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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Syria: Map of ISIS and coalition action in Iraq and Syria | Aug 8 to Sept 30 2014

Syria: Map of ISIS and coalition action in Iraq and Syria Sept 30, 2014 | 30/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Iraq airstrikes map as of September 30, 2014

Iraq airstrikes map as of September 30, 2014. Source: Institute for the Study of War, US Central Command

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  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a “caliphate” in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria

ISIS: Defining Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS

ISIS: Defining Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS | 28/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Since ISIS has ramped up its actions in Iraq and Syria, Western nations have reacted by militarily attacking concentrations of ISIS fighters and their weapon stockpiles.

The military action is a logical second step. The first step would have been to be work the diplomatic angle all throughout the Iraq War — and even moreso after the coalition largely vacated the country in 2011.

Weak diplomacy by the West, post-Iraq War, led to the very power vacuums that caused the formation and rapid rise of ISIS. Power vacuums are always filled, that’s human nature.

What diplomats do, is ensure that qualified people attain positions of power, and not only qualified, but people who recognize the value of peaceful societies and are willing to devote significant efforts towards negotiating politically and economically sustainable outcomes.

Ergo, the West is back in Iraq and the U.S. Air Force is flying counter-terror missions over northern Syria. There are now 1.2 million new refugees inside Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Kurdish refugees. All of whom are now streaming across the Turkish border every week.

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian Refugees to Turkey in 48 hours on September 23/24, 2014.

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian refugees to flee into neighbouring Turkey over a 48 hour period on September 23/24, 2014.

Over a 10-day period in September, some 500,000 refugees fled across the border into the vastly overwhelmed UNHCR camps in Turkey bringing the total Iraqi/Syrian/Kurdish refugee count in Turkey to 1.5 million as of October 1, 2014

With no sign of letup it must be said. Refugee numbers look set to increase as ISIS fighters tear most of northern Syria to pieces along with some lightly-defended areas of northern Iraq.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said they are preparing for the flight of the entire 400,000 population of Kobane, a Syrian town surrounded by approaching ISIL fighters on the three sides.

Assistant Professor Erkan Ertosun, a lecturer at the faculty of economic and administrative sciences at Ankara’s Turgut Özal University, speaking to Samanyolu Haber TV station on a live broadcast, said:

“The Syrian refugees living in streets, abandoned buildings or construction areas were able to withstand those conditions during summer. When winter arrives, they will no longer be able to support those conditions.”

As well as accommodation problems, the Syrian refugees face difficulties about communicating with local people, finding jobs and healthcare issues.

In accordance with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instructions, the refugees in Turkey have been given “guest” status rather then that of refugee due to Turkey’s open-door policy toward Syrians at the Turkish border.

Ertosun claimed that Turkey’s open-door policy toward Syrian refugees may lead to irreversible problems, adding;

“This is the most critical refugee problem in the history of the country.”Today’s Zaman

Combined with coalition bombing campaigns we might see refugee numbers surpassing 1 million per month beginning soon.

Is Canada a ‘clone’ of the United States, or do we have our own Foreign Policy?

Canada is a sovereign nation and although it maintains friendly ties with many nations, there should be nothing stopping the Prime Minister of Canada and his FM from deciding on an independent course of action. It’s been happening all along throughout Canada’s history, and we were charting our own course even before Canada made the switch from being a colony of Great Britain, to being a full-fledged country.

Multilateralism,  Multiculturalism, and growing the Interdependence between nations

It was Canada that had the world’s fourth-largest Navy in WWII, Canada was a charter member of the League of Nations, and later a founding member of the United Nations. Canada helped to found the Commonwealth of Nations (later called the British Commonwealth, or Commonwealth) with the British monarchy as its head and helped other countries (even India, a republic!) to join that Commonwealth.

It was Canada that developed the concept of peacekeeping and we’ve led the world in the fight against the use of land mines. We spirited American hostages out of revolutionary Iran and we have sustained many peacekeeping operations bringing stability to conflict regions and preventing wider wars.

Our efforts in this have been unparalleled and all Canadians should rightfully feel proud of our contribution and we must respect the sacrifice of our troops. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize for diffusing the Suez Crisis in the 1950’s by single-handedly convincing the UN to send in a Canadian-led peacekeeping force to end the crisis by separating the combatants.

Canada was also a founding member of NATO and is solely responsible for “Article 2” of the NATO constitution (also known as ‘the Canadian Article’ of 1949) which reminds members that the alliance should not be purely military in nature, but should involve peacekeeping operations and humanitarian aid.

