Middle East: Iraqis sceptical about war on ISIL

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq [Al Jazeera]

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq [Al Jazeera]

Erbil, Iraq – Samih Radhwan, 26, is playing a game on his phone as he awaits his turn at a barbershop in Erbil’s Havalan neighbourhood.

Seven years ago, he and his family moved to Erbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region from Baghdad and settled in this neighbourhood, which has a large population that fled sectarian conflict in other parts of the country.

Although a Sunni Arab, he says he does not approve of the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) despite its claims to be an advocate for Sunni rights in Iraq and the broader region.

“What they do is something that one can only expect in an extremely horrifying movie,” says Radhwan as he rubs his neatly trimmed and fashionable beard. “Our tragedy is that this is all actually real and happening.”

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq and established itself as the de facto authority in most parts of the country’s Sunni-dominated governorates. The group’s dramatic rise in Iraq was in large part aided by the strong resentment that many average Sunnis felt toward the policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which was perceived to privilege members of Iraq’s Shia communities.

“ISIL is only one side of this game,” Radhwan said. “What about those other groups and militias and people in the government who pushed many Sunnis to support ‘Daesh’,” he adds, using the term Iraqis often use to describe ISIL.

Radhwan’s family has first-hand experience with sectarian brutality and his words amplify the grievances and misgivings of many Sunni Arabs about siding with the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIL.A few months before his family left their home in a Baghdad suburb, one of his uncles, a local store-owner, was abducted by a militia group for sectarian reasons. He was released three months later after a hefty ransom was paid by Radhwan’s family. They managed to collect the amount by borrowing money from relatives and friends.Sunnis have accused Maliki of deliberately attempting to marginalise and undermine them by viewing Sunnis in strictly sectarian terms.

Some Sunni Arab tribes and members of the Awakening Council are fighting alongside the Iraqi coalition against ISIL. But the majority of Sunni tribes have so far refused to turn against the group. Many of them want assurances that if they help expel ISIL from Iraq, the Iraqi government will honour its word and grant Sunnis more power and control over the regions in which they are populous.

In Tairawa neighbourhood, less than a kilometre from Erbil’s millennia-old citadel, Saman Salim, a 31-year-old teacher, is sharing a moment of relaxation with a friend as they eat ice cream.

“If you ask me, I’d say everyone should fight ‘Daesh’,” he says. “We have seen what they do and how they rule… Everyone needs to do more, the [Kurdish forces] Peshmerga, Iraqi army and the Americans.”

But even if they [ISIL] are defeated, there is little trust between the Sunnis and the government and even the Kurds and Baghdad… Problems will continue anyway in some shape and form.

– Saman Salim, Erbil resident

For many Kurds, ISIL was the last thing they needed. While the local economy had considerably slowed down since February when Maliki cut off the Kurdish government’s budget, ISIL’s emergence and swift attacks on Kurdish-held territory represented an existential threat.

But Salim does not believe that ISIL will be defeated easily.

“They are strong and many of them will fight to the end,” he said. “But even if they [ISIL] are defeated, there is little trust between the Sunnis and the government and even the Kurds and Baghdad… Problems will continue anyway in some shape or form.”

Observers say that had it not been for the US air strikes and military support from western nations and Iran, Kurds would have faced an extremely challenging task to fight ISIL on their own as the group is far better equipped than its Kurdish rivals.

Iraqi Kurds, speaking to Al Jazeera, have been unsettled by the unfolding events on the other side of the border in Syria as ISIL has laid siege and attacked the Kurdish-dominated area of Kobani, or Ayn al-Arab in northern Syria. Some estimates point out that as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes in Kobani.

For Iraqi Kurds, who have been repeatedly displaced in the past few decades, such scenes are all painful reminders of their past and hint at what might have happened if ISIL had not been stopped when they reached around 30km south west of Erbil last summer.



Erbil is now home to tens of thousands of internally displaced people who were driven out of their homes by ISIL’s offensives in northern Iraq.

Ainkawa, a Christian-dominated suburb in the northern part of the city, hosts dozens of families that hastily abandoned their homes in the historic Nineveh plains when ISIL fighters marched towards the area in August. Um Asma, 33, is one of them. She currently resides in an unfinished building.

“May God bless anyone who can rid us of those criminals,” she says waiving her hands passionately. “We have nothing now. We lost everything we had… Why do we have to see so much misery?”

ISIL’s onslaught in Nineveh plains has been particularly costly for the religious minorities there. It’s believed that for the first time since the advent of Christianity in Iraq nearly 2,000 years ago, Mosul, a historically significant city for Christians, is almost empty of its Christian population.

In Sinjar near the Syrian border, the militants are believed to have killed hundreds of the followers of the ancient Mesopotamian Yazidi religion and kidnapped many Yazidi women. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled their homes as they got word of ISIL’s assault fearing the group’s brutality and proselytising zeal.

