MESOPOTMIA NEWS SYRIA / EUPHRAT REGION : Meeting results in expansion of Syrian regime control over rural Daraa – A demonstration in the square of Al-Omari Mosque in Daraa city (Horan Free League)

اجتماع يفضي إلى توسيع سيطرة قوات النظام في ريف درعا

Syrian regime officers met with figures from Daraa’s “Central Committee” to speak about conditions in rural western Daraa after recent events there.

An Enab Baladi correspondent in Daraa reported that the meeting took place on Monday, and included Ghiath Dalla, commander of the “al-Ghaith Forces” within the Fourth Division, as well as the committee’s security head Hussam Louqa and the head of the military security branch, Louay al-Ali.

The meeting ended with an agreement to reinforce the regime-run Fourth Division’s roadblocks in rural western Daraa, as well as the roadblock in Masaken Jilleen, which was under the control of military security before it was attacked in March.

The regime officers carried out a patrol encompassing the Fourth Division’s points up to the Zeizoun and al-Saaqah military camps.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : Erdogan dashes hopes of Turkey-Israel reconciliation

 

The resumption of El Al cargo flights to Turkey does not  / HAKAN FIDAN

Amberin Zaman –  28 May 2020  – There has been a surge of optimism lately about a possible thaw in relations between Turkey and Israel. Signs of a possible breakthrough came when Israel’s national carrier, El Al, resumed its cargo flights to Turkey, with the first plane landing in Istanbul on May 24 after a decade-long pause. The flights had stopped after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara flotilla carrying aid to Gaza in May 2010, sending relations between the former allies into a tailspin.

Yet even as El Al was loading medical supplies to combat COVID-19 for onward delivery to US doctors, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was blasting Israel’s plans to annex nearly half of the West Bank in an Eid al-Fitr address to American Muslims the same day.

Noting that “a new occupation and annexation project, which disregards Palestine’s sovereignty and international law,” had been set in motion by Israel, Erdogan vowed to “not allow the Palestinian lands to be offered to anyone else.”

Moreover, Jerusalem is a “red line for all Muslims, worldwide,” he said, making it clear that Ankara’s overall stance toward the Jewish state remained unchanged.

Few will have likely been more dismayed than Israel’s charge d’affaires in Ankara, Roey Gilad. In a May 21 essay for the Turkish online publication Halimiz, Gilad had called for mutually reinstating ambassadors. There has been no ambassador in either capital since May 2018, when Turkey asked Israel’s ambassador, Eitan Na’eh, to “go on leave” because of carnage in Gaza and Washington’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Gilad said the sides did not have to “agree on everything” and do have mutal concerns. Most critically, Turkey is at odds in Syria with Israel’s biggest bugbear, Iran, and its Hezbollah proxies. So why not just push differences aside to focus on common interests and enemies, Gilad suggested.

The reality remains that neither side has any compelling reason to do so, particularly since the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu remains at Israel’s helm.

As matters currently stand, Erdogan doesn’t believe that relations can normalize so long as Netanyahu is in charge and Netanyahu thinks the same of Erdogan. “It’s business as usual,” said a well-informed Israeli source speaking not for attribution. “Unlike [the period between] 1949 and 2010, Israel is not running after Turkey. Its interests are diversified and all the more so because Erdogan’s Turkey hardly followed those interests. Relations with Israel were thrown under the bus,” the source said. The source was alluding to the halcyon days of Turco-Israeli friendship in the 1990s when Turkey’s anti-Islamist generals had the final say and Israeli jets trained in Turkish skies.

Under Erdogan, Turkey hosts top-level Hamas operatives on its soil and continues to engage in “blatant” anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Under Netanyahu, Israel has all but abandoned a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.

“Is there a political will in Israel to gamble [on better relations with Turkey ] again? What for? What will Israel and Turkey get that they already don’t have?” the source asked.

The idea that Erdogan would jettison his status as the champion of the Palestinian cause — a valued domestic propaganda tool — just as Israel mulls further annexation of Palestinian territory was fanciful to start with. The only obvious downside for Ankara not having an ambassador in Israel is that “this will require it to come up with a more creative or harsher than needed reaction to the annexation as it doesn’t have the more soft diplomatic option of withdrawing its ambassador,” wrote Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, in emailed comments to Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, business between the two countries, mainly in Turkey’s favor, keeps growing anyway. The resumption of the El Al cargo service is a reflection of that trend. And despite friction over Hamas, intelligence cooperation between the sides is continuing, Israeli sources confirm.

Turkish spy chief Hakan Fidan and his Israeli counterpart Yossi Cohen have met at least twice within the last 10 months, most recently in January, according to two well-placed sources speaking on condition of strict anonymity. If true, that would not be unusual. Even Gulf nations that have no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state share intelligence with it against common foes.

One of the sources said the January meeting took place in Washington and an earlier meeting in Berlin. The same source said Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean were the focus of the talks.

