worried about the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and the anti-establishment sentiment in Europe that may “usher in leaders who will want to make a deal with the Kremlin.” Pinchuk recommends:

  • Temporarily eliminate EU membership and instead become a “privileged partner”
  • Rebuild Ukraine and make it a place that Crimea wants to rejoin later, like East Germany wanted to rejoin West Germany
  • Accept local elections in Eastern Ukraine to achieve “peaceful reunification.”
  • Do not join NATO “and accept neutrality as our near-term vision for the future.”
  • Accept an “incremental rollback of sanctions on Russia.”

_ Kyiv Post reported that Pinchuk received harsh criticism for his proposal to “give away Crimea and medium-term hopes of NATO and European Union membership.”

_ As part of an huge ongoing project to connect Crimea to the Russian mainland via road-rail bridges and pipelines that supply it with electricity and gas, allow transit across the Kerch Strait, and make it independent from Ukraine, the gas pipelines were completed in late December.

Russia: Detente or War? The Role of Kissinger and Ukraine Oligarchs

_ Former FBI agent Colleen Rowley told the Real News that she has heard that “Kissinger is working on a détente agreement with Russia that would solve these conflicts that have occurred in Ukraine and Crimea.” She also said that there is an “unholy alliance” of Democrats and Republicans who want war with Russia: “[…] people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who have wanted to bomb Iran and have wanted… actually suggested war with Russia. And so they want to ratchet up a Cold War and actually in hopes of getting a Hot War, so those warmongers are aligned with the Democrats who want to blame the loss of the election on the Russians.”

_ Politico Europe also reported that Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy “realist,” might be “preparing a diplomatic offensive” for a new “reset” with Russia. Ukraine oligarch Viktor Pinchuk’s Wall Street Journal op-ed included a warning to so called realists, that Ukraine would still fight for ” free, democratic, tolerant and fair country.”

_ Kissinger is a realist but also a globalist. In February he said:

“The long-term interests of both countries call for a world that transforms the contemporary turbulence and flux into a new equilibrium which is increasingly multi-polar and globalized […] Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States.”

_ Both Kissinger and Pinchuk have had close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.


US: Most Carrier Groups are in Home Port or Heading Home

_ A Southfront map shows that most US aircraft carrier groups are back home for the holidays, and there are no carriers in the Middle East, which was noted by a NY Times correspondent in Tehran. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is still in the Mediterranean but currently in the western Med and on its way back to Norfolk. The USS George H.W. Bush will deploy to take its place. The USS Ronald Reagan is based in Japan.


Trump’s Policy on African Continent

_ Joseph Warungu told the BBC that though Trump’s critics claim his apparent isolationism might result in “less attention” paid to Africa, that “could just force Africans to find solutions from within, by strengthening our institutions, improving infrastructure, governance and security and trading more amongst ourselves.” Notably, Libya’s Gaddafi had similar goals for more independence and a strong pan-Africa.

African Union Commission

_ The African Union Commission will appoint a new chairperson in January. “Three men and two women from Botswana, Kenya, Chad, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea” are competing for the position.

Darfur, Sudan

_ In Darfur, “gunmen in military uniforms” shot and killed 8 people, mostly women, in their homes, and injured 60, in an area “where sporadic clashes between the army and rebels have continued despite a government-announced unilateral ceasefire.” The incident may have been a revenge attack after a soldier from the army was found dead.


_ The UN-appointed government in Libya, the “GNA,” has ” largely failed to exert its authority over a country that slid into lawlessness after the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.” Musa al-Koni, the deputy leader of the GNA has resigned, and “casts doubt on the future of the government in its current form.”

Analysis & Opinion

_ Gareth Porter at Middle East Eye writes that Obama’s real mistake in his Syria strategy wasn’t that he didn’t provide enough support or a big enough military intervention, but that he decided to “go along with the ambitions of America’s Sunni allies to create and arm a Syrian opposition army to overthrow the regime in the first place.” Porter has a “former official” anonymous source who told him that “national security officials” began urging Obama to call for Assad to step down in August, 2011, and the Turks, Saudis and Qataris pressured him to provide sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition.

_ They believed that the fall of Syrian president Assad was “inevitable” and did not anticipate the direct intervention of Iran and Russia. “Obama’s advisers ‘didn’t have a clue’ about Iran’s overriding national security interest in preventing Assad’s overthrow.”  Later, in 2013, after Iran and Hezbollah had intervened, “Secretary of State John Kerry put strong pressure on Obama to use military force against the Assad regime.”

_ Obama wasn’t willing to do that but he was willing to approve a plan by then CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus, to “to help move the small arms from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi to Turkey.”  So Porter’s source confirms the story that was written by Seymour Hersh in 2014 (“The Red Line and the Rat Line“) and what retired Gen. Michael Flynn told Hersh and later told the New York Times in 2015. The DIA and DoD officials had been “loudly warning” the White House that the Syrian opposition was led by jihadists from the start. Flynn told Hersh that if the American public knew that, they’d “go ballistic.” Brad Hoff’s article, “Declassifying the Syrian Jihad: CIA vs. the Pentagon,” provides a good analysis of it all.

_ Josh Barro at Business Insider makes a New Year’s resolution for the establishment elite here in the US and around the world: “A resolution for the establishment in 2017: No more no-choice politics.”

_ Eric Margolis, in his article “Another 50 Years of Mideast Strife,” says that Trump doesn’t know much about the Middle East and “will rely on a tight circle of extreme Zionists he has named to deal with the issue.” Peace doesn’t seem to be in the offing, nor does a 2-state solution, says Margolis, unless it happens “by somehow using his cohorts of Greater Israel expansionists.” The Israeli “hardline far right” are “bent on further expanding Israel’s ‘temporary’ borders into parts of Syria” and some “ultra-Zionists even talk about Iraq’s oil in Kurdistan.” Margolis believes that a new apartheid state is being born.

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

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