9 Things Americans Need to Know about General Soleimani’s Assassination

By Randi Nord | January 5, 2020

Baghdad (GPA) – It’s time to debunk the common misconceptions floating around and cover important points missing in most mainstream op-eds, analysis, and Tweets about General Qasem Soleimani, the US occupation of Iraq, and Washington’s 67-year aggression against Iran.

9 Things Americans need to know about General Qasem Soleimani’s assassination and the US occupation of Iraq

After Washington’s illegal assassination of Iran’s decorated and beloved general, Qasem Soleimani, media outlets and pundits on both sides of the aisle wasted no time spewing falsehoods. These outlets and journalists rely on the ignorance of readers to peddle their lies and rewrite the narrative.

Indeed, most Americans had never heard the name “Qasem Soleimani” prior to January 2, 2020, but were suddenly instructed to hate him.

Pro-Trump Republicans smeared Soleimani as a terrorist. Liberals and the poor excuse for a left immediately ceded half the ground to Trump’s atrocious actions by starting Twitter rants with phrases like “Yes, Soleimani was an evil man but…”

Americans should be outraged, ashamed, and embarrassed over the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and not just because Trump is the bad guy of the moment.

This article will debunk the common misconceptions floating around and cover important points missing in most mainstream op-eds, analysis, and Tweets about General Qasem Soleimani, the US occupation of Iraq, and Washington’s 67-year aggression against Iran.

1. The United States lied its way into occupying Iraq 17 years ago.

Who could forget Colin Powell’s famous “weapons of mass destruction” speech at the United Nations on February 5, 2003?

Who could forget that journalist Judith Miller at The New York Times published blatantly false intelligence directly from the CIA about Saddam Hussein hiding WMDs?

The United States knowingly launched a deadly and unjustified assault against Iraq in 2003, began an occupation, and never left. US troops have no business in Iraq. Their purposes are to protect US military contractors and oil facilities while providing a base for launching future attacks against Iran, Syria, and other countries in the region.

It’s imperialism — plain and simple.

288 thousand people have died in Iraq since Washington began its aggression, according to Iraq Body Count, with millions more displaced or injured.

Meanwhile, every US taxpayer has spent $24 thousand on post-9/11 wars with costs totaling nearly $6 trillion. Given recent events, they can only expect to pay more in the coming years.

The United States has no business occupying Iraq and never did.

2. Washington assassinated General Qasem Soleimani less than 100 miles from Iran’s border.

Many Americans may not realize that Iraq and Iran share a 905-mile border. In other words, about half the length of the US-Mexico border.

The drone strike that assassinated General Soleimini occurred at the Baghdad International Airport — less than 100 miles from Iran’s border — with no regard for civilians. That’s about the same distance between Monterrey, Mexico and Laredo, Texas. How would Washington and the international community respond if a US adversary like Cuba assassinated a top-ranking official in Monterrey?

Probably pretty aggressively.

Assassinating General Soleimani anywhere, let alone less than 100 miles from his home on a planned and publicly announced diplomatic visit, is a blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and declaration of war.

3. The United States has Iran completely surrounded with military bases.

The map below doesn’t show the 12 known US bases in Iraq but it does demonstrate the US military buildup around Iran, particularly in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.

Many Americans have no idea why Iran and the United States have such a sordid history. Most just assume the relationship is naturally hostile, almost cartoonish.

In 1953, Washington and London overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, in a coup d’etat for the crime of nationalizing Iran’s vast oil supply to benefit the Iranian people instead of western companies. Western powers installed the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah regime who gladly signed deals with British Petroleum and other foreign oil contractors for profit. (Yes, that BP).

After nearly two decades of stolen wealth and austerity, the Iranian people rose up, overthrew the Shah, kicked out the Americans and Brits, and the Islamic Revolution was born.

Washington has resented Iran ever since. Every US president since 1979 has made it their mission to punish Iran with sanctions, violence, and overthrow until they decide to “play nice” with global capital.

Sometimes, US presidents will focus on sanctions and attack Iran’s allies (such as the case with Obama). Other times, US presidents will take a more direct approach as Trump did by assassinating General Qasem Soleimani. Regardless, American violence and aggression never let up.

But it’s not all about the oil. Iran is a thorn in Washington’s side in the entire region for all the right reasons. Through its Quds Force (which General Soleimani lead until his assassination), Iran supported countries and entities around the region who also shared the goal of removing US military, political, and financial control.

That’s why Washington and virtually all US officials, journalists, and pundits call Soleimani a terrorist leader and “evil man:” He was leading the fight against American capital and interests in the entire Middle East region.

4. General Qasem Soleimani led the fight to eradicate Daesh (ISIS) in the entire region.

As commander of Iran’s regional Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani was tasked with leading the fight against Daesh (ISIS).

Washington, on the other hand, routinely supplied weapons and equipment to Daesh — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, sometimes covertly, sometimes overtly.

Remember when the United States armed the violent and reactionary Taliban to fight against the Soviets and communist government in Afghanistan? Yeah, it’s kind of like that except, in this case, Daesh was used to attack Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and other countries in the region that Washington and Israel didn’t like.

Plus, the fight against Daesh gave the United States the perfect excuse to continue its occupation of Iraq. The poor civilians in Mosul, for example, lived under Daesh terror for two solid years between 2014 and 2016.

While Washington and their allies in Tel Aviv and Riyadh were funneling weapons and equipment to Daesh, General Soleimani was strategizing the terror group’s defeat with great success. Even mainstream media sources acknowledged that Soleimani was the mastermind behind Daesh’s defeat in Iraq and Syria where the terror group enjoyed their stronghold.

General Soleimani saved countless lives in the region and even the west where Daesh-inspired radicals began carrying out terror attacks. The world is a safer place today because of Soleimani.

Credit: Tasnim News Agency

5. The PMUs helped defeat ISIS as part of the US coalition and are part of the Iraqi army.
Washington has conveniently failed to mention that prior to this violent escalation against Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, the United States had armed them with weapons as part of the fight against Daesh in Iraq.

The photo below shows a faction training under the command of the US Marines. After the victory over Daesh, the PMUs were officially integrated into the Iraqi army and the United States declared them “Iranian-backed militias.”

6. The US hasn’t stopped airstrikes and deploying troops even after the assassination.

Donald Trump claims his decision to assassinate General Soleimani in a precision strike was to “stop a war, not to start one.”

His military actions since the assassination prove that Washington does indeed want war with Iran in Iraq.