Turkey’s troubles in the eastern Mediterranean — where it is locking horns with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over drilling rights — inspired some of the talk about detente with Israel. Israel’s absence from a statement signed two weeks ago by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt that condemned Turkey for its “illegal activities” of gas drilling and “expansionism” in the eastern Mediterranean was seen as a sign that relations are on the mend (Israel has signed a gas pipeline agreement with Greece and Cyprus). This in turn prompted claims that Turkey and Israel were in secret talks for a maritime delimitation deal. These were promptly debunked by the Israeli Embassy in Ankara.

Either way, “The decline in energy prices makes the future development and export of the natural gas from the area highly questionable,” said Lindenstrauss. “If this has not already changed the calculus of all the actors, then it will in the near future,” she said. The dramatic fall in global energy prices make it less likely that Turkey and Israel will revive negotiations for a gas pipeline to export Israeli gas to Europe.

As for Libya, “Israel already has enough problems — being sucked into other conflicts the actors have with Turkey is not that attractive,” Lindenstrauss added.

In Syria, however, Turkey and Israel’s interests align somewhat more. Israel has, since Iranian intervention in the Syrian conflict, been striking Iranian military assets across the country. Gilad said the confluence of interests was evident when Turkey struck Iran-backed forces in Idlib after losing around 50 of its own men in a Syrian regime attack. “The fact that Turkey is clashing with Iranian and Hezbollah-backed groups in and around Idlib and that it has influence over Hamas makes it a useful partner for Israel. Therefore, the idea that Israel may be seeking a new opening with Turkey as the Shia axis grows stronger cannot be entirely dismissed,” said Ceng Sagnic, a Washington-based analyst.

Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the Berlin-based SWP think tank, agrees that tensions between Ankara and Tehran in Syria are rising but that the potential for Turkish-Israeli cooperation there is exaggerated.

“It was clear since the beginning that Turkey’s desire to establish a zone of influence northern parts of Syria is in contradiction with Iran’s desire to bring all of Syrian territory under [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad’s control. It was this exact contradiction that resulted in a direct faceoff between Turkey and Iran-backed groups in Idlib,” Azizi told Al-Monitor in emailed comments.

Azizi continued, “However, I don’t think this is something that could help Israel and the United States achieve their goal of rooting out Iran’s influence in Syria. Iran has already established its positions in the south, and especially in the southeast in Deir ez-Zor and Turkey appears to have neither the potential nor the willingness to go that far against Iranian-backed groups.”

More from  Amberin Zaman
Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/05/turkey-israel-relations-erdogan-netanyahu-syria-annexation.html#ixzz6Nl7ZNL7P

Iraqi Kurdistan does not owe $27 billion in debt: parliament speaker

27 May 2020 – MESOP NEWS – HEWLÊR-Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region,— In order to make a political point about the way in which debt was accumulated over the past several years, the Speaker of Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament said on Monday that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) could officially not owe $27 billion in debt because it would not have been lawfully authorized to do so.

During a speech on Friday, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said that the government holds $27 billion in debt to highlight its precarious financial position, a figure which shocked many observers and posed questions about how the figure had grown so large.

Speaker Rewaz Fayaq said in a post on her Facebook page that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) could not be carrying any debt because no money has been officially allocated to the servicing of debts since the General Budget Law of 2013.

The KRG has failed to pass a budget since 2014, which has led to accusations that the government has been less than transparent about its finances.

She said that the government, however, does owe significant debts to its public sector workers as a result of the salary withholding scheme, and to contractors.

Fayaq also cited the KRG’s Law No. 7 of 2015, which she said prohibited the government from borrowing more than $5 billion per loan. She added that if the government had in fact done so then those who authorized the loans should be prosecuted.

Iraqi Kurdistan prime minister Masrour Barzani

Iraqi Kurdistan prime minister Masrour Barzani, Erbil, December 7, 2019. Photo: KRG video.

Later on Tuesday, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s office responded by saying that Barzani has already explained the Region’s debts on several occasions.

“The Prime Minister promised the citizens of the Kurdistan Region clarity,” the statement said, adding that Barzani has requested that the Council of Ministers prepare a detailed report about the Region’s debt to be sent to the Kurdistan Parliament and released publicly.

He also took the opportunity to blame the debt on budget disputes with Baghdad.

In a separate statement to a Kurdistan Democratic Party-affiliated media outlet, the prime minister’s advisor for financial affairs Rebaz Hamlan said that the $27 billion figure was in part made up by the $10 billion that the KRG owes public sector employees from the salary withholding system it put in place during the 2014 financial crisis.

He said that the remainder includes money owed to Turkey, oil and electricity companies, and a loan from an Iraqi bank.

