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Panic in the Streets of London: PM statement following London terror attack: 4 June 2017

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Following the rapid police response of eight minutes on Saturday night, the PM came out the next day to tell the world that Britain’s had enough and that Mrs Merkel’s harsh words of yesteryear are now more valid than ever. But, she started off quite circumspect: “Last night, our country fell victim to a brutal terrorist attack once again. As a result I have just chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee and I want to update you with the latest information about the attack. Shortly before 10:10 yesterday evening, the Metropolitan Police received reports that a white van had struck pedestrians on London Bridge. It continued to drive from London Bridge to Borough Market, where 3 terrorists left the van and attacked innocent and unarmed civilians with blades and knives. All 3 were wearing what appeared to be explosive vests, but the police have established that this clothing was fake and worn only to spread panic and fear. As so often in such serious situations, the police responded with great courage and great speed. Armed officers from the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police arrived at Borough Market within moments, and shot and killed the 3 suspects. The terrorists were confronted and shot by armed officers within 8 minutes of the police receiving the first emergency call. Seven people have died as a result of the attack, in addition to the 3 suspects shot dead by the police. Forty-eight people are being treated in several hospitals across London. Many have life-threatening conditions. On behalf of the people of London, and on behalf of the whole country, I want to thank and pay tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the police and the emergency services – and the courage of members of the public who defended themselves and others from the attackers. And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with their friends, families and loved ones. This is, as we all know, the third terrorist attack Britain has experienced in the last 3 months. In March, a similar attack took place, just around the corner on Westminster Bridge. Two weeks ago, the Manchester Arena was attacked by a suicide bomber. And now London has been struck once more”.(1)

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In the next instance May gave a brief overview of terror attack to then outline the UK government’s response to the threat of “Radical Islamic or Islamist terrorism”, as the Drumpf has now named the enemy. In factm she also maneged to make some pretty value-laded statements: “In terms of their planning and execution, the recent attacks are not connected. But we believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism, and perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully-constructed plots after years of planning and training – and not even as lone attackers radicalised online – but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack. We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change, and they need to change in 4 important ways. First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth. Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time. But it cannot be defeated through military intervention alone. It will not be defeated through the maintenance of a permanent, defensive counter-terrorism operation, however skilful its leaders and practitioners. It will only be defeated when we turn people’s minds away from this violence – and make them understand that our values – pluralistic, British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate. Second, we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide. We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online. Third, while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world. Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it also means taking action here at home. While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom. Fourth, we have a robust counter-terrorism strategy that has proved successful over many years. But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up. So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need. And if we need to increase the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less serious offences, that is what we will do”.(2)

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May ends her speech on a programmatic note, arguably even somewhat invoking the spirit of Winston Churchill: “Since the emergence of the threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism, our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public. But it is time to say enough is enough. Everybody needs to go about their lives as they normally would. Our society should continue to function in accordance with our values. But when it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change . . . As a country, our response must be as it has always been when we have been confronted by violence. We must come together, we must pull together, and united we will take on and defeat our enemies”.(3)

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(1)“PM statement following London terror attack: 4 June 2017”.https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-following-london-terror-attack-4-june-2017.

(2)“PM statement following London terror attack: 4 June 2017”.

(3)“PM statement following London terror attack: 4 June 2017”.

World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians: Trump as Saviour of Christianity

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‘The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians is being convened by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, May 10-13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. We’ll bring together hundreds of Church leaders and victims of Christian persecution from around the world as we join hands with people of other churches and denominations of the Christian faith to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to hear firsthand reports of the suffering taking place around the world’.A

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The Drumpf’s Veep Mike Pence gave the following address to the gathered throngs of Christian believers of all stripe and colour: “on behalf of President Donald Trump, it was humbling to join people of faith from across the world at the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. There, I reaffirmed the President’s commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world. America was and is and ever will be that shining city on a hill where men and women of faith throughout our history have been able to walk and openly worship their faith in God to the glory of God. The faith of those gathered at the World Summit inspired and humbled me. The reality is, across the wider world, the Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ. In more than 100 countries spread to every corner of the globe –- from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea –- over 215 million Christians confront intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel. And nowhere is this onslaught against our faith more evident than in the very ancient land where Christianity was born. President Trump sees these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred — hatred for the Gospel of Christ. And so too does the President know those who perpetrate these crimes. They are the embodiment of evil in our time and he calls them by name — radical Islamic terrorists. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred America to act. President Trump rightly said not long ago that — of the Christian church, “nobody has been treated worse in the Middle East.” He’s made it clear that America will stand by followers of Christ in this hour of need. Our administration is fully committed in bringing relief and comfort to believers not only across the Middle East but across the world. This President knows the terrorists will not stop until we stop them. And, under President Donald Trump, we will stop them. Under President Donald Trump, America will continue to stand for religious freedom of all people, of all faiths, across the world. And I believe that all God’s children, no matter their country or their creed, can know with confidence that God will continue to guide this nation, to play our unique role on behalf of freedom in the world”.B

