Western interventions in the Middle East failed – French PM

Entire cities have been destroyed by seven years of intense warfare in Syria [Xinhua]

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has called the West’s method of democratization by force a mistake and said that change must happen over time.

“Military interventions like we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to impose democracy through fire failed to achieve their objectives,” Philippe said at the opening of the 2018 World Government Summit in Dubai.

Philippe’s comments are poignant because they fall within the scope of the Summit’s theme – Shaping Future Governments – and come at a time when Syria, Iraq and Libya appearing to be crumbling states after US-led coalition invasions and regime change.

More than a third of Iraq was controlled by terrorist forces like the Islamic State while dozens of militias impose their style of rule today with a weakened central government.

In Libya, different factions backed by different regional states continue to war over control of the country and its vast resources.

In Syria, while the Islamic State has been largely defeated new conflict has arisen with regional players like Turkey and Iran taking military action to protect their interests.

In just these three conflict zones, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and there has been an exodus of millions of refugees to Europe and neighboring Middle Eastern countries.

Philippe said that democratization cannot be exported. He pointed to the examples of European states which took centuries to progress toward democracy and libertarianism.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Iran, Russia, Turkey to call for int’l conference on Syria

Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan say the end of the war in Syria is at hand [PPIO]

The Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey have concluded a tripartite summit on Syria in Sochi and say there is a real chance for peace now that the Islamic State has been largely defeated.

With IS forces routed in Syria (and Iraq), a cessation of hostilities in full effect, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees returning home, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that there is a real chance a political settlement will end the seven-year civil war.

“It can be stated with certainty that we have reached a new stage that opens the door to a real political settlement process,” he said.

The three leaders meeting in Sochi said the momentum was now such that they would sponsor an international conference involving all conflict parties to bring the war to an end.

In their joint statement issued at the end of their summit, the three leaders said they would:

assist the Syrians in restoring unity of the country, and achieving political solution of the crisis through an inclusive, free, fair and transparent Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process leading to constitution enjoying the support of the Syrian people and free and fair elections with the participation of all eligible Syrians under appropriate United Nations supervision.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was in Sochi earlier this week and agreed to the political reforms that Russia has proposed to move the peace settlement ahead.

But Putin warned that the reforms would not be easy and would require “compromise and concessions” from all parties to the conflict.

In previous years, Saudi Arabia – which has backed the mostly Islamist rebel factions against Assad – had ruled out a future role for the Syrian president.

But after a number of meetings between Putin and Saudi leaders, they appear to have backed away from that demand.

The US also appears to have softened its anti-Assad position in the post-conflict period.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups – which have been involved in previous UN-sponsored negotiations, but are deeply fragmented – met in Saudi Arabia yesterday to unify their position ahead another round of talks in Geneva.

Iran, Russia and Turkey have said that no members of the Al Nusra, Al Qaeda or Islamic State terrorist groups will be part of the talks.

“The exclusion of terrorist aspects from the process is still among Turkey’s priorities,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Sochi.

“It is critical for all parties to contribute to a permanent and acceptable political solution for the people of Syria,” Erdogan said, adding that he believed a conference on Syria would produce tangible results toward peace.

As it did with the talks in Astana, the United Nations has thrown its support behind the Iran-Russia-Turkey peace initiative.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Assad tells Putin: Ready to move with political process in Syria

Al Assad meets with Putin in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday November 21, 2017 [PPIO]

Russian President Vladimir Putin will call his American counterpart after Syrian President Bashar Al Assad concludes his trip to the Russian port city of Sochi.

“Already a talk is planned with the emir of Qatar and tomorrow—with the President of the U.S. Donald Trump, while afterwards (I will speak) with leaders from countries in the region,” a statement from the Kremlin quoted Putin on Tuesday.

In addition to President Donald Trump, Putin is expected to call the Qatari Emir to discuss resolving the Syrian civil war.

Al Assad had arrived in an unannounced visit to Sochi on Tuesday to coordinate peace initiatives ahead of an expected summit involving Iran, Russia and Turkey in the same port city.

