MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : The Impact of the Fall of the Syrian Pound: Interview

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Jan 16, 2020 at 7:27 pm

The Syrian pound continues to depreciate sharply in value, with one U.S. dollar now being equivalent to more than 1100 Syrian pounds by many exchange rates. This depreciation has had a sharp impact on people’s livelihood inside Syria and more people are beginning to speak up. The Syrian state media agency SANA even provided coverage of a recent peaceful demonstration in the southern province of Suwayda’ protesting against the high cost of living.

To get some local perspective on the problem of the depreciation of the Syrian pound and its impacts on the Syrian people, I conducted an interview with Abu Hadi, a resident of the Damascus area. This interview was conducted on 15 January 2020. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.

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Syria war: Society leaders hold secret peace summit in Berlin – By Damien McGuinness BBC News, Berlin – 16 Jan 2020 –

Some of Syria’s leading figures met in secret this week in Berlin to overcome the sectarian divides that are tearing their country apart. This is shadow diplomacy, away from the glare of publicity and political pressures, to find a path to peace. Sunni tribal chiefs, some of whom have their own militias, sat opposite Alawite dignitaries with close links to the Assad regime.

A Kurdish Yazidi leader was next to a former Syrian ambassador to the UK. A couple of dozen key figures from Syria’s most important families, clans and communities gathered around the table, including Christians, Kurds, Druze, Sunnis and Alawites.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : Special Dispatch No. 8497 Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani Counters Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Call For Anti-U.S. March, Warns Against ‘Those Seeking To Exploit Protests To Achieve Certain Goals’


Following Muqtada Al-Sadr’s call for a one-million-man march to end the presence of the U.S. military in Iraq, a website funded by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s Al-Kafeel International Network released a statement from the Grand Ayatollah made in December 2019 reminding Iraqis that there are some parties that wish to exploit them in order to serve the agendas of others. The following report will examine Al-Sistani’s recent warning, instructions from Al-Sadr to his supporters, and related reactions.

The Al-Sistani Response To Al-Sadr

On January 15, 2020, a website associated with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, warned against the call of Muqtada Al-Sadr, whom Iraqi protestors see as Iran’s new favorite Shi’ite cleric in Iraq, for a massive demonstration to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

The official website of Al-A’taba Al-Abassyia, which covers activities related to Imam Abbas’ shrine in Karbala, Iraq, and is sponsored by Al-Sistani’s Al-Kafeel International Network, re-published a statement that the Ayatollah made on December 6, 2019, in which he strongly warned “against those who seek to exploit the protests that call for reforms in order to achieve certain goals that will hurt the utmost interests of the Iraqi people, and are not in line with their true values.”

“We are here republishing the Highest Authority’s sermon from December 6, 2019, as a warning,” the website explains. The website also tweeted the statement using a hashtag that translates to “Tahrir Square,” the key location for the anti-government protesters in Baghdad.

Over the past three months, Al-Sistani has been critical of Iran’s use of Iraq as a proxy battleground for their war against the U.S., as well as the involvement of Iran-backed Iraqi militias in the killing of protesters. Al-Sistani also condemned the recent American and Iranian attacks in Iraq, saying they represent “flagrant violations of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Al-Sistani’s warning (Source:

Al-Sadr Issues Instructions For Supporters

On his side, Muqtada Al-Sadr’s online spokesman, who goes under the name Saleh Mohammad Al-Iraqi, tweeted instructions for Al-Sadr’s supporters regarding the mass demonstration that Al-Sadr and commanders of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) called for on January 14.

Al-Sadr’s Instructions (Source:

“We will demonstrate to denounce the occupation and its violations of Iraq’s sovereignty. To live in a safe Iraq with our peaceful neighbors and friends,” it says.

The statement stresses that those who will take part in the demonstration should only raise the Iraqi flag, and should, preferably, wear white shrouds, a sign that reflects “their readiness to sacrifice their lives for the love of their homeland.”

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS EXCLUSIVE : Iranian and Iraqi experts arrive in Deir Ezzor to carry out new missions!

DEIR EZZOUR REPORT – 14. Jan 2020 – An Iranian delegation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard arrived in Deir Ezzor in the past few days from Tehran, sources revealed to Deir Ezzor 24 network.

The sources indicated that before arriving in Deir Ezzor, the delegation visited some Iraqi cities such as al-Basra and al-Kufa.

The same sources noted that the immediate reason for the Iranian delegation visit to Deir Ezzor is to supervise the establishment of cultural courses and moral guidance for the members of Iranian militias in Deir Ezzor, based on implanting the ideology of resistance, which Iran constitutes one of its pillars, in addition to explaining the history of Iran in resisting America and Israel.

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A horrific massacre takes place in Deir Ezzor with fingers pointing to the Iranian militia

14 Jan 2020 DEIR EZZOUR NEWS  – Last night, a massacre was committed against seven people, from Aiyash village in the western Deir Ezzor countryside (Shamiyah), Deir Ezzor 24 network correspondent said.

According to local sources, fingers are pointing to the Shiite militias in the area, as the method of killing is similar to the massacre that occurred in Raqqa countryside a few days ago, but this time, the victims were subjected to a mass execution by firing squad. Assad’s forces are trying to accuse Daesh to shift the suspicion away from the Iranian militias.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS Syria Daily: Intelligence Chiefs of Assad Regime and Turkey Meet in Moscow

Posted by Scott Lucas | Jan 14, 2020  – The heads of intelligence of Turkey and the Assad regime met in Moscow on Monday, their first official contact in years.

Russia has been trying to broker a political and military arrangement between Turkey, which has been aligned with anti-Assad groups through Syria’s 106-month conflict and the regime. Ankara controls part of northern Syria, but a Russia-regime offensive is trying to overrun the greater Idlib area in the northwest, the last major opposition territory in the country.

The meeting came a day after a Russian-Turkish ceasefire was declared in Idlib Province. Residents and the White Helmets civil defense said Moscow’s bombing ceased on Sunday, but regime shelling continued. – The White Helmets said six areas were struck with 91 artillery shells and 20 rockets. One man was killed and three people wounded.

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Soleimani death weakens Syrian regime, will force direct talks with Kurdish authorities: Salih Muslim

13 Jan 2020 RUDAW – Salih Muslim Muhammad, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and leading figure of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), says the killing of Qasem Soleimani – commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, responsible for much of the country’s proxy warfare in the Middle East – will likely weaken President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and render his regime more likely to engage in direct discussion with the northeast Syrian administration. 

While he does not believe northeast Syria, where US troops are no longer based, will become a battleground for American and Iranian forces, he says the level of Syria’s involvement in US-Iran hostilities is dependent on the ability of Soleimani’s newly-appointed successor Esmail Qaani to command the Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun brigades – Iranian proxy forces fighting in Syria, made up of Afghan and Pakistani Shiite fighters respectively. 

Salih criticizes the Kurdistan Region’s leading parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – of not being able to seize opportunities for cooperation in post-2003 Iraq, citing failure to replace Kirkuk’s acting governor as an example.

What implications will the killing of Qasem Soleimani have on Syria generally, and Rojava [northeast Syria] in particular?

Soleimani was Iran’s secret hand in Syria. Many organizations, such as the Zainabiyoun and Fatemiyoun brigades, were working under his command. He had a massive influence on the Syrian regime, both militarily and politically. He was a strong backer of the Syrian government. His death will have negative consequences for Damascus. Damascus did not change its stance and logical thinking concerning the Kurdish question, and rejected dialogue with the self-administration of Rojava because it had Iran’s backing.  I think the death of Soleimani will weaken the Syrian regime to some extent. Maybe they will give up their unwavering stance on the self-administration of Rojava and engage in dialogue with us.

Will there there be changes to Iran’s political work in Syria in the wake of Soleimani’s death?

It is not clear whether there will be changes after Soleimani’s replacement starts work or not. I hope the regime will weaken and engage in serious dialogue with Kurds.

Iran has vowed to take revenge on the US. American forces based in northern Syria are considered to be vulnerable targets to Iran and their proxies. Are you envisioning any attacks on Americans in Syria by Iranian proxies?

America has withdrawn troops from the Kurdish areas, re-positioning them on the Iraq-Syria border and around oilfields. There are no Iranian-backed forces in our region, though there may be some Iranians with the regime forces. So I do not expect any large-scale attacks on American forces. I do not think the Iranian retaliation will happen on our side, maybe elsewhere; Iraq.

What will happen to the self-administration of Rojava if Iran and the US engage in confrontation on Syrian land, especially in Rojava?

The self-administration continues to work. I do not think it will have that influence on us. As I pointed out earlier, the American forces are no longer here on the ground in Rojava. I expect such US-Iran confrontation, if it happens, will weaken the Syrian regime. Hence, the Syrian regime will eventually acknowledge our administration.

