“In this edition of Newsbud Spotlight, Sibel Edmonds covers the recent assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in Ankara. Discussion includes the critical timing of the hit, the known facts, the motives and who benefits from this assassination as well as other questionable deaths of high ranking officials on both sides. ”
This was an intriguing and in-depth analysis. It is interesting to note what Edmonds had to say about the fact that Al Qaeda/Al Nusra has reportedly claimed responsibility (I believe she may have misspoken and said ISIS) for the assassination in retaliation for Russia’s actions in Syria.
Speaking of Russia’s actions in Syria, an official inquiry requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has determined that Russia was not responsible for the air attack on an aid convoy in Aleppo this past September, despite the immediate and baseless claims of various Washington officials – reminiscent of the immediate hysterical accusations, without any possible evidence yet gathered, against the Syrian government for the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack and against the Russian government and Donbass rebels for the 2014 downing of the MH17 airplane. Similar to this incident, later investigations and evidence did not support those initial accusations. According to the analysis of international law expert, Alexander Mercouris:
At the time of the attack I pointed out that this rush to condemn the Russians was made before any investigation of the incident had taken place, before any attempt had been made to secure the place where the attack happened, and in the absence of any inspection of the area….I was also openly skeptical about the chances of any inquiry into the incident being set up….
….On the last point it turns out I was wrong, because on 21st October 2016 – more than a month after the attack on the convoy had taken place and with minimal publicity – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did set up a Board of Inquiry.
That Board of Inquiry has now reported, though its report too is being barely reported. Ban Ki-moon has however provided a summary of its report, and it can be found here.
In brief, the reason the Inquiry and its report are receiving minimal publicity is because its results satisfy do not satisfy certain powerful governments.
It says the convoy was destroyed as the result of an air attack. It completely exonerates the US and the other Western powers. It also completely exonerates the Jihadis of staging the incident. However it also indirectly but nonetheless clearly exonerates the Russians.
Whilst it puts the blame for the attack – though only indirectly – on the Syrians, it makes it clear that it believes they attacked the convoy unintentionally and in error.
It also confirms that Western governments pressured the Board of Inquiry to try to get it to implicate the Russians in the attack on the convoy, which however the Inquiry refused to do.
The Board of Inquiry’s findings are open to challenge. This is because of the delay in setting up the inquiry and the failure to secure the crime scene. As a result the Board of Inquiry was unable to carry out a physical inspection of the crime scene. Here is what the report says about this
The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the [Syrian] Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results. The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.
All this is true but it is also deeply regrettable. As I said in my article of 26th September 2016 (see above) securing the crime scene immediately following the attack ought to have been the immediate priority. Realistically that would have required cooperation by all the Great Powers (including the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey) and probably a Resolution of the UN Security Council. The way the Western powers politicised the incident and sought to make political capital out of it made all that impossible, which is why an inspection of the crime scene has never happened.
Unfortunately without a proper inspection of the crime scene the Inquiry report is incomplete, and its findings open to challenge.
The Board of Inquiry has set out how in the absence of an inspection of the crime scene it undertook its investigation
The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results. The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.
The Board was only able to travel to the Syrian Arab Republic from 5 to 9 December 2016, as the issuance of visas by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic was only confirmed on 28 November 2016. The Board travelled to Damascus, where the Board met with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including the High Relief Committee, SARC Damascus and the United Nations Country Team. At the Russian Embassy in Damascus, the Board also met military officers from the Russian Military airbase in Hmeimim. In West Aleppo City, the Board met the Governor of Aleppo, members of the local relief committee and the Commanding General of the Russian Reconciliation Centre, Hmeimem. The Board also interviewed primary witnesses in West Aleppo.
The Board also met with the members of the High Negotiations Committee for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (HNC) and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (SOC). Furthermore, the Board met with representatives of armed opposition groups. It interviewed primary witnesses (eye witnesses) in Gaziantep and Reyhanli.
The Board also collaborated with UNITAR-UNOSAT, which provided technical capabilities to analyse satellite imagery and ground photography.