The Syrian State news agency SANA quoted Al Assad as saying that “Russia’s military and economic support to Syria has achieved important results in various fields, such as humanitarian relief and military gains”.

“We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists. But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up,” Putin told Al Assad, according to the Kremlin.

SANA said that Al Assad informed Putin that he was ready to move forward with a political process which will put an end to the Syrian civil war.

“We believe that the situation we now have on the ground and in the political sense permits us to expect progress in the political process. We count on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in the political process,” Al Assad said.

Syria has in the past year gained the upper hand against Islamist extremist rebel groups, such as Al Nusra and the Islamic State, largely thanks to Russian air support.

Read more: Alliances Shift in the Middle East as all Roads Lead to Moscow
Russia: Islamic State Routed in Syria

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Russia: Islamic State routed in Syria

The Syrian army said its soldiers have surrounded Islamic State elements in Deir e Zor along the eastern border with Iraq [Xinhua]

The Russian military says that the Islamic State in Syria has been nearly routed even as the Syrian Arab Army announces that it has retaken yet more territory from the extremist group.

On Tuesday the Syrian Army’s 4th Mechanized Division said it had liberated east Hama city and destroyed the Islamic State’s largest training facility there.

The Syrian Army is now fighting its way into Deir e Zor in the east along the border with Iraq, backed by Russian fighter jets and bombers.

This follows the liberation of the town of Mayadeen, also in the east, from the Islamic State.

Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, says that the Islamic State now controls less than eight per cent of Syrian territory.

Meanwhile, US-backed rebel group the Syrian Democratic Forces, comprised mostly of Kurdish militia, said it had fully liberated the city of Raqqa from Islamic State fighters.

Raqqa had been the self-styled capital of the Islamic State caliphate for the last three years.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Analysis: Alliances shift in the Middle East as all roads lead to Moscow

The Saudi monarch is in Moscow, as Iranian and Turkish leaders meet in Tehran

The visit of the Saudi monarch to Moscow all but cements Putin as the central figure in Middle Eastern politics [PPIO]

As US media continues to speculate on the motives behind the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas and the press in the UK critique Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest policy speech, there have been significant changes in Middle Eastern alliances.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in what some media posited as a visit to strengthen energy ties, particularly in the face of persistently low oil prices.

While it is true that the Russians and the Saudis – once at stark odds over oil and gas markets – have in the past three years coordinated on OPEC-plus agreements to cut output to boost prices, the two countries have much more at geopolitical stake in the Middle East.

For one, Russia is a strong backer of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, someone the Saudis had once firmly opposed and had taken great lengths to unseat.

“I can say that our relations are keynoted by the similarity of views on many regional and international problems. Bilateral coordination is continuing on everything that promotes stronger security and the prosperity of our countries,” King Salman said in statements carried by the TASS news agency.

Translation: How to agree on Syria (and Iran).

King Salman told Putin that Riyadh wants to resolve the Syrian civil war diplomatically – a position that is at stark odds with that of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, chiefly Qatar.

The Saudis – along with the Bahrainis, Egyptians, and Emiratis – would love to see a regime change in Doha and the reshaping (or closure, even) of the Al Jazeera news network.

Qatar also happens to sit on one of the biggest gas reserves in the world, is a significant gas supplier on global markets and at one point threatened Russia over Putin’s support of Assad.

Bygones?

But Qatar may be a small fry compared to the Persian elephant in the room.

The Saudis fear Iran’s growing influence in Syria – both directly and through their militant proxy Hezbollah, which has fought side by side with the Syrian Army against Islamist rebel groups believed to have been armed by both Riyadh and Doha.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday said the Saudis were working to create a unified Syrian opposition (minus ISIL and Al Qaeda affiliates) that would be represented in eventual final peace talks according to the tenets of the Astana agreements.

This would mark a significant turnaround in regional efforts to end the Syrian crisis as the Saudis appear more in sync with the Russian point of view than ever before.