One answer to the problem of U.S. domination was to avoid bilateral arrangements with the Americans where possible and to involve Canada in multilateral organizations (e.g., the Commonwealth or United Nations), where U.S. influence would be somewhat diffused. Most Canadians welcomed the UN, which the Canadian government took a vigorous part in creating. But Prime Minister McKenzie King, mindful of his own lifetime battle to remove Canada from the trammels of British imperialism, was dubious of a world to be dominated by the Great Powers. King’s advisers, wanting to find some way for Canada to play a significant role in the world, advanced the concept of the “middle power”—that is, a state strong economically though perhaps not militarily. The idea in practice meant that Canada should concern itself primarily with economic policy in world affairs and with aid to developing countries. Canada decided to use its considerable knowledge of nuclear fission not for military purposes but exclusively for peaceful and economic ones. — Encyclopedia Britannica

Simply doing ‘whatever the Americans do’ is not foreign policy!

If Canada wants to continue to be taken seriously as a world power then it must continue to present notable and worthwhile initiatives on the world stage — as it has done all along. A lack of our own clear and decisive foreign policy means that we simply allow ourselves to become America’s ‘cabin boy’ and based on our past successes, we deserve better than that.

Which takes leadership. Sometimes, fearless leadership.

How can Canada contribute best, using unique Canadian strengths and attributes, to the efforts underway in Iraq and Syria — and to the growing refugee problem in Turkey?

The UNHCR is overwhelmed as hundreds of thousands of refugees cross into Turkish territory every week. The other major Western powers have plenty of warplanes, whether Canada contributes six CF-18’s to the effort or not, is of little consequence to the overall situation!

What can make a huge difference and again allow Canada to ‘punch above its weight’ as it has done in previous decades is to ‘own the humanitarian aid effort’ that is presently taking place in Turkey

Canada has huge airlift potential, it has specially trained personnel that can set up ‘tent cities’ it has enormous stores of food aid and other aid that it can send, and it can even transport aid from other countries to the troubled zones.

The goal here isn’t to displace the UNHCR, just that so much more assistance is needed than what has been delivered thus far. And with hundreds of thousands of people arriving each week, the need is growing fast.

What good are coalition efforts as ISIS slowly gets destroyed over the next 24 months and millions of citizens of Iraq and Syria flee to Turkey — only to die of lack of care — after having reached a so-called ‘safe haven’?

That’s coming — whether we like it or not. Whether coalition bombers continue their campaign or not, ISIS will be driving people from Iraq and Syria. Perhaps millions of people. Some 1.5 million refugees from those two countries are already settled inside Turkey. Another 500,000+ have arrived in the past 2 weeks, and almost certainly another 400,000 on the way.

By the end of November, Turkey may be be hosting 3 million people fleeing terror from two different countries.

All of this places severe strains on the very real human beings caught in this traumatic situation, it also permanently strains the resources of the Turkish government and the UNHCR.

Canada, as one of the founding members of the UN must put its money where its mouth is, and contribute!

Not only will Turkey and the UNHCR require additional assistance in the coming weeks and months, but Canada should push for a UN-backed resolution allowing for a robust force of Canadian peacekeeping troops to protect such refugee encampments from ISIS fighters who will shoot at refugees across the Turkish/Syrian border — and there is no reason it wouldn’t be approved by the UN and by fellow NATO-member Turkey.

The logical place for 6 CF-18’s and a squadron of Canadian rescue helicopters is on the Turkish side of the border protecting a 50-mile-wide strip of land wherever and whenever the refugee camps come under cross-border attack (and at some point, they will) from ISIS fighters.

It’s time for Canada to again ‘punch above its weight’ and handle the part of the overall effort which cannot be handled by the coalition due to their particular commitments

Leadership. Commitment. Multilateralism. Humanitarian Assistance. Unconventional solutions to common problems. Historically, those are the things that Canada is known for in the international space. We should stick to what we do best and let other countries (in this case, the coalition) do what they do best.

I wish the Americans, the Brits, the French, and other coalition members well in their fight against ISIS. But somebody needs to help the refugees already in Turkey, plus the recent arrivals, and sufficient help must be preplanned to help more hundreds-of-thousands soon to cross into Turkey — otherwise, the whole coalition effort to save Iraqi and Syrian civilian populations is mostly in vain, isn’t it?

It looks like it’s time to make our unique contribution. Therefore, let us excel as always.

The world needs ‘more Canada’ and this is another chance to show the world who we are.

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ISIS: Building a Better Middle East Model by Defeating ISIS Together

by John Brian Shannon | September 23, 2014

The truism, “The only constant in the universe is change” is one that nobody can deny. Even the stars change, eventually burning out after shining brightly for 10-50 billion years, depending on the size and composition of the star at its formation.

The same is true with politics. Civilization is constantly changing, individual societies within our civilization evolve — and to hopelessly complicate matters — all of the societies are evolving at different speeds and began from different starting points.