The Board used the following materials and methods to arrive at its findings: (i) satellite images; (ii) over 370 photographs and videos; (iii) interviews conducted by the Board of a total of 16 persons who were either eye witnesses to the incident or who were in the vicinity of Urem al-Kubra on the evening of 19 September 2016; (iv) interviews conducted by the Board of a total of 19 secondary witnesses, including United Nations personnel and representatives of armed opposition groups; (v) information from Member States, including information on their air assets; (vi) air tracks shared with it by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic; (vii) an oral briefing by the Syrian Government regarding their national investigation into the incident, which was still on-going, together with copies of autopsy reports; (viii) information from the SARC.; (ix) documents from the United Nations Country Team for Syria; and (x) open-source information.
The Board declined to accept physical evidence, such as munitions remnants that were alleged to be from the site of the incident, as the chain of custody for these items could not be established.
This speaks of a proper and thorough investigation, with the opinions of all parties carefully sought and all the right questions asked. However it cannot fully make up for the failure to examine the crime scene.
Continue reading Mercouris’s analysis here
Last Tuesday, representatives from Iran and Turkey met in Moscow to try to lay the groundwork for a settlement of the Syrian proxy war, excluding both the US and the UN. RT reported the following details on the meeting:
The text of a Moscow declaration on immediate steps in resolving the Syrian crisis is being prepared. Russia, Turkey and Iran are ready to be guarantors of its implementation, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has announced.
“Today, experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps toward resolving the Syrian crisis. This is a thorough, extremely necessary document,” Shoigu said at the meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan.
According to Shoigu, all previous “attempts to agree on joint efforts undertaken by the US or their partners were doomed.”
“None of them exerted real influence on the situation on the ground,” he said.
The approval of the declaration at the level of defense and foreign ministers shows a willingness to “act as guarantors and jointly resolve the urgent issues of the Syrian crisis,” Shoigu said. “That’s why we support the adoption of this declaration.”
Shoigu also met with the minister of National Defense of Turkey, Fikri Isik, who praised the operation on liberating eastern Aleppo. “Now we are observing a very successful operation to liberate eastern Aleppo from fighters, the evacuation of the families of the opposition from Aleppo,” Isik said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu is currently in Moscow for talks with Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif. He said that the trilateral cooperation has proven its effectiveness in eastern Aleppo and called for it to spread to other parts of Syria. “A political solution is the best solution, this is what we believe,” Çavusoglu said. He added that the ceasefire should be implements in all parts of Syria, adding that the truce doesn’t concern Islamic State or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Al-Nusra Front).
On that same day, Press TV reported that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced that the Syrian government authorized the sending of more UN staff to monitor the ongoing evacuations from E. Aleppo:
In another development on Tuesday, Jens Laerke, the spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the Syrian government had authorized the world body to send an additional 20 staff to eastern Aleppo, where they will monitor evacuations from the formerly militant-held region. The new deployment would “almost triple” the number of international staffers” in Aleppo, Laerke told a news briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva, adding, “The task is to monitor and observe the evacuations.”
On Monday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution urging the quick deployment of monitors.
The evacuations are part of the fragile Aleppo ceasefire deal, brokered by Turkey and Russia, that also includes the evacuation of the residents of the villages of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib Province, which have been under terrorists’ siege. Some 750 people have been taken out of the two villages so far, where 20 buses headed to early on Tuesday morning, he noted.
In recent days, the Russian Defense Ministry has announced that mass graves have been discovered in liberated E. Aleppo, containing the tortured bodies of civilians:
Mass graves with dozens of bodies of civilians subjected to brutal torture have been discovered in Aleppo neighborhoods left by militants, the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday.
Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head, according to a statement by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov.
“The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians,” Konashenkov said in a statement. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”
In addition to the massacres on militant-held territory, the area had been extensively mined: streets, cars, the entrances to buildings and even children’s toys had been booby-trapped.
In one small area, three tanks, two cannons, two multiple rocket launchers and numerous homemade mortars were found.
One of many truths lost within this discourse is the reality that the creation of a no-fly zone would, in the words of the most senior general in the U.S. Armed Forces, mean the U.S. going to war “against Syria and Russia”. I wish to be clear from the outset that I write this as someone who has previously lived in Syria and cherishes deeply the memories of my time there. I remain in touch with many Syrian friends, most of whom are now refugees outside of the country. So it is particularly difficult for me to swallow accusations of callousness towards the plight of Syrians and their country: nothing could be further from the truth.