Ghanim Elias used to be a teacher in his hometown of Bashika northeast of Mosul, leading a quiet life with other people in the mixed Yazidi, Christian, and Muslim town. He is now in Erbil along with hundreds of other Yazidis and acts as a community leader trying to attract aid for members of his displaced community.

“This is the beginning of the end for ‘Daesh’ [ISIL],” he says. “The campaign should have started earlier.”

Khero Farhan, another Yazidi who fled his hometown of Sinjar shortly before ISIL reached there, is now a refugee in Dohuk, a city around a couple of hundred kilometres north of Erbil.

Seeing how the group has operated, he doubts victory can be achieved any time soon. “It’s going to take a lot of time and power for Daesh to be beaten,” says the 40-year-old man.

“Without international and American support, the Iraqi and [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces cannot do this alone. Daesh has surprised them with its power… Its fighters do not run away from death.”

 

 

Military Buildup around Syria – Syria warns U.S. not to intervene militarily

 

 

 

Columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, Syria, on Thursday.(Photo: Hassan Ammar, AP)

Columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, Syria, on Thursday.(Photo: Hassan Ammar, AP)

Syrian government warned the U.S. that any military action against Damascus would set the Middle East ablaze.

 

The Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government accused rebels of using chemical weapons Saturday and warned the United States not to launch any military action against Damascus over an alleged chemical attack last week, saying such a move would set the Middle East ablaze.

The accusations by the regime of President Bashar Assad against opposition forces came as an international aid group said it has tallied 355 deaths from a purported chemical weapons attack on Wednesday in a suburb of the Syrian capital known as Ghouta.

Syria is intertwined in alliances with Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militant groups. The country also borders its longtime foe and U.S. ally Israel, making the fallout from military action unpredictable.

Violence in Syria has already spilled over the past year to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters have joined the combat alongside Assad’s forces.

Speaking to reporters Sunday in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel declined to say what action the U.S. might take. He said the administration is weighing many factors. These include an intelligence assessment of the attack in Syria, as well as what he called legal issues and the matter of international support for any military response.

Meanwhile, U.S. naval units are moving closer to Syria. U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press that the Navy had sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea but without immediate orders for any missile launch into Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss ship movements publicly.

President Obama has emphasized that a quick intervention in the Syrian civil war was problematic, given the international considerations that should precede a military strike.

After Obama met with his national security team Saturday, the White House said U.S. intelligence officials are still trying to determine whether Assad’s government unleashed the chemical weapons attack earlier this week.

The White House statement said Obama received a detailed review of the range of options he has requested for the U.S. and the international community to respond if it is determined that Assad has engaged in deadly chemical warfare.

Obama spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron about Syria, the White House said.

A statement from Cameron’s office at No. 10 Downing St. said the prime minister and Obama are concerned by “increasing signs” that “a significant chemical weapons attack” was carried out by the Syrian government against its people. Obama and Cameron “reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community,” according to the statement.

Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissed the possibility of an American attack, warning that such a move would risk triggering more violence in the region.

“The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East,” al-Zoubi said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV. “An attack on Syria would be no easy trip.”

In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Abbas Arakji, warned that an American military intervention in Syria will “complicate matters.”

“Sending warships will not solve the problems but will worsen the situation,” Arakji said in comments carried by Iran’s Arabic-language TV Al-Alam. He added that any such U.S. move does not have international backing and that Iran “rejects military solutions.”

In France, Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” over less than three hours on Wednesday morning, when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place.

Of those, 355 died, the Paris-based group said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that its estimated death toll from the alleged chemical attack had reached 322, including 54 children, 82 women and dozens of fighters. It said the dead included 16 people who have not been identified.

The group said it raised its death toll from an earlier figure of 136, which had been calculated before its activists in the stricken areas met doctors, residents and saw medical reports. It said the dead “fell in the massacre committed by the Syrian regime.”

Death tolls have varied wildly over the alleged attack, with Syrian anti-government activists reporting between 322 and 1,300 killed.

Al-Zoubi blamed the rebels for the chemical attacks in Ghouta, saying that the Syrian government had proof of their responsibility but without giving details. “The rockets were fired from their positions and fell on civilians. They are responsible,” he said.

With the pressure increasing, Syria’s state media accused rebels in the contested district of Jobar near Damascus of using chemical weapons against government troops Saturday.

State TV broadcast images of plastic jugs, gas masks, vials of an unspecified medication, explosives and other items that it said were seized from rebel hideouts Saturday.

One barrel had “made in Saudi Arabia” stamped on it. The TV report also showed medicines said to be produced by a Qatari-German medical supplies company. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are strong supporters of the Syrian rebels. The report could not be immediately verified.

