Mutiny within Iran’s Revolutionary Guard after it incurs heavy losses in Syria: source

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers march during an annual military parade in Tehran, Iran, on September 22, 2013. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)
Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers march during an annual military parade in Tehran, Iran, on September 22, 2013. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)

Tehran and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A rising death toll within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria is leading to a mutiny among some senior commanders, who have refused to obey orders to fight in the war-torn country, according to a source close to the Revolutionary Guard.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat the commanders, who are also joined by a number of junior officers, have now been referred to a court-marshal on charges of “mutiny and treason.”

Iran, which alongside Russia is Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s main international ally, has denied it has combat troops in Syria, claiming it has only sent officers and generals within an advisory capacity to assist both the Syrian army and Hezbollah militias.

The semi-official Fars news agency said on Tuesday some 30 military personnel from the Revolutionary Guard have been killed in Syria in recent weeks, including high-ranking figures such as Col. Mostafa Ezzatollah, Gen. Farshad Hasoonizadeh, and Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who were all killed in Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the source told Asharq Al-Awsat several Revolutionary Guard generals from Ahvaz province, which has a large Iranian–Arab population, have “chosen retirement and pursuing business activities” rather than having to head to Syria.

The Revolutionary Guard court-marshals have now opened an official investigation into the large numbers of suddenly retired generals from the region in what they called “this critical time” for the Revolutionary Guard, according to the source.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is charged with defending the values of Iran’s Islamic Revolution both inside the country and abroad and members must pledge unwavering loyalty to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The source also said a recent rise in deaths among the much-feared Quds Force—an elite paramilitary unit of the Revolutionary Guard charged with carrying out foreign missions—has led its leadership to begin recruiting higher-ranking officers to fight in Syria.

Iranian opposition publication Rooz Online has reported recently that the Revolutionary Guard have begun utilizing new recruitment initiatives in the Sistan and Baluchistan province, in order to bolster their depleting ranks.

Recruiters are targeting the province’s religious and ethnic minorities—which include Kurds, Baluchs, and Sunni Muslims—as well as the poor, offering the equivalent of 830 dollars for six weeks’ service in Syria following training.

Kerry says Russia needs to help find political solution in Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the press after a meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the Palace of Nations in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on November 3, 2015. (Reuters/Brendan Smialowski/Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement to the press after a meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the Palace of Nations in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on November 3, 2015. (Reuters/Brendan Smialowski/Pool)

Astana and Moscow, Reuters—US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday Russia needs to help find a political solution in Syria and not simply support Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

“It really depends a lot on the choices that Russia makes about whether it is there to find the political solution or whether it is there to simply support the Assad regime,” Kerry said in an interview transcript released by the US State Department. “If it is only the regime, it’s a problem.”

Meanwhile, Syrian government officials and members of the country’s splintered opposition could meet in Moscow next week as Russia pushes to broker a political solution to the crisis, a senior Russian official said on Tuesday.

“Next week, we will invite opposition representatives to a consultation in Moscow,” Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying.

“The meeting . . . will possibly be with the participation of government representatives,” Bogdanov said. He did not say which opposition members could attend.

After initially dismissing Syrian opposition groups fighting Assad, Moscow has shown increasing flexibility as it steps up diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict that has killed some 250,000 and displaced millions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss attempts to start a dialogue between Damascus and the Syrian opposition, Moscow’s foreign ministry said.

At international peace talks in Vienna on Friday, where Russia was the leading player, Moscow said it wanted opposition groups to participate in future discussions on the Syria crisis and exchanged a list of 38 names with Saudi Arabia.

The list included mostly former and current members of the Syrian National Coalition, Syria’s Western-backed political opposition bloc, Kommersant newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Among those named were former Coalition head Moaz Al-Khatib and incumbent president Khaled Khoja, the daily reported, as well as representatives from a diverse range of political, religious and ethnic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and a Christian pro-democracy movement.

Khoja said last week a Russian campaign of air strikes in Syria was intended to prop up Assad and had helped Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have taken control of large swaths of the country.

The Coalition has been accused of slipping into virtual irrelevance on the battlefield in Syria as Islamist and Kurdish groups have grown stronger. But it remains one of the main parties in international discussions to end the four-year-old conflict.

The Coalition boycotted Syria peace talks held in Russia in January and April, distrustful of the Kremlin and dismissing Damascus rivals who attended as token opposition, but it sent a delegation to Moscow in August.

UN envoy, Syrian FM discussed Vienna meeting outcomes in Damascus

A handout picture provided by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem (C-R) meeting with United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (C-L), during a brief visit in the Syrian capital Damascus on November 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/HO/ SANA)
A handout picture provided by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem (C-R) meeting with United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (C-L), during a brief visit in the Syrian capital Damascus on November 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/HO/ SANA)

London and Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—United Nations Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem on Sunday in Damascus in order to discuss the outcomes of international talks in Vienna last week aiming to find a solution to the crisis in Syria, a senior UN diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that de Mistura provided Mouallem with a “detailed report” on the Vienna talks, which involved a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, as well as the UN and EU.

In a joint statement on Friday following the meeting, the participants called for a “political process” to solve the crisis in Syria involving the government and the internationally recognized Syrian opposition, before new elections and a new constitution for the country.

The statement also said that terrorist groups with a presence in Syria, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “must be defeated” in order to bring about an end to the violence.

Following his meeting with de Mistura on Sunday, Mouallem expressed concerns regarding the statement and said he was “surprised” that it did not include “a commitment by known backers of terrorism” to stop supporting groups which the UN Security Council has deemed as terrorist organizations.

A major sticking point in the Vienna meetings was the question of President Bashar Al-Assad’s role in any future political solution for the country. Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime’s main backers, have long maintained that Assad must remain in power.

However, a source close to the Russian delegation at the meeting told Asharq Al-Awsat there had been some disagreements between the Russian and Iranian delegations in Vienna regarding the fate of Assad.

“Russia is dealing with the [question of] the fate of the presidency in Syria from the point of view of the legitimacy of the regime. In that sense it is not insisting on particular people; it is more concerned that any transition in governance must follow international protocols and laws,” the source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said.

“Iran, on the other hand, is very insistent on Assad himself . . . because it fears losing its influence in Syria if [his] regime is removed.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition will arrive on Wednesday in London for two-day talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. The opposition delegation will include Khaled Khoja, the head of the main opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, as well as the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) legal representative Osama Abu Zaid.

Opinion: The American “Presence” in Syria

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and similar groups possess more than 30,000 fighters in Syria. The Iranians say they are managing 100,000 fighters of different nationalities, while the Russians have sent around 3,000 troops. Washington has finally decided to send its own forces . . . a total of only 50 military personnel. Right now we are unable to tell what this force will be doing, nor the political message behind their presence.

The prevailing view is that this is an indication that Washington is not serious regarding anything it says about Syria, whether on the level of confronting ISIS, rejecting Russian expansion, or its keenness over a transition of power as part of a plan to end the conflict. It would have been better if Washington had not sent anyone at all, instead of a force comprising just 50.

What we had really expected from Washington was that it support the Syrian opposition with arms, intelligence, and diplomacy in order to impose on ongoing negotiations the only possible solution to the crisis: a Syria without Bashar Al-Assad in power, and the establishment of a transitional authority that consists of figures from the current government as well as the opposition. Without such a plan, the war will continue and terrorist groups in Syria will remain in the country.

Unlike the Americans, the Russians arrived in Syria with an indubitable political message backed up by fighter jets; and they are gaining unprecedented influence as a result. However, the Russians must be aware that their air force will not end the siege on the Assad regime. Assad himself is besieged in Damascus. So far, daily Russian shelling of Aleppo province has only resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of residents to areas controlled by extremist groups.

As the largest nest of terrorist groups in the world right now, Syria has become even more dangerous than Afghanistan in terms of being a threat to world security; the country is producing trained fighters and preparing them to return home to begin a new journey of violence.

Opinion: The Kurdish Dilemma

The joint operation by US and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to free 20 Iraqis captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq has created much controversy, given that it is the first ground operation carried out by the Americans in Iraq since the decision to withdraw all US forces from the country. It was an operation that carried some risk, and that was clear when reports and statements confirmed that the US had lost one soldier during the raid to free the hostages from ISIS, which was intent on executing them. But the operation was also noteworthy because it was the first the US had carried out in coordination with any foreign forces on Iraqi territory since the end of the Nuri Al-Maliki era, during which the US had decided against having any permanent military presence in the country.

