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tabatha's Journal
tabatha's Journal
March 4, 2012

What Russia taught Syria: When you destroy a city, make sure no one -- not even the story - gets out

I made my call. It was short. Then the commander made a call; he quickly hung up and handed me back the phone. "Enough," he said, motioning for me to remove the battery.

As we walked briskly back to the safe house, it was exactly 10 minutes before the cascade of double wa-whumps announced the Grad rocket batteries pounding the vacant neighborhood we had just left.

It was December 1999, and the Russian assault on Grozny was unfolding in all its gruesome detail. After the dissolution of so much of the former Soviet empire, Chechnya was one country that the newly minted prime minister, Vladimir Putin, refused to let go of. His boss, Boris Yeltsin, and the Russian army had been defeated and then humiliated in the media by Chechen forces in the first war. Five years later, Russia was back. And Putin's new strategy was unbending: silence, encircle, pulverize, and "cleanse." It was a combination of brutal tactics -- a Stalinist purge of fighting-age males plus Orwellian propaganda that fed Russians a narrative wherein Chechen freedom fighters were transformed into Islamist mercenaries and terrorists. More than 200,000 civilians were to die in this war, the echoes of which continue to this day.


Russia has spent a long time perfecting these techniques. On April 21, 1996, Chechnya's breakaway president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was speaking on a satellite phone with Russian envoy Konstantin Borovoi about setting peace talks with Yeltsin. During the phone call, he was killed by a signal-guided missile fired from a Russian jet fighter. The warplane had received Dudayev's coordinates from a Russian ELINT (electronic intelligence) plane that had picked up and locked on to the signal emitted by the satellite phone. It was Russian deception and brutality at its finest.

... Flash forward to Syria today.


March 3, 2012

London Review of Books - Syrian Notebooks - Jonathan Littell

I would pass the town hall many times, a large four-storey building in the Soviet style, its windows smashed, sandbags on its roof to protect sniper nests. Until recently, the snipers fired regularly into the streets, especially at night. After an assault the FSA managed to enter it and signed an agreement with the commander; his men have remained quiet since then. In fact, the FSA travelled freely throughout the town, sometimes in pick-up trucks armed with heavy machine guns, with the insignia of the al-Faruk katiba, the unit in charge of the zone, on their doors. Every night, when civilians gathered in the street to protest against the regime, dozens of armed FSA soldiers positioned themselves at the crossroads to protect them. ‘We rarely intervene,’ an officer I met the next day, with a dozen of his men in a farm outside the hamlet, explained. ‘The checkpoints stay in place, and they don’t bother us. We only attack when the regular army attempts an operation.’


What is especially striking is the political intelligence of ordinary Syrians involved in the revolt. Abu Abdo, one of our drivers, asked us, ‘So, have you seen the Salafi here, as Bashar says?’ ‘That depends,’ Mani replied. ‘What do you mean by “Salafi”?’ ‘Exactly. The word means two things. The Muslims of Syria follow the way of moderation, and to live correctly they have to follow the example of a pious ancestor. That is the original meaning of the word. The other, which implies the Takfiri, jihadist, terrorist movement, is a creation of the Americans and Israelis. That has nothing to do with us.’ Later on, during a long break at a farm, he would show himself to be very critical of the opposition parties: ‘Today, unlike Hama in 1982, it’s the people that’s rising up. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, the Salafi and the other political movements are running to catch up with it and climb up on its shoulders. But the Syrians in the street refuse the politicisation of the movement. They accept help from wherever it comes, but that help can’t have strings attached. The streets reacted to reaction to oppression and humiliation; they didn’t demand any particular political option. The Syrian people were raised as if in a hen house: you have the right to eat, sleep, lay eggs, and that’s it. There’s no room for thought. It’s the North Korea of the Middle East.’


At the end of the demonstration, dozens of young people surrounded me, trying out their four words of English. They all showed me their scars, their bruises, their electrical burns, or where bullets or shrapnel had struck. The brother of one of them had been killed by a sniper as he was crossing the street, the mother of another by a shell; everyone wanted to tell everything, right away. They were waving their mobile phones: ‘Shouf, shouf, look!’ A corpse mottled with torture marks, another with its skull smashed in, in yet another the camera lingered on each wound, gaping holes in the groin, the leg, the chest, the throat. Wherever we went, it was the same. In an emergency clinic in al-Khaldiye, in the northern part of the city, the smartphone of a young nurse appeared even before tea did: on the screen, a man is dying in the hands of a doctor who is trying to intubate him on the ground, at the foot of the sofa I was sitting on. He was a taxi driver; he was hit in the face by a bullet and is lying in an immense pool of blood, his brain pouring onto the floor. ‘You see the hands, there?’ the nurse said. ‘That’s me.’ She went on to the next video, the tea arrived, I drank it without taking my eyes off the little screen. Every mobile phone in Homs is a museum of horrors.