An army statement issued late Saturday said the discovery of the weapons “is clear evidence that these gangs are using chemical weapons against our people and soldiers with help from foreign sides.”

The claims could muddy the debate about who was responsible for Wednesday’s alleged gas attack, which spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action if chemical weapons were used.

Just hours before the state media reports, the U.N. disarmament chief arrived in Damascus to press Assad’s regime to allow U.N. experts to investigate the alleged Wednesday attack. The regime has denied allegations it was responsible, calling them “absolutely baseless” and suggesting they are an attempt to discredit the government.

The U.S., Britain, France and Russia have urged the Assad regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow him to cooperate with the United Nations and allow a team of experts already in Syria to look into the latest purported use of chemical agents. The U.N. secretary-general dispatched Angela Kane, the high representative for disarmament affairs, to push for a speedy investigation into Wednesday’s purported attack. She did not speak to reporters upon her arrival in Damascus Saturday.

The state news agency said several government troops who took part in the Jobar offensive experienced severe trouble breathing or even “suffocation” after “armed terrorist groups used chemical weapons.” It was not clear what was meant by “suffocation,” and the report mentioned no fatalities among the troops.

“The Syrian Army achieved major progress in the past days and for that reason, the terrorist groups used chemical weapons as their last card,” state TV said. The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as “terrorists.”

State TV also broadcast images of a Syrian army officer, wearing a surgical mask, telling reporters wearing similar masks that soldiers were subjected to poisonous attack in Jobar. He spoke inside the depot where the alleged confiscated products were placed.

“Our troops did not suffer body wounds,” the officer said. “I believe terrorist groups used special substances that are poisonous in an attempt to affect this advance.”

Al-Mayadeen aired interviews with two soldiers hospitalized for possible chemical weapons attack. The two appeared unharmed but were undergoing tests.

“We were advancing and heard an explosion that was not very strong,” a soldier said from his bed. “Then there was a strange smell, my eyes and head ached and I struggled to breathe.” The other soldier also said he experienced trouble breathing after the explosion.

Al-Mayadeen TV, which has a reporter embedded with the troops in the area, said some 50 soldiers were rushed to Damascus hospitals for treatment and that it was not yet known what type of gas the troops were subjected too.

In Turkey, top Syrian rebel commander Salim Idris told reporters that opposition forces did not use chemical weapons on Saturday and that “the regime is lying.”

For days, the government has been trying to counter rebel allegations that the regime used chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held areas of eastern Damascus, arguing that opposition fighters themselves were responsible for that attack.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed the Syrian government’s claims.

“All the information we have is converging to indicate there was a chemical massacre in Syria, near Damascus, and that Bashar Assad’s regime was behind it,” Fabius told reporters during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah. He did not elaborate.

France has suggested that force could be used against Syria if Assad’s regime was proven to have used chemical arms.

The new talk of potential military action in in the country has made an independent investigation by U.N. inspectors critical to determine what exactly transpired.

The U.N. experts already in Syria are tasked with investigating three earlier purported chemical attacks in the country: one in the village of Khan al-Assal outside the northern city of Aleppo in March, as well as two other locations that have been kept secret for security reasons.

It took months of negotiations between the U.N. and Damascus before an agreement was struck to allow the 20-member team into Syria to investigate. Its mandate is limited to those three sites, however, and it is only charged with determining whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

Leaders of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group on Saturday vowed retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack.

From Istanbul, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba, also criticized the lack of response to the attack by the United Nations and the international community, saying the UN was discrediting itself.

“It does not reach the ethical and legal response that Syrians expect,” he said. “As a matter of fact we can describe it as a shame.”

The Associated Press

 

 

Islamic State defies air strikes by shelling Syrian Kurdish town

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Photos: Reuters Credit

(Reuters) – New U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State fighters failed to stop them from pressing their assault on a strategic Syrian town near the Turkish border on Saturday, hitting it with shell fire for the first time.

The U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said the air strikes destroyed an IS building and two armed vehicles near the border town of Kobani, which the insurgents have been besieging for the past 10 days.

It said an airfield, garrison and training camp near the IS stronghold of Raqqa were also among the targets damaged in seven air strikes conducted by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, using fighter planes and remotely piloted aircraft.

 Three air strikes in Iraq destroyed four IS armed vehicles and a “fighting position” southwest of Arbil, Centcom said. Two British fighter jets also flew over Iraq, a day after the UK parliament authorized bombing raids against IS militants there, but used the mission to gather intelligence rather than carry out air strikes, the ministry of defense said.

Since capturing swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq, Islamic State has proclaimed an Islamic “caliphate”, beheaded Western hostages and ordered Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die. Its rise has prompted President Barack Obama to order U.S. forces back into Iraq, which they left in 2011, and to go into action over Syria for the first time.

The U.S. military has been carrying out strikes in Iraq since Aug. 8 and in Syria, with the help of Arab allies, since Tuesday, in a campaign it says is aimed at “degrading and destroying” the militants.

Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which lost scores of fighters in the first day of strikes there, accused Washington and its allies of waging “war against Islam” and said they would be targeted by jihadists around the world.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that supports opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Saturday’s air strikes set off more than 30 explosions in Raqqa.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Observatory, said 23 Islamic State fighters were killed. He said the heaviest casualties were inflicted in attacks on an airport.

But the monitoring group said IS was still able to shell eastern parts of Kobani, wounding several people. It said that IS fighters had killed 40 Kurdish militia in the past five days in their battle for the town, including some who were killed by a suicide bomber who drove into its outskirts in a vehicle disguised to look as though it was carrying humanitarian aid.

The insurgents’ offensive against the Kurdish town, also known as Ayn al-Arab, has prompted around 150,000 refugees to pour across the border into Turkey since last week.

ERDOGAN SHIFT

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled a shift in Ankara’s position by saying for the first time that Turkish troops could be used to help set up a secure zone in Syria, if there was international agreement to establish one as a haven for those fleeing the fighting.

Turkey has so far declined to take a frontline role in the U.S.-led coalition against IS, but Erdogan told the Hurriyet newspaper: “The logic that assumes Turkey would not take a position militarily is wrong.”

He said negotiations were under way to determine how and by which countries the air strikes and a potential ground operation would be undertaken, and that Turkey was ready to take part.

“You can’t finish off such a terrorist organization only with air strikes. Ground forces are complementary … You have to look at it as a whole. Obviously I’m not a soldier but the air (operations) are logistical. If there’s no ground force, it would not be permanent,” he said.

Turkish officials near the Syrian border said IS fighters battling Kurdish forces for Kobani sent four mortar shells into Turkish territory, wounding two people.

One of the shells hit a minibus near Tavsanli, a Turkish village within sight of Kobani. A large hole was visible in the rear of the vehicle.

“Two people were injured in the face when the minibus was hit. If they’d been 3 meters (10 feet) closer to the car, many people would have died,” said Abuzer Kelepce, a provincial official from the pro-Kurdish party HDP.

Heavy weapons fire was audible, and authorities blocked off the road toward the border.

“The situation has intensified since the morning. We are not letting anyone through right now because it is not secure at all. There is constant fighting, you can hear it,” the official said.

Kobani sits on a road linking north and northwestern Syria. IS militants were repulsed by local forces, backed by Kurdish fighters from Turkey, when they tried to take it in July, and that failure has so far prevented them from consolidating their gains in the region.

COALITION WIDENS

Syria’s government, which in the past accused its opponents of being Western agents trying to topple Assad, has not objected to the U.S.-led air strikes, saying it was informed by Washington before they began.

It too has carried out air strikes across the country, including in the east, and its ground forces have recaptured the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, tightening Assad’s grip on territory around the capital.

But Russia has questioned the legality of U.S. and Arab state air strikes in Syria because they were carried out without the approval of Damascus, Moscow’s ally.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Friday that this week’s strikes in Syria had disrupted Islamic State’s command, control and logistics capabilities. But he said a Western-backed opposition force of 12,000 to 15,000 would be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by the militants.

(Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Jason Neely)

 

Aftermath Footage: Overnight anti-ISIS airstrikes devastate village in Syria (New Video)

New anti-ISIS airstrike in Syria, 4 more in Iraq – Pentagon

8 civilians, incl. 3 children, killed in US-led strikes on Syria – monitor

Residents look at buildings which were damaged in what activists say was one of Tuesday's U.S. air strikes in Kfredrian, Idlib province September 24, 2014 (Reuters / Ammar Abdullah)

Residents look at buildings which were damaged in what activists say was one of Tuesday’s U.S. air strikes in Kfredrian, Idlib province September 24, 2014 (Reuters / Ammar Abdullah)

US military has confirmed that the US-led coalition have launched five airstrikes on the Islamic State militants – one of them hit the Syrian territory, while four others hit Iraq.

“Two airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed two ISIL armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Two airstrikes southeast of Irbil destroyed ISIL fighting positions. A fifth airstrike damaged eight ISIL vehicles in Syria northwest of Al Qa’im. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely,” the US Central Command said in a statement on Wednesday.

Pentagon officials told NBC News that that the airstrike northwest of Al Qaim damaged eight vehicles linked to the Islamic militants. The strikes in Iraq west of Baghdad targeted two vehicles and a weapons cache, while the terrorists’ “fighting positions” were hit southeast of Erbil.

The main target of the strikes was an area used by the Islamic States (formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) militants to move equipment from Syria across the border into Iraq, Rear Adm. John Kirby also told.

