’Secret steps’ adopted to change Syria balance

Updated 28 June 2013
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’Secret steps’ adopted to change Syria balance

DOHA: World powers supporting Syria’s rebels decided on Saturday to take “secret steps” to change the balance on the battlefield, after the United States and others called for increasing military aid to insurgents.
Yet even as they prepared to step up their own involvement in a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah stop supporting President Bashar Assad’s regime.
In their final communique, the ministers agreed to “provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”
Speaking in Doha, top Qatari diplomat Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani said the meeting of foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria” had taken “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground in Syria.”
Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks.
Washington and Doha called for increasing military aid to end what US Secretary of State John Kerry called an “imbalance” in Assad’s favor.
Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.
But he said the rebels need more support “for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground.”
To that end, he said, “the United States and other countries here — in their various ways, each choosing its own approach — will increase the scope and scale of assistance to the political and military opposition.”
Sheikh Hamad echoed Kerry’s remarks, calling for arms deliveries to the rebels to create a military balance that could help forge peace.
A peaceful end “cannot be reached unless a balance on the ground is achieved, in order to force the regime to sit down to talks,” he told the ministers.
“Getting arms and using them could be the only way to achieve peace.”
On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it was already receiving unspecified new types of arms that could change the course of the battle, but also said it needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.
In their communique, the ministers agreed that all military aid provided would be chanelled through the FSA’s Supreme Military Council.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the ministers demanded that predominantly Shiite Iran and Hezbollah stop meddling in the war by supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“We have demanded that Iran and Hezbollah end their intervention in the conflict,” said Fabius.
“Hezbollah has played a terribly negative role, mainly in the attack on Qusayr,” a strategic town recaptured from rebels earlier this month with the group’s help.
“We are fully against the internationalization of the conflict,” he told reporters.
Kerry also accused Assad of an “internationalization” of the conflict, which has claimed nearly 100,000 lives, by bringing in Iran and Hezbollah.
And the final communique said the crossing into Syria of militia and fighters that support the regime, a clear reference to Hezbollah, “must be prevented.”
The ministers also warned of the “increasing presence and growing radicalism” and “terrorist elements in Syria.”
It is “a matter that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria, threatens the security of neighboring countries and risks destabilising the wider region and the world,” they said.
Sheikh Hamad also voiced support for a peace conference but insisted there could be no role in the future government for “Assad and aides with bloodstained hands.”
He accused Assad’s regime of wanting to block the Geneva conference in order to stay in power, “even if that costs one million dead, millions of displaced and refugees, and the destruction of Syria and its partition.”
The final communique stated that Assad “has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter.”
On the ground, loyalist forces pressed a fierce four-day assault on rebel-held parts of Damascus, while insurgents launched a new attack on regime-controlled neighborhoods of second city Aleppo.
Saturday’s developments come as the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Observatory.
They also come a day after at least 100 people were killed nationwide, it added.


Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

  • Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
  • The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh.
BAGHDAD: An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating the Daesh group are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.
Since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of 2003, the constitution has vested key powers in the prime minister, a post reserved for the majority Shiite population.
Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 parliamentary elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority. Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.
Security crisis
The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Haider Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.
The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over the jihadists in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.
An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.
He owes his position to the support of the Marjaiya, the supreme council of Iraq’s Shiite clerics, and to an international consensus.
“He is acceptable to all foreign stakeholders, from the Iranians, to the Americans (and) the Saudis,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.
Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq, leaving jihadists largely confined to areas close to the Syrian border.
The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.
“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.
Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating IS.
Ameri comes from Diyala province and is a statistics graduate from Baghdad University. He fled to Iran in 1980 after Saddam executed top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Al-Sadr.
The 64-year old is widely viewed as Tehran’s favored candidate.
He fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 as part of the Badr organization, and he only returned from exile after Saddam’s ouster. During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.
The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh. At the battlefront, he operated alongside his old friend Qassem Soleimani, who runs the foreign operations wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“I think Ameri will have a strong hand in the post-ballot negotiations but that government formation is likely to remain with Dawa and in all likelihood with Abadi,” said Haddad.
Rebuilding Basra
Beyond Ameri’s military credentials, his appeal has been bolstered by Hashed putting its bulldozers to work in rebuilding Basra and the capital’s Sadr City district, exposing the state’s deficiencies.
“With Dawa divided, I think Ameri sees himself as the joker in the pack, as a prime minister who can rebuild the civil state with the same success that he led the military,” said Fili.
The third candidate, 68-year-old Maliki, has been chomping at the bit since he was forced out in 2014, after serving eight years as prime minister.
While still a prominent Dawa leader, he was accused of marginalizing Sunnis and promoting corruption during his tenure.
“He is trying to focus his efforts on areas where the Dawa party is strong and is attempting to get closer to Shiite armed groups to stay in the spotlight,” said Fili.
For Haddad, the former premier’s chances are modest.
“Maliki’s fortunes have taken an irreversible hit. His second term is not remembered well by Iraqis in general.”
“The upper limit of his prospects might be to play second fiddle to Ameri,” Haddad said.