February 22, 2012

Syria's rebels are not an al-Qaeda army

But it's all pretty flimsy, isn't it? Leaving aside the intelligence, National or otherwise, of a Washington insider who doesn't know the difference between an earmark and a hallmark, just because something looks like an al-Qaeda attack doesn't mean it is one, particularly if the accusation is that the Syrian regime has dressed it up to look like one. (Note - a defector has already claimed that is was done by Assad now, and at the time, there were reports that the area was cordoned off by regime forces.)

The reality is that, as The Telegraph has reported consistently in recent years, there is growing evidence of collaboration between the Iranian government, Assad's backers, and al-Qaeda, some of whose members (including Bin Ladens) have been "guests" of Tehran since fleeing Afghanistan in 2001.

In Libya too, the evidence for actual, rather than incipient chaos is not as strong as it might appear – "if anything, the fighting appears to be getting worse, as the country breaks into hostile armed fractions – a fertile hunting ground for al-Qaeda," says Oborne. Yet this is demonstrably untrue. There are squabbles and fights between different (largely city-based) militias, in which some die, and that is indeed a worrying portent for the future. But the deaths are small compared to the shootings of the early days of the uprising, let alone the war that followed. The absence, not presence, of al-Qaeda is the most startling aspect of the new Libya. Amnesty International rightly pointed the other day to the barbarous behaviour of the once heroic Misrata brigade, and the prisoners they have tortured and, in 12 cases, killed. That is damnable; but it is a figure that would be regarded as "great progress" in the case of our other Middle East ventures, and that is not as sick a thought as it seems to anyone who witnessed the horrors of Gaddafi and his brood. I will not quickly forget the sight of the remains of the scores killed and cremated by Khamis Gaddafi in a single incident in a shed-prison as he fled Tripoli in August.

Commentators talk of the Arab Spring as unleashing a poison across the Middle East. The ghastliness of the mixed metaphor is enough to show how flawed is the thought it expresses. The poison was there. It was created, or at least nurtured, by the dictatorships, the same dictatorships that are now bombing their own people in their homes and seizing children off the streets, cutting out their genitals, and murdering them. Are we really to turn a blind eye? The politics of the Arab Spring are just as complicated as Oborne suggests, but a simple principle remains of overwhelming importance. Can Europe really urge democracy on the world, while consigning our neighbours to the rule of psychopaths?


Really good article - cuts through the nonsense.

February 21, 2012

Syria: Homsís pioneer RIP

I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how to overcome my sorrow. This is the second article i write about the death of a citizen journalist in Syria. First it was Basil Sayed & now it’s RAMI AHMAD AL SAYID. They’re both citizen journalists who died in same city. The same city that has been under heavy bombardment adding that it’s besieged as well.

Rami died while he was filming the massacre that took place today in Bab Amr area. He was riding in a car with 4 others and documenting with his camera when they all came under fire from Syrian regime forces. Rami uploaded 831 videos on YouTube. And before he died he sent out a message, this is what it said (Translated by @Basma_):

“Baba Amr is being exterminated. Do not tell me our hearts are with you because I know that. We need campaigns everywhere across the world and inside the country. People should protest in front of embassies and everywhere. Because in hours, there will be no more Baba Amr. And I expect this message to be my last.”

Rami was also responsible of the live streaming coming out from Homs, he used the live streaming website BAMBUSER despite that fact that it was blocked in Syria. He overcame the blockage and showed the entire world what is going on while syrian regime politicians are denying that anything is happening in Bab Amr area.

February 20, 2012

The Daily Beast: Libya Struggles With Mass Gaddafi-Era Rape Crimes

The absence of a state structure to address sexual violence exacerbates the situation. According to Islamic laws, four witnesses are required for persecution. The head of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, confirms the rape campaign that took place in Libya, and reports that often the evidence has to be based on a soldier’s confession and not on a victim's testimony.

Until now, there have been only a few cases of women who have stood up to their husbands and families and gone public with their stories. Now they have no choice but to live abroad, and none of the perpetrators have been prosecuted so far. The real test for the international community is whether we will overcome the common belief that rape is an inevitable and unpunishable part of every conflict.


No wonder the evidence was difficult to come by. And those, who say that "we know" that rape did not occur - typical holier-than-thou cr@p.

February 20, 2012

Paying Respects To A Fallen Journalist In Libya - Andy Carvin

A light mist of cold rain started falling on us from the moment we reached the cemetery. If I hadn't felt it on my face, I probably wouldn't have even noticed it, as the hardscrabble stretching throughout the grave yard appeared just as parched as one might expect in a desert country.

I had driven to the southern outskirts of Benghazi to visit the grave of a friend -– a virtual friend who I had never met in person, and quite honestly, had only interacted with on a limited basis. His name was Mohamed "Mo" Nabbous, and he was the first independent journalist to come out of Libya's revolution.

At the start of the revolution — one year ago today, as it happens — Mo set up a satellite Internet connection in the heart of Benghazi. Protesters were getting killed on the streets around him, yet Mo and a small group of friends had the composure and courage to begin streaming live video from the scene.

Over the next four weeks, Mo, his friends and online volunteers from around the world turned his video stream into the most important real-time source of news coming out of Libya. For part of that time, it was the only reliable source of live video, as journalists from the outside had yet to enter the country.

February 12, 2012

Comment by aythem Dharat

Haythem Dharat says:
November 13, 2011 at 10:44 PM

I am from Misurata City and I was there from day one of the revolution. We went out with sticks & rocks & that same night as the author wrote, we were met with bullets. Actually it wasn’t Gaddafi’s men who were shooting but it was young kids from Tawergha who were given AK47s to shoot demonstrators. Misurata city was being bombed for months and attacked by at least 12 Gaddafi brigades. But the worst brigade was the Tawergha brigade and everybody knows that. Tawergha had it’s own brigade and there are videos on youtube to prove that. I am a businessman and I had an assistant from Tawergha and he manages my warehouse. We just unloaded goods worth $200,000 to the warehouse so I called him and his reply was shocking. I asked him about his whereabouts & if he’s ok and I was worried about him because I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. We used to treat him like part of the family. From having nothing, after working with me he got a car, he got married etc. Anyway, his reply was something like this “You people from Misurata will all die, we are coming to kill you, rape your sisters, wives & mothers and he started cursing”. I was just shocked, I thought to myself maybe someone else stole his mobile. I called him by his name to make sure it’s him. And he said yes it’s him and I recognized the voice. I asked him if he was serious or joking and of course he wasn’t joking. He replied soon I will know if he’s serious or not and that my warehouse is on fire as we speak! I freaked out and I drove to my warehouse and it was on fire. After that day, we know that most of Tawergha people were going to be against us. They were promised that Misurata will be divided amongst them if Misurata falls. They were also promised by the dead tyrant, money, political positions etc. They got what they deserved, now running for their lives. My other business friends had similar stories with their Tawergha staff. They all looted their goods and fled then joined the Gaddafi forces to attack Misurata. We were really surprised because these people lived amongst us and we treated them as family & friends. One of my brother’s best friends is from Tawergha and that guy also fled and joined the Gaddafi forces. We still can’t believe what most of these people did. They thought it was going to be an easy task to take over Misurata but we proved them wrong.


Anyone who says that all Libyans were anti-Black, do not know what the F**CK they are talking about. It is as stupid to say that all Whites in South Africa were anti-Black.

February 10, 2012

Good note from US ambassador re #Syria (and also smart use of Facebook)

A note from Ambassador Ford on recent events in Syria

Satellite image taken February 6, 2012

(Please note - I broke up one large paragraph into many)
First, like people around the world, my colleagues and friends are watching the video coming out of Homs and some of the other Syrian cities in the last days with horror and revulsion. I hear the devastating stories about newborns in Homs dying in hospitals where electricity has been cut and when we see disturbing photos offering proof that the regime is using mortars and artillery against residential neighborhoods, all of us become even more concerned about the tragic outcome for Syrian civilians.

The Arab League protocol, which received wide support from the international community, called for the Syrian military to withdraw from residential areas, to stop firing at peaceful protests and to release prisoners arrested due to the unrest. The film coming out of Homs and elsewhere in Syria shows the Syrian government's real response. And we have never heard of the armed opposition firing artillery for example. It is odd to me that anyone would try to equate the actions of the Syrian army and armed opposition groups since the Syrian government consistently initiates the attacks on civilian areas, and it is using its heaviest weapons.

I also want to say a word about our suspending the work of the American Embassy in Damascus. I can say without exaggeration that February 6 was the most emotionally taxing day of my career as a Foreign Service Officer. Due to the elevated security risks we confronted in Syria, the Government of the United States had to suspend operations at our Embassy in Damascus, and I had to depart with my American colleagues and say goodbye to our Syrian colleagues and friends who face a very uncertain future.


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