 

 

Various attack, bomber and fighter aircraft were used for the strikes, and all aircraft were able to leave the area unharmed afterward.

Earlier in the day, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported airstrikes in and around the eastern Syrian city of Boukamal. The head of UK-based organization Rami Abdulrahman said the strikes also hit the territory 30-35 kilometers to the west of the strategic city of Kobani. He added that military planes that conducted attacks came from the direction of Turkey and were not Syrian.

In the fight against the extremist militants in Syria and Iraq, the US-led coalition will will not only use ongoing strikes, but also foreign fighters, cutting off financing, and a major effort to “reclaim Islam by Muslims,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

The US and its allies have vowed to combat the IS militants, who have been on the rampage in parts of war-torn Syria and Iraq. The anti-IS coalition, led by the US, was joined by nearly 40 nations including five Arab nations – Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The first attacks in Syria were launched on Tuesday with 30 militants allegedly killed in the airstrikes. Syria has repeatedly warned that any action on its territory needs the government’s approval and has said it is willing to work with any country to tackle the IS militants.

“Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria,” Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation affairs, told reporters in Damascus earlier in September.

“There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not.”

Moscow joined Damascus by stating that Washington should respect the sovereignty of Syria in its attempts to deal with the Islamists in the region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday that there is need for “strict adherence to the UN Charter and international law as well as unconditional respect for Syrian sovereignty during the implementation of plans by the US-led coalition, which includes the use of force.”

On Wednesday, Moscow questioned the effectiveness of the airstrikes, saying that it was a “controversial” issue.

“The specific context of the events still raises serious questions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “First of all, the United States and the West in general for some reason chose to ignore the terrorist nature of the Islamic State, when the militants fought only with government troops in Syria.”

The ministry added that “despite the loud statements about the campaign’s ‘successes,’ the IS terrorists continue to block the Kurdish town of Kobani [Ayn al-Arab] in northeast Syria. In the event of its capture, the inhabitants will obviously be brutally repressed, if not completely annihilated.”

Meanwhile, a Syrian government minister said that the fight against IS militants is going in “right direction“, as Damascus has been kept informed.

What has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government and by not targeting Syrian military installations and not targeting civilians,” Ali Haidar, minister for national reconciliation, told Reuters on Wednesday.

strike

Bombing ‘imminent threat’: US justifies strikes without ‘direct request’ from Syria

A still image captured from U.S. Navy video footage shows a Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile (TLAM) is launched against ISIL targets from the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea in the Arabian Gulf, September 23, 2014. (Reuters / Abe McNatt / U.S. Navy / Handout)

A still image captured from U.S. Navy video footage shows a Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile (TLAM) is launched against ISIL targets from the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea in the Arabian Gulf, September 23, 2014. (Reuters / Abe McNatt / U.S. Navy / Handout)

The UN chief is “aware” that the Syrian government did not directly “request” airstrikes on terrorist targets on their soil and urged all parties involved in the US-led anti-ISIS campaign to take all necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he is “aware” that the US-led intrusion and airstrikes on Islamic State targets were not carried out “at the direct request of the Syrian Government,” in a statement delivered at a climate summit press conference.

However, he noted that Damascus “was informed beforehand” and that the strikes took place in “areas no longer under the effective control” of the government.

“I regret the loss of any civilian lives as a result of strikes against targets in Syria. The parties involved in this campaign must abide by international humanitarian law and take all necessary precautions to avoid and minimize civilian casualties,” the UN chief added.

In a letter to the UN secretary general, US Ambassador Samantha Power used Article 51 of the UN charter to justify air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, claiming that it was necessary to protect civilians and secure Iraq’s borders.

The US explained that Iraq has “made it clear” that it faces a “serious” threat from the Islamic State militants coming from Syria, a country which Washington says offers “safe havens” for militants.

“These safe havens are used by ISIL (ISIS) for training, planning, financing, and carrying out attacks across Iraqi borders and against Iraq’s people,” the letter reads.

It is because of this threat and at the request of the Iraqi government that the US decided to lead a coalition against Islamic State positions in Syria, “in order to end the continuing attacks on Iraq,” to protect civilians and help Baghdad secure state borders.

Washington_ByP_FBfIAAEvqqP

Letter from White House to UN justifying action against #ISIS in #Iraq and #Syria under Article 51:

 

Stating that IS poses a dire threat both to the region as well as to the security of the United States, Powers writes that Article 51 of the UN charter provides countries the right to engage in self-defense, including collective self-defense, against an armed attack.

“As is the case here, the government of the State where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks,” the letter, dated September 23, reads.

It argues that strikes against ISIS in Syria are justified as the Syrian regime “cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself.”

“Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq.”

In addition, Washington is also conducting military action against Al-Qaeda “elements in Syria known as the Khorasan Group,” which it believes could be responsible for plotting against America and its allies.