Washington began the recent round of aggression by attacking Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and killing 25 people despite a peace agreement between Baghdad and Washington to avoid this exact situation. After Soleimani’s assassination, Washington continued airstrikes on PMU targets throughout the country.

Not only that, but the United States announced plans to send some 4,000 troops to the region and 1,000 reportedly arrived in Iraq on Saturday.

It’s clear that General Soleimani’s assassination was intended to be a catalyst for a broader war against Iran.

7. Soleimani and Iran were never planning an attack on Americans.

Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, and other US officials claim that General Soleimani was planning an “imminent attack” on Americans.

The State Department has provided absolutely no tangible evidence beyond citing that Soleimani had traveled between Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran — a normal itinerary for a general with troops stationed in the region.

Using the same logic, would a situation that involves Pompeo traveling to Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Abu Dhabi signal that Washington was planning an attack on Iran and justify Pompeo’s assassination? Of course not.

The real danger here is the rhetoric: State Department officials ambiguously claim Iran was planning an attack on “Americans,” as if Tehran planned to kidnap or kill US citizens in Beirut or Baghdad. That’s absolutely not the case.

As a general rule, whenever Washington claims that Iran (or any foreign power) is plotting an attack on “Americans,” they typically mean American interests like occupying US troops, Blackwater mercenaries, or wealthy military contractors exploiting resources — NOT innocent American citizens.

Regardless, Washington hasn’t provided any proof that Iran or Soleimani himself were orchestrating any kind of attack and you shouldn’t hold your breath for it either.

8. Soleimani and Iran had nothing to do with 9/11.

Given Vice President Pence’s recent Twitter rant, this apparently needs to be said. Iran had nothing to do with 9/11. They didn’t train, aid, or assist any of the hijackers.

On the contrary, many of the 19 hijackers did have questionable links to the Saudi government. Not to mention, families of the 9/11 victims are still waging a seemingly futile court battle against the Saudi government for its role in the attack.

Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the United States and its ideology, Wahhabism, is identical to the backward, intolerant, and violent ideology of Daesh and al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia even funds schools around the world in places like the Balkans, China, and Europe to spread their extremist ideology and encourage global terrorism.

9. Americans can’t understand what Soleimani meant to Iran.

It’s safe to say that the United States does not have a coherent ideological system beyond free market capitalism and colonialism.

It’s evident today more than ever that US citizens do not share any type of coherent political, spiritual, or ethical system. That’s exactly why average Americans will never understand what General Qasem Soleimani meant to Iranians and how his assassination impacted them.

Even Iranians living abroad who do not support the current government are mourning the loss of Soleimani for who he was and what he represented.

Some writers have called Soleimani the “Muslim Che Guevara” due to his success leading resistance movements against US imperialism around the region. He was called “the living martyr” by many and embodied Iran’s revolution.

As Ramin Mazaheri writes for Press TV:

The Iranian revolution is just as international in scope and reach as the Cuban revolution Che was a part of creating and defending. Iran’s critics say they want to turn every Muslim into a Shia and make the laws of Iran the laws of the entire world but that is obviously the hubris of the imperialist West – Iran’s progressive goal is not control but liberation of the masses and then their empowerment.
He continues:

Thanks in large part to Soleimani’s efforts, after so many decades of Western-led corruption, hate and brutality Iraq appears strong enough that they may even be able to expel the US immediately and even peacefully. I don’t think Soleimani would ask for any greater legacy than that – this is what he died for.

The United States must end its occupation of Iraq immediately.

Washington entered Iraq based on lies and kept conjuring up excuses to maintain its presence and exploitation of Iraq’s resources and land.

The last Iraqi elections displayed hope for the future of the country. The latest protests and Iraqi parliament vote to expel US forces show that the Iraqi people and government are finally prepared to kick the US troops out for good.

US troops in Iraq serve no humanitarian purpose that Iraq can’t receive from its neighbors and less aggressive allies. The US occupation of Iraq has resulted in atrocities such as unspeakable torture in Abu Ghraib, Daesh, thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and now the brink of war with Iran.

The United States only cares about Iraq for two key reasons: providing profit for American contractors and using the country as a massive base to plot attacks against Iraq’s neighbors. After nearly 20 years of occupation, the Iraqi people deserve to live in peace. Iran deserves to have the threat of US and Israeli aggression removed from its borders.

The only solution is for Washington to pull its troops out of Iraq now.

Featured photo:

Randi Nord
Founder and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi Nord is a US-based geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen, Iran, and Lebanon. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she started learning about the media’s pivotal role in selling “humanitarian” interventions as a teenager during the aftermath of 9/11 and Iraq war. Randi Nord has lived in the Empire’s neoliberal tropical paradise (Kingdom of Hawai’i) and Lebanon. She frequently participates in the UN Human Rights Council as a guest of NGOs speaking about Yemen.


Who Is Archbishop Atallah Hanna, and Why Israel Hates Him

By: Ramzy Baroud  }  4 January 2020

The archbishop of Jerusalem, Atallah Hanna, poses in an interview with Efe in Santiago, Chile on October 19, 2016.
The archbishop of Jerusalem, Atallah Hanna, poses in an interview with Efe in Santiago, Chile on October 19, 2016. | Photo: EFE

Atallah Hanna has served as the Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem since 2005. Since then, he has used his leadership position to advocate for Palestinian unity in all of its manifestations.

“They will run and not grow weary,” is a quote from the Bible (Isaiah, 40:41) that adorns the homepage of Kairos Palestine. This important document, which parallels a similar initiative emanating from South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle years, has come to represent the unified voice of the Palestinian Christian community everywhere. One of the main advocates of Kairos Palestine is Archbishop Atallah Hanna.

Hanna has served as the Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem since 2005. Since then, he has used his leadership position to advocate for Palestinian unity in all of its manifestations. Expectedly, Hanna has been on Israel’s radar for many years, as this kind of leadership is problematic from the viewpoint of a hegemonic political and military power that requires utter and absolute submission.

So when Archbishop Hanna was hospitalized on December 18 as a result of what was reported to be Israeli “poisoning”, Palestinians were very concerned. A few days later, Hanna was found to be at a Jordanian hospital receiving urgent medical treatment for what was described, by Hanna himself, as “poisoning by chemical substance”. Whatever that substance may have been, it was reportedly discharged from an Israeli army gas canister, lobbed at Hanna’s Church in Jerusalem.

“The Christians of Palestine are one family of Jordanians and Palestinians,” he told journalists from his hospital bed, where he also said that “Israeli occupation may have attempted to assassinate him or keep him sick all his life, indicating that the substance has very serious effects, especially on the nervous system.”

Those familiar with Hanna’s discourse would know precisely what the rebellious Christian leader was aiming at when he spoke about the oneness of Palestinian Christians in Jordan and Palestine: unity which, sadly, has eluded Palestinians for a long time. Indeed, wherever the man may be, standing tall at a rally in Jerusalem in defense of Palestinian rights or from a hospital bed, he advocates unity among Palestinians and for the sake of Palestine.

The Kairos document is itself an act of unity among Palestinian Christian churches and organizations. “This means for us, here and now, in this land in particular, that God created us not so that we might engage in strife and conflict but rather that we might come and know and love one another, and together build up the land in love and mutual respect,” the document, championed by Hanna and many others, states.

Even before claiming his current leadership position, Hanna was a target of Israel. During the Second Intifada, the uprising of 2005, Hanna emerged on the scene as an advocate, not of Palestinian Christian rights but the rights of all Palestinians. He actively pursued the World Council of Churches to use its credibility and outreach to speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for an independent Palestinian state.

In August 2002, Hanna was detained by the Israeli police in front of his home in Jerusalem’s Old City. On the orders of the Israeli Attorney General, he was charged with ‘suspicion of relations with terrorist organizations’, a concocted charge that allowed the Israeli government to confiscate the Palestinian leader’s Israeli and Vatican passports.

Despite the fact that Palestinian Christians undergo the same experience of military occupation, oppression, and ethnic cleansing as their Muslim brethren, Israel has labored to propagate an erroneous narrative that presents the “conflict” as one between Israel and Muslim fundamentalists. Hanna is particularly troubling for Israel because his political language demolishes Israeli hasbara at its very foundations.

“We intend to conduct special prayers inside the Church of the Nativity for the sake of our martyrs,” he declared on October 10, 2001, when he joined Christian and Muslim leaders in their march from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to challenge Israel’s targeting of Palestinian religious sites.

In an interview with ‘Russia Today’ on January 30, 2015, Hanna refused to even concede the language battle to those who ignorantly - or purposely - ascribe Muslim terminology to terrorism. “Allahu Akbar” - God is great in Arabic - is as much Christian as it is a Muslim phrase, he argued.

“We Christians also say Allahu Akbar. This is an expression of our understanding that the Creator is great. We don’t want this phrase to be related to terrorism and crimes,” he said.

“We speak against using this phrase in this context. Those who do, they insult our religion and our religious values,” he added, again, thoughtfully linking all religious values through faith, not politics.

“The city of Jerusalem is the city of the three Abrahamic religions,” Hanna recently said at Istanbul’s “First Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid”. Tirelessly and consistently, the Archbishop announced that “Christian and Muslim Palestinians living in Jerusalem suffer from the occupation, suffer from repression, tyranny, and oppression.”

Although born in Ramah in Palestine’s upper Galilee region, Hanna’s true love was, and remains, Jerusalem. It was there that his spirituality deepened and his political ideas formulated. His advocacy for the Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian identity of the city stands at the core of all of his activities.

“Everything Palestinian in Jerusalem is targeted by Israeli occupation,” Hanna said last January during a meeting with a Doctors without Borders delegation. “The Islamic and Christian holy sites and endowments are targeted in order to change our city, hide its identity and marginalize our Arabic and Palestinian existence,” the Archbishop lamented.

In fact, Israel has been doing exactly that, efforts that have accelerated since Donald Trump’s advent to the White House, and the US’ subsequent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Archbishop Hanna is one of the strongest and most articulate Palestinian Christian voices in Jerusalem. His relentless work and leadership have irked Israeli authorities for many years. Now that Israel is finalizing its takeover of the illegally occupied city, Hanna, and like-minded Christian and Muslim leaders, are becoming more than mere irritants but real hurdles in the face of the Israeli military machine.

I met Abouna - Father - Hanna at a California Conference a few years ago. I heard him speak, his thunderous voice is that of a proud Palestinian Arab. He urged unity, as he always does. I chatted with him later, in the hotel lobby, as he was ready to go out for a walk with his close friend, the Mufti of Jerusalem. He was gentle and polite, and extremely funny.

As I watched them both walk outside, I felt hopeful that unity for the sake of Palestine is very much possible.

Related Video (Dated: Nov 2015) |
 "Abby Martin interviews journalist and author Max Blumenthal on the current situation in Palestine and the Israeli occupation. This episode covers what is behind today's rebellion, the rising dominance of far-right, ultra-racist ideology in Israel, eye-witness accounts of the aftermath of the Gaza war, and the Israeli government's fear of Palestinian resistance.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and author of the New York Times Best Seller "Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel", and the recently-published "The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza.""


SOURCE of the article

Turkey’s changing story on Syria: From self-defense to long-term control

Turkey’s narrative is slowly changing on its expanding role in northern Syria.

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN | Dec 8, 2019

Turkey says it won’t leave Syria until foreign countries leave “or Syrian people demand the country leave,” according to the Turkish president. This is part of Turkey’s changing narrative on its expanding role in northern Syria. It claimed in 2016 that it had to invade northern Syria to fight ISIS, then it invaded Kurdish regions claiming it was “fighting terrorism,” and then claimed it was taking over Syrian land to re-settle refugees.

Turkey is a sophisticated country with a plethora of pro-government media and diplomats who have articulated the reasons behind Turkey’s various operations in northern Syria. But Turkey is also not consistent in its explanations, often trying to pose each operation as in line with whatever logic suits the ruling party, or messaging to the populace, that is necessary at the time.

Back in 2016 when Ankara launched its first major operation in northern Syria that laid the groundwork for Turkey to stay in Syria for the long-term, it claimed that it was conforming with “Article 51 of the UN Charter,” according to an article at the Founation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank. Turkey claimed it was exercising its right to self defense and told the international community that Operation Euphrates Shield was self-defense. The operation began in August 2016 and ended in 2017. It cleared ISIS from an area between Jarabulus and Kilis and helped stop the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces from advancing.

At the time Turkey said was taking “action to eliminate the threats posed against it by terrorist organizations present in Syria, particularly Daesh [ISIS].” Analysts also admitted that it was also seeking to “block the YPG/PKK, a PKK offspring in Syria, from caring out a corridor by taking control,” of the border. The YPG is the People’s Protection Units, a part of the SDF. This was a big deal for Turkey and SETA argued that it had a crucial impact as “one of the most comprehensive cross-border operations by the Turkish Armed Forces in the history of the Republic.” Turkey became entangled in Syria, providing “stability” for the area, including humanitarian air, building institutions, courts, medical facilities and education systems. Not since Northern Cyprus in the 1970s had something like this been done.

When the operation was over in March 2017 then Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that Turkey would focus on its new role building capacity and stability. Having successfully occupied this area of northern Syria, and realizing that it could be leverage to co-opt the Syrian rebels in the area, Turkey described its role as “liberating northwestern territories from Daesh and preventing the YPG from establishing a de facto autonomous region in Syria.” Ankara began calling this a “terror corridor,” and accusing the US of “supporting terrorists” in northern Syria. It was a “grave threat to national security.”

Turkey then set its sights on Afrin, an area in northwest Syria that had been peaceful since the Syrian civil war began. Ankara said that it had to launch Operation Olive Branch to ‘drive the YPG and Daesh terror groups from Afrin.” On January 20 with the Free Syrian Army it launched Operation Olive Branch with the “stated aim of eliminating the PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorist presence in Syria’s Afrin district.” There was no evidence of any ISIS presence, but Turkey used this as an excuse for the operation. The reality was that the only ISIS presence was in nearby Idlib which Turkey had observers in and where its Syrian rebel allies were located. That was where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be found by US special forces in October 2019. Turkey’s real and only concern was the YPG. For fifty-eight days of fighting Turkey said it “cleared the YPG” from Afrin.

Turkey got agreement for the operation from Russia, which supports the Syrian regime and controls part of the airspace. Turkey was buying Russia’s S-400 so this helped frame the deal. Turkey said the message to “terrorist organizations and to the whole world is clear: Turkey will continue to move forward with steady steps on the path of trust, stability and justice.” In Afrin more than 150,000 Kurds fled and widespread looting and destruction of graves and houses of minorities, such as Yazidis, took place alongside the invasion. Turkey noted that the operation in Afrin was linked to the US announcement of the “formation of a 30,000 border security force of the YPG and SDF militants on Turkey’s border in northern Syria.” A US official later admitted that the US helped put a target on the YGP in Afrin by announcing the force in January 2018 and then doing nothing to prevent the Turkish attack. The US told the SDF at the time that another Afrin-style attack wouldn’t happen in northwest Syria. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Ankara on January 22, 2019 and said that the US placed “importance on the protection of forces that worked with the US and the global Coalition to defeat ISIS.”

After Olive Branch Turkey began to argue that its role in northern Syria was expanding to a goal of returning the area to “its true owners just like the other areas we have made secure in Syria.” This was mission creep from self-defense in 2016, to using Syrian rebels to “clear” Afrin, to an expanded project of providing land to some Syrians. The December 2018 policy began to sound more like a manifesto for demographic change, moving pro-Ankara Syrian rebel groups into areas along the border primarily to remove pro-YPG Kurdish communities away. This would require widespread social engineering and settlement policies.

Turkey pro-government media such as TRT said that the aim of a third operation would be “continuing the fight against Daesh remnants, to neutralize the threat from the Syrian branch of the PKK, also known as the YPG, and establish a safe zone for Syrians to return to their country.” Turkey portrayed its expanding role as part of its alliance with NATO and the US, claiming that the YPG was a terrorist organization that had attacked Turkey. In fact there were no attacks from Syria on Turkey from 2017-2019. Ankara also said that 300,000 Syrians had been sent to Jarabulus and Afrin, and that three million more would not return to northeastern Syria, an area the refugees were not from.

Turkey went to the UN in September 2019 with a plan to spend billions to create new villages in areas it planned to take over along the border. This “safe zone” would enable 3 million Syrians from Turkey to go mostly Kurdish areas in northeast Syria, killing two birds with one stone from Ankara’s perspective: Removing the PKK and bringing pro-Turkish Syrian rebels in its place. Ankara invited the UN to study its re-settlement plans and told the EU not to critique its offensive or Turkey would send refugees to Europe. Turkey told NATO that the YPG and PKK were an “existential threat” to Turkey and this was why Turkey now had to take over most of northern Syria.

Turkey had now changed its language on the reason for the increased operations and permanent presence it was establishing. It had 12 observation points in Idlib, had signed a ceasefire deal over Idlib with Russia in September 2018 and taken over Afrin and Jarabulus. Turkey would not leave Syria “until the political territorial unity of the country secured.” But there was also Turkey’s agenda of returning Syrian areas to its “true owners.” This was how the policy evolved from September 2018 to October 2019. In August 2019 Turkey had said that it would “soon move to the next stage to eliminate the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian affiliate.” It was a “different phase,” according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan told foreign ambassadors that Ankara was determined to “provide stability and peace in the region” and that Turkey wanted its NATO allies to support it. To achieve peace, a new military operation would have to be launched. War is peace, in Ankara’s determination.

First Turkey convinced the US to set up a “security mechanism” in northern Syria in August 2019. Turkey demanded the US get its SDF partners to remove defenses that Turkey claimed was a threat. The US believed that removing SDF positions would convince Turkey there was no threat. But Turkey called US President Donald Trump and said that its invasion was imminent. The US decided to withdraw forces rather than be in the middle of a NATO power attacking US partners in Syria. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had fulfilled its commitments to the SDF and US anti-ISIS envoy James Jeffrey said the relationship was temporary, tactical and transactional. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the US never said it would defend the SDF against Turkey.

Turkey’s third operation, launched October 9, 2019, targeted areas around Tel Abyad. Turkey said it was launching “Peace Spring” to secure its borders, eliminate terror elements and to ‘ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.” Turkey again said it was fighting ISIS but carried out no airstrikes against ISIS, only against what it said was the “PKK/KSK/PYD-YPG terrorists.” It said that it would be “sensitive to innocent people and historical, cultural and religious structures.” Around 200,000 people were forced to flee from the attack and Christian towns like Tel Tamr came under attack. Turkey-backed Syrian National Army elements, the new name Turkey had given to its version of the Syrian rebels, committed widespread abuses, killing women, and looting towns.

Turkey claimed it was destroying a “terror corridor” even though the area it attacked was a peaceful area between 2016 and 2019 after it had been liberated from ISIS. No terror attacks had been launched at Turkey from northern Syria during this period. Turkey’s attack got the Russians to step in and achieve an October 22 ceasefire with Ankara. The US withdrew and Russia brokered the deal. But Turkey said in November that it would continue the operation if the area was not “cleared of terrorists.”

Turkey’s view of its expanding role in Syria, from self-defense to re-settlement and long-term goals, is emerging. On December 12 Turkey’s Fahrettin Altun, the communications director for the government said that “In this sense, Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring has just shown that despite all attempts to besiege us, we can establish our own game and overthrow geopolitical engineering projects of foreign actors similar to ones from a century ago,” he added.

Ankara increasingly sees its role in the Meditteranean, where it signed new deals for economic zones that angered Greece, and its role in Syria, is all part of the same system of pushing back against what Ankara sees as attempts to curtail its role. Unsurprisingly Ankara thinks back to the Ottoman empire when discussing this. So far Turkey’s multi-billion dollar deal to re-settle Syrians in eastern Syria is not emerging, but Ankara wants European funding for its project.

Now Turkey has shifted its policy to say it won’t leave Syria “unless foreign countries withdraw from the region or Syrian people demand the country's leave.” Increasingly this looks like a permanent Turkish presence and state-building along the border. Turkey is appointing mayors, Turkish flags have appeared, Turkish language is on buildings, and Turkey is involved more and more with local police. In Afrin the curriculum has changed as well, it has more focus on religion and the glory of Turkey and the Kurdish curriculum is gone. An article at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace even says Turkish religious institutions have hired 5,600 teachers, and is pushing “anti-Kurdish” teachings and Islamic education.

In Jarabulus in northern Syria, occupied by Turkey in 2016, the curriculum has changed. Where once French was taught, Turkish is not taught. Turkey even runs the post office, France24 says.


The media are misleading the public on Syria

By Stephen Kinzer -   February 18, 2016

COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story. In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

WikiLeaks Releases Even More OPCW Douma Documents

by Dave DeCamp -  December 30, 2019

Image result for OPCW LEAKED

On Friday, WikiLeaks released even more internal emails and documents from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) related to the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7th 2018. The release is the fourth leak related to the alleged attack, an incident that was used as the pretext for an airstrike launched by the US, UK, and France against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The OPCW published their final report on the Douma attack in March 2019, they concluded that the evidence provided "reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place" and that chemical was "likely molecular chlorine." But since that report was published, multiple whistleblowers have come forward, and many documents have been leaked that suggest otherwise. The mounting evidence points to a cover up within the OPCW, a possible scandal that has gained virtually no attention from the mainstream media.

One of the new leaks is a series of emails between OPCW employees dated February 28th 2019, just two days before the final report was published. The emails show Sebastien Braha, the OPCW Chief of Cabinet, ordering the removal of a document from the OPCW’s secure registry. The email says, "Please get this document out of DRA (Documents Registry Archive) … And please remove all traces, if any, of its delivery/storage/whatever in DRA."

The document Braha ordered to be removed is an engineering assessment that studied two cylinders found in two separate locations in Douma. The allegation was that these cylinders were dropped out of a Syrian government aircraft and were the source of the chlorine gas. But this engineering assessment points to a different possibility.

The assessment was prepared by Ian Henderson, a longtime OPCW engineer. Henderson’s report concludes, "observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft." If the cylinders were manually placed where they were found, it would point to the theory that the attack was staged by Jaysh al-Islam, the opposition group that the Syrian government was driving out of Douma. But Henderson’s assessment was left out of the final report.

This new leak corroborates a story Peter Hitchens wrote for The Mail on Sunday earlier this month. According to Hitchens, after making every effort to have his assessment included in the final report, Henderson decided to upload it to the DRA. After the document was uploaded, a senior OPCW official nicknamed "Voldemort" ordered it be erased. Hitchens wrote, "when ‘Voldemort’ heard about it, he sent an email to subordinates saying: ‘Please get this document out of DRA … And please remove all traces, if any, of its delivery/storage/whatever in DRA.’"

Henderson leaked his engineering assessment to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, and it was published in May 2019. Since Henderson’s leak was published, his character has been smeared as a way to delegitimize his assessment. The common allegation is that Henderson was not part of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) that went to Douma to investigate the alleged attack. The OPCW even told the Working Group in a statement that Henderson "has never been a member of the FFM."

After Braha orders the engineering assessment to be removed from the DRA, he sends another email questioning Henderson’s work. The email reads, "Under whose authority was this work conducted, outside FFM authority and dedicated highly secured network, by someone who was not part of the FFM?" This is the last email we can see in the exchange. Critics of Henderson are pointing to this email as proof that he was not part of the FFM.

But evidence from previous leaks show that Henderson was indeed a member of the FFM that went to Douma. An email from a set of documents released by WikiLeaks on December 14th, addressed to a senior OPCW official, calls the allegation that Henderson was not part of the FFM a "falsehood." The email dated May 20th 2019, reads, "Ian Henderson WAS part of the FFM and there is an abundance of official documentation, as well as other supporting proof that testifies to that."

Another document released on December 14th is a memo addressed to OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias dated March 14th 2019. In the memo, the author, who is likely Ian Henderson, explains that the final OPCW report was not prepared by the FFM that went to Douma. The memo says the report was prepared by a "FFM core team" that only operated in "Country X," with the exception of a paramedic that did go to Douma. "Country X" is likely Turkey since OPCW investigators went there to interview alleged witnesses.

This memo shows that there are two groups that can be called the "FFM." One that went to Douma and had no say in the final report, and a team that only operated in "Country X." Henderson was likely a member of the FFM that went to Douma, whose findings were ignored.

Another document released Friday was the minutes from an OPCW meeting with toxicologists that took place on June 6th 2018. According to the document, four OPCW employees met with "three Toxicologists/Clinical pharmacologists" and "one bioanalytical and toxicological chemist" who all specialize in chemical weapons. The meeting had two purposes. One was "to solicit expert advice on the value of exhuming suspected victims of the alleged chemical attack," and the other purpose was "to elicit expert opinions from the forensic toxicologists regarding the observed and reported symptoms of the alleged victims."

According to the minutes, the OPCW team was advised by the experts that there would be "little use" in exhuming the bodies and conducting autopsies, something the FFM never did.

With regards to the symptoms of the alleged victims, according to the minutes, "the chief expert summed up his conclusions by offering two possibilities that included on the one hand a real chemical attack and on the other, the possibility of the event being a propaganda exercise." As far as the symptoms being consistent with exposure to chlorine gas, "the experts were conclusive in their statements that there was no correlation between symptoms and chlorine exposure."

The document says the OPCW team that attended the meeting all agreed "that the key ‘take-away’ message from the meeting was that the symptoms observed were inconsistent with exposure to chlorine and no other obvious candidate chemical causing the symptoms could be identified." WikiLeaks also released a set of emails from OPCW employees discussing the meeting, affirming the content of the leaked minutes.

The conclusion of the toxicologists and the OPCW team members that attended the meeting are consistent with the original interim report that was never published by the OPCW and was only made public after WikiLeaks released it on December 14th. That interim report says, "Some of the signs and symptoms described by witnesses and noted in photos and video recordings taken by witnesses, of the alleged victims are not consistent with exposure to chlorine-containing choking or blood agents such as chlorine gas, phosgene or cyanogen chloride." This part of the report was completely removed from the highly altered version of the interim report that was published on July 6th 2018.

WikiLeaks published an email on November 23rd from a member of the FFM that went to Douma, expressing his concern over the altered interim report. That email’s author had many issues with the changes to the interim report, among them was the section addressing the victim’s symptoms. The email reads, "The original report discusses in detail the inconsistency between the victims’ symptoms, as reported by witnesses and seen in video recordings. Omitting this section of the report has a serious negative impact … The inconsistency was not only noted by the FFM team but strongly supported by three toxicologists with expertise in exposure to CW agents."

The final report mentions two consultations with toxicologists, one in September 2018, and one in October 2018, but no details from the consultations are given. The final report says the symptoms of the alleged victims as described by witnesses and observed in open-sourced videos "indicate exposure to an inhalational irritant or toxic substance." The report also says, "it is currently not possible to precisely link the cause of the signs and symptoms to a specific chemical."

If the FFM that prepared the final report had proof that the symptoms of the alleged victims were consistent with chlorine exposure, it would no doubt have been included in the report. The absence of such an allegation shows that despite further consultations with toxicologists, that conclusion was never reached. Instead, the reader is lead to believe that the victims were killed by a chlorine gas since the ultimate conclusion of the report is that an attack using a toxic chemical that contained chlorine likely occurred.

Since these OPCW leaks have been coming out, employees of the investigative research website Bellingcat have been trying to sweep them under the rug (it is worth noting that Bellingcat receives grants from the US-government funded National Endowment for Democracy). The "investigators" at Bellingcat are now accusing WikiLeaks of selectively releasing these documents to fit a narrative, and are claiming that each new leak discredits the previous ones. It is more likely that WikiLeaks’ sources expected their original leaks to make a bigger splash, and decided to release more since they gained so little attention. And, as demonstrated above, the new leaks clearly support earlier ones.

No honest journalist or investigator can look at all these leaks and say there is nothing here. The evidence shows that the OPCW ignored its investigator’s findings to prepare a report that fit a particular narrative. The OPCW needs to release all of its member’s findings and explain why they chose to ignore some. The fact is, the alleged Douma chemical attack led to a US airstrike. If that airstrike was carried out under false pretenses it needs to be revealed.

Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.

Chemical Weapons Watchdog Is Just an American Lap Dog

December 19, 2019  |  by Scott RITTER

A spate of leaks from within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international inspectorate created for the purpose of implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, has raised serious questions about the institution’s integrity, objectivity and credibility. The leaks address issues pertaining to the OPCW investigation into allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018. These allegations, which originated from such anti-Assad organizations as the Syrian Civil Defense (the so-called White Helmets) and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), were immediately embraced as credible by the OPCW, and were used by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to justify punitive military strikes against facilities inside Syria assessed by these nations as having been involved in chemical weapons-related activities before the OPCW initiated any on-site investigation.

The Douma incident was initially described by the White Helmets, SAMS and the U.S., U.K. and French governments as involving both sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas. However, this narrative was altered when OPCW inspectors released, on July 6, 2018, interim findings of their investigation that found no evidence of the use of sarin. The focus of the investigation quickly shifted to a pair of chlorine cylinders claimed by the White Helmets to have been dropped onto apartment buildings in Douma by the Syrian Air Force, resulting in the release of a cloud of chlorine gas that killed dozens of Syrian civilians. In March, the OPCW released its final report on the Douma incident, noting that it had “reasonable grounds” to believe “that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon has taken place on 7 April 2018,” that “this toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine” and that “the toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.”

Much has been written about the OPCW inspection process in Syria, and particularly the methodology used by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), an inspection body created by the OPCW in 2014 “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The FFM was created under the direction of Ahmet Üzümcü, a career Turkish diplomat with extensive experience in multinational organizations, including service as Turkey’s ambassador to NATO. Üzümcü was the OPCW’s third director general, having been selected from a field of seven candidates by its executive council to replace Argentine diplomat Rogelio Pfirter. Pfirter had held the position since being nominated to replace the OPCW’s first director general, José Maurício Bustani. Bustani’s tenure was marred by controversy that saw the OPCW transition away from its intended role as an independent implementor of the Chemical Weapons Convention to that of a tool of unilateral U.S. policy, a role that continues to mar the OPCW’s work in Syria today, especially when it comes to its investigation of the alleged use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons against civilians in Douma in April 2018.

Bustani was removed from his position in 2002, following an unprecedented campaign led by John Bolton, who at the time was serving as the undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs in the U.S. State Department. What was Bustani’s crime? In 2001, he had dared to enter negotiations with the government of Iraq to secure that nation’s entry into the OPCW, thereby setting the stage for OPCW inspectors to visit Iraq and bring its chemical weapons capability under OPCW control. As director general, there was nothing untoward about Bustani’s action. But Iraq circa 2001 was not a typical recruitment target. In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, the U.N. Security Council had passed a resolution under Chapter VII requiring Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including its chemical weapons capability, to be “removed, destroyed or rendered harmless” under the supervision of inspectors working on behalf of the United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM.

The pursuit of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction led to a series of confrontations with Iraq that culminated in inspectors being ordered out of the country by the U.S. in 1998, prior to a 72-hour aerial attack—Operation Desert Fox. Iraq refused to allow UNSCOM inspectors to return, rightfully claiming that the U.S. had infiltrated the ranks of the inspectors and was using the inspection process to spy on Iraqi leadership for the purposes of facilitating regime change. The lack of inspectors in Iraq allowed the U.S. and others to engage in wild speculation regarding Iraqi rearmament activities, including in the field of chemical weapons. This speculation was used to fuel a call for military action against Iraq, citing the threat of a reconstituted WMD capability as the justification. Bustani sought to defuse this situation by bringing Iraq into the OPCW, an act that, if completed, would have derailed the U.S. case for military intervention in Iraq. Bolton’s intervention included threats to Bustani and his family, as well as threats to withhold U.S. dues to the OPCW accounting for some 22% of that organization’s budget; had the latter threat been implemented, it would have resulted in OPCW’s disbandment.

Bustani’s departure marked the end of the OPCW as an independent organization. Pfirter, Bolton’s hand-picked replacement, vowed to keep the OPCW out of Iraq. In an interview with U.S. media shortly after his appointment, Pfirter noted that while all nations should be encouraged to join the OPCW, “We should be very aware that there are United Nations resolutions in effect” that precluded Iraqi membership “at the expense” of its obligations to the Security Council. Under the threat of military action, Iraq allowed UNMOVIC inspectors to return in 2002; by February 2003, no WMD had been found, a result that did not meet with U.S. satisfaction. In March 2003, UNMOVIC inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq under orders of the U.S., paving the way for the subsequent invasion and occupation of that nation that same month (the CIA later concluded that Iraq had been disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction by the summer of 1991).

Under Pfirter’s leadership, the OPCW became a compliant tool of U.S. foreign policy objectives. By completely subordinating OPCW operations through the constant threat of fiscal ruin, the U.S. engaged in a continuous quid pro quo arrangement, trading the financial solvency of an ostensible multilateral organization for complicity in operating as a de facto extension of American unilateral policy. Bolton’s actions in 2002 put the OPCW and its employees on notice: Cross the U.S., and you will pay a terminal price.

When Üzümcü took over the OPCW’s reins in 2010, the organization was very much the model of multinational consensus, which, in the case of any multilateral organization in which the U.S. plays a critical role, meant that nothing transpired without the express approval of the U.S. and its European NATO allies, in particular the United Kingdom and France. Shortly after he took office, Üzümcü was joined by Robert Fairweather, a career British diplomat who served as Üzümcü’s chief of Cabinet. (While Üzümcü was the ostensible head of the OPCW, the daily task of managing the functioning of the OPCW was that of the chief of Cabinet. In short, nothing transpired within the OPCW without Fairweather’s knowledge and concurrence.)

Üzümcü and Fairweather’s tenure at the OPCW was dominated by Syria, where, since 2011, the government of President Bashar Assad had been engaged in a full-scale conflict with a foreign-funded and -equipped insurgency whose purpose was regime change. By 2013, allegations emerged from both the Syrian government and rebel forces concerning the use of chemical weapons by the other side. In August 2013, the OPCW dispatched an inspection team into Syria as part of a U.N.-led effort, which included specialists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. itself, to investigate allegations that sarin had been used in attack on civilians in the town of Ghouta. While the mission found conclusive evidence that sarin nerve agent had been used, it did not assign blame for the attack.

Despite the lack of causality, the U.S. and its NATO allies quickly assigned blame for the sarin attacks on the Syrian government. To forestall U.S. military action against Syria, the Russian government helped broker a deal whereby the U.S. agreed to refrain from undertaking military action if the Syrian government joined the OPCW and subjected the totality of its chemical weapons stockpile to elimination. In October 2013, the OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission, created under the authority of U.N. Security Council resolution 2118 (2103), began the process of identifying, cataloging, removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. This process was completed in September 2014 (in December 2013, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its disarmament work in Syria).

If the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons was an example of the OPCW at its best, what followed was a case study of just the opposite. In May 2014, the OPCW created the Fact-Finding Mission, or FFM, charged with establishing “facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The FFM was headed by Malik Ellahi, who served as head of the OPCW’s government relations and political affairs branch. The appointment of someone lacking both technical and operational experience suggests that Ellahi’s primary role was political. Under his leadership, the FFM established a close working relationship with the anti-Assad Syrian opposition, including the White Helmets and SAMS.

In 2015, responsibility for coordinating the work of the FFM with the anti-Assad opposition was transferred to a British inspector named Len Phillips (another element of the FFM, led by a different inspector, was responsible for coordinating with the Syrian government). Phillips developed a close working relationship with the White Helmets and SAMS and played a key role in OPCW’s investigation of the April 2017 chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun. By April 2018, the FFM had undergone a leadership transition, with Phillips replaced by a Tunisian inspector named Sami Barrek. It was Barrek who led the FFM into Syria in April 2018 to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use at Douma. Like Phillips, Barrek maintained a close working relationship with the White Helmets and SAMS.

Once the FFM wrapped up its investigation in Douma, however, it became apparent to Fairweather that it had a problem. There were serious questions about whether chlorine had, in fact, been used as a weapon. The solution, brokered by Fairweather, was to release an interim report that ruled out sarin altogether, but left the door open regarding chlorine. This report was released on July 6, 2018. Later that month, both Üzümcü and Fairweather were gone, replaced by a Spaniard named Fernando Arias and a French diplomat named Sébastien Braha. It would be up to them to clean up the Douma situation.

The situation Braha inherited from Fairweather was unenviable. According to an unnamed OPCW official who spoke with the media after the fact, two days prior to the publication of the interim report, on July 4, 2018, Fairweather had been paid a visit by a trio of U.S. officials, who indicated to Fairweather and the members of the FFM responsible for writing the report that it was the U.S. position that the chlorine cannisters in question had been used to dispense chlorine gas at Douma, an assertion that could not be backed up by the evidence. Despite this, the message that Fairweather left with the OPCW personnel was that there had to be a “smoking gun.” It was now Braha’s job to manufacture one.

Braha did this by dispatching OPCW inspectors to Turkey in September 2018 to interview new witnesses identified by the White Helmets, and by commissioning new engineering studies that better explained the presence of the two chlorine cannisters found in Douma. By March, Braha had assembled enough information to enable the technical directorate to issue its final report. Almost immediately, dissent appeared in the ranks of the OPCW. An engineering report that contradicted the findings published by Braha was leaked, setting off a firestorm of controversy derived from its conclusion that the chlorine cannisters found in Douma had most likely been staged by the White Helmets.

The OPCW, while eventually acknowledging that the leaked report was genuine, explained its exclusion from the final report on the grounds that it attributed blame, something the FFM was not mandated to do. According to the OPCW, the engineering report in question had been submitted to the investigation and identification team, a newly created body within the OPCW mandated to make such determinations. Moreover, Director General Arias stood by the report’s conclusion that it had “reasonable grounds” to believe “that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon has taken place on 7 April 2018.”

Arias’ explanation came under attack in November, when WikiLeaks published an email sent by a member of the FFM team that had participated in the Douma investigation. In this email, which was sent on June 22, 2018, and addressed to Robert Fairweather, the author noted that, when it came to the Douma incident, “[p]urposely singling out chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous.” The author of the email, who had participated in drafting the original interim report, noted that the original text had emphasized that there was insufficient evidence to support this conclusion, and that the new text represented “a major deviation from the original report.” Moreover, the author took umbrage at the new report’s conclusions, which claimed to be “based on the high levels of various chlorinated organic derivatives detected in environmental samples.” According to email’s author “They were, in most cases, present only in parts per billion range, as low as 1-2 ppb, which is essentially trace quantities.” In short, the OPCW had cooked the books, manufacturing evidence from thin air that it then used to draw conclusions that sustained the U.S. position that chlorine gas had been used by the Syrian government at Douma.

Arias, while not addressing the specifics of the allegations set forth in the leaked email, recently declared that it is “the nature of any thorough inquiry for individuals in a team to express subjective views,” noting that “I stand by the independent, professional conclusion” presented by the OPCW about the Douma incident. This explanation, however, does not fly in the face of the evidence. The OPCW’s credibility as an investigative body has been brought into question through these leaks, as has its independent character. If an organization like the OPCW can be used at will by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France to trigger military attacks intended to support regime-change activities in member states, then it no longer serves a useful purpose to the international community it ostensibly serves. To survive as a credible entity, the OPCW must open itself to a full-scale audit of its activities in Syria by an independent authority with inspector general-like investigatory powers. Anything short of this leaves the OPCW, an organization that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its contributions to world peace, permanently stained by the reality that it is little more than a lap dog of the United States, used to promote the very conflicts it was designed to prevent.

19 Dec 2019

Canada Follows US Lead By Ignoring OPCW Scandal

by Yves Engler  - Dec 24, 2019

Among the basic principles of reporting, as taught in every journalism school, are: Constantly strive for the truth; Give voice to all sides of a story; When new information comes to light about a story you reported, a correction must be issued or a follow-up produced.

But the Canadian media has ignored explosives revelations from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It’s a stark example of their complicity with belligerent Canadian foreign policy in Syria.

In May 2019 a member of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in Syria, Ian Henderson, released a document claiming the management of the organization misled the public about the purported chemical attack in Douma in April 2018. It showed that the organization suppressed an assessment that contradicted the claim that a gas cylinder fell from the air. In November another OPCW whistleblower added to the Henderson revelations, saying that his conclusion that the incident was "a non chemical-related event" was twisted to imply the opposite. Last week WikiLeaks released a series of internal documents demonstrating that the team who wrote the OPCW’s report on Douma didn’t go to Syria. One memo noted that 20 OPCW inspectors felt the report released "did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to [Syria]."

I couldn’t find a single report about the whistleblowers/leaks in any major Canadian media outlet. They also ignored explicit suppression of the leaks.

Journalist Tareq Haddad "resigned from Newsweek after my attempts to publish newsworthy revelations about the leaked OPCW letter were refused for no valid reason." Haddad wrote a long article explaining his resignation, which detailed how an editor who previously worked at the European Council on Foreign Relations blocked it.

There is an important Canadian angle to this story. Twenty-four hours after the alleged April 7, 2018, chemical attack foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming, "it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime." Five days later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported cruise missile strikes on a Syrian military base stating, "Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people."

Canadian officials have pushed for the organization to blame Bashar al-Assad’s government for chemical attacks since Syria joined the OPCW and had its declared chemical weapon stockpile destroyed in 2013–14. Canada’s special envoy to the OPCW, Sabine Nolke, has repeatedly accused Assad’s forces of employing chemical weapons. Instead of expressing concern over political manipulation of evidence, Nolke criticized the leak. In a statement after Henderson’s position was made public she noted, "Canada remains steadfast in its confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] and its methods. However, Mr. Chair, we are unsettled with the leak of official confidential documents from the Technical Secretariat."

Amidst efforts to blame the Syrian government for chemical weapons use, Canadian officials lauded the OPCW and plowed tens of millions of dollars into the organization. A June 2017 Global Affairs release boasted that "Canada and the United States are the largest national contributors to the JIM [OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism for Attributing Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria]." The statement added that Canada "is the largest voluntary cash contributor to the organization, having provided nearly $25 million since 2012 to help destroy chemical weapons in Libya and Syria and to support special missions and contingency operations related to chemical weapons use, investigation, verification and monitoring in Syria." Two months after the Douma incident Freeland announced a $7.5 million contribution to the OPCW in a statement heavily focused on Syria. In August Governor General Julie Payette even traveled to The Hague to push OPCW Director-General, Fernando Arias, on Syria. After a "meeting focused on OPCW activities in Syria", Payette highlighted Canada’s "$23 million in voluntary funds for Syria-related activities."

Ottawa backed the group that produced the (probably staged) video purporting to show chemical weapons use in Douma. The Liberals backed the White Helmets diplomatically and financially. In a release about the purported attack in Douma Freeland expressed Canada’s "admiration for … the White Helmets", later calling them "heroes." Representatives of the White Helmet repeatedly came to Ottawa to meet government officials and Canadian officials helped members of the group escape Syria via Israel in July 2018. Alongside tens of millions of dollars from the US, British, Dutch, German and French governments, Global Affairs announced "$12 million for groups in Syria, such as the White Helmets, that are saving lives by providing communities with emergency response services and removing explosives."

Credited with rescuing people from bombed out buildings, the White Helmets fostered opposition to Assad and promoted western intervention. Founded by former British army officer James Le Mesurier, the White Helmets operated almost entirely in areas of Syria occupied by the Saudi Arabia–Washington backed Al Nusra/Al Qaeda insurgents and other rebels. They criticized the Syrian government and disseminated images of its purported violence while largely ignoring civilians targeted by the opposition. Their members were repeatedly photographed with Al Qaeda-linked Jihadists and reportedly enabled their executions.

The White Helmets helped establish an early warning system for airstrikes that benefited opposition insurgents. Framed as a way to save civilians, the ‘Sentry’ system tracked and validated information about potential airstrikes.

Canada funded the Hala Systems’ air warning, which was set up by former Syria focused US diplomat John Jaeger. It’s unclear how much Canadian money was put into the initiative but in September 2018 Global Affairs boasted that "Canada is the largest contributor to the ‘Sentry’ project."

Ottawa is dedicated to a particular depiction of the Syrian war and clearly so is the dominant media. Committed to a highly simplistic account of a messy and multilayered conflict, they’ve suppressed evidence suggesting that an important international organization has doctored evidence to align with a narrative used to justify military strikes.

Journalists are supposed to seek the truth, not simply what their government says. In fact, according to what is taught in J-school, journalists have a special responsibility to question what their government claims to be true.

No journalism program in Canada teaches that governments should always be believed, especially on military and foreign affairs. But that is how the dominant media has acted in the case of Syrian chemical weapons.

[Yves Engler is the author of ten books, including his latest, Left, Right – Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada.]