Copyright © 2020, respective author or news agency, nrttv.com

 

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS EXCLUSIV : Deir Ezzor 24 network conducts an exclusive interview with the International Coalition’s spokesman

Deir Ezzor 24 network conducted an exclusive interview with the international Coalition’s spokesman “Colonel Myles Caggins”. The interview covered most of the questions that many people are interested to know answers to. Colonel Caggins answered most of the questions we asked:

1- Recently, there have been intensive security operations against Daesh, especially the airborne operations. Do you think that these operations are sufficient to eliminate Daesh cells?

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INTEL BY MEIR AMIT INTELLIGENCE & TERRORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Spotlight on Global Jihad (May 21-26, 2020)

Overview

  • The synchronized wave of attacks known as the Raids of Attrition, which began on May 14, ended on May 24, 2020. Over a period of 10 days, more than 100 attacks were carried out, the vast majority in Iraq (about 40) and Syria (about 30). After them, by a wide margin, are Nigeria (8 attacks) and other provinces in Africa and Asia (a few attacks in each province).
  • A comparison of the current wave of attacks and the four waves of attacks carried out in 2019, leads to the following conclusions:
    • Duration: The current wave of attacks lasted longer than its predecessors, although not significantly (8 days in December 2019; 8 days in August; 4 days in May-June and 4 days in April).
    • Location of the attacks: In all of the waves of attacks, most of the attacks were carried out in Iraq and Syria. A small number of attacks were carried out in ISIS’s provinces in Africa and Asia, mainly in West Africa.
    • Nature of the attacks: Most of the attacks were unsophisticated; no unusually complex or deadly showcase attacks were carried out. No attacks were carried out in the West.
  • Hence, an analysis of the current wave of attacks indicates an improvement in ISIS’s operational capability, mainly in the Iraqi arena and to some extent in the Syrian arena as well, in contrast with ISIS’s other provinces around the world. In the current wave of attacks, ISIS has again demonstrated the ability to focus its efforts on a defined and scheduled mission and to time its attacks and media activity in its various provinces. The image of power that ISIS is attempting to convey is only partially borne out on the ground and, in the ITIC’s assessment, has failed to rehabilitate its image after the severe blows that it suffered with the fall of its territorial strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • A noteworthy attack carried out by ISIS during the past week was an attack against an Egyptian border patrol force east of Sheikh Zuweid. Four members of the force were killed. Photos published by ISIS show some of the operatives who participated in the attack wearing Egyptian army uniforms. In the ITIC’s assessment, this was in order to mislead the Egyptian forces at the scene. In another operation carried out in the area of Sheikh Zuweid, eight ISIS operatives killed four so-called Egyptian spies. According to ISIS, the eight operatives also wore Egyptian army uniforms.
The Idlib region
Overview

The ceasefire in the Idlib region was maintained this week. It was violated by local clashes between the Syrian army and the rebel forces around the town of Kafrnubl (about 30 km south of Idlib). The joint patrols of the Syrian and Turkish armies continued uninterrupted. A protest prayer was held by local residents on the M-4 highway near Idlib, without any unusual events. In the ITIC’s assessment, it took place on the initiative of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham.

Joint patrols of the Russian and Turkish armies continue
  • The joint patrols of the Russian and Turkish armies continued this week. On May 20, 2020, Turkey and Russia carried out their 12th joint patrol on the M-4 highway (Aleppo-Latakia). For the first time, the patrol went beyond the town of Ariha (about 10 km south of Idlib) and reached a village about 17 km southwest of Idlib (Enab Baladi; Anatolia, May 20, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, civilian activists called on residents of the Idlib region to take part in the Eid al-Fitr prayer and listen to a sermon on the M-4 highway, near the bridge of the town of Ariha. The prayer and sermon were intended to express the residents’ objection to the joint patrols. In the ITIC’s assessment, the call to attend the prayer and sermon came from the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, which is trying to instigate the local population to disrupt the joint patrols. In practice, on May 24, 2020, a holiday prayer was led by Abd al-Razzaq al-Mahdi, an operative affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Enab Baladi, May 24, 2020). The protest prayer and sermon took place without any unusual events.

Eid al-Fitr prayer on the M-4 highway, led by Abd al-Razzaq al-Mahdi (right), who is affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Enab Baladi, May 24, 2020)
Eid al-Fitr prayer on the M-4 highway, led by Abd al-Razzaq al-Mahdi (right), who is affiliated with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Enab Baladi, May 24, 2020)

Turkish army reinforcements arriving at the Idlib region
  • On May 23, 2020, a Turkish army convoy comprising 30 military vehicles entered Syrian territory. The convoy was escorted by operatives of the Faylaq al-Sham rebel organization[1]. It reached the rural area southeast of Idlib (Khotwa, May 23, 2020).
Turkish army armored vehicles en route to the Idlib region (Khotwa, May 23, 2020)      Turkish army armored vehicles en route to the Idlib region (Khotwa, May 23, 2020)
Turkish army armored vehicles en route to the Idlib region
(Khotwa, May 23, 2020)

Prisoner exchange between an organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Syrian army