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Billy’s son Franklin Graham penned these words in the run-up to the Summit: “It’s shocking to our Western eyes. As I walked through the burned-out shell of a church near Mosul, Iraq, just a few weeks ago, our translator told me that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria graffiti scrawled on the walls read, ‘You love life, we love death.’ Members of ISIS had painted their flag and written, ‘We have come to drink your blood.’ It’s one thing to destroy a building, but Christians are dying for their faith. And it’s not just in Iraq . . . These heinous acts by ISIS captured headlines around the world, but if you think this kind of persecution is rare, perpetrated almost exclusively by extremists and terrorists—and in few areas of the world—215 million Christian victims will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. For years I have traveled in Sudan, where we rebuilt hundreds of churches destroyed by Muslims. We opened a Bible school there to train new pastors to carry on the work of those who were killed. The persecution of Christians is not just happening in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and other hotbeds of extremist ideology. It may come as a surprise that some of our neighbors and allies are on the list of perpetrators . . . Indeed, more than 75 percent of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions, and 215 million believers suffer ‘high, very high or extreme persecution’ in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, according to Open Doors USA and the Pew Research Center”.C

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Offering a bit of perspective and a modicum of criticism, the @HuffPost’s Religion Reporter Antonia Blumberg points out that “[a]ccording to a recent analysis of data collected by Pew Research Center, both Muslims and Christians face persecution in many countries around the globe”.D But, looking at the event with a critical and dispassionate eye, one can only come to the conclusion that the Trump White House (or, the Drumpfian Establishment, if you will) is all but firing up a significant part of its base to start a major military adventure in the Middle East and beyond, using the figleaf of protecting persecuted Christians as a rallying cry to garner domestic and international support. In spite of all of his campaign promises, Donald Trump seems more than determined to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and become a real war president. His dispatch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on 6 April 2017 was but a precursor of things to come; and, Brian Williams’ gushing words but a literary flourish extoling the war virtues of the Christian Drumpf, the Saviour of the Free (read Christian) World.

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A“GIVE TO WORLD SUMMIT IN DEFENSE OF PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (2017). https://billygraham.org/donation/world-summit-in-defense-of-persecuted-christians/.

B“Vice President Mike Pence speaks at World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians” The White House (11 May 2017). https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/05/11/vice-president-mike-pence-speaks-world-summit-defense-persecuted-christians.

C“Franklin Graham: Persecution of Christians Is a Global Problem” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (09 May 2017). https://billygraham.org/story/franklin-graham-persecution-of-christians-is-a-global-problem/.

DAntonia Blumberg, “Pence Tells Room Full Of Christians In D.C. Their Faith Is The Most Persecuted” HuffPost (11 May 2017). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pence-tells-room-full-of-christians-in-dc-their-faith-is-the-most-persecuted_us_59149198e4b030d4f1f0bdcd?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000016&section=politics.

Fighting the Caliph: U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the Kurds

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On 9 May 2017, while holding a joint press confererence with the Danish Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen in Copenhagen, General Mattis told reporters the following in response to a query regarding the decision to arm Syria’s Kurds: “Yes, they — we had very open discussion with the Turks. It’s a NATO ally, and NATO allies stick together. That’s not to say, we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward. We work that out through extensive dialogue. We’ve been conducting military and diplomatic dialogue with the Turks, and it was a very, very useful discussion today. We’re getting — as you know — into the position where we will have Raqqa surrounded. The idea is, ladies and gentlemen, that the foreign fighters not be allowed to escape and return to constitute a threat against free and innocent people elsewhere, whether it be in the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, and certainly Europe. By taking, for example, Manbij away from the enemy, that was the spoke of the hub and spoke of their terrorist effort against Europe, and that’s how they conducted the attacks against Brussels and Paris. So our intent is to work with the Turks, with — alongside one another to take Raqqa down and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it, but we’re all committed to it and that’s what came out of today’s discussion”.i