The Saudis also look at the Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan and see a new power alliance forming between Iran, Russia and Turkey.

Putin concluded a visit to Turkey last week where the two former enemies-cum-allies finalized a deal to arm Ankara with advanced Russian anti-missile air defense systems.

It seems the Saudis want a piece of the action, too. On Friday, the Saudi press reported that Riyadh signed initial agreements to purchase the S-400 air defense system, as well as other advanced weaponry.

This comes just a few months after President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and highlighted the tens of billions of US arms sales to the Kingdom.

The Saudi press described King Salman’s visit to Russia as the beginning of a “new friendship”.

It is noteworthy that Iran just two weeks ago successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kms and capable of multiple warheads. CNN at the time said that the missile was capable of reaching Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran + Iraq + Turkey

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday met with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani in Tehran to discuss measures to counter the Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq.

Erdogan said that his country was forming a coordinated effort with Iran and Iraq to unravel the Kurdish independence drive.

While their meeting and concentrated efforts may be due to shared convenience, it is no small feat that the strongest Sunni power meets with the strongest Shia power in the Middle East.

And both are allies of the Russians.

Do the Saudi’s feel they may have missed the train?

Saudi Arabia is facing many internal challenges – most socio-economic – and it fears the rise of Islamic extremism, which it may have shaped in some way in the past.

But it also recognizes that for all intents and purposes, the war is lost in Syria as Assad’s forces and Hezbollah retake major regions once occupied by the Islamic State or other Islamic extremists.

It also understands that Europe will not renege on the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran despite all the arm-waving banter coming from Washington threatening to withdraw from the agreement or increase sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

And Riyadh sees that with Trump playing a lesser role in Syria as he continues to withdraw from international and multilateral treaties, all roads now lead to Moscow, a major broker of the above two developments.

In order to counter Iran, as it has done so ferociously in recent years – the Syria theater being the war of proxies between the two, Saudi Arabia is going to lean on Moscow to limit Tehran’s influence in Damascus.

Putin is unlikely to do much in that regard. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who raised the alarm on what he alleged where Iranian military bases in Syria, has visited Moscow four times in the past two years to urge Russia – unsuccessfully – to rein in Iran.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Syrian Army declares ceasefire near Lebanon border

The Syrian army is pushing ahead as it begins liberating major parts of rebel-held territory near the Lebanese border [Xinhua]

Syria’s national army declared a ceasefire in the Qalamoun district near the border with Lebanon on Sunday following a number of rapid advances into Islamic State-held territory.

The Syrian army and its Hezbollah affiliate militias have for weeks been engaged in an offensive in this mountainous area of the border.

In the meantime, the Lebanese army has also been defeating IS forces on its side of the border near the town of Ras Baalbak.

This came following the Lebanese Army’s entry into Arsal, a small town on the Lebanese side of the border just south of Ras Baalbak, which had previously been occupied by Islamist rebels – Tahrir a Sham, believed affiliated with IS.

Hezbollah had on July 27 routed Tahrir a Sham in Arsal leading to a ceasefire agreement to have the rebel fighters vacated to the Syrian province of Idlib, now considered the last bastion of anti-government forces.

Hezbollah also carried out an exchange of prisoners with Tahrir a Sham.

Lebanese military sources say they will use Sunday’s break in fighting to find out what happened to their officers who were overrun in Arsal and by IS in 2014 and 2015. In the meantime, they have forced hundreds of Syrian refugees in Arsal back across the border to Syrian territory.

Prisoner exchanges, surrender and relocation of Islamist extremist rebels in exchange for civilians, and the establishment of safe zones have markedly increased in the past 10 months since the Syrian Army routed IS and affiliate forces in the strategic town of Aleppo.

In May, Iran, Russia and Turkey signed the Memorandum of De-Escalation in Astana, Kazakhstan for establishing four safe zones including the Idlib province and some neighboring territories (Latakia, Hama and Aleppo) to the north of Homs, East Ghouta and some provinces in southern Syria (Daraa and Quneitra).

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies