US airs alarm over Russian plan to arm Assad regime with new air-defense missile systems

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Tracked launcher of the Russian S-300 (SA-10 Grumble) family anti-aircraft missile system. (Shutterstock photo)
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A Russian army's S-300 anti-aircraft missile system launcher rolls in central St. Petersburg, on April 28, 2014, during a Victory Day parade rehearsal. (File/ AFP)
Updated 25 September 2018

US airs alarm over Russian plan to arm Assad regime with new air-defense missile systems

  • President Vladimir Putin has ordered additional security measures after a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 air defence missile shot down a Russian military plane by mistake
  • Russia will transfer the modern S-300 air defence system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks

MOSCOW/JEDDAH:  Russia is to supply the Assad regime with sophisticated S-300 air-defense missile systems in what the US described on Monday as a “significant escalation” of the Syrian conflict.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said he would raise the matter this week with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN General Assembly in New York. 

The move follows a “friendly fire” incident last week when Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military reconnaissance aircraft and killed all 15 people on board. Russia said Israeli fighter jets had pushed the plane into Syria’s line of fire.

The S-300 missile defense systems will be delivered to Damascus within two weeks, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday. 

He said that President Vladimir Putin ordered additional security measures after a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 missile shot down the Russian military plane by mistake, killing 15, in an incident last Monday that Moscow blames on Israel.

“This has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops” in Syria, Shoigu said in a televised statement.

“(Russia will) transfer the modern S-300 air defense system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks.”

Earlier in the war, Russia suspended a supply of S-300s. “The situation has changed, and it’s not our fault,” Shoigu said. 

Russia will also equip Syrian air defenses with a new automated control system to enhance its efficiency and help identify Russian aircraft, Shoigu said. 

The Russian military will start using electronic countermeasures to jam any aircraft that try to launch attacks off Syria’s coast.“We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions that pose a threat to our troops,” he said.

The S-300 missile system, originally developed by the Soviet military but since modernized and available in several versions with different capabilities, fires missiles from trucks and is designed to shoot down military aircraft and short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

A surface-to-air missile launched by an S-300 anti-aircraft system at Russia's Astrakhan region in 2017. Shutterstock photo) 

'Iran is to blame'

“We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians ... and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider,” US National Security Adviser John Bolton said.

“There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding here. The party responsible for the attacks in Syria and Lebanon and really the party responsible for the shooting down of the Russian plane is Iran.”

Bolton warned that if the Syrian government used chemical weapons again, the US response would be significant.

“If in fact they make the mistake of using chemical weapons again, the retaliation would be much stronger than before and would have the intended effect of creating structures of deterrence that they never do it again,” he said.

Bolton said the US was doing everything it could to ensure Syria did not use chemical weapons and had pressed Russia about the issue as well. Bolton said a political process was needed but Russia supplying the missile system made that difficult. 

He said US troops would remain in Syria as long as Iran was involved.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”


Russians not convinced

Moscow says Israeli F-16 planes which struck Latakia in western Syria on Sept. 17 later used the landing Russian Il-20 surveillance plane as “cover,” which resulted in the larger Il-20 being hit by a Syrian missile.

The Russian military has said that Israel’s air force informed its command in Syria via the established de-confliction hotline, but only one minute before the air strikes — and gave the wrong target location.

Because of this, Moscow claims that the Russian airforce could not keep its plane safe.

Israel regularly carries out strikes in Syria against Assad’s government, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and Iranian targets. An Israeli military delegation traveled to Moscow last week to share information about the incident.

An Israeli official said the information showed that the Russian plane was shot down because Syrian batteries had “fired recklessly, irresponsibly and unprofessionally, long after our planes were no longer there.”

He said the warning time before the strike was “much longer than one minute.”

Russia has apparently not found this convincing.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said the incident was caused by “premeditated” actions by Israeli pilots, warning that this will harm relations between the two countries.

“According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Peskov told journalists.

The incident was the deadliest case of friendly fire between Syria and its key backer Russia since Moscow’s 2015 military intervention, which turned the war in Assad’s favor.

Peskov said the new measures were only to boost the security of its troops in Syria.

(With AFP)

Iraq’s Mosul logs civil records lost to years of Daesh rule

Iraqis wait at the Nineveh governorate building in Iraq's second city of Mosul to resolve issues related to their identity documents. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018

Iraq’s Mosul logs civil records lost to years of Daesh rule

  • During the Daesh’s reign, thousands of Iraqis who lived in areas controlled by Daesh virtually disappeared from state registers
  • When Iraqi forces retook the city and courts reopened, he and his wife rushed to sign a new marriage contract

MOSUL: When Shahed was born in 2015 her father tried to notify Iraq’s civil registry. The problem was, their city of Mosul was held by Daesh group and the office had been shut.

Three years later, 39-year-old Ahmed Aziz has yet to officially register his daughter’s birth, the certificate for which bears the seal of the so-called caliphate.
Under the late summer sun, the taxi driver braves a long queue outside Mosul’s reopened civil registry, hoping that by the end of the day Shahed’s name will finally appear in state records.
The little girl was born just a year after Daesh swept across the country, seizing swathes of territory including Iraq’s second city Mosul.
“The civil registry was closed,” said Aziz, holding the IS-stamped document issued by a hospital in Mosul.
But since Iraqi forces ultimately regained control of the city in July 2017 after a bloody months-long campaign, residents have flooded the city’s reopened offices.
Thousands of children like Shahed had been born under Daesh rule, and the extremists had systematically blown up civil offices and archives.
“I saw this massive rush to get to the public offices, so I preferred to wait a bit before going there too,” said Aziz.
As a result, his daughter does not yet officially exist.
During the Daesh’s reign, thousands of Iraqis who lived in areas controlled by Daesh virtually disappeared from state registers.
Some lost their identity documents as neighborhoods turned into battle zones, others as they fled the violence.
Many of those who remained were given documents from Daesh’s proto-state — ministries and courts created by the jihadists to register births, marriages, deaths and trade agreements alike.
None of that paperwork has been recognized by Iraqi authorities.
When Zein Mohammed got married in 2014, he and his soon-to-be wife had to present themselves at an IS court to seal the deal.
What should have been the best day of the now 29-year-old civil servant’s life was instead a test.
“I appeared in front of the judge with my fiancee — she was covered head-to-toe in black,” he told AFP.
Under Daesh rule, Mosul’s residents were forced to bow to the jihadists ultra-conservative demands.
Women were compelled to fully cover themselves in black veils and long robes, and civil cases were heard by courts that dealt out death sentences and corporal punishment for “sins..”
“The judge issued us a marriage certificate bearing the IS seal,” said Mohammed.
When Iraqi forces retook the city and courts reopened, he and his wife rushed to sign a new marriage contract.
Now, packed in among the crowd outside Mosul’s civil registry, Mohammed is hoping to finally regularize their marital status.
Iraqi civil servants are working around the clock to meet the massive demand, compiling files, verifying identities and registering official documents and certificates.
It is a titanic job, often slowed due to additional safeguards imposed by Iraqi security services in the former IS stronghold.
To weed out fake IDs and spot jihadists seeking to slip through the cracks, “intelligence services check each document,” head of Mosul’s registry office General Hussein Mohammed Ali told AFP.
But the added security measures have not hampered progress.
“More than a million certified documents and more than 2,000 passports have already been issued,” he said.
Mustafa Thamer, a 23-year-old student, is applying for his first passport even though he has no plans to travel soon.
“We say we must have a passport so that we can leave whenever we want,” he told AFP.
“We lived under IS occupation and we no longer trust the future of the city,” he said.
“Anything can happen in Mosul.”