  • On May 22, 2020, a prisoner exchange deal was carried out between the Syrian army and the “Awaken the Believers” operations room (an Al-Qaeda-affiliated umbrella network of jihadi organizations led by the Guardians of Religion Organization). The Syrian army released two women and three boys. One of the women is the wife of a commander in the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. In return, the jihadi operatives released three members of a militia supporting the Syrian army, who were captured during the clashes in the Turkmen Mountain (southwest of Idlib) (Twitter account affiliated with the “Awaken the Believers” operations room; Khotwa, May 22, 2020).
 Three members of a militia supporting the Syrian army, a short while before being released (Twitter account affiliated with the “Awaken the Believers” operations room, May 23, 2020)   Operatives of the “Awaken the Believers” operations room and a member of the Syrian Red Crescent welcoming two women and one of the three boys who were released.
Right: Operatives of the “Awaken the Believers” operations room and a member of the Syrian Red Crescent welcoming two women and one of the three boys who were released. Left: Three members of a militia supporting the Syrian army, a short while before being released (Twitter account affiliated with the “Awaken the Believers” operations room, May 23, 2020)
  • This is the third prisoner exchange deal carried out recently between the rebel organizations and the Syrian army. The first deal was carried out with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham[2], the second with the National Liberation Front (a Turkish-backed umbrella network), and the third with the Guardians of the Religion Organization (an Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization operating as part of the “Awaken the Believers” operations room) (Enab Baladi, May 24, 2020).
Northeastern Syria

ISIS’s intensive activity in the Euphrates Valley continued this week, mainly in the form of IEDs against SDF vehicles and targeted killings.

The area of Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal
  • On May 23, 2020, ISIS operatives took an SDF fighter prisoner about 70 km north of Deir ez-Zor. He was shot to death (Telegram, May 24, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 20 km north of Al-Mayadeen. Two fighters were wounded (Telegram, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle on the road leading to the Al-Omar oil field, about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, ISIS operatives took an SDF “agent” prisoner about 5 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an SDF vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire about 10 km northeast of Deir ez-Zor. Two fighters were killed (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 25 km north of Albukamal. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, an SDF intelligence operative was targeted by machine gun fire about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was wounded (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, ISIS operatives took an SDF intelligence operative prisoner about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, an SDF fighter was targeted by machine gun fire about 10 km north of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, ISIS operatives took an SDF fighter prisoner about 5 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was interrogated and then executed (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
The Al-Raqqah area
  • On May 21, 2020, an SDF vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire about 20 km southwest of Al-Raqqah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle about 70 km northwest of Al-Raqqah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
The Al-Hasakah area
  • On May 20, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
Eastern Syria (Al-Sukhnah-Palmyra region)
  • On May 21, 2020, a Syrian soldier riding a motorcycle was targeted by machine gun fire northwest of Al-Sukhnah. He was wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).

The Syrian soldier’s motorcycle seized by ISIS (Telegram, May 22, 2020)
The Syrian soldier’s motorcycle seized by ISIS
(Telegram, May 22, 2020)

The Iraqi arena
ISIS’s Iraq Province taking the lead in ISIS’s activity
  • On May 21, 2020, ISIS released an infographic entitled “The Harvest of the Fighters,” summing up its activity in the various provinces between May 14 and May 20, 2020. A total of 158 attacks were carried out around the world: 84 of them (about 53%) in Iraq, 39 in Syria, 13 in the West Africa Province, 9 in the Sinai Province, 4 in the Central Africa Province, and the rest in other provinces (Telegram, May 21, 2020).

In addition, ISIS released an infographic summing up the military activity in it various provinces in Iraq between April 24, 2020 and May 20, 2020. During this time, ISIS operatives carried out 226 attacks throughout Iraq, killing or wounding 426 people. A total of 97 attacks were carried out in the Diyala Province. Following them are the provinces of Kirkuk (41), North Baghdad (19), Al-Anbar (16), Salah al-Din (15), and Al-Janub (Babel Province) (15). Sporadic attacks were also carried out in other provinces. Most of the attacks were carried out in the form of detonating IEDs and sniper fire (Telegram, May 21, 2020).

