Friday, December 20, 2013

From the "I'm so glad we didn't go to war there" files

Patrick Cockburn has some useful and important information on the state of the opposition in the Syrian civil war in which we thankfully have, so far, avoided direct intervention. From Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, Saudi Arabia Is Funding Jihadists In Syria — And the U.S. Isn't Doing Anything About It AlterNet 12/18/2013, quoting Cockburn:

Oh, it is clearly a proxy war. I mean, this may have started off as a popular uprising in Syria, but by now it has four or five different conflicts wrapped into one, that — and you have an opposition, but an opposition which is fragmented and really proxies for foreign powers, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Turkey plays a role. What has changed recently, since midsummer, is that Saudi Arabia is becoming the main financier for the rebel military groups inside Syria. Qatar is playing a lesser role. And the Saudis are trying to develop a Sunni Islamic force that is against the Assad government in Damascus, but is also against al-Qaeda. But this is, even so, very much a sectarian force, which is already being blamed for sectarian attacks on Christians and Druze and Alawites. There, then, of course, you also have the United States and Britain and France. A recent defector from the Free Syrian Army, who joined the al-Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said he was continually attending meetings — I don’t know — he didn't say where, but probably in Turkey — in which always representatives of foreign intelligence services turned up, and at one moment while being presided over by the Saudi deputy defense minister. [my emphasis]
He's indicating what has been obvious from other reports, as well, that the US is playing a significant role covertly.

This is also important. I always wondered how much the slick, media-savvy face of the Syrian opposition for the Western media was a US/NATO front group, more-or-less:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Patrick Cockburn, could you explain what exactly happened to the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition group that the U.S. and Britain and other countries in the West were backing and hoping would be a legitimate replacement, possibly, in the future to the Assad regime?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, there was always an element of pretense in this, pretending that the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition were — represented Syrians inside the country. It was always very much an outside exile development. And, you know, they never really controlled much on the ground. And what they did control is now very little. That’s—you know, the headquarters was overrun by the Islamic Front, which is a sort of combination of Sunni groups, appears to be backed by Saudi Arabia. So, basically, it’s been a disaster. So these so-called sort of moderate elements don’t— have never had much influence inside Syria and now seem to be sort of almost completely marginalized. [my emphasis]
I am so glad the US didn't directly intervene in this war, i.e., didn't commit regular troops and airpower to direct combat.

Cockburn talks at more length about how Saudis seem to be the main financiers of radical Islamist terrorist groups in the Middle East today: "The main backers for al-Qaeda-type organizations of Sunni-organized fanatical jihadi groups is Saudi private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf." He notes sourly, "many of the facts about Saudi Arabia’s relationships to al-Qaeda and to Sunni jihadi organizations don’t require any investigation. I mean, you know, they’re admitted. They’re in plain view."

Even Cockburn follows the convention of talking about present-day violent Sunni fundamentalist groups as Al Qa'ida. It's become a common convention, though I still don't like it. Because even the present-day groups adopting that label for themselves apparently have little or no direct organizational connection to Osama bin Laden's organization of that name. It's become a general ideological name, like "conservative" or "liberal."

Cockburn also writes about the theme of Saudi funding in Mass murder in the Middle East is funded by our friends the Saudis The Independent 12/08/2013:

Evidence for this is a fascinating telegram on "terrorist finance" from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US embassies, dated 30 December 2009 and released by WikiLeaks the following year. She says firmly that "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide". Eight years after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Mrs Clinton reiterates in the same message that "Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups". Saudi Arabia was most important in sustaining these groups, but it was not quite alone since "al-Qa'ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point".

Why did the US and its European allies treat Saudi Arabia with such restraint when the kingdom was so central to al-Qa'ida and other even more sectarian Sunni jihadist organisations? An obvious explanation is that the US, Britain and others did not want to offend a close ally and that the Saudi royal family had judiciously used its money to buy its way into the international ruling class. Unconvincing attempts were made to link Iran and Iraq to al-Qa'ida when the real culprits were in plain sight.
Another reminder of how many business and political scams find a happy home in the War on Terror.

But he also points out that while US policy may be cynical in this regard, it's not entirely with calculated purposes of state:

But there is another compelling reason why the Western powers have been so laggard in denouncing Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf for spreading bigotry and religious hate. Al-Qa'ida members or al-Qa'ida-influenced groups have always held two very different views about who is their main opponent. For Osama bin Laden the chief enemy was the Americans, but for the great majority of Sunni jihadists, including the al-Qa'ida franchises in Iraq and Syria, the target is the Shia. It is the Shia who have been dying in their thousands in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and even in countries where there are few of them to kill, such as Egypt. [my emphasis]
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