There has certainly been coordination between the Americans and the Kurds before. But this happened in Kobani, in Syria, where Kurdish forces reached out to the Americans after they were surrounded by ISIS forces. The US then hit the extremist group’s targets in the area with airstrikes, while the Kurdish forces on the ground assaulted ISIS positions with a ferocity that ended up inflicting heavy losses on the extremists and drove them out of the area.

By contrast, Iraqi forces fighting ISIS have not held their ground at all. We saw this most recently in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, which the extremist group captured in May using tactics combining suicide bomb attacks and booby-trapped vehicles. In Syria, meanwhile, the picture remains murky, especially after Barack Obama’s recent announcement that Washington would be reevaluating its support for the moderate Syrian opposition after many of them were captured by ISIS and ended up handing over their US weapons to the extremist group. Then came the Russian military intervention in Syria, which reveals a much more pragmatic strategy for working with forces on the ground fighting ISIS.

However, we must bear in mind that the Russian plan sees Assad’s army as its main partner against ISIS and the most likely candidate for defeating the group in Syria. This is of course a problem for those opposition fighters that both support the Syrian revolution against the Assad regime and are also fighting ISIS on the ground. They view the Assad regime as the problem and not the solution and want revolutionary forces to establish themselves on the ground in Syria and also drive out ISIS from the country so that its fighters can return to the various countries from which they came.

Until now, though, the Kurds have been the only fighting force that has proven its worth against ISIS, whether in Iraq or in Syria. But the Kurds also have political aims—and they have not been coy about them—to gain international backing for the establishment of their own autonomous state in the region. This has indeed been a sticking point for efforts seeking both to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict and drive ISIS out of Iraq.

It is a serious political problem, because anyone who would support such aims would put themselves at odds with Turkey, Iran, and other domestic factions. When it finally comes time for all to sit at the negotiating table and find political solutions to these crises, there would need to be a clear vision for solving this Kurdish dilemma. As things stand, there isn’t one, and this makes it extremely difficult to find any solutions to the current problems. We can put it like this: Turkey considers Kurdish calls for autonomy more dangerous to its national security than the threat of ISIS.

Opinion: The Russians and the Syrian Crisis

Russia did not wait long after its entrance into the Syrian conflict to bolster its position. Since its military action began, Moscow has backed it up with a frenzied slew of political moves. The standout maneuvers here are Moscow’s proposed solutions to the crisis in Syria, details of which were covered by Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday. Moscow has been able to take advantage of Western ambivalence on the Syria issue, which has created a space for President Vladimir Putin to rise to the occasion and allows the Kremlin to assume the role of an implacable international player in the crisis—one that has, at the same time, now also become indispensable to its solution.

Bashar Al-Assad’s departure has always been at a crucial part of proposed international solutions on the Syria issue. But recently there have been a series of signs from Washington to London to Paris to Berlin, as well as other Western capitals, that they are changing tack on the issue, accepting Assad’s remaining in power perhaps for a brief period—a change that has come perhaps as a result of the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Europe. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—true friends of the Syrian people—have not budged from their positions on the Assad issue, assuming the role of isolated refuseniks who must now reluctantly deal with this international change of heart—one which, of course, benefits Russia. Neither country wants Assad to remain in power, even for a brief period; but neither has also objected to the recent international U-turn on the issue, as both wish to find a viable solution to this crisis whose problems grow ever more complex as time goes on.

Whilst we cannot say that the Russian proposal is the best put forward thus far, it is certainly the “best of the worst” solutions that have been offered. The West has failed to adequately stand by the Syrian people, leaving the space open for the Russian Bear to step in and fill the vacuum. As the conflict has gone on, the world has slowly abandoned the Syrian people, until only Riyadh and Ankara are now left to swim against the current of international malaise on Syria, even after the U-turns on the Assad issue, which was, once upon a time, a red-line for the international community. The truth is that it is quite likely Assad will not leave after 18 months as has been proposed. We may well find that after three or four or even 10 years that the crisis remains ongoing, still inflamed, and Assad remains at the head of the ruling regime, even if he only controls a small part of the country’s overall territory. This is likely in light of the political and military support he continues to receive from Moscow.

