Putin's Syria gambit puts US on back foot at UN

Updated 28 September 2015

Putin's Syria gambit puts US on back foot at UN

NEW TORK: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched a new coalition to battle the Daesh in Syria on Sunday, as he prepared to confront US rival Barack Obama at the United Nations.
The dramatic diplomatic gambit underlined the speed with which Russia has seized the initiative on Syria, even as US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet his counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Putin and Obama are to make duelling speeches on Monday before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and will come face-to-face in a private meeting at a time of high drama.
But even as the diplomatic playing pieces are coming into place, the facts on the ground are shifting, with Iraq confirming that it is to share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria.
The United States has built its own coalition of mainly Sunni Arab and Western countries to fight the Daesh or Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but Russia is taking another course.
Washington has demanded that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad step down, but Putin’s rival alliance with Shiite-led states will instead shore up the beleaguered government in Damascus.

Assad's crime
Western powers say Assad’s military is responsible for the vast majority of the 240,000 deaths in the four-year war, but Putin said there is only “one legitimate conventional army” in Syria.
“We have proposed to cooperate with the countries in the region. We are trying to establish some kind of coordinated framework,” Putin said in an interview with CBS News “60 Minutes.”
“We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists,” he said, in excerpts released Sunday.
Stressing the need to work with Assad to defeat the jihadist threat, Putin mocked the United States’ $500-million effort to train Syrian anti-Daesh fighters.
“As few as 4 or 5 people actually carry weapons, the rest of them have deserted with the American weapons to join ISIS,” he said.
The Pentagon has confirmed that some US-trained rebels surrendered some of their equipment to an Al-Qaeda linked militia, apparently in return for safe passage.
Washington and its allies counter that Assad triggered the civil war that has given jihadist factions room to grow, and continues to make a political settlement impossible.
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told ABC News on Sunday that Assad gases and bombs his own people and “we haven’t seen a dictator like him in a very long time.
“Put that all to one side. The other challenge is he hasn’t been at all effective fighting ISIL. In fact, the presence of Assad has attracted foreign terrorist fighters,” she argued.
“We are targeting them. We are having good success, particularly in the northern part of the country. Actually blunting ISIL’s progress and rolling them back.”

Reluctant allies
Washington and its allies refuse to put boots on the ground in Syria, despite the extraordinary chaos after four years of intense bloodshed, but Russia is ramping up its presence.
Moscow already has a powerful military detachment on a Syrian airbase in government-held territory, equipped with warplanes and tanks, and will now work more closely with neighboring Iraq.
Saad Al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s office, told AFP that officers from Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq would work together in Baghdad.
“It’s a committee coordinating between the four countries, with representatives of each country, in the field of military intelligence,” he said.
Iraq will continue to work with the US-led anti-IS coalition, but the new Russian presence in the capital captured by US forces in 2003 and occupied for a decade sends a powerful signal.
Obama and Kerry are hoping to use the week of the UN General Assembly to strengthen the resolve of their own coalition and build momentum for the fight against jihadist violence.
The US president will address the crisis in his own address and hold a parallel summit on violent extremism, while Kerry and US allies rally support for the anti-IS battle.
But all eyes will now be on Obama’s face-off with Putin, who suggested that Washington’s support for “moderate” Sunni rebels in Syria was illegal and a source of much of the violence.
“We have been providing assistance to legitimate government entities only,” Putin said, adding that he had personally briefed his Turkish, Saudi and Jordanian counterparts on the plan.
“We informed the United States too,” he said. “We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists.”


’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

Updated 11 November 2019

’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

BEIRUT: A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometers (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.
“Don’t trust the rumors, they’re a group of thieves,” sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.
“The identity is Lebanese,” they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef Al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.
Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fueled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.
They serve to “shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale,” said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.
“The two streets are observing and learning from each other,” said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted Al-Karbalai’s chant.
In Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: “From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies.”
And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the “bride” of Lebanon’s protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.
“From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near,” read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut’s state-run electricity company.
In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad’s month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.
They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.
Banners reading “from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt” could be seen throughout.
Lebanon and Iraq are ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.
Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“What’s happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they’re sister protests,” said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.
“They’re the result of an accumulation” of years of problems.
One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.
In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, “Lebanon, we’re with you!“
The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.
In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.
University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.
The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.
Lebanon’s street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.
The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritizes power-sharing between sects over good governance.
The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.
“We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system,” said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.
He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“In Lebanon, it’s more entrenched,” he said of the arrangement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.
With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.
“The goal is one,” he said.