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How sections of the left came to abandon Syria, Chemical weapons launch location ? 155th Brigade missile base.

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  • Cort Greene
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 26, 2013

      Ken MacLeod: On Iain Banks: Use of Calculators

      *An obituary for Iain Banks by his friend, socialist SF writer Ken MacLeod*

      How sections of the left came to abandon

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      *How sections of the Left abandon Syria///*
      Category: War and
      on Monday, 26 August 2013Written by Martin Pravda
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      On the same day as it was announced that the ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni
      Mubarak will be released from prison following the massacres of hundreds of
      supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, reports circulated that the Syrian
      regime under the dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad had embarked on a chemical
      attack on its population. Disturbing footage quickly emerged of hundreds of
      dead and dying people in the opposition-controlled area of Ghouta just
      outside of Damascus. Images of some of the bodies showed skin turning
      yellow with visible white foaming at the mouth proving the reports to be
      accurate. As the hours went on it emerged that over a thousand people had
      died as a result of being gassed. This was immediately broadcast across
      Western media outlets as international pressure once again built up against
      the regime.

      These two abhorrent attacks in neighbouring Arab nations may appear to have
      different geopolitical significance if you focus on the relationship the
      perpetrating regimes have with the West, particularly the US. While both
      massacres have been internationally condemned by world leaders, the
      situation in Syria has provoked further discussions about the possibility
      for Western intervention, whereas the Egyptian massacres have seen no such
      calls. Behind this contradiction is a hypocrisy inherent in any Western
      strategic move in the region: it is easy to envisage Western regimes
      breaking future political deals with the military in Egypt (underlined by
      the Obama administration�s initial reaction to the bloodshed when they
      stated that �they don�t take sides�), while their relations with the Assad
      regime are historically much more inconsistent, and many governments such
      as the British have already publicly cut all its ties. This contradiction
      also sheds light on why in the past Western governments have sometimes
      found themselves turning a blind eye to chemical
      but are now using it as a justification to potentially intervene.

      For Syria, the prospect of further intervention is something they are very
      used to. The Assad regime could well have been toppled by the mass popular
      uprising long ago had it not been propped up by Russian arms. Last year it
      was revealed that Russia had arms deals worth around $1.5
      Syria, and in recent months the assistance from the Lebanese militia
      Hezbollah has turned the balance of forces strongly in favour of the Assad
      regime. This is backed up with unconditional political support, and it was
      no surprise when immediately after the attack a Russian official was quoted
      as saying the massacre in Ghouta was a �planned
      provocation�<http://rt.com/news/russia-syria-chemical-attack-801/> by
      the opposition.

      With the clear political support that the Obama administration along with
      their Western allies have offered to the opposition, and the ever
      increasing prospect of greater military support in the future (with both
      Britain and France now threatening a �serious move� if Assad is proven to
      have used chemical weapons), it is clear that Syria is being used as a
      political football by competing global superpowers. There is no need to
      explain to a generation who have lived through the appalling destruction of
      Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of intervention in the last decade why
      these Western governments should not be trusted near any humanitarian
      crisis. More subtle perhaps was their attempt to curb the revolutionary
      wave in the Middle East and North Africa with their �humanitarian
      intervention� in Libya in 2011. What was initially proposed to the world as
      a relatively peaceful �no-fly zone� against Gaddafi forces ended in a full
      military bombardment which resulted in strong accusations of Nato war
      crimes <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/nato-accused-of-war-crimes-in-libya-6291566.html>against
      civilian targets.

      As with the destruction we have already seen, the ramifications of global
      superpowers throwing further fuel onto the fires of the current
      humanitarian tragedy in Syria is likely to be disastrous. The tragedy of
      Syria has been spawned out of decades of colonial rule, followed by
      competing imperialist powers arming and funding both an oppressive and
      undemocratic regime and regional powers who are hostile to it. The only
      truly peaceful solution for Syria is one where such intervention and
      exploitation from forces outside are removed entirely. In this context it
      would seem that there is a very clear and obvious position for the left
      internationally to take, and this has not really changed since the initial
      uprisings against the regime: we should stand against all global powers who
      wish to intervene, escalate or benefit from this crisis, including those
      who are already intervening and propping up the current regime. This of
      course should go hand in hand with offering solidarity with those who are
      seeking real democracy, who are opposed to and are under attack by their
      callous dictatorship. On the surface this seems to be a principled
      perspective which the left should have no problem finding agreement on, yet
      sadly this is where a lot have got it so abominably wrong.

