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Are we witnessing the end of Syria?

French Mandate of SyriaReuters has a report on how Quds Force Commander Gen. Soliemani mapped out Russian involvement to save beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad, “How Iranian general plotted out Syrian assault in Moscow.”  The strategy unraveling now is a joint air and ground assault to carve out an Alawite bastion in Western and Northwestern Syria ejecting CIA and Coalition-trained opposition, Al Qaeda Al Nusrah Front and Free Syrian Army forces. The air assault to date has focused on attacking these units in a strategic line north out of Damascus. The ground component is composed of fresh Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah units. The Russian air assault contingent based in Latakia province is being bolstered by Russian “volunteers” a page out of Putin’s playbook for seizure of the Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. In the absence of significant US trained Sunni opposition contingents in this scenario; it would appear that Syria may devolve into a series of sectarian cantons akin to the  French Mandate for Syria granted by the League of Nations in the early 1920’s.

The objective of Iran is to build a virtual Shia crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean coast including bringing in Shia extremist Imams and resettling  Shia refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Syrian areas depopulated of Sunnis and Christians. The Alawites, who are secular, are troubled by this development and many have fled abroad. The Kurds have their de facto canton in Northeastern Syria abutting the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Turkey is clearly upset with the Russian presence in Syria, as is NATO, while the US is clearly dithering on what to do. Once again Obama has been outfoxed by Soliemani and Putin. That leaves allies like Israel, the Saudis and the Emirates seeking alternatives for their own sovereign protection. The Saudis and Emirates are talking about a jihad akin to that they funded in Afghanistan with CIA and Pakistan’s ISI in a secret war in the 1980’s that led to the rout of the Soviet 40th Army and gave rise to Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.

A Der Spiegel article, “The Iranian Project: Why Assad Has Turned to Moscow for Helpportrays  President Bashar al-Assad as caught in a dilemma; “fear of friends”, meaning Iran versus “fear of opposition.”That former fear stems from reliance on Iran Revolutionary Guards, Shia auxiliaries from Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Sadr Brigade in Iraq and Shia fighters from Afghanistan and  Pakistan. They are under the command of Quds Force Commander Soliemani and make up for the decimation and desertions of draftees from the Syrian National Defense Forces. Iran’s intention is to build an Islamic Revolutionary State within  the areas along the Mediterranean coast and Mountains of Northwest Syria. To that end Iran has sent in radical Imams to create Shia religious centers directed at conversion of secular Alawites and Sunnis causing them to flee the country.  Thus, Assad has welcomed the Russia military assistance as Putin has allegedly no such interests in the current campaign, excepting protecting Russian interests in naval and military bases, as well as offshore gas developments.

Note these excerpts:

“Assad and those around him are afraid of the Iranians,” the Russian says. Anger over the arrogance of the Iranians, who treat Syria like a colony, is also part of it, the Russian continues. Most of all, though, the Syrians “mistrust Tehran’s goals, for which Assad’s position of power may no longer be decisive. That is why the Syrians absolutely want us in the country.”

Tehran’s goals go far beyond merely reestablishing the status quo in Syria. In early 2013, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, one of the planners behind Iran’s engagement in Syria, said: “Syria is the 35th province of Iran and it is a strategic province for us.” For several decades, the alliance between the Assads and Iran was a profitable one, particularly in opposition to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which long had the upper hand in the region. But today, Assad depends on Iran to remain in power, and Tehran is taking advantage of the situation.

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs — Shiite religious teaching centers — are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to “correct” Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. “They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don’t even wear headscarves and we aren’t Shiites,” Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: “We don’t need you. We need your children and grandchildren.”

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: “Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don’t do that.”

Putin may have been prompted by Quds Force Commander Soliemani to aid mutual client Assad because he saw an opportunity to make a power play against the US in the region.  However, the secular Ba’athist Syrian tradition has been virtually suborned by the influx of Iranian Revolutionary Guards ‘and Shia proxies’ with the objective of creating a Khomeinist Revolutionary state. The confluence of those opposing interests, secular and religious, may ultimate end the decades’ long rule of the Assad family. That might lead to an ultimate apocalyptic conflict in Syria between nuclear equipped Shia Iran and the Sunni Salafist Islamic State.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Ex-Saddam Intelligence Officer creator of Islamic State Structure for Conquest of Syria and Iraq

Der Spiegel published a report this weekend identifying the Ex-Saddam intelligence officer who created  the strategy  for the  Islamic State  the late Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi aka Haji Bakr killed  by Syrian rebels in January 2014.  The Der Spiegel  report  The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State,  is based on papers  of  the late Haji Bakr who devised the draconic  oppressive organization of the Islamic State  that facilitated  the conquest  and control of  large swaths of both Syria and Iraq.  It demonstrates that ISIS made common cause with Ba’athist nationalists recreating the dystopian “Republic of Fear” that existed under the late Saddam Hussein under the veneer of apocalyptic Jihadist Islam. The Irony is that the cabal of  former Saddam Ba’athist  officers met the future Emir of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al –Baghdadi while US prisoner at Camp  Bucca in Iraq over the period from 2005 to 2008.  After reading this Der Spiegel report one wonders whether self-appointed Emir of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi is the real power behind the rise of the Islamic state and whether it is the operatives of the late Haji Bakr.