No doubt that all nations are on a path of enlightenment, it’s just that none of them occupy the same position on the path. Some are ‘behind’ us and some are ‘ahead’ of us, to put it in undiplomatic terms.

No matter. We do our best, and sometimes history has been kind to us and sometimes not, thereby making each country what it is today. Each nation is the sum total of its history.

There are no ‘perfect politics’ there are no ‘perfect political systems’ and there are no ‘perfect politicians’ — nor is perfection often found anywhere in the universe. Even so-called ‘perfect diamonds’ have microflaws in them.

The fact that we try to improve, is everything. Where we are today or tomorrow is much less important.

Striving to be better, means that eventually we will be better. And there is that learning curve which makes progress exponential once a certain point is reached.

We Celebrate Political Successes, But We Are Necessarily More Concerned With Political Failures

When faced with political failure at the international level, the result is often war. At best, nations will ‘agree to disagree’ for a time, until enlightened political thought (diplomacy) takes hold and solves the situation, thereby making that problem obsolete.

Within countries, political failure can ultimately lead to civil war. However, things can and usually do go on for some time in a state of fog or brimming discontent before it erupts into civil strife.

The one thing to take away from this, is that unless things are ‘getting better’ — they’re getting worse.

It’s a poor Captain who doesn’t alter course when the boat is being pushed backwards by the sea or the weather. One makes the necessary adjustments and the journey continues. There is no other choice.

“All War Represents the Failure of Diplomacy” — Tony Benn

When we have war it’s because we disagree with other political actors in other countries. This holds true for the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and so on.

When there is a lack of tolerance and insufficient diplomacy, then begins war.

It’s important to remember that all of this isn’t fated to happen. At any point in time, one side or the other is fully capable of changing their position and ending (or preventing) the conflict. A simple phone call can convey a change of heart and many lives can be spared death or the endless misery of lost family and friends.

Politics is Never Static

In the Middle East example, things which were once thought immovable are shifting.

Iran, yes that Iran, is talking to the UK about participating in the effort against ISIS. Arab nations are teaming up with the Europeans and the North Americans to fight ISIS in Iraq.

It’s important to note that while Iraq has invited Western nations inside its borders to assist the fight against ISIS, Syria has (so far) not invited any nation to fight ISIS inside Syria.

It’s a trust issue. Otherwise, Syria would gladly welcome any assistance in the fight against its supreme arch-rival ISIS. To underscore this point, the first IS in the acronym ISIS stands for Islamic State, while the second IS stands for Inside Al-Shams (Al-Shams is Arabic for the word ‘the Syria’) making Syria the prime target of ISIS, as they seek to establish an Islamic State in Syria by deposing the government of Syria.

Would the government of Syria like our help? You bet they would! Their very lives and future are at stake.

So why aren’t we invited inside Syria to fight ISIS? 

In simple terms, it’s a failure of diplomacy. We’ve failed to convince Syria of our good intentions towards Syria and towards the millions of innocent Syrian people (many of whom are now running for the Turkish border at full speed) to escape the ISIS thugs.

The Enemy of My Enemy, is My Friend

Iran sees this truism and looks willing to participate in fighting ISIS to a standstill, if not complete defeat.

Why not to the point of complete defeat? Because without full Syrian involvement, there will be no victory over ISIS, only a never-ending beating them back into Syrian territory.

ISIS controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, September 22, 2014

ISIS controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, September 22, 2014

Iran is giving some good advice to Washington, and that advice goes like this; As ISIS is primarily based inside Syria, the ISIS entity will never be defeated unless a coalition can be invited into Syria for the sole purpose of routing ISIS — and just so that everyone is clear on this, Iran doesn’t mean allowing the coalition to take liberties with the situation and engaging in regime change while we’re in Syria.

The Iranians are experts in the region and they want the end of ISIS as much as anyone — and they feel that to win will require the support of the Bashar Al-Assad government.

It’s too late to begin ‘reinventing the wheel’ by starting with a brand new government in Syria. Iran says we should work with what we’ve got: the Bashar Al-Assad government. We’ll have plenty of time to bicker about other things with Bashar Al-Assad — after ISIS is routed.

Which, even with the support of Iran, the Arab nations, the West, and good luck, all working together in perfect harmony should take about 10 years. Maybe 15.

Pathways to Progress against ISIS

It’s great to have purist debates about how to wage war. However, when the diplomats have failed the war must actually be fought.

Like so many things in life, you work with what you’ve got. Purist debates must sometimes wait.

Right now, in the battle against ISIS, we’ve got Iraq, the United States, Europe, the Arab States, the UK, Canada and Australia as major contributors. There are other nations that want to contribute and we thank them for their contribution as well.

