Turkey’s nefarious role in Syria

In shooting down a Russian jet operating over Syria, claiming it had encroached Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings, Turkey has upped the stakes in the Syrian conflict with the world now waiting for Russia’s response.

It also begs the wider question of Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict. Here the evidence it has played a nefarious part in supporting ISIS and other groups fighting the Assad government is compelling.

In the aftermath of a recent spate of ISIS atrocities – first the downing of the Russian passenger plane, Kolavia Flight 7K9268, over the Sinai at the end of October, killing all 224 on board, followed by the killing of 43 civilians in Beirut in a suicide bomb attack, and most recently the slaughter of 130 people in Paris in multiple suicide bombings and shootings – we now know who is serious about confronting this medieval death cult and who is not.

More, we are starting to uncover those who speak the language of anti-terrorism while in practice working to facilitate and support it.

Turkey is a key culprit in this regard. A murky relationship has long existed between Ankara, ISIS, Nusra, and other jihadi groups operating in Syria. Indeed, on the most basic level, without their ability to pass back and forth across the Turkish border at will, those groups could not have operated as easily and effectively as they had been for the past few years.

However, according to a recent report by David L Phillips of Columbia University, Turkey’s support for extremist groups operating in Syria, including ISIS, has been even more extensive than previously thought. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, Phillips reveals that the Turkish government, a member of NATO and key Western ally, has been involved in helping ISIS with recruitment, training, and has provided it with intelligence and safe havens and sanctuary. As far back as 2014 the US Treasury exposed Turkey as a major customer for stolen Syrian oil, supplied by the terrorist group.

Perhaps the most damning evidence contained in the report when it comes to Turkey’s role, is in relation to its actions and inaction when it came to the siege of the Kurdish town of Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border in September and October of 2014.

As Phillips reveals: “Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: ‘Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is ISIS strong only in Kobane’s east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the ISIS.’ In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobani, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes ISIS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey.”

The world will never forget how, during the siege of Kobane, as its Kurdish defenders mounted a heroic defense of the town against thousands of ISIS fighters, armed with tanks and artillery, Turkish tanks and troops sat just over the border and did nothing to intervene.

Likewise, no one will forget that earlier this year Turkey carried out airstrikes against those same Kurdish volunteers of the PKK/YPG within Syria, while depicting them as terrorists. Turkey’s oppression of its Kurdish minority going back many years is of course a matter of record.

President Erdogan and his government has undeniably played a primary role in the destabilisation of Syria, doing its utmost to foment regime change. In fact, along with the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies, before Russia’s intervention Turkey was hovering over Syria as a vulture hovers over a dying animal, waiting for it to perish before descending to feed on its carcass.

The fact that Turkey remains a close Western ally exposes the moral high ground from which Washington and its allies have lectured Russia over its role in Syria as nothing more than a dung-heap of hypocrisy.

If the West was serious about confronting terrorism, was serious about returning stability to a region it has helped to set on fire, it would reconsider its ties to both Turkey and the Saudis, which between them have been wading in the river of blood they have helped shed in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s claim that the Russian military aircraft it shot down had encroached on its airspace and ignored multiple warnings should be treated with the credibility it deserves, especially when we recall that prior to Russia’s participation in the conflict, Turkey’s violation of Syrian airspace and the Syrian border was happening on a regular basis.

With Russia’s presence in Syria putting paid to Erdogan’s objective of regime change, we begin to discern Turkey’s efforts to enlist the support of NATO in putting pressure on Russia to desist. It also helps to explain why the West continues to refuse President Putin’s call for cooperation and unity in the effort to eradicate ISIS and other extremist groups massacring and slaughtering their way across the country, with the intention of turning it into a mass grave.

After the mass murder of Russian, Lebanese, and French civilians by ISIS, the grounds for refusing to enter such an alliance are as indefensible as Turkey’s role in the conflict and its most recent action in shooting down a Russian aircraft.

As the man said: ‘Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.’





Paris horror as ISIS/Daesh opens a new front in its war against civilisation

The intimitable horror of the attacks we have just seen in southern Beirut and Paris follow in rapid succession the downing of the Russian passenger aircraft over the Sinai, which even though the Russian authorities are yet to conclude their investigation into this event and provide confirmation of what most of the world already believes – namely that the aircraft was destroyed by a bomb smuggled on board – is iikely to have also been connected to the conflict in Syria and Iraq against ISIS/Daesh.

I have already written an in-depth piece on the Paris atrocity and its political fallout, which can be found at Counterpunch here.

The point of this article is to explore the strategy being pursued in broadening the war out of theatre, so to speak, by ISIS/Daesh. Patrick Cockburn identified it in relation to the targeting of the Russia aircraft in a recent article at The Independent. In the article Cockburn suggests that the attack on the Russian airliner is evidence that Russia’s air campaign in Syria is having a significant impact, causing them damage and degrading their ability to operate.

With this in mind, it is no coincidence that southern Beirut was targeted, what with Hezbollah’s key role in the ground war, while Paris was attacked due to France’s role in conducting airstrikes against ISIS/Daesh in Syria but primarily Iraq.

These horrific attacks, carried out one after the other against these specific countries and/or communities, offer compelling evidence that ISIS/Daesh is being defeated in Syria and in Iraq, and is attempting to bring the war home to the civilian populations of said countries and communities with the intention of turning them against their government or organisation’s continued participation in it. It reveals desperation on the part of an organisation which this time a year ago appeared well-nigh invincible as it swept forward in convoys across a vast exapanse of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Not now. Now they appear far from invincible; and with the SAA, Hezbollah, and NDF retaking territory in western Syria as part of a major offensive to clear the last pockets of resistance and thereby secure Damascasus, the Russian aribase in Latakia, and the country’s population centres – and with the Peshmerga, combined with Yazidis and other anti-ISIS forces, managing to retake the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq this past week – a point of critical mass appoaches for the first time in five long bloodsoaked years when it comes to the Syrian conflict and its echo in northern Iraq.

French President Francois Hollande spoke movingly in response to the horror that erupted in the French capital. However in describing, understandably, the attack as an act of war and pledging that France’s military involvement in the struggle against ISIS will continue, there are grounds for concern. Hopefully the French Government and its British and US counterparts are now waking up to the incontrovertible fact that unless they ally their efforts against ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaeda to those of Russia, Syria, and Iran, the absurdity of a status quo which has only prolonged the conflict, will continue to reap the lack of results it has up to now.

France has the added challenge of being home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, which stands at around 5 million strong. When it comes to youth unemployment, crime, health, and income in its Muslim community is suffering more than any other demographic, pointing to a failure of assimilation. This has had a deleterious impact on social relations in France over some years now, which has manifested in a rising tide of resentment within the French Muslim community on the one hand, particularly among young Muslims, and the entrenchment of Islamophobia throughout French society on the other.

Its political manifestation is reflected in the increase we have seen in support for the controversial Marine Le Pen’s extreme right National Front, while culturaly fames French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s latest bestseller – which in grotesque irony was published on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January – stirred up a lot of controversy both within and without France and became an instant bestseller. Submission sets out a future scenario in which a devout Muslim, with the aid of the country’s Socialist Party, becomes prime minister of France and sets about imposing Sharia law. That such a novel could be so widely praised and critically acclaimed in France is no fluke. Houellebecq’s reactionary views are far from marginal and have deep historical and cultural roots as a result of France’s egregious colonial history, in particular with regard to Morocco and Algeria. Of the country’s Muslim population the vast majority are of Algerian and Moroccan descent.

The point is that not only in France but throughout Europe, Muslims will now again find themselves under pressure within countries where their presence is, for the most part, tolerated rather than welcomed, with things likely to get ugly going forward.

The struggle against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria has for some time been a non negotiable condition of returning something resembling stability to the Middle East and eradicating one of the most potent threat to civilians, particularly minorities, there and throughout the region in decades. Now, with this spate of attacks in Paris, it is also the most potent threat to civilians in Europe we have seen in many years. The campaign to eradicate it must continue on that basis. With Russia’s intervention proving a significant factor in this regard, the days of this cancer as physical presence in both countries are surely now numbered. The ideology that underpins them, however, is another matter.

Eradicating this will take far, far longer, and presents even more of a challenge. Muslims and Islam is not and has never been the enemy of people in the West. Our enemy has and continues to be the hypocrisy of Western governments that have destabilised the Middle East over many years of hubristic-driven wars, occupations, and support for regional actors, such as Saudi Arabia, where this poison resides and is given the legitimacy of a state religion. If now is not the time to reappraise our role in this part of the world and change it so that it resembles something approximating to coherence – when?

Tim Roache elected General Secretary of GMB

Tim Roache

The independent scrutineer Electoral Reform Services have advised of their certified result of the Election of General Secretary & Treasurer 2015:

McCARTHY, Paul              11,454

ROACHE, Tim John          15,034

Tim John ROACHE has been duly elected as General Secretary & Treasurer.

This is a fantastic result.

Tim will build on the success of the Kenny era, and the large margin of victory gives him a clear mandate from the members.

Stop the War, Peter Tatchell, and the malign legacy of Western liberalism

You have to feel for the Stop the War Coalition. Back in June I attended one of their conferences in London, where during one of the plenary meetings a few people voiced criticism from the floor over the organisation’s refusal to come down squarely on the side of Assad in the Syrian conflict. I have long expressed sympathy with this position, based on the concrete reality that if Assad falls Syria’s state institutions will fall, its army will disintegrate, and the country will descend into an abyss of bestial violence that would make the status quo seem like child’s play by comparison.

However I also understand that Stop the War is a coalition of disparate views on the particulars of the various conflicts that have scarred and continue to scar our world, and that therefore its focus has by necessity to remain on building consensus on the fundamental issue of opposing British military intervention in those conflicts. Without exception this military intervention has only succeeded in feeding and breeding instability and human suffering, rather than ending it.

Now STW find themselves under attack from voices accusing it of failing to take a stand against Assad and the Syrian government. A recent STW public meeting on Syria, held in the House of Commons, was loudly interrupted from the floor by Syrians opposed to Assad, and by Peter Tatchell, in what Stop the War describes on its website as an “organised disruption”. Afterwards, Tatchell shared his account of the experience on social media, accusing STW of refusing to allow those Syrians the right to speak, a claim the organisers of the meeting deny, before going on to denounce the organisation in withering terms. The story was subsequently picked up by the BBC.

I have had my share of differences with the Stop the War Coalition over the years, but I have no hesitation in crediting them with maintaining a principled opposition to wars and conflicts unleashed in the name of a status quo of injustice and might is right. Its organisers and activists have given over a decade’s service to exposing the hypocrisy and subterfuge employed to defend the indefensible, and consequently I feel duty bound to defend them now.

Peter Tatchell on the other hand is a classic example of the Western liberal whose conception of the world is akin to that of a child let loose with crayons on a blank sheet of paper, allowing said crayons to go wherever they please with no thought of the mess being made or lack of coherence being wrought.

Worse, he and his co-thinkers continue their slavish attachment to the wondrous virtues of ‘humanitarian intervention’, despite the history of the catastrophic consequences of this very concept in practice. Afghanistan is a failed state. Iraq is a failed state. Libya is a failed state. How many failed states must litter the globe, particularly the Middle East, before the penny drops? The mindset involved in continuing down this path regardless of the result is indistinguishable from the one described by Samuel Beckett, when he wrote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’

However in the case of Syria, as with Iraq and Libya before it, we are not talking about drawing pictures with crayons. We are instead talking about the fate of a nation and society that is engaged in an existential struggle for its very survival. Failure in such a scenario is not an option. It begs the question of whether people such as Peter Tatchell really care about Syria and the Syrian people, as they claim, or if on the contrary Syria is merely the latest in a catalogue of convenient excuses for promoting the cultural imperialism that resides deep in their hearts?

Moreover, do they stop for a moment to consider that millions of Syrians support Assad and the Syrian government? Are the views of those Syrians less worthy or legitimate than those of the Syrians opposed to Assad? Do they consider that those who do not share the view that Assad should be overthrown are not motivated by the belief that he is a benevolent leader, but rather that his government is all that currently stands between Syria’s survival as a secular state in which the rights of its minorities are protected, and it being turned into a mass grave by the modern incarnation of the Khmer Rouge?

The role of exiles, dissidents, and victims of abuse by governments across the Middle East in making the case for the West’s military interventions is nothing new. It follows a script written in the run up to previous wars, most recently Iraq and Libya, in which our bombs, missiles, and/or troops have been deployed and without exception sown disaster in the process.

But no matter, for the Western liberal one Arab country is as disposable as the next, with all that matters in their reductionist purview something they like to call ‘human rights’. In truth it is not human rights they champion but the right of the civilised, superior, and righteous West to go anywhere it pleases, bombing recalcitrant countries and lesser cultures into submission, or dictating to them how their countries and societies should be organised, blithely ignoring the particular and specific conditions out of which said countries and societies have developed and against which they are struggling to develop. No, for the Western liberal the world with all its complexity and challenges is reduced to a giant chessboard, upon which other nations are pieces to be moved around or removed as they see fit.

Western colonialism and imperialism has for centuries relied on the intellectual and ideological cover righteous and right-on liberals have provided it under the rubric of saving peoples from ‘tyrants’, whether the people concerned wish to be saved or not. In the process democracy and human rights are words chucked around like change in a millionaire’s pocket – and rendered just as meaningless. They champion the cause of justice and democracy within states, while in truth working to crush justice and democracy between states.

Just as a crayon in the hands of an unsupervised child spells havoc in the home, moralism in the breast of a liberal spells havoc in the world.






Quentin Tarantino’s stand on the side of victims of police brutality


After taking a public stance in solidarity with the victims of lethal violence in the United States, Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is learning that free speech in the land of the free comes at a price.

The movie director recently attended a public demonstration in New York to commemorate the victims of police killings and protest against police brutality. He did so, he said, because he “stood on the side of the murdered.”

Those are undoubtedly strong words, which predictably have met with a fierce reaction in the shape of politicians, chiefs of police, and media commentators attacking him. Even more extreme has been the campaign launched by police unions across the country to boycott his movies – the latest of which, The Hateful Eight, is due for release in December.

Indeed such has been the controversy stirred up by Tarantino’s public stance and words that his own father, Tony Tarantino, has publicly distanced himself from his son’s sentiments, stating: “Cops are not murderers, they are heroes.”

However no amount of criticism of Quentin Tarantino, and no boycott campaign against his movies, can alter the fact that there is a serious and growing crisis within US law enforcement.

According to figures compiled by the website, The Counted, run by the UK Guardian newspaper, 950 people across the US have been killed by the police so far this year alone, 189 of them unarmed. Moreover, the majority of the victims, measured as a proportion of the population, have been black.

The crisis is both social and cultural in dimension. The increased militarisation of law enforcement in the US – involving the regular deployment of the kind of weaponry and equipment you would associate with a warzone – has only succeeded in feeding a macho ‘take no shit’ law enforcement culture that has long been prevalent. It underpins a ‘them or us’ outlook, one responsible for the growing polarisation between police officers and the public they are meant to be protecting and serving. Add to the mix institutional racism and mass poverty, especially within minority communities, and in the United States social cohesion is close to disintegrating completely.

Paradoxically, Quentin Tarantino was already part of the debate on the prevalence of gun violence in the US due to his movies, known for regularly portraying violence and violent characters in a flattering light, making both appear cool and sexy. However the filmmaker has always vehemently denied any connection between movies, such as his, which regularly depict gun violence and violent characters, and the real thing in wider society. In this regard he has consistently claimed that the violence in his movies is so exaggerated and outlandish, it is more akin to cartoon violence than real life.

But regardless of his movies, Quentin Tarantino is perfectly entitled to raise his voice along with others protesting the extent to which people are being gunned down by the police, and with seeming impunity. The problem, surely, is that police brutality and killings have reached the point where people feel the need to come out and protest against it. In fact it has now reached the point where people – especially minorities and from low income communities – are entitled to believe that rather than ensure their safety, police departments across America exist to intimidate, terrorize, and kill people. As Edward Snowden said: “Police officers kill more Americans than terrorism.”

One theme that comes over consistently in Tarantino’s body of work – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained, and so on – is sympathy for those on the margins of society; its criminals, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, killers, etc. It suggests an affinity with the ‘underclass’ that his critics will now seeks to exploit to denounce his appearance at an event on the side of the victims of police violence.

However, as well as diminishing the scope of the crisis, this misses the point entirely.

Quentin Tarantino is someone who has done very well in life. He is one of the world’s highest paid movie directors with millions of fans around the world. He is lauded as one of the greatest screenwriters and directors of all time, credited with creating a distinct oeuvre that has changed the nature of movie making. His work is even credited with having a marked impact on American culture, an achievement very few artists in any field can claim. As such, the filmmaker is someone who doesn’t need to expose himself to the kind of heat he has just generated in standing up against a law enforcement establishment that has circled the wagons in defense of the indefensible.

Much easier for someone in his position to instead remain ensconced in their Beverly Hills mansion, shut off from reality in a bubble of affluence and celebrity.

Instead he chose to come out and raise the profile of the victims and the communities most affected by the rising tide of police brutality in a country the world is continually being told is synonymous with liberty and freedom. This takes courage; the kind of moral courage that very few in his position possess.

Ultimately murder is murder, whether committed by someone carrying a gun and a badge, or whether by someone carrying a gun and no badge. Denying the connection between both is to deny justice to the victims of the former and their families.

The only problem with Quentin Tarantino’s stance is that there aren’t more like him. It is he, not those calling for a boycott of his movies, who is standing on the side justice in the land of the free.




Seumas Milne appointed Labour’s Head of Strategy and Communications

Labour Press

Seumas Milne has been appointed as Labour’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. Seumas joins the Labour Leader’s office on leave from the Guardian where he is a columnist and associate editor. He will take up his position on 26th October 2015.

Seumas is a former comment editor and labour editor at the Guardian. He previously worked at the Economist, is the author of books about the miners’ strike, global politics and economic policy and was for ten years an executive member of the National Union of Journalists.

The return of the Syrian Army

syrianarmy-510x272Robert Fisk


While the world still rages on at Russia’s presumption in the Middle East – to intervene in Syria instead of letting the Americans decide which dictators should survive or die – we’ve all been forgetting the one institution in that Arab land which continues to function and protect the state which Moscow has decided to preserve: the Syrian army. While Russia has been propagandising its missiles, the Syrian military, undermanned and undergunned a few months ago, has suddenly moved on to the offensive. Earlier this year, we may remember, this same army was being written off, the Bashar al-Assad government said to be reaching its final days.

We employed our own army of clichés to make the case for regime change. The Syrian army was losing ground – at Jisr al-Shugour and at Palmyra – and so we predicted that the whole Assad state had reached a “tipping point”.

Then along came Vladimir Putin with his air and missile fleets and suddenly the whole place is transformed. While we huffed and puffed that the Russians were bombing the “moderate” rebels – moderates who had earlier ceased to exist according to America’s top generals – we’ve been paying no attention to the military offensive which the Syrians themselves are now staging against the Nusra Front fighters around Aleppo and in the valley of the Orontes.

Syrian commanders are now setting the coordinates for almost every Russian air strike. They were originally giving between 200 and 400 coordinates a night. Now the figure sometimes reaches 800. Not that the Russians are going after every map reference, of course. The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan. This policy could always change, of course. No air force bombs countries without killing civilians. Nor without crossing other people’s frontiers.

But the Russians are now telling the Turks – and by logical extension, this information must go to the Americans – their flight coordinates. Even more remarkable, they have set up a hotline communications system between their base on the Syrian Mediterranean coast and the Israeli ministry of defence in Tel Aviv. More incredible still is that the Israelis – who have a habit of targeting Syrian and Iranian personnel near the Golan Heights – have suddenly disappeared from the skies. In other words, the Russians are involved in a big operation, not a one-month wonder that is going on in Syria. And it is likely to continue for quite a time.

The Syrians were originally anxious to move back into Palmyra, captured by Isis last May, but the Russians have demonstrated more interest in the Aleppo region, partly because they believe their coastal bases around Lattakia are vulnerable. The Nusra Front has fired several missiles towards Lattakia and Tartous and Moscow has no desire to have its air force targeted on the ground. But the Syrian army is now deploying its four major units – the 1st and 4th Divisions, Republican Guards and Special Forces – on the battle fronts and are moving closer to the Turkish border.

Russian air strikes around the Isis “capital” of Raqqa may or may not be hurting Isis, although the Syrians like to boast that they have plenty of intelligence coming to them from the city. Interesting, if true, because Isis personnel are specialists in torturing to death “agents of the regime” and it would be a brave man to pass on information to Damascus. Yet travellers’ tales can be true. There’s a regular civilian bus route from Raqqa to Damascus – buses have an odd habit of crossing front lines in most civil wars – and if passengers prefer not to talk to journalists, they will talk of what they have seen when they get home.

All this is only the beginning of Mr Putin’s adventure. He is proving to be quite a traveller to the Middle East – and has already made firm friends of another pillar of the region, that President-Field Marshal who scored more than 96 per cent at the polls and who currently rules Egypt. But the Egyptian army, fighting its little war in Sinai, no longer has strategic experience of a major war. Nor, despite their dalliance in the air over Yemen, Libya, Syria and other targets of opportunity, do the present military authorities in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Jordan have much understanding of how a real war is fought. Libya’s own army is in bits. Iraq’s military has scarcely earned any medals against its Islamist enemies.

But there is one factor which should not be overlooked.

If it wins – and if it holds together and if its manpower, which is admittedly at a low level, can be maintained – then the Syrian military is going to come out of this current war as the most ruthless, battle-trained and battle-hardened Arab army in the entire region. Woe betide any of its neighbours who forget this.

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.