Der Spiegel wrote:

Not even those who shot and killed him after a brief firefight in the town of Tal Rifaat on a January morning in 2014 knew the true identity of the tall man in his late fifties. They were unaware that they had killed the strategic head of the group calling itself “Islamic State” (IS). The fact that this could have happened at all was the result of a rare but fatal miscalculation by the brilliant planner.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages, some consisting of several pages pasted together. They reveal a multilayered composition and directives for action, some already tested and others newly devised for the anarchical situation in Syria’s rebel-held territories. In a sense, the documents are the source code of the most successful terrorist army in recent history.

For the first time, the Haji Bakr documents now make it possible to reach conclusions on how the IS leadership is organized and what role former officials in the government of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein play in it. Above all, however, they show how the takeover in northern Syria was planned, making the group’s later advances into Iraq possible in the first place. In addition, months of research undertaken by SPIEGEL in Syria, as well as other newly discovered records, exclusive to SPIEGEL, show that Haji Bakr’s instructions were carried out meticulously.

Haji Bakr’s Master Plan

When Iraqi national Haji Bakr traveled to Syria as part of a tiny advance party in late 2012, he had a seemingly absurd plan: IS would capture as much territory as possible in Syria. Then, using Syria as a beachhead, it would invade Iraq.

Bakr took up residence in an inconspicuous house in Tal Rifaat, north of Aleppo. The town was a good choice. In the 1980s, many of its residents had gone to work in the Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia. When they returned, some brought along radical convictions and contacts. In 2013, Tal Rifaat would become IS’ stronghold in Aleppo Province, with hundreds of fighters stationed there.

[…]

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.

            

Islamic State Master Plan by Haji Bakr former Saddam Hussein Intelligence Officer

This blueprint was implemented with astonishing accuracy in the ensuing months. The plan would always begin with the same detail: The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Da’wah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:

  • List the powerful families.
  • Name the powerful individuals in these families.
  • Find out their sources of income.
  • Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
  • Find out the names of their leaders, who control the brigades and their political orientation.
  • Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary.

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or were involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

                    […]

 Sharia, the courts, prescribed piety — all of this served a single goal: surveillance and control. Even the word that Bakr used for the conversion of true Muslims, takwin, is not a religious but a technical term that translates as “implementation”.

     […]

Bakr was merely modifying what he had learned in the past: Saddam Hussein’s omnipresent security apparatus, in which no one, not even generals in the intelligence service, could be certain they weren’t being spied on.

    […]

The Ba’athist Nationalists link up with the AQ Iraq Prisoners held by the U.S.

In 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later “caliph,” the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.

Bakr was “a nationalist, not an Islamist,” says Iraqi journalist Hisham al-Hashimi, as he recalls the former career officer, who was stationed with Hashimi’s cousin at the Habbaniya Air Base. “Colonel Samir,” as Hashimi calls him, “was highly intelligent, firm and an excellent logistician.” But when Paul Bremer, then head of the US occupational authority in Baghdad, “dissolved the army by decree in May 2003, he was bitter and unemployed.”

Although Iraq’s dominant Baath Party was secular, the two systems ultimately shared a conviction that control over the masses should lie in the hands of a small elite that should not be answerable to anyone — because it ruled in the name of a grand plan, legitimized by either God or the glory of Arab history. The secret of IS’ success lies in the combination of opposites, the fanatical beliefs of one group and the strategic calculations of the other.

Bakr gradually became one of the military leaders in Iraq, and he was held from 2006 to 2008 in the US military’s Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib Prison. He survived the waves of arrests and killings by American and Iraqi special units, which threatened the very existence of the IS precursor organization in 2010, Islamic State in Iraq.

For Bakr and a number of former high-ranking officers, this presented an opportunity to seize power in a significantly smaller circle of jihadists. They utilized the time they shared in Camp Bucca to establish a large network of contacts

(Read More)

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is a composite image of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL Takfiris, Haji Bakr, and his hand-drawn structural blueprint (Press TV photo).