The air campaign against the Khorasan extremists was separate from the one targeting the Islamic State group, as the US believes they were close to carrying out “major attacks” against the West.

 

This US Navy photo shows an an F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, and an F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, as they prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)to conduct strike missions against ISIL targets on September 23, 2014 in the Gulf. (AFP Photo / US Navy / Robert Burck / Habdout)

This US Navy photo shows an an F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, and an F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, as they prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)to conduct strike missions against ISIL targets on September 23, 2014 in the Gulf. (AFP Photo / US Navy / Robert Burck / Habdout)

“Intelligence reports indicated that the group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the US homeland,” announced Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He specified that the group is “establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland.”

Calling the strikes “successful,” Mayville also announced that more than 40 Tomahawk missiles were launched from the Gulf and the Red Sea, saying “the majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan.”

Earlier in the day, US President Barack Obama said that he ordered the strikes in Syria to “disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria, who are known as the Khorasan Group”.

“Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” he added.

However, the US airstrikes will not be “effective, if there is no coordination of actions on the ground and if no ground military operations are carried out,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem told RT Arabic.

“The US is mocking the whole world when they say that they are going to coordinate their actions not with the Syrian government, but with the moderate Syrian opposition. This is funny. What moderate opposition are you talking about?” Moualem told RT Arabic. “This moderate opposition is killing Syrians just like al-Nusra or ISIS.”

If the US “seriously wanted to fight the ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” there would be an international organization under the aegis of the UN, in which all countries would participate, Moualem said.

 

 

 

 

 

I Did It My Way…

 Pentagon Posts Videos of Airstrikes in Syria on YouTube

These three strikes were part of a wide-ranging operation in Syria launched by the United States along with Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The strikes were the first ones conducted inside Syria, and follow a series of air strikes against ISIS in Iraq. These operations, the Pentagon said, are “part of the President’s comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS.

 

 

 

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and ev’ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way…

U.S. President Barack Obama called for united action to confront violent extremism Wednesday, as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly after a second day of U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Airstrikes were carried out overnight Tuesday into Wednesday against five more targets: four in Iraq and one in Syria, the U.S. Central Command said.

In Syria, a U.S. aircraft and coalition plane struck an ISIS staging area near the Iraqi border, northwest of Al Qa’im, damaging eight ISIS vehicles.

In Iraq, two airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed two ISIS armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Two airstrikes southeast of the city of Irbil destroyed ISIS fighting positions.

The latest raids come on the heels of major airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday.

President Barack Obama’s call for action comes as he faces questions about his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress.  

As Pepe Escobar has written, “So call this warped western a masterful depiction of American exceptionalism. And mirror it with the soft pull of a dying, lone superpower which is still capable of turning the whole planet into junkies, addicted to the cinematically sumptuous spectacle of its own demise.

Speaking in New York, Obama told of the need to confront the “threats” (to the US Empire?)  that face the world today, including the violent extremism embodied by the radical group ISIS, also referred to as the “Islamic State” or ISIL.

“It is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of “tribe or sect; race or religion,” he said.   Is this the reason why the military occupied Ferguson?

“This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by “religiously motivated fanatics”, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.”

At the same time, Obama stressed that the United States “is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

‘A hateful cause’

To battle extremists like ISIS, the world must focus on four areas, the ruler of the world said.

First, he said, ISIS must be degraded and ultimately destroyed. Second, it is time for the world to explicitly reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Third, the world must address the cycle of conflict, including sectarian conflict, that creates the conditions that terrorists thrive on. And fourth, Arab and Muslim countries must focus on the potential of their people, especially youths.

The United States is not standing alone in the fight against ISIS, Obama said. “Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands.”

Instead, the United States will use its “military might in a campaign of airstrikes” against ISIS, help train and equip forces fighting them on the ground, work to cut off their financing and stop the flow of foreign fighters, he said.

“Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can,” he warned.

“Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.”

Obama’s call for action comes as he faces questions about his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress.

 

U.S. strikes the Khorasan group in Syria

Map: Airstrikes in Syria
Map: Airstrikes in Syria

Tomahawk missiles launched against ISIS

And as the President takes the world stage, U.S. law enforcement agencies are looking out for possible lone-wolf attack plots to retaliate for the bombings.

Why not strike the regime?

While some Syrians celebrated the U.S. airstrikes on radical militants, others expressed frustration that President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which world leaders blame for thousands of civilian deaths, goes unscathed. In other words, they want him killed.

“I am just wondering why the U.S. didn’t bomb the regime’s brigades,” Aleppo resident Foaad Hallak said.

“If the international community is willing to show their good intentions to Syrians, they have to bomb the regime and its militias and also ISIS, and also they have to supply FSA (the rebel Free Syrian Army) with anti-aircraft missiles.”

Muhammad al-Dleby said he was frustrated that after three years and more than 100,000 deaths in Syria, “the international community stepped in only because radical militants were “a threat to its interests.”

“Assad is the biggest terrorist in Syria, and he did crimes that even … extremists didn’t do,” he said.

Kerry: Strikes effective but will take time

So far, U.S. Central Command has conducted 198 airstrikes across Iraq against ISIS and, along with partner nations, another 20 airstrikes against the group across Syria.

Conceding that airstrikes haven’t flushed out ISIS in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that U.S airpower may nonetheless have prevented the fall of Baghdad and Irbil to the militants.

“What we’ve done is we’ve stopped the onslaught,” he told crypto-glamorous Pentagon/State Department stenographer Christiane Amanpour anchoring CNN’s coverage from New York. Christiane Amanpour.

“That was what we were able to achieve with air power. They were moving towards Irbil. They were moving towards Baghdad. Baghdad could well have fallen. Irbil could have fallen.”

U.S. airstrikes aren’t designed to defeat ISIS by themselves, Kerry said. “You and others should not be looking for some massive retreat in the next week or two,” he said.  Boots on the ground…?

The airstrikes early Tuesday in Syria came in three waves, with coalition partners participating in the latter two, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr. said Tuesday.

The airstrikes against ISIS focused primarily on the city of Raqqa, the declared capital of ISIS’ self-proclaimed Islamic State.

The operation began with a flurry of Tomahawk missiles launched from the sea, followed by attacks from bomber and fighter aircraft, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.

The goal: Taking out ISIS’ ability to command, train and resupply its militants.

In all, 200 pieces of ordnance were dropped by coalition members, and four dozen aircraft were used, a U.S. official told CNN. About 150 weapons used were precision-guided munitions. The United States fired 47 Tomahawk missiles, eight of them against Khorasan targets.

The first wave mostly targeted the Khorasan Group, whom Obama described as “seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria.

‘There are five Arab “friendly monarchs” involved’

The second wave of airstrikes Tuesday involved ISIS targets in northern Syria, including the town of Raqqa.

The third wave involved planes targeting ISIS training camps and combat vehicles in eastern Syria, Mayville said.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan took part in airstrikes on the ISIS targets, the U.S. military said, while Qatar played a supporting role.

In all, 200 pieces of ordnance were dropped by coalition members, a U.S. official told CNN.

The toll

It’s too early to say what effect the U.S. strikes had against the Khorasan Group, Mayville said.

U.S. officials said “the group was plotting attacks against the United States and other Western targets”. The intelligence community discovered the plots against the United States in the past week, an intelligence source told CNN.

The attacks on ISIS, however, destroyed targets including training compounds, command-and-control facilities, a finance center and supply trucks, the U.S. Central Command said.

The airstrikes apparently took a toll on another terror group, killing the leader of the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, according to a statement from the group.

Al-Nusra Front identified the leader as Abu Yousef al-Turki, also known as “The Turk.” It posted a statement on Twitter, accompanied by a so-called proof-of-death — a photograph — of al-Turki.

But the United States has not identified al-Nusra as a group targeted in the strikes.

Activist: ISIS fighters keep low profile

An activist from Raqqa, who uses the pseudonym Maher al-Ahmad, told CNN he’d gone back to the town after the airstrikes.

“It’s the first time I didn’t see ISIS in the streets, that I was able to walk around, because I am wanted by them,” said al-Ahmad, who moves between Raqqa and Turkey’s Gaziantep province.

He said people who were there during the strikes described them as feeling like earthquakes.

Some 20 to 25 vehicles filled with ISIS fighters, including people he believes were senior leadership because of the level of security around them, left the city within hours of the attacks, the activist said.

After keeping a low profile during the day, the ISIS fighters were out in the streets again by Tuesday evening but in lower numbers than usual, he said.

ISIS fighters began moving into the homes of civilians in the past two to three weeks, al-Ahmad said, raising fears that the civilians may be used as human shields or fall victim to future airstrikes.

Hassan al-Halabi, an activist from Aleppo, voiced similar fears, saying residents there have two main concerns about upcoming strikes in Syria.

“The first is that they are afraid of having civilian casualties because ISIS’ members and fighters are among civilians,” al-Halabi said.

“And the second concern is that what will happen after that? Who will replace ISIS, especially that the regime is ready to take control of ISIS’ areas?”

Possible retaliation

Concern over possible backlash by the terror groups against the United States has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to warn law enforcement agencies of potential lone-wolf terror attacks on American soil, a U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the warning told CNN.

The bulletin calls for vigilance as well as scrutinizing social media for anyone encouraging violence in response to the strikes. It points to the use of social media as a tactic by ISIS to spread its message and call for violence.