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The U.S. Secretary of Defense clearly sidestepped the thorny issue of Turkey’s opposition to the Pentagon’s decision by means of simply ignoring the question and talking about the U.S.-Turkish relationship as if everything were hunky dory. Still, as reported by Reuters: “U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Tuesday [, 9 May 2017]”.ii Ankara regards the YPG as but the Syrian incarnation of the PKK, Turkey’s homegrown Kurdish terror group. In this connection, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White made the following declaration: “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally . . . We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey”.iii

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Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, on the other hand, made the following observations: “There have been bad episodes in the relationship between the United States and Turkey, but this one is serious because it gets to the heart of Turkish security priorities . . . You’ve now got a question mark over the U.S.-Turkish security relationship that is pretty serious”.iv Now, all eyes are on Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.

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i “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Mattis and Minister Frederiksen in Copenhagen, Denmark” U.S. Department of Defense (09 Mauy 2017). https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1177882/joint-press-conference-with-secretary-mattis-and-minister-frederiksen-in-copenh/.

ii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire” Reuters (10 May 2017). http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-kurds-idUSKBN18525V.

iii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

iv Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

Turkey: Post-Referendum Blues

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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) and his AKP henchmen rapidly declared victory in last Sunday’s referendum vote (16 April 2017), with only the slimmest of margins (51.3%). Subsequently, te CHP MP Selin Sayek Böke went on live television to make some remarkable statements: “Have no doubts that we are going to use all of our democratic rights in this regard. And, when we say ‘all rights’, this includes both continuing to work in the parliament or to withdraw from it! . . . What is stolen is the will of the people. There is a perception operation carried out with hurried up balcony speeches. We do not recognize this declared result of the referendum and we are not going to recognize it . . . This referendum must be renewed . . We are not going surrender to this fait accompli”.i

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CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, for her part, adds that “Turkey’s top electoral board [or YSK] is considering objections Wednesday [, 19 April 2017] to the way the country’s referendum was run, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency . . . A narrow majority of voters in Sunday’s referendum backed the 18-article constitutional reform package, which will transform the country’s parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency”.ii But, it remains to be seen whether the Prez and his AKP henchmen will pay much heed to the opposition and Sadi Güven‘s YSK . . . After all, the most powerful man in the world has already congratuled him over the phone as well as his best buddies from Hamas and Ahrar al-Sham.

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Turkey’s AKP has long been allied to the Palestinian reistance movement Hamas. And lest you’d be wondering about the latter and their intentions: ‘the group itself posits that “The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant [or Ahrar al-Sham] is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”’.iii

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And there are those who would argue that the AKP’s long-term strategy goals for Turkey and its environs are remarkably similar to those entertained by Ahrar al-Sham for Syria . . .

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And then there is the other Islamic ally of the Prez and his AKP: “Talaat Fahmi, spokesman of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey gave a lesson in democracy to the world”.iv

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i “Turkey’s main opposition party CHP signals consideration of withdrawal from parliament”BirGün (19 April 2017). http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/turkey-s-main-opposition-party-chp-signals-consideration-of-withdrawal-from-parliament-156139.html.

ii Laura Smith-Spark, “Turkey referendum: Electoral body hears objections” CNN (19 April 2017). http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/19/europe/turkey-referendum/.

iii “AKP Turkey’s Favourite Terrorists in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham” The Erimtan Angle (12 Feb 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/akp-turkeys-favourite-terrorrists-in-syria-ahrar-al-sham/.

iv “Islamic world congratulates Turkey – from Hamas to Ahrar al-Sham” KomNews (19 April 2017). https://komnews.org/islamic-world-congratulates-turkey-hamas-ahrar-al-sham/.

Caliphal Origins: THE ORIGINS OF DAESH IN ONE MINUTE

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On his facebook account the intrepid Roving Eye that is the world-renowned journalist and commentator Pepe Escobar posted the following interesting tidbit on Wednesday, 22 March 2017:

‘James Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Emerging Threats at NATO – how lovely is that title? – recently gave a talk at the Liberal Club in London on Daesh. Shea, as you all remember, was NATO’s spokesman during the NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999.

After his talk Shea engaged in a debate with a source I very much treasure. The source later gave me the lowdown.

According to Saudi intel, Daesh was invented by the USG – in Camp Bacca, remember? – to essentially get rid of the Shi’ite-majority Maliki government.

But then there’s the juicy issue of Daesh routing the Iraqi Army on its way to Mosul. The Iraqi Army fled. Daesh operatives then took over ultra-modern weapons that took US instructors from six to twelve months to train the Iraqis in and…surprise! They incorporated the weapons in their arsenals in 24 hours.