      This was seen to be the case early on in the uprising for some influential
      figures in the anti-war movement. Often politically astute commentators
      such as Tariq Ali<http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/12/the-uprising-in-syria/>
      and Seumas Milne<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/07/intervention-syria-descent-into-darkness>
      writing off the opposition movement as ultimately hijacked by imperialism;
      this was well before the conflict fully descended into the armed civil war
      that exists today. Neither thought it was important to focus on the already
      ongoing imperialist intervention from Russia and others in support of the
      regime. Responding to this in a thorough analysis of the balance of forces
      on the ground last year, Richard
      how absurd it was that sections of the left were branding a relatively
      unprofessional and poorly armed opposition born out of a genuine popular
      revolt as merely forces for imperialism, while well-trained and heavily
      armed regime forces were slaughtering them in any confrontation. This
      essentially led to a bleak situation where leading figures on the left
      simply wouldn�t comment on Syria except when there was a perceived threat
      of Western intervention. A heavily armed and funded dictator went on
      massacring a popular revolt, and all the horrors which attach themselves to
      armed conflict amounted, and many on the left simply remained silent.

      Leading figures in the Stop the War Coalition at times attempted to justify
      this silence by talking about the situation as if it were merely a war
      between the dominant US empire and anti-imperialist forces. They dismissed
      the significance of other global powers and their differing interests, and
      even more problematically the mass popular protests against the regime
      which was of course the initial catalyst for the conflict. John
      for instance, suggested that the central dominant power in the region is US
      imperialism alone, particularly through the power held by its allies Saudi
      Arabia and Turkey. He suggested that as a result, movements on the ground �
      which he accepted were popular and rooted from below � are essentially
      limited in what they could achieve; they can either be against Western
      intervention or in support of Western intervention and this is how we
      should judge them. In making this point he placed a purist demand on those
      struggling against Assad: �Make it clear that (you) are opposed to Assad
      but also opposed to Western intervention and...also oppose those within the
      Syrian revolution who are calling for and taking arms from Western

      These demands were flawed for a number of clear reasons, and behind them
      lay a dubious and perhaps pernicious regard for the people of Syria.
      Firstly on the issue of the overarching dominance of the US empire, I have
      already discussed how this is not the only imperialist interest in the
      region: in the case of Syria in terms of directly material contributions to
      the current conflict, the US, Britain and France�s involvement is clearly
      far less than the economic and military support provided to the regime by
      Russia. It is of course true that the US has a strong grip over the region
      as a whole, particularly through its economic ties with the Gulf States,
      and notably Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime has of course been able to play
      a reactionary role throughout the Arab Spring, especially in Bahrain where
      it has used its military and economic weight to crush the uprising, and
      along with the US it has taken a position of support for the opposition in
      Syria. However, to suggest that Saudi support signifies complete dominance
      is to ignore important complexities in the geopolitics of the region. As
      Richard Seymour
      a response to Rees, �these sub-imperialisms have interests of their own
      which, while tendentially confluent with the strategy of the US, follow
      their own internal dynamics�. To give evidence of this he highlights how
      the Saudi regime initially backed Assad against the opposition but later
      switched sides as their direct interests changed. To argue that Saudi
      Arabia is merely a US bastion in the Middle East would therefore appear to
      be contradicted by their sometimes different approaches. The fact that the
      Saudi regime has close ties with sections of the opposition far from
      signifies US control over the opposition as a whole.