Highlights of ISIS’s activity during the past week
Diyala Province
  • On May 21, 2020, an Iraqi police patrol was targeted by machine gun fire about 20 km northeast of Baqubah. Two policemen were wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 20 km northeast of Baqubah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an Iraqi soldier was targeted by sniper fire about 20 km southwest of Khanaqin. He was wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, an IED was activated against two members of the oil facility security police about 10 km northwest of Baqubah. One policeman was killed and the other was wounded (Telegram, May 20, 2020).
Salah al-Din Province
  • On May 23, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle about 30 km north of Baghdad. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 24, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, two Iraqi policemen were targeted by sniper fire in the Samarra area. About five policemen were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 24, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, an Iraqi soldier was targeted by machine gun fire about 30 km north of Baghdad. He was wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
Kirkuk Province
  • On May 23, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi police vehicle about 40 km southwest of Kirkuk. The passengers were wounded (Telegram, May 25, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, a compound of the oil facility security police was targeted by machine gun fire about 40 km northwest of Kirkuk. Three policemen were killed and another was wounded (Telegram, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an IED was activated against a Tribal Mobilization vehicle about 45 km west of Kirkuk. Two fighters were killed. When another force arrived at the scene to provide assistance, an IED was activated against it. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, a sticky bomb was activated against a Kurdish Peshmerga vehicle in central Kirkuk. An officer and three fighters were wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, a vehicle of the oil field security police was targeted by machine gun fire on the Baiji-Kirkuk highway. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).
Al-Anbar Province
  • On May 24, 2020, ISIS operatives fired at an Iraqi army helicopter near Al-Rutba. The helicopter was hit. The crew and passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 25, 2020). However, Iraqi “security sources” reported that an Iraqi Air Force aircraft providing support to anti-ISIS ground activity was targeted by gunfire. The aircraft was slightly damaged but returned safely to its base (Al-Sumaria, May 25, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked an Iraqi army headquarters about 25 km west of Al-Rutba. Four soldiers were killed or wounded. In addition, a vehicle was destroyed and the headquarters sustained damage (Telegram, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked a Popular Mobilization headquarters northeast of Fallujah. One commander and two fighters were killed (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 21, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army vehicle northeast of Fallujah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
  • On May 20, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked an Iraqi army headquarters near the Arar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. An officer and about eight soldiers were killed or wounded. The headquarters was damaged. An Iraqi army force sent to the scene was tricked by the ISIS operatives into entering a minefield. Six additional soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 21, 2020).

Babel Province

  • On May 22, 2020, a Popular Mobilization vehicle was targeted by machine gun fire about 40 km south of Baghdad. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, May 22, 2020).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces
Senior ISIS official captured
  • On May 20, 2020, the Iraqi National Intelligence service announced that it had captured Abd al-Nasser Qardash, a senior ISIS official who was one of the candidates to succeed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[3] According to the statement, Abd al-Nasser Qardash was caught based on accurate intelligence (Al-Sumaria, May 20, 2020). Qardash, who was born in Mosul, held a series of military positions in ISIS. He was in charge of a number of operations in Syria and Iraq and was known for his close relationship with ISIS’s Arab command. He started his activity in Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became ISIS. He was very close to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In an interview after he was apprehended, Qardash noted that the current ISIS leader, Abdallah Qardash, is not as resolute in his decisions as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. According to Iraqi “intelligence sources,” in his interrogation, Qardash revealed that there were severe differences of opinion between ISIS’s Arab and foreign operatives (Al-Hadath Channel, May 20, 2020).

Abd al-Nasser Qardash, captured by the Iraqi National Intelligence, during an interview (Al-Hadath Channel, May 20, 2020)
Abd al-Nasser Qardash, captured by the Iraqi National Intelligence, during an interview
(Al-Hadath Channel, May 20, 2020)

Additional activity by the Iraqi security forces
  • On May 23, 2020, an Iraqi Interior Ministry Intelligence force captured five ISIS operatives in various parts of the Salah al-Din Province (Al-Sumaria, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 23, 2020, Iraqi police captured two ISIS operatives in the Kirkuk Province (Al-Sumaria, May 23, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, force of the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Directorate of the Al-Anbar Province captured six terrorist operatives (i.e., ISIS operatives) in various parts of the Al-Anbar Province. In addition, a stockpile of explosives used by ISIS was found in the area of Fallujah (Al-Sumaria, May 22, 2020).

IEDs made of barrels and gas canisters filled with explosives found in the area of Fallujah (al-hashed, May 23, 2020)
IEDs made of barrels and gas canisters filled with explosives found in the area of Fallujah
(al-hashed, May 23, 2020)

  • On May 23, 2020, an Iraqi military intelligence force captured two “terrorist operatives” (i.e., ISIS operatives) in the area of Al-Qaim, near the border between Iraq and Syria. The two underwent training at one of ISIS’s camps in Albukamal and took part in the fighting in Deir ez-Zor (Al-Sumaria, May 23, 2020).

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : THE SYRIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE IS NOT ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION

PolicyWatch 3320 – May 27, 2020 – The UN committee’s chances of success are limited but still worth pursuing to a prompt conclusion, in part to prevent Russia from draping its window dressing over an illegitimate process.

by Charles Thepaut

Last week, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen announced that the Syrian constitutional committee launched in September 2019 can hold its next meeting as soon as the coronavirus pandemic allows. This narrow mechanism was not designed to resolve the years-long conflict via legal solutions, but rather to start a political discussion among Syrians. Yet despite the committee’s limitations, the United States and its allies should invest more effort in it—otherwise, Russia will be free to exploit the constitutional process as a way of normalizing the Assad regime without addressing any of the war’s root causes.