The dilemma now is how Assad can be kept as far away as possible from the political process in Syria during the coming period—and whether Moscow is truly capable of offering real guarantees that the current regime will not rise once again, in new form, like a phoenix from the ashes. Unfortunately, the absence of a positive role from the US, which was previously a leader in the talks and has now become a follower, hacks away at any confidence that the Russian plans will generate a genuine solution free of booby-trapped tactical moves from Moscow. This is especially true in light of the Syrian opposition’s concerns regarding Russia’s seriousness about reaching a genuine political solution. Last week’s meetings in Vienna on the Syrian crisis showed Washington acquiescing to Russia’s vision, as well a lack of any real desire from the White House to to assume a leading position on the issue. There is now nothing left for Washington to do except go through the motions pertaining to this new role it has adopted. Hopefully it will be able to secure some internationally sanctioned balance that will temper this new, terrifying Russian drive.

The bitter reality is that Moscow is now pointing the way for everyone else to abandon Syria, while at the same time not being able guarantee there will be a Syria left at all, now that everyone has actually jumped ship.

Saudi FM Jubeir sees “progress” on political solution for Syria

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on October 25, 2015 shows Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (C) and Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri (3-R) meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (3-L) and other officials in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. (AFP Photo/HO/Mohammed Samaha/Egyptian Presidency)
A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on October 25, 2015 shows Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (C) and Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri (3-R) meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (3-L) and other officials in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. (AFP Photo/HO/Mohammed Samaha/Egyptian Presidency)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Countries involved in talks on Syria are close to finding a political solution to the crisis in the war-torn country, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said on Sunday.

Speaking in Cairo following a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shokri and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Jubeir said there was “some progress and a convergence on the [different international] positions seeking to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.”

“However, I cannot say that we have reached an actual solution yet. We need more consultations and talks in order to reach this point,” he added.

“There are currently ongoing international consultations regarding implementing the outcomes of the [2012] Geneva meetings [on Syria]. We are committed to this and aim to establish an interim governing council which will put forward a new constitution . . . manage civil society and military institutions, and prepare new elections,” Jubeir said.

However, he added that “there should not be any role for Bashar Al-Assad in Syria’s future. This is the Kingdom’s position and that of most other countries.”

This comes as Russia put forward a plan in recent days that would see a political transition in the country through new parliamentary and presidential elections. Moscow however wants to see Assad playing a role in the next stage, something which other countries such as the Kingdom, the US, and the UK are opposing.

A Russian lawmaker who met Assad in Damascus on Sunday said the Syrian president’s “priority” was currently to defeat terrorist groups operating in the country. On Monday Assad said “eliminating terrorism” would help the success of any political track in the country, according to state news agency SANA.

Meanwhile, following his meeting with Jubeir on Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri denied there were any tensions between Cairo and Riyadh on the Syria issue.

“There were never any differences previously nor are there any differences right now [on Syria] . . . . we want to achieve the same result.”

While most Gulf countries have been critical of Russia’s recent airstrike campaign in Syria, Egypt appeared to welcome the action.

A statement from President Sisi on Sunday also said that Cairo was looking to increase cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the most pressing issues facing the region, with the Syrian crisis at their head.

He stressed a “united Arab front” was needed on such issues in order to protect the region against what he called “foreign interference.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the United States announced on Sunday that they would be boosting their support for moderate Syrian opposition fighting groups, following meetings between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh on Saturday.

Opinion: If the opposition is an illusion, then the Syrian army is a myth

The Syrian army is back in the spotlight again. There have been a number of recent Russian and Syrian reports on the army’s battles against the opposition in Syria. In reality, the standing army these reports refer to is actually now made up of a mixture of troops belonging to foreign powers who are carrying out most of the fighting in Syria on behalf of the Syrian regime.

These foreign parties mainly include members of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, the Iraqi militia Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, and Iran’s Quds Force. They also include Afghani Shi’ite militias and others who have been recruited and trained to serve the Iranian regime’s agenda in Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East. This is the “army” which all those recent official Syrian government statements refer to, the “army” the Russians are claiming to support through their intervention in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once mocked the Free Syrian Army (FSA), asking if the group had an official address he could write to. He was of course attempting to throw doubt as to whether the FSA actually exists, implying that those fighting Bashar Al-Assad are all terrorists and that everyone who belongs to the opposition is actually affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda. Two days ago, the Russian envoy to Saudi Arabia described the Syrian opposition as “fragile.” The Saudis confidently responded by asking Moscow to point to the Syrian army which they claim to be supporting on the ground.

For more than 18 months now, military experts have confirmed that there remains no trace of this army. Most of its soldiers have either been killed or have defected. Those who remain meanwhile have been marginalized because most of them are Sunnis whose loyalty to the regime is thereby questioned. As such, they are drip-fed with meager fuel and ammunition since the regime fears they may defect to the opposing camp.

The Syrian regime has thus filled the vacuum by resorting to volunteer forces—as per the Iraqi style. However, this did not yield any fruitful results as most of these forces have little training and mainly consist of youths from minority groups, such as the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. In fact many of them have chosen to escape their military service and have fled outside Syria.

Today, the Syrian army, or Assad’s army, mostly comprises forces overseen by Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who claims that there are some 100,000 fighters in Syria that are defending the Assad regime.

The opposition FSA also includes different parties and factions, but most of them are moderate and patriotic. Although it also includes some religious extremists, they have not been brought from abroad and do not belong to groups like ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

The FSA was mainly born as part of efforts by the Syrian opposition, which comes under the umbrella of the political coalition council that includes all of Syria’s religious and ethnic groupings: Sunnis, Kurds and Christians, as well as minorities such as Alawites, Druze and Turkmen, have all served in leading positions. However, Assad, whom the Russians and the Iranians are defending, no longer represents anyone, not even his small Alawite sect—upon which he inflicted the biggest massacre in their history when he forced their sons to engage in the fighting during the last four horrific years.

You may have Syrian traffic police in Damascus; however there is no such thing as the “Syrian army”—at least not in the sense which the Russians have been using the term. Even their Iranian allies avoid using the term “Syrian army,” as they now consider the Syrian armed forces to be made up of their own fighters.

When the different parties involved in the struggle in Syria—the Gulf states, Turkey, Russia, the United States, and Europe—talk about the future role of the Syrian army and the security forces, they are only referring to symbolic concepts of official state institutions. There are now no more than a few thousand soldiers and a few hundred officers and generals left in the Syrian army, which was once made up of around 250,000 soldiers.

However, it is not only the Syrian army which has disappeared. During the past four years of the war, the structure of the security forces’ institutions and intelligence apparatuses, which were once described as being among the strongest in the world, have been dismantled. As such, Moscow and Tehran must stop trying to paint a false picture regarding what is happening in Syria; the truth is no longer a secret, with all the different groups involved being open regarding this. The reality is that right now in Syria there is no state, no system, no legitimate president, no security forces, and no army.

Above all, the Iranians—and not the Russians—are the biggest winners from Russian involvement in Syria, which is mainly targeting Syrian opposition forces and not terrorists like ISIS as Moscow claims.

The Russians are trying to create a balance by eliminating the armed Syrian national opposition so that the world—especially Turkey and the Gulf states—is forced to support the so-called regime in Damascus in order to fight foreign fighters belonging to ISIS and other terrorist groups. This is the result that will finally serve the interests of Iran, which by then will have seized Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, next setting its sights on the Gulf states.

Opinion: The US–Russian Quagmire in the Middle East

During last Thursday’s US Senate hearing tackling military and political affairs, those present unanimously agreed that by interfering in Syria, Russia has become a growing danger to the United States in terms of influence and interests.

They also agreed that Russia is posing a threat to the security of the Middle East. One of the experts described what is happening as “dangerous,” recalling that Russia has never fought outside its areas of influence, not even during the Cold War.

In fact, American losses are much greater than this. Washington’s current policies have pushed allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Kuwait to sign military agreements with Moscow, a fact that showcases an unprecedented nadir in these countries’ relations with Washington. The US’s traditional regional allies were forced to reconcile with Moscow when Washington looked askance at their interests, a case in point being the nuclear agreement with Tehran.

During the Senate hearing it was revealed that Russia repeatedly violated European airspace last year, and is now violating NATO member Turkey’s airspace.

The Russian military intervention in the Middle East, which follows the annexation of Crimea in 2014, might not be the end of the current alarming scenario for the West; in reality it is probably just the beginning. It is clear that Moscow strives to expand in the region, to impose its position and bolster its relations at the expense of the United States. This is unsurprising. During the past six years, the US has deliberately distanced itself from the Middle East, especially in Iraq, the Gulf, and Egypt. Washington has taken further negative steps in refusing all appeals from Arab allies to cooperate against the massacres committed by the Assad regime in Syria. What made things even worse was when Washington did nothing when Iran and Hezbollah sent thousands of fighters to Syria. The Arab allies of the United States are now seeing how the US is begging the Iraqi government not to reduce its security in Baghdad’s Green Zone, thus revealing an American weakness for the first time since the 1960s.

The US is certainly stronger than Russia in terms of military capabilities, but the politics of the current American administration are based on avoiding any military confrontation and staying away from regional conflicts. Washington has also rejected all calls urging it to take part in the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa after the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram. The US took its time and even its efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq came pretty late in the end.

Following Russian efforts in the region, the Americans have suddenly raised their voices to condemn these regressive policies and are reconsidering the strategy of confrontation with the Kremlin. In my opinion, Washington has committed its biggest mistake in Iran, not in Syria. The nuclear deal has ended up putting constraints on Washington and not Tehran. The US avoided confronting the Iranians, who have now expanded their forces in Iraq and Syria. This served the interests of the Russians—at the expense of US—as we see today.

The US will not be able to engage in a military confrontation with Russia because there are no legal justifications for such action in the absence of a decision from the UN Security Council. Moreover, the US has not established a group that can take its defense or protect its legitimacy, and the Iraqi government is no longer listening to Washington’s objections and will surely refuse to grant the US legitimacy with regards to the Russians on its soil.

Therefore, Washington’s problem lies in the terrible deal it signed with Tehran which has now turned into a Trojan horse for the Russians since they are on the same team as Iran in Iraq and Syria, in addition to cooperating together in different regions in Afghanistan against American interests and Washington’s traditional allies.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince tells Putin Kingdom is “concerned” about Russian action in Syria

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Sochi, Russia, on October 11, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Sochi, Russia, on October 11, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)

Moscow, Sochi and Dubai, Reuters/Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince on Sunday expressed the Kingdom’s concerns regarding Russia’s military intervention in Syria, during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During the meetings, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is also the Kingdom’s Minister of Defense, reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, based on the outcomes of the Geneva Communiqué.

The communiqué, the result of a Syrian peace conference held in Geneva in June 2012, stipulates that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad must quit in place of a transitional government which will include Syrian opposition figures.

Moscow’s military intervention in Syria will have “dangerous consequences,” escalating the war there and inspiring militants from around the world to join in, senior Saudi officials accompanying Prince Salman told Russia’s leaders on Sunday, a Saudi source said.

Saudi Arabia will continue to strengthen and support the moderate opposition in Syria, the source said.

“The Russian intervention in Syria will engage them in a sectarian war,” the source said on Monday.

“The recent escalation will contribute in attracting extremists and jihadists to the war in Syria,” the source said, adding that the Kremlin’s actions would also alienate ordinary Sunni Muslims around the world.

Prince Salman and the delegation urged Russia to help fight terrorism in Syria by joining the existing US-led coalition comprising more than 20 nations that is battling Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, the source said.

“Assad should leave and the Saudis will continue strengthening and supporting the moderate opposition in Syria,” the source said.

Moscow’s intervention has infuriated Assad’s regional foes, including Saudi Arabia, who say Russian airstrikes have been hitting rebel groups opposed to the Syrian leader and not just the ISIS fighters Moscow says it is targeting.

Speaking after the meetings, which took place on the sidelines of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said both countries were willing to cooperate in Syria to prevent the spread of extremist groups.

“On both sides, as far as I can tell, there is an understanding that today’s meeting can advance our cooperation,” he said.

Lavrov acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s “concerns” about Russia’s intervention in Syria but reiterated that Moscow was only targeting extremist groups.