So yes, Shea frankly admitted that Petraeus had trained these Sunnis now part of Daesh in Anbar Province in Iraq.

Saudi intel still maintains that these Iraqi Sunnis were not US-trained – as Shea confirmed – because the Shi’ites in power in Baghdad didn’t allow it. Nonsense. The Daesh hard core is indeed a US-trained militia.

True to form, at the end of the debate, Shea went on to blame Russia for absolutely everything that’s happening today’.i

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“Jamie Shea is Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges” is what it says on his requisite NATO website.ii In 2015, at a conference entitled ‘NATO-Turkey relations’ in Bahçeşehir University, Mister Shea was able to pronounce the following with a straight face and full of conviction: “We need very good cooperation with Turkey . . . much better quality of dialogue between Turkey and Europe. That’s actually very critical [n the fight against Daesh or IS/ISIS or the Caliph and his Merry Men] . . . It is not just Turkey’s question. Everybody has to accept the responsibility . . . What we all have to do is do a better job by understanding the complexity of the situation in the reality“.iii

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ii “Jamie Shea” NATO. (Last updated: 27 Jul. 2012 16:00). http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/who_is_who_50159.htm.

iii “NATO, Turkey cooperation vital to tackle Daesh: official” AA (11 March 2015). http://aa.com.tr/en/turkey/nato-turkey-cooperation-vital-to-tackle-daesh-official/67758.

AKP Turkey’s Favourite Terrorists in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham

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The Berlin-based SWP (or Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik or German Institute for International and Security Affairs)’s Dr Guido Steinberg relates that “Ahrar al-Sham belongs to the Islamist/Salafist part of the rebel spectrum. It aims to topple Asad and replace his regime with an Islamic state based on sharia. While its leadership has never spelled out in detail what the political system of such a state would look like, it is sure to be strongly authoritarian”.(1) Founded by “by Hassan Aboud (aka Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi) [died on 16 March 2016 “from wounds received in a battle near Aleppo”],(2) the group is a coalition of Islamist and Salafist units fighting to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Over time, Hassan Aboud’s outfit even became the ‘principal constituent force’ of the Syrian Islamic Front (or SIF), set up in December 2012 as a ‘Salafi umbrella formation, which is arguably the best fighting force within the opposition’ to the Assad regime in Damascus, in the words of the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute and founder of the website Jihadology, Aaron Zelin and Charles Lister, the Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center”.(3)

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According to the journalist and freelance writer Aron Lund, “the Ahrar el-Sham Brigades are made up of nearly fifty jihadi groups, such as the Qawafil el-Shuhada (Idleb), Ansar el-Haqq (Idleb), and Salaheddine Brigade (Hama). They exist in most of Syria’s Sunni-populated governorates, but are particularly concentrated in the Idleb Governorate (half of the brigades listed), with Hama a distant second. [In 2012 p]ress reports appear to confirm that the group has a strong foothold in the Sunni countryside stretching from the northern Ghab Plain west of Hama, towards Idleb and the Turkish border, east of the Alawite mountains. Also judging from its own website, the Ahrar el-Sham Brigades are conspicuously weak in some Sunni-majority governorates otherwise known for intensive rebel activity: Homs (only two brigades, in the Houla region and Tel-Kalakh respectively), Deraa (one brigade, no location specified) and Deir el-Zor (no presence)”.(4) On a dedicated website, the group itself posits that “The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant [or Ahrar al-Sham] is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”.(5)

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In spite of the above-quoted programmatic statement, “the movement is generally not seen by the Syrian public as fame or power-hungry, and Syrian activists’ comments on social media often describe the movement as working quietly and in an organised manner”, as expressed by Al Jazeera’s Malak Chabkoun.(6) Ahrar al-Sham’s supposed moderate character also seems to have induced AKP Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu to utilize the groups as a middleman in negotiations between the National Intelligence Organization (or MİT) and the Islamic State (or ISIS or the Caliph and his Merry Men) in 2014.(7)

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(1) Guido Steinberg , ‘Ahrar al-Sham: The “Syrian Taliban”’ SWP Comments, 27 (May 2016). file:///C:/Users/K55V/Desktop/Ahrar%20al-Sham.pdf.

(2) C. J. Chivers and Karam Shaoumali, “Hassan Aboud, an ISIS Commander, Dies From Battlefield Wounds” New York Times (17 March 2016). https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/world/middleeast/hassan-aboud-an-isis-commander-dies-from-battlefield-wounds.html?_r=0.