In the current environment, to express even a mildly dissenting opinion, point out basic but unwelcome facts such as the presence of significant public support for the government in Syria, or highlight the frequently brutal acts of rebel groups, has seen many people ridiculed and attacked on social media. These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views; instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations. Generally, a set of core arguments are used to denounce those who question the dominant narrative: they include the notion that it is somehow Islamophobic to criticise the actions of rebel groups or to label them as extremists, and that to highlight the central role of U.S. imperialism in the conflict is Orientalist as it denies Syrians their ‘agency’. Often, legitimate criticism is simply dismissed outright as ‘fascist’, ‘Stalinist’, ‘Putinist’ or all three. The policing of acceptable opinion in this way has a simple and practical function: to foster a climate in which people feel too intimidated to speak out, thus allowing the dominant narrative to remain unquestioned so that, crucially, it can continue to be utilised to generate public support for further Western intervention in Syria.
Of course, this is a strategy with a well-established precedent; the treatment given to many opponents of NATO’s assault on Libya in 2011 and the U.S./UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 are obvious recent examples. Unfortunately, it remains an effective means to stifle dissent and establish the acceptable parameters of mainstream debate. Its success has meant that those in favour of greater Western intervention in Syria have virtually monopolised the popular debate and control the narrative. I know several people who have admitted to me that they are too intimidated to write or speak honestly about Syria in public and so either limit what they say or, if possible, do not broach the topic at all. I am certain that many reading this will have noticed a glaring difference between private conservations they have with friends and acquaintances that work on Syria in some capacity, and the statements that they make in public.
Allday also corrects the factual record in relation to the myths reinforced by the mainstream propaganda narrative on Syria. Read the complete piece here
An even more in-depth breakdown of the myths about the Syrian war, “The Revolutionary Distemper That Wasn’t,” can be found over at Stephan Gowans’ blog. This is long but well worth the read. The information is taken from a forthcoming book by Gowans on this topic – which I’ve already pre-ordered.
Investigative reporter, Gareth Porter, who specializes in the Middle East and has done some great work on Syria, published an article today with information provided by a former Obama administration insider who confirmed what I have suspected for the past few years watching the administration’s policies with respect to Syria and Russia: Obama’s foreign policy advisers are utterly incompetent:
The former official revealed that when Obama made the first move toward supporting the arming of Syrian opposition forces, the president failed to foresee the risk of a direct Iranian or Russian intervention on behalf of the Syrian regime in response to an externally armed opposition – because his advisors had failed to take this likelihood into account themselves.
The story of this policy failure begins after military resistance to the Assad regime began in spring and summer 2011.
In August 2011, national security officials began urging Obama to call on Assad to step down, according to the former official.
Obama did make a statement suggesting that Assad should step aside, but he made it clear privately that he had no intention of doing anything about it. “He viewed it as simply a suggestion, not a hard policy,” the ex-official said.
But soon after that, a bigger issue arose for the administration’s policy: how to respond to pressure from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for a US commitment to help overthrow Assad.
In September 2011, the Saudis and Turks not only wanted the US to provide arms to the opposition. “They wanted the US to provide anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles,” recalled the ex-official.
Turkey even offered to send troops into Syria to overthrow Assad, but only if US and NATO agreed to create a “no-fly zone” to protect them.
But Obama refused to provide US arms to the Syrian rebels and also opposed the Sunni foes of Assad providing such heavy weapons. “He wasn’t willing to go along with anything except small arms,” said the former official.
Apparently to assuage the dissatisfaction of the Sunni allies, then-director of the CIA David Petraeus devised a plan, which Obama approved, to help move the small arms from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi to Turkey.
Confirming the 2014 story by Seymour Hersh, the ex- official, recalled, “It was highly secret but officials involved in the Middle East learned of the programme by word of mouth.”
The combination of those two policy decisions committed Obama – albeit half-heartedly- to the armed overthrow of the Assad regime.
More importantly, when Obama was making crucial Syria policy decisions in September 2011, no one on his national security team warned him that Iran had a very major national security interest in keeping the Assad regime in power that could draw the Iranians into the war, according to the former official.
Obama’s advisers assumed instead that neither Iran nor Russia would do more than offer token assistance to keep Assad in power, so there was no risk of an endless, bloody sectarian war.
Not one supposed expert out of this bunch advising (arguably) the most powerful person in the world had the most basic understanding of geography or the history and politics of the region? And none of the Russia experts (like, say, Celeste Wallander, who serves on Obama’s NSC) had gotten the memo that this was no longer the 1990’s and Russia was not just passed out drunk on the sidewalk anymore, but could now actually do something to protect its perceived interests? Seriously?