THE CONSTITUTION AS A TOOL TO ENGAGE RUSSIA

For years, UN envoys have tried to bring Syrian parties to a political settlement but found themselves paralyzed by Moscow, which has steadfastly protected the regime from the consequence of refusing to negotiate with the opposition. The United States, regional actors, and Europe declined to challenge this protection by escalating militarily with Russia once it intervened on the ground, instead limiting their pressure to economic sanctions and diplomatic engagement.

Hence, constitutional reform gained traction because it was one of the few topics in which Russian diplomats evinced interest. Working toward a new constitution was at the center of U.S.-Russian discussions in March 2015. Two months later, Moscow presented a first draft that was roundly rejected by all Syrian opposition elements; a second draft in January 2017 met with a similar response. Nevertheless, in May 2017, Russian officials proposed a “national reconciliation conference” in Sochi, then helped the regime hand-pick the Syrian factions that would be invited to discuss a new constitution there. By year’s end, constitutional reform featured as one of the core components of the Da Nang memorandum jointly issued by President Vladimir Putin and President Trump.

Then as now, Moscow seemed to view constitutional reform as a flexible framework for launching an international diplomatic process and muting Western critics while preserving its policy approach and limiting the scope of what “change” in Syria might ultimately encompass. Although UN Security Council Resolution 2254 called for a political process consisting of three essential elements—a transitional government, free and fair elections, and a new constitution—Russia has gradually diluted the discussion to the latter element alone.

THE CONSTITUTION AS A “CONSTRUCTIVE AMBIGUITY”

In urging Syrians to take up issues such as constitutional principles, state reform, and power-sharing arrangements, international actors are well aware that there are different understandings of these matters in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Berlin, and Paris. Yet foreign officials have deemed it useful to maintain this ambiguity for the time being as a waystation on the road to more detailed discussions.

Thus, when Russia, Turkey, and Iran proposed a constitutional committee during the January 2018 Sochi conference, the idea was later accepted by the “small group” (i.e., Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States) on condition that it remains under full UN auspices. The group was amenable to this process in large part because the Assad regime accepted it as well, making it the only instance of Damascus engaging in a negotiation on anything since 2011.

The proposal also gave the regime and its backers time to reconquer territories across Syria (the same dynamic seen today in Idlib) while deflecting pressure ahead of the country’s 2021 presidential election. For their part, Europe, Turkey, the UN, and the United States saw the committee as a “door opener,” allowing them to put the Syrian opposition back on track and build confidence without discussing the individual fate of Bashar al-Assad.

OPAQUE SETUP AND UNCLEAR GOALS

Although the constitutional committee was based on a tacit understanding that it would refresh the Syrian political process framed by Resolution 2254, Assad, Iran, Russia, and Turkey took eighteen months to agree on its composition. An opaque compromise was reached around three categories of representatives: fifty from the regime, fifty from the opposition, and fifty from Syrian civil society, the latter ostensibly nominated by the UN but in practice largely imposed by Moscow and Ankara.

Another major problem was the exclusion of northeast Syria, which stemmed from the open conflict between Turkey and the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia that dominates the area. Ankara barred any members of the YPG-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria from participating in the committee—a missed opportunity to deescalate tensions between the two sides and clarify the YPG’s goals regarding decentralization versus separatism.

Also unclear is the committee’s overarching goal: does it aim to produce a new constitution or just amend the current one? And what mode will it use to ratify the new charter: a public referendum or a parliamentary vote? If the latter, will a new parliament be chosen before that vote?

REGIME OBSTRUCTION CONTINUES, AND MOSCOW PLAYS ALONG

Although constructive ambiguity can sometimes facilitate progress on the less sensitive elements of a political process, the parties eventually have to tackle the conflict’s core elements, however intractable they may seem. Yet by November 2019, after two meetings of the constitutional committee, the regime once again blocked discussion of the core issues and centered the discussion on fighting “terrorism.” Far from being a constitutional matter, this issue has more often been the regime’s tool for conflating Syria’s political opposition and armed jihadist groups. Damascus also refused to discuss any issue related to army oversight, deeming this a “redline”—even though civilian authority over military forces is a core constitutional issue in countries all over the world. Recently, the UN special envoy suggested that a new arrangement had been found to restart substantive talks, but the pandemic has prevented the parties from scheduling a new meeting.

The regime’s goal is clear: to delay the committee long enough for Assad to hold (and win) the 2021 presidential election under the current constitution. It remains unclear how much Russia is willing to use carrots and sticks to convince Damascus that it should engage in legitimate talks. This is exactly the situation that has blocked UN negotiations in Geneva for years—with Moscow’s blessing, Damascus tries to slowly strangle the process while Assad reigns over a country in ruins, temporarily allowing that some parts of it will stay under Turkish influence.

INVESTING IN THE COMMITTEE—OR ENDING IT IF NECESSARY

There is no magical solution to the current stalemate, especially if Washington decides to continue the military withdrawal it began amid Turkey’s October 2019 incursion in the northeast. Not engaging more assertively on the constitutional committee and other political issues would further weaken the U.S. and allied position. Meanwhile, the regime and Russia are using every opportunity to increase their leverage over the international community, as the Security Council’s January negotiations over cross-border humanitarian access amply demonstrated.

It is therefore urgent that Washington and its allies take decisive action on the constitutional committee—first to support it and give it a real chance to succeed, and then to terminate it if it does not deliver within the next couple months. This includes linking additional sanctions to each instance of regime obstruction, and offering technical and financial support to committee representatives from the opposition and civil society. Some form of wider consultation with the diaspora is also necessary to compensate for the lack of transparency in the committee appointment process—in particular, Europe, Turkey, and the United States should provide platforms for Syrians outside Syria to express their views on constitutional reform​.

These steps would place the ball firmly in Russia’s court, compelling it to push the regime on contributing to a serious constitutional draft. And if the committee does not finalize its work well before the 2021 election season, U.S. and European officials should be ready to call for its termination.

BEYOND THE CONSTITUTION

Of course, even a new, legitimately brokered constitution would represent only the first step in a long process—on its own, the charter will neither end the people’s agony nor enable hundreds of thousands of refugees to return home. The UN should therefore prepare the steps that could potentially follow a successful constitutional committee, such as designing a robust monitoring mechanism for the presidential election and preparing safe, neutral voting options for the diaspora.

Hopes are not high for a transparent constitutional and electoral process in Syria. Nevertheless, a carefully tailored effort from the United States and Europe would increase this possibility—or at least prevent Russia from draping its window dressing over an illegitimate process.

Charles Thepaut is a resident visiting fellow at The Washington Institute.


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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : US DEMOCRATS CONTRA NETANJAHU – Intel: Senate Democrats warn Netanyahu against West Bank annexation

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (L) speaks as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine listens during a Senate hearing on COVID-19 tests, on Capitol Hill, Washington, May 7, 2020.  

May 22, 2020 By Bryant Harris – AL MONITOR – Nineteen Senate Democrats warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Benny Gantz against Israeli plans to annex settlements in the West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley in a letter Thursday.

The letter — spearheaded by Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — warns Netanyahu and Gantz that “unilateral annexation will be met with deep concern from our mutual allies and partners, including Jordan and Egypt, and nearly universally viewed as a violation of international law.”

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MESOPOTMIA NEWS : THE RED CHINA DEBATE  / COMMUNIST IMPERIALISM
Daniel Sigmund Reichwald facebook

4 Std. 26 May 2020

So now our friends in Beijing are desperately trying to drive a wedge between Australia and the US. This alliance has endured for many, many decades – the two countries have fought alongside one another in every conflict the two have faced for the past century and are bound together by a bond of blood that no pernicious machinations by the Chinese communist leadership could ever tear asunder.
To paraphrase my favourite Australian band, Crowded House: “Don’t let them win.”
DSR

5 Std.

#BREAKING China has unleashed a warning to Australia to side with the communist super power over the United States after Sky News Australia aired an exclusive interview with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

China’s state-controlled media the Global Times says the US would abandon Australia if it needed rescuing.

“Australia should realize that the US views it only as a lackey,” the Global Times wrote.

“The possibility that the US will not come to Australia’s rescue when needed is nothing new.

“While the US maintains its global hegemony by running roughshod over the interests of its allies, it does not offer any rewards.”

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS DEBK FILES (ISRAEL) : Erdogan seeks to extend his Libya gains into a foothold in Algeria

May 26, 2020 @ 10:54 DEBKA FILES – Turkey is cajoling Algeria into signing a defense pact with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli after capturing the strategic Watiya air base from Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s (LNA) forces, DEBKAfile’s Mid East sources report. On Sunday, the 1,200-1,500 Russian mercenaries fighting for Haftar were flown to Jufra in southern Libya to regroup and chart their next steps, after the GNA and Turkish-backed troops destroyed the LNA’s air defenses in Watiya, including the Russian Pantsir-1 battery posted there.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS „HIRNLOSE LURCHE“ / WIE DOCH GUT, DAS ES ANNE FRANK GAB – SIE NÜTZT UNS JETZT = IN CORONA ZEITEN !

So viele „Bücher zur Stunde“ : Hölderlin mochte auch kein Homeoffice
  • Von Hannah Bethke – 

Zahllose Autoren sollen das passende „Buch zur Corona-Krise“ geschrieben haben. Jetzt hat es sogar Anne Franks Tagebuch erwischt. Langsam reicht’s.

Heute schon Hölderlin gelesen?

Oder Blaise Pascal? Martin Heidegger? Thomas Hobbes? Und natürlich unbedingt und immerwährend: Albert Camus? Man muss nicht lange suchen, um auf diese und andere Autoren aus grauer Vorzeit zu stoßen und von ihrer absolut erstaunlichen Aktualität zu erfahren. Denn sie alle haben gemeinsam, zu Vordenkern der Krise erkoren zu werden, weil sie, glauben ihre Rezipienten, welche die Not ganz besonders erfinderisch macht, für die Corona-Gesellschaft „das Buch der Stunde“ geschrieben hätten.

Nun ist diese Zuschreibung bei einem Autor wie Camus unmittelbar einleuchtend. „Die Pest“ ist leicht zugänglich und liest sich wie eine Zuspitzung unserer schlimmsten Pandemie-Phantasien, die nach wohligem Schauder von einem tröstenden Gefühl begleitet werden, weil das Coronavirus wenigstens im Vergleich zur Pest noch harmlos ist. Doch schon im Hype um Camus konnte man sich wundern, wie schnell der allegorische Charakter des Werks zur Nebensache wurde, der die Übertragbarkeit auf Corona eben nur auf den ersten Blick plausibel macht. Das Buch stammt von 1947, Camus verarbeitet darin den Faschismus, die deutsche Besetzung Frankreichs, seine eigene Tuberkuloseerkrankung – Themen, die mit der Gegenwart nur wenig zu tun haben, zu schweigen von all dem existentialistischen Staub, der auf seinen beschwerten Gedanken liegt.

Atemberaubend passgenau

Das ist aber noch gar nichts gegen die Umdrehungen eifriger (oder vielleicht eher flüchtiger) Leser, die wie bei einem Horoskop alles und jeden atemberaubend passgenau für den gegenwärtigen Alltag machen. Hölderlin: der freiheitsliebende Autor für die Isolation! Pascal: hat schon immer gewusst, dass Homeoffice eine ganz schwierige Herausforderung ist, komme doch alles Unglück der Menschen daher, „dass sie nicht verstehn sich ruhig in einer Stube zu halten“. Heidegger: Man denke an die Lichtung des Seins, in der das Ich alleine steht, oder wie war das noch mal genau mit der undurchdringlichen Ontologie auf Abwegen? Wie auch immer: Wenn man es nur genügend will, ist Heideggers Nähe zu Corona ungemein augenfällig, denn stehen wir nicht alle gerade irgendwie ganz allein und höchstens digital vermittelt in der Lichtung des Seins? Nun gut. Hobbes erinnert uns, gesellschaftlich gefährdet durch die Pandemie, an den Wolf im Menschen, und wo der genau im Virus sitzt, werden wir sicherlich noch herausfinden, Hauptsache, wir befolgen, ohne es zu merken, die beliebte Pädagogik, mit der deutsche Hochschulen bereits seit geraumer Zeit infiziert sind: Macht die Werke anschlussfähig!

Ist es schon schwindelerregend, die philosophischen Verrenkungen zu beobachten, die diese Devise nach sich zieht, wird es vollends abstrus, in der Ahistorizität nachgerade ärgerlich und zudem geschmacklos, wenn nun auch noch die Verfolgten des NS-Regimes dafür herhalten müssen, uns in der Corona-Zeit zu trösten. Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank, so war jetzt im „Tagesspiegel“ zu lesen, sei „das Buch der Stunde“. Denn Anne Frank zeige uns, wie man Isolation verarbeiten könne: durch Introspektion. Sie habe sich immer gefragt, wer sie sei, worin der Sinn des Lebens bestehe, was Glück ausmache.

Diese Aneignung ist Anmaßung

Daran also, ist aus dieser überraschenden Entdeckung zu schließen, sollten wir uns alle „in unserer Corona-Quarantäne“ ein Beispiel nehmen. Wie bitte? Bedarf es im Ernst einer Aneignung der jüdischen Lebensrealität in der NS-Diktatur, von der wir Nachgeborenen uns kaum eine Vorstellung machen können, um auf die Defizite unseres Umgangs mit dem Virus aufmerksam zu machen?

Dass wir es viel einfacher hätten als Anne Frank, bemerkt auch die Autorin dieses kruden Vergleichs. Unerkannt bleibt aber, wie anmaßend es ist, hier überhaupt eine Parallele zu Opfern des NS-Regimes zu ziehen, als hätte das Leben unter Verfolgung, in Todesangst, in einem engen Versteck auch nur im Entferntesten irgendetwas mit der Situation zu tun, wie wir sie durch die coronabedingten Einschränkungen gerade erleben.

Es sind solche gedankenlosen Verdrehungen, die uns bei aller Hilflosigkeit im Angesicht der Krisensituation eine Warnung sein sollten: Lasst die Werke in ihrem historischen Kontext. Nicht alle Lesefrüchte passen in die Gegenwart – und noch weniger sollten sie, nur weil uns selbst nichts Besseres einfällt, passend gemacht werden.

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