Iran is suddenly looking like it might join the coalition. Let’s hope that happens and soon, as Iran, more than any other country in the region is poised to play a major role and is perfectly placed to do so much good in this fight.

However, Syria has not felt comfortable enough to willingly allow coalition warplanes to overfly their territory, nor to have any country’s troops on their soil.

And, at this point, who could blame them? Even their regional allies didn’t help them in their hour of need, which eventually led to the partial collapse of their nation.

So we work with what we’ve got, which is much, but even all of that together is not the optimum combination to solve this growing and morphing problem.

The present Syria policy vs. what could be

Only because the West couldn’t win the trust and acceptance of Syria (an example of failed diplomacy) we’ve been pursuing a secondary policy inside Syria, until such times as we can gain the approval of the Bashar Al-Assad government to enter the air and land space of the country, in order to help rout ISIS from Syria, which would nicely complement our effort to rid neighbouring countries of ISIS.

This “Plan B” is a good one, as far as Plan B’s go — strengthening militia groups and individuals (warlords) inside Syria that are already engaged in the fight against ISIS.

But it goes without saying that a “Plan A” would be the better choice. Of course, as I referred to above Plan A would necessarily include Iran and Syrian participation — without losing any of the existing coalition members.

That is the difference between what is (Plan B), and what could be (Plan A). Only the failure of the diplomats has prevented us from activating Plan A. For now we’re stuck with Plan B.

Not that we should blame the diplomats for this failure. Diplomacy takes time and it may yet yield worthwhile results.

Iran joining the coalition might help to co-opt Syria toward coalition membership, in fact the Iranian diplomats might just be the ones to clinch that deal for all of us, and for themselves too as they too have an extreme dislike of the ISIS entity.

Benjamin Netanyahu today criticized the Plan B approach in a CBC television interview

Which is fine. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

And few nations (besides Syria, which is by far the main target of ISIS) have as much to lose as Israel, so I don’t blame the Prime Minster of Israel for criticizing the Plan B approach of strengthening the Syrian enemies of ISIS. (Excellent and wide-ranging interview with Benjamin Netanyahu begins at the 3:10 mark — continues to the 17:00 mark)

Apparently, he feels that all groups in the Middle East should be weakened equally — so that all are equally weak in comparison to Israel — and that the policy of strengthening regional forces presently engaged in fighting ISIS inside Syria (and presumably in Iraq too) is a bad policy.

I well understand the Israeli viewpoint that any group with guns and ammunition in the Middle East represents a threat to Israel. In Netanyahu’s view, those same fighters, once ISIS is defeated, could (in Netanyahu’s mind) conceivably turn to fight Israel.

And, in the absence of vision and leadership for the region and by the region, that’s a possibility. But with proper diplomacy and an inclusive vision for the region that all Middle East nations can feel comfortable with, no MENA nation need ever fear any other MENA nation or group.

The PM of Israel is looking at the situation through the prism of what has been, while I look at what could be

Were politics a static environment, PM Benjamin Netanyahu would win this point easily.

But politics is anything but a static environment, it is fluid and dynamic and as time moves forward we can begin to tailor regional politics to the needs of the countries in the region. And that means Israel too.

If one person in a house is unhappy, all will be unhappy. If one country in a region is unhappy, all will be unhappy. Tell me I’m wrong on this. But I know that you can’t. All of us know this truth and especially in a small region like the Middle East it applies equally to all of the nations.

Forming a coalition against a common enemy (in this case ISIS) where all of the members of the region become members of that greater coalition to fight their common enemy and eventually winning, is the best medicine for the failed diplomacy of the 20th century. Which is what started the whole Middle East problem in the first place.

The thinking of the early 20th century created the map we see today in the Middle East and all that has come since, both good and bad. Using 21st century thinking to make obsolete the problems inherited from a previous century, should be the visionary and leadership goal for the region.

To improve the existing paradigm we will need the cooperation and diligent efforts of all of the players in the region. There can be no leaving-out of Syria, nor of Iran. Whatever the new vision is, it must include the 23 million Syrians and the 38 million Iranians, or it simply won’t work, nor would it deserve to.

If Iran and Syria aren’t included in this herculean task of routing ISIS from the region and contributing to the future Middle East vision, eventually ISIS would win on account of their brutal tactics and their expertise at national destabilization wherever they operate.

For the Middle East, the rise of ISIS affords the best opportunity in decades to rise to meet the challenges of our time instead of shrinking back, and to work together to forge a new and better reality for all of the citizens of the Middle East.

Inclusiveness, tolerance, respect, and a common vision must be the way forward for the entire region.

Leaving Syria, Iran, Israel, or any other regional country out of that common and good future — and you are simply using the same old recipe — but attempting to bake a different cake.