(3) C. Erimtan, “Turkey between rock and a hard place in US fight against ISIS” RT Op-Edge (18 September 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/188796-turkey-isis-usa-conflict-syria/.

(4) Aron Lund,, “Syrian Jihadism” UIBrief, 13 (14 September 2012). file:///C:/Users/K55V/Desktop/Syrian%20Jihadism%20(012).pdf.

(5) Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195. Translated and quoted by Malak Chabkoun, “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” Al Jazeera English (17 September 2014). http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/2014“Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” . 9147499306405.html#a2.

(6) Malak Chabkoun, “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” .

(7) C. Erimtan, “Turkey between rock and a hard place in US fight against ISIS”.

The Fight for Mosul

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The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s glossy magazine Foreign Policy‘s Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley write that “[o]ne week into the fight for Mosul, and the battle has expanded across Iraq, but has yet to start inside the city itself. Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga are within just a few miles of the city, pushing from the south, east, and north as an estimated 1,500 ISIS fighters are making a fighting retreat back into their fortified strongholds within Mosul. To slow the coalition’s advance, they’re lighting oil pits, sending columns of thick black smoke into the sky, and laying hundreds of buried bombs along the roadways. Just a few miles away, as many as 5,000 well supplied and deeply dug in ISIS fighters, surrounded by unwilling civilian human shields, await . . . American military officials have said they expect ISIS to lash out in other areas of Iraq to try and shift Baghdad’s attention from Mosul, and the assaults on Kirkuk on Friday, and Rutba in far western Iraq on Sunday — both hundreds of miles from Mosul — have pulled some troops into the fight to secure those cities. The fighting in both places continued through Sunday, with several suicide bombers hitting Kirkuk throughout the day. In Rutba, reports indicate that ISIS has taken control of half of the town . . . But the biggest surprise came Saturday, when Islamic State fighters lit a sulphur plant on fire, sending plumes of toxic smoke into the skies around Mosul. A defense official speaking on condition of anonymity told SitRep that U.S. troops at Camp Swift and Qayyarah West Airfield near Mosul “are in an area far enough away that there is minimal threat to any lasting health effects,” but all troops have gas masks, and they have the option of using them. About 1,000 Iraqi civilians have been sickened by the fumes already . . . The Pentagon is sending dozens of new intelligence analysts to Iraq to help sift through what leaders think will be an intelligence windfall when the city eventually falls. But hundreds of ISIS fighters have been fleeing the city though an open western corridor to Syria, one tribal chief near the border tells CNN. Big win for the Kurds, may anger Baghdad. The clouds of black smoke don’t appear to be slowing things down much. On Sunday, the Kurds look to have captured the ISIS-held town of Bashiqa, only five miles from Mosul, which would open up a critical lane into the city. But the victory might come at a long-term cost. The Kurds were supported by Turkish artillery, fired from a base near the town that houses hundreds of Turkish troops, along with dozens of tanks and artillery pieces. Baghdad says they’re there without the consent of the Iraqi government, and wants them out. Ankara refuses . . . U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Turkey, Baghdad, and the Kurdish city of Erbil over the weekend to huddle with U.S. military commanders and local officials leading the fight. The visit produced some real tension, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi soundly rejected a preliminary agreement Carter appeared to have reached with Turkish officials that would open the door for Turkey to become more involved in the Mosul operation. While there were some vague threats of war last week over the base, Abadi toned things down Saturday, saying it’s “important for us to have good relations with Turkey…I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul.” But the Shiite militias that Baghdad is preparing to send west of Mosul aren’t looking to decrease tensions with Turkey. Just the opposite, the New York Times tells us . . . Spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, Col John L. Dorrian, Tweeted Sunday that the U.S. led coalition dropped over 1,400 munitions on ISIS positions around Mosul between Oct. 17 and 22, a record number of strikes over any other 5-day period since the bombing campaign kicked off in August, 2014 . . . The fight for Mosul has just started, but the ISIS capital of Raqqa ha[n]gs over the entire campaign. ‘We want to see an isolation operation begin around Raqa as soon as possible’, Ash Carter said Sunday. ‘We are working with our partners there (in Syria) to do that. There will be some simultaneity to these two operations'”.[1]

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[1] Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley, “Situation Report” Foreign Policy. (24 Oct 2016). http://link.foreignpolicy.com/view/53676c82f6e3a597524615234q8uf.1fvt/6de5645f.