      Of course it is right to be wary of the US�s and their allies� global
      power, but it is also important to consider how uncoordinated they have at
      times been in their approach and how this highlights possible weaknesses.
      Over the past two years the US has at several stages appeared to build up
      momentum towards some form of military intervention but they have as yet
      not been unable to move onto the next stage and turn it into anything
      materially substantial. This may be changing given the current pressure
      being waged, but their continual hesitance is potentially quite
      significant. Unlike in Libya, where the initial popular uprising was
      notably smaller and more regionally isolated (making it easier for the
      western governments to relate to), in Syria there were several protests of
      up to a million across the nation. The opposition to the regime � while now
      mostly fronted by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) ever since the conflict turned
      into an armed struggle early on � is a lot more diverse than Rees makes out
      and the ideologies amongst it are difficult to epitomise. The FSA appear to
      have close ties with the West, as they unsurprisingly look to gain as much
      international support as possible, but the small number who Western
      governments are negotiating with far from encompass the entirety of those
      who have at some stage played a part in the opposition against the regime.
      These are of course harder to track down as they are the mass of ordinary
      people who are rooted in communities which are now under an intense and
      sustained bombardment. They are an ideologically unknown entity, hoping to
      have their say in a post Assad Syria. This is I think one of the main
      reasons behind the West�s previous hesitance to fully involve itself; its
      control over the opposition is not entirely absolute. This was underlined
      by a statemen<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10257208/US-will-not-intervene-in-Syria-as-rebels-dont-support-interests-says-top-general.html>t
      made last week by the Obama administration�s chief military adviser,
      General Martin Dempsey, who argued strongly against intervention claiming
      that the opposition does not necessarily support their interests.

      John Rees is right to point out that most Syrians who are against the
      regime are also for some form of intervention. Who wouldn�t honestly call
      for assistance when faced with the powerful and well-funded regime forces,
      the ruthless Shabiha torturing squads, and the militia of Hezbollah? The
      one-sided �anti-imperialist� demands Rees places on the opposition are
      therefore knowingly abstract and unachievable. It also tangentially leaves
      him in a position which essentially sees a victory for the Assad regime as
      a lesser of two evils. In occupying this stance he of course chooses to
      neglect the matter of where this would leave ordinary Syrians. He does not
      consider the prospects of the millions who have shown public opposition to
      the regime, or those who are fighting it or under attack now. Nor does he
      take into account that the friends, neighbours or families of the hundreds
      of thousands already slaughtered are unlikely to settle for anything other
      than the removal of the bloodstained regime. He also neglects to consider
      how Syrians are actually supposed to improve their material conditions and
      move to greater democracy if Assad is to regain control. Given that his
      demands on the opposition are essentially impossible while Russia continues
      to support the regime, how are Syrians supposed to ever resist in the
      future? The gas attacks on Ghouta and the massacres which came before this
      have given us a glimpse of Assad�s strategy to assert his control. I don�t
      see how any serious analysis can claim that Assad�s crushing of the
      opposition would be beneficial for Syrians in either the present or the
      future, and the assertion that his overthrow would simply signify a
      strengthening of imperialism is a crude dismissal of the complexities which
      exist within and around Syria.

      Of course it is important also to recognise that human rights
      being committed by some in the name of the opposition to the regime as
      well. As soon as the uprising turned into a civil war, there were always
      likely to be atrocities committed by those who claim to represent both
      sides. There have been brutal murders and several sectarian attacks against
      Alawites and Christians by some of the FSA and other groups opposed to the
      Assad regime, which of course the left needs to condemn. This sectarianism
      is born out of a regime which for decades has divided people against one
      another depending on race or religion, and before that French colonial rule
      which did the same, so it is sadly unsurprising that this has become a
      feature of the conflict. Importantly though, unlike the violence conducted
      by the regime, this sectarianism is not at all a consistent feature amongst
      all those who have stood in opposition. One of the most uplifting scenes
      from footage <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfHgFnJQumc> of the early
      protests was of banners and chants calling for unification between
      Christians and Muslims against the regime. It has also brought together
      marginalised groups who have been targeted by the regime, such asPalestinian
      This suggests that sectarianism is not at all inherent amongst the
      opposition and this diversity suggests it can be potentially overcome. This
      of course is not something which can be said of the sectarian slaughter
      conducted by the Shabiha
      the control of the regime.

      Given the severity of the damage that has already been inflicted on Syria,
      and the prospect of more to come as the threat of military intervention
      builds up, it will be far from an easy path to democracy even if Assad is
      overthrown. This will especially be the case if it is done by Nato bombs or
      some other form of Western invasion, as was the case in Libya. There is
      also a dangerous threat from violent sectarian groups who have sought to
      take advantage of the anger and despair that exists in several wartorn
      regions. There are also undoubtedly reactionary elements within more
      powerful opposition bodies such as the FSA, as some of the human rights
      abuses have made clear. However, the fact that the opposition was born out
      of a mass popular revolt involving millions of ordinary Syrians demanding
      democracy is still significant. Their involvement at an early stage in this
      conflict will mean that many will feel in some way a part of an eventual
      overthrow of Assad, however detached they currently seem to be. For this
      reason, while Syria will be left devastated whatever happens in the coming
      months and years, and there will be severe dangers whatever the outcome,
      the prospects of a post-Assad nation is potentially far less bleak than one
      in which the current regime is able to fully assert its control.

      One year on, the anti-anti-Assad position continues to be pushed by large
      sections of the anti-war left. On the outbreak of the attacks on Ghouta,
      John Rees�s organisation Counterfire ignored this atrocity and instead
      published an article which aimed to discredit the
      showing links between British lobbyists and the Syrian National Council.
      There was no mention of the horrendous crimes which had just been conducted
      by the regime. To anyone drawn to socialist politics through a desire to
      challenge inhumanity, one can only imagine what effect this abandonment of
      solidarity � for those forced to experience the atrocities in Ghouta � is
      going to have. It is a lamentable disgrace that sections of the left have
      abandoned Syria and those seeking democracy to a deadly dictatorship which
      they deem to be a lesser evil. Ironically you can see the influence of an
      age where the ideologies of imperialism have seeped into everyday thinking,
      on those �anti-war� activists who think Syrians do not have the right to
      overthrow their own regime.

      The response to this article from those who continue to attack the
      anti-anti-Assad position will no doubt stress that there is now a very real
      threat of Western intervention, and that in this context to criticise the
      regime for human rights abuses is unhelpful. To this I point out that it is
      possible to be against further intervention, and at the same time not be
      against those who desperately seek a Syria without this deadly
      dictatorship. An �anti-war� position that does not condemn the massacres in
      Ghouta neither makes sense nor is credible.

      Today's edition of the Emirates-based newspaper, The National, has an
      exclusive report
      that Syrian military officers had not been told that the rockets they were
      firing contained chemical warheads. The story, by Phil Sands, quotes "a
      source from a well-connected family, who has contacts with both the
      opposition and regime loyalists" who says:

      "We have heard from people close to the regime that the chemical missiles
      were handed out a few hours before the attacks.

      "They didn't come from the ministry of defence but from air force
      intelligence, under orders from Hafez Maklouf [a cousin of Assad]. The army
      officers are saying they did not know there were chemical weapons. Even
      some of the people transporting them are saying they had no idea what was
      in the rockets � they thought they were conventional explosives."

      The same report includes an account of events on Wednesday night provided
      by the opposition Syrian National Coalition [SNC] which is said to be
      "based on a timeline from residents inside the affected areas and
      information collected from sources inside the regime who leak information
      to the rebels".

      The SNC, obviously, is not an impartial source but the amount of detail
      included in this version is certainly interesting:

      "The SNC said rockets loaded with chemicals were delivered to General Tahir
      Hamid Khalil, and were later launched from a regime army base housing the
      155 brigade.

      "After a night of fierce fighting on Tuesday in an area on the edge of
      Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta � once known for its clean natural water
      and lush orchards � regime troops moved back, leaving only aircraft
      overhead, the SNC said.

      "At 2.30am on Wednesday, regime forces under the command of Gen Ghassan
      Abbas began launching the rockets, 16 of which were aimed at the eastern
      suburbs of Damascus, and hit Zamalