Greater Middle East

Experts begin evaluation of Syria chem arsenal

A team of disarmament experts from the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 6 began overseeing the destruction by the Syrian government, and will verify that the process is correctly handled. The disarmament team will destroy the chemical weapons arsenal, its storage sites and the facilities which manufacture them in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (PDF8), which adopts and orders the Syrian government to comply with the Sept. 27 decision of the OPCW Executive Council. The decision requires Syria to identify the types, quantities and locations of all chemical weapons in its stockpile, as well as all chemical weapon storage facilities, production facilities, and research and development facilities, and provides a deadline of mid-2014 to complete their destruction.

Egypt: clashes in Cairo, insurgency in Sinai

Deadly clashes erupted in Cairo Oct. 6 as pro-Morsi marches protesting the military converged on Tahrir Square, where thousands were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war against Israel in a display of support for the army. In the ineivtable melee, police intervened with tear-gas and armored vehicles. Confrontations also ocurred in Giza, Minya and elsewhere outside the capital, with the death toll reaching 51 and some 500 detained. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a coalition of Islamist forces supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, claimed that at least 11 protesters were killed in Cairo. The anti-Morsi movement Tamarod began gathering at Tahrir Square the previous evening, chanting pro-military slogans. Interim President Adly Mansour in a televised speech pledged to "defeat much-hated terrorism and blind violence with the rule of law that will protect the freedom of citizens." (Al Ahram, Al Arabiya, Oct. 6; Middle East Online, Oct. 6)

Syria: thousands of detainees lost in 'black hole'

Tens of thousands who peacefully demonstrated against President Bashar Assad are languishing in Syrian prisons, subjected to a policy of torture, according to a new Human Rights Watch report, "Lost in Syria's Black Hole." Citing testimony from former prisoners, HRW found that detainees have been raped and abused, including with electric shocks to the genitals, and beaten with batons, cables, metal rods, and wires. HRW stated: "The systematic use of torture by the government is strong evidence of state policy which would constitute crimes against humanity. Concerned governments need to make clear that the Syrian government and those responsible for the abuse will ultimately face justice for their actions." HRW also called on the Syrian government drop charges against political detainees who are currently before the military field courts or special counterterrorism courts.

Syria war portends Middle East 'balkanization'?

Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World  (and a "distinguished scholar" at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center) has an op-ed in the New York Times Sept. 28, ingenuously entitled "Imagining a Remapped Middle East"—as if nobody ever has. Wright sees a portending breakdown of Syria into smaller entities—the oft-discussed Alawite mini-state on the coast and the inevitable Kurdish enclave in the north. But Wright predicts the separatist contagion spreading from Syria to the rest of the Middle East—using some of the most clichéd names imaginable, e.g. Iraq breaking into "Sunnistan" and "Shiitestan." (Note to "distinguished scholar" Wright: the "stan" suffix is of Persian origin, and very unlikely to be taken up by Arabs, of whatever sectarian affiliation.)

Greek fascists fight for Assad in Syria

The idiotic sectors of the left that are openly shilling for Bashar Assad are in some very strange company. The Greek left-wing blog Glykosymoritis provides an English translation of the boasts in a far-right daily with the perverse name of Democratia that a "National Socialist" organization calling itself Black Lily has dispatched a brigade to Syria to fight for Assad's regime. Black Lily came to the public eye with their recent fizzy-drink attack on Greek government minister Evangelos Venizelos in Paris. But the group's spokesman Stavros Libovisis told Democratia (awkward English in original) that volunteers now "are fighting alongside our Syrian brothers in arms is to help them defend the soil of a friendly nations people, showing our solidarity in practise against an age-old foe."

Syria: what is the imperial agenda?

President Obama's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 24 displayed refreshing honesty: "The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the [Middle East] region... We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region's energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy." (American Forces Press ServiceThe Hill, Sept. 24) Although Syria was not the explicit context here, the speech also called the use of chemical weapons n Syria, "a threat to our own national security."

Syria: civil wars in the civil war

The Free Syrian Army has been at open war with the jihadists for months, but now fighting is reported between the two leading jihadist factions in the Syrian war, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Clashes are reported between the two in Shaddadi, Hasakeh governorate—apparently over control of the Jibsa oil field. The two groups split earlier this year over whether to accept the Iraq-based leadership of the ISIS. (AINA, Sept. 23) The news comes just as the Syrian National Coalition, the official civilian leadership of the FSA, was publicly repudiated in an open letter by 13 rebel factions. These include both the newly formed 19th Division of the FSA, and jihadist groups including the Nusra Front and Liwa al-Tawhid. The statement called for the imposition of Islamic law throughout Syria. (The Telegraph, Sept. 26) In very ominous news, Al Jazeera reports Sept. 21 that the FSA's 11th Division has defected to the Nusra Front. A video purported to show hundreds of 11th Division defectors parading through Raqqah with Nusra fighters.

UN inspecting additional Syria chemical attacks

The UN said Sept. 27 that inspectors returned to Syria this week to investigate seven chemical weapon attacks, including three that occurred after the Aug. 21 incident in Damascus. The investigation is set to be finished by early next week, followed by a separate visit by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inspect Syria's chemical weapon stockpile. The OPCW is also set to vote on a draft agreement which will be incorporated into a UN Security Council resolution, to which the US and Russia have agreed.

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