So, the killing of Soleimani will force Damascus to engage in talks concerning a solution to the Kurdish question?

The answer of this question depends upon whether Soleimani’s replacement will be able to manage the Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun brigades – if not, then it will result in the weakening of the regime in Syria, especially in Idlib and other places where fighting is taking place. When Damascus is weaker, they will engage with us. Things might turn out to be good for us. But this is the Middle East, and things can change at any time.

Do you see any sign that Russia might have changed its position on Syria since Soleimani was killed?

We have not seen any changes. Yet, we do not have to forget that Russia, Syria and Iran are partners, and Soleimani was definitely part of the three-sided agreements and played a role in these processes. What will happen to the trilateral agreements? We do not know yet.

At what level are there direct and indirect talks between Damascus and Rojava?

There are no changes. Russia has made a pledge. There are some sorts of talks between us and Russia, and Syria with Russia. Syria does not want to engage in talks with the self-administration of Rojava. What is positive to us is that Russia is considering itself a guarantor. I think in the near future, the talks will go to the next stage; talks will start with Damascus.

There are growing fears that Turkey might capitalize on the death of Soleimani to implement some of its agenda against Kurds. What is your take?

I do not think this will happen, because Soleimani was close to Turkey. Hakan Fidan [Head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization] and Soleimani enjoyed strong relations and had joint plans and coordinations. Soleimani never stood against Turkey’s plans, and those plans were being carried out in coordination with Soleimani.

Some pundits and activists say this post-Soleimani phase resembles that of post-2003 events of Iraq.

I think they are different. What is important is for Kurds to be united at this stage. Kurds do not have a joint strategy. Our enemies can still use us to fight against one another. If Kurds unite their strategy and discourse, there are plenty of opportunities we can capitalize on. At this historical moment, unity is needed. Massive turmoil has been gripping the Middle East these days. We understand that the killing of Soleimani was not an accident. Killing him was the final result of plenty of reading into the on-the-ground situation and talks. Before deciding to kill him, [the US], must have thought of the implications, and Iran’s reactions as well. The US is highly likely to more strongly respond if Iran reacts further, and these developments would further exacerbate the situation.

Therefore, our present situation is not comparable with that of post-2003. The post-2003 period brought great opportunity to South Kurdistan [Kurdistan Region]. But [disunity] did not let the Region take advantage of the developments and seize opportunities. Just a few days ago, the Kirkuk governor [Rakan al-Jabouri] said that if the Brotherhood List had reached an agreement, he would not still be acting governor. In other words, if the PUK and KDP work together in Kirkuk, there won’t be room for other actors to come into play. If we are able to learn a lesson from the past, I think great days are ahead for us.

Translation by Zhelwan Z. Wali


Nawaf al-Bashir, the leader of Ousoud al-Ashiyer, confiscates a land of his cousin because he is an oppositionist! 13 Jan 2020

Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir, the leader of “Ousoud al-Ashiyer” militia that is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, seized a 12-dunum agricultural land in Hawayej Diyab village (Shamiyah), local sources told Deir Ezzor 24 network.

The sources noted that most of the land seized by Al-Bashir belongs to his cousin Hajim al-Bashir, a member of Al-Baqara tribe, known for his opposition to Assad regime, and lives in Muheimidah town in the areas controlled by the “SDF”.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS SYRIA : Russia Warns against Continued Violation of Idlib Ceasefire

Monday, 13 January, 2020 – 12:30 ASHARQ AL AWSAT – Entrance of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria (File photo: Reuters)

Russia accused militants of continued violations of the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire in Idlib, northwestern Syria, saying the armed factions are responsible for the failure of the fragile truce.
Russian officials announced the opening of three humanitarian crossings for civilians to exit Idlib.
The Russian Ministry of Defense called on civilians in the region to take advantage of the opening of the crossings.

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Russia to invest $500m in Syrian port of Tartus

 Moscow intends to develop the port for commercial use © Russian Defence Ministry/TASS – FINANCIAL TIMES 11 Jan2020 

Russia will invest $500m in the port of Tartus in its largest ever investment in Syria, as Moscow seeks to leverage its position as the most powerful foreign player in the war-torn country.Moscow entered the Syrian war in 2015 with a military onslaught that helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the conflict in favour of his regime and made Russia a critical powerbroker in the Middle East.

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