It also advises agencies to look for changes in appearance or behavior in those they’re tracking, the official said.

Extra:

Congressman OK with keeping secret the Khorasan Group strike

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told CNN’s Carol Costello on Wednesday morning that he is fine with the Obama administration not telling Congress about the U.S. attack on the Khorasan Group, a collection of senior al Qaeda members who have moved into Syria.

King said he’s known about the group for weeks, and he added that telling only a select few about plans to strike militants who could attack the U.S. was probably the only way to carry out the surprise strike. “You can’t have 435 commanders in chief,” King said, referring to the probable difficulty in having all representatives know that secret and keep it under wraps.

Professor: US Airstrikes in Syria Require Damascus’ Consent to Be Lawful

US airstrikes against the IS targets in Syria require the consent of the Syrian government to be lawful: expert

US airstrikes against the IS targets in Syria require the consent of the Syrian government to be lawful: expert

 

© AP Photo/ Hasan Jamali

WASHINGTON, September 23 (RIA Novosti), Lyudmila Chernova – Although Damascus was informed about the US airstrikes against the Islamic State targets in Syria, they still required the consent of the Syrian government to be lawful, John Quigley, Emeritus Professor at The Ohio State University, told RIA Novosti Tuesday.

“The airstrikes in Syria require the consent of the government of Syria in order to be lawful,” Quigley said. “In recent days, the government of Syria indicated it would not consent to such airstrikes.”

The professor noted that this morning, in response to the airstrikes, the Syrian government issued a statement indicating that it had been informed in advance by the United States.

“In that statement, Syria did not indicate whether it objects to the airstrikes. If Syria does not make clear its objection, it may be considered to consent,” he explained.

On Tuesday, the United States and a number of its Arab allies carried out a series of airstrikes against ISIS insurgent positions across Syria.

The ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic in Russia Riyad Haddad confirmed that Damascus knew of the upcoming operation in advance, however, denied any coordination with the US Air Force.

According to Haddad, the United States had informed Damascus of the upcoming airstrikes a few hours before the launch of the operation.

Quigley said that at this time Damascus has a couple of options.

“Countries that are the victim of aggression often complain to the UN Security Council. That is one option for Syria,” he emphasized. “Since ISIS is fighting against the government of Syria, the government might choose to consent.”

“ISIS has carried out significant violations of human rights in the territory it has captured in Syria and Iraq. Hopefully the government of Syria, the government of Iraq, the United States and other states can work together to return civil government to the territories ISIS controls,” Quigley concluded.

The IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has been fighting the Syrian government since 2012. In June 2014, the group extended its attacks to northern and western Iraq, declaring a caliphate on the territories over which it had control.

Breaking News: Huge blast devastates munitions factory in Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk (VIDEO)

RT news
Published time: September 20, 2014 13:51
Edited time: September 20, 2014 10:47

 Screenshot from youtube.com/channel/UCcGOu_GgCra6B0DLggzTk8w


Screenshot from youtube.com/channel/UCcGOu_GgCra6B0DLggzTk8w

A powerful explosion occurred at a military plant in the rebel-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk after a shell hit it. A fire is now ravaging the damaged facility.

The plant was used for producing explosives and ammunition as well as for dismantling unexploded munitions collected on the battlefields. On Saturday morning, residents of the war-torn city heard a powerful blast, which was followed by a huge cloud of white smoke rising into the sky.

 

 
 

A neighborhood official told Ukrainian 112 television that a shell hit the plant.

“There was a direct hit at the No 47 industrial explosives shop, where some explosives were present. It detonated and caused another explosion. Luckily it didn’t hit the main storage facility where we have some 2.5 tons of explosives,” said Ivan Prikhod’ko, deputy chair of the local community council.

He added that while the incident caused considerable damage, nobody was hurt. The plant itself was not working at the time, so no one was there. Also, it was built far from any residential areas specifically for safety purposes.

 
 

 
 
As the fire continued, smaller explosions could be heard, presumably from shells detonating in the fire, RIA Novosti reported.

There is no verified report about what kind of weapon hit the plant. But there are rumors of it being targeted by a Tochka-U tactical missile launched by Kiev’s troops.

“According to our information, three Tochka-U missiles were fired and there you have it,” a militia member who identified himself as codename ‘Scorpio’ told RT. He added that the area around the plant was considered dangerous lately because both the rebels and their opponents could shell it.

Donetsk saw sporadic shelling overnight.

 
 

 
 

The incident mars Friday’s signing of an extended ceasefire deal between Kiev and rebel forces, which hopes to put an end to hostilities in eastern Ukraine. The deal includes pulling back all heavy weapons from cities and frontlines.

The blast happened just as a Russian humanitarian aid convoy was unloading elsewhere in the city. Some 200 trucks carrying 2,000 tons of aid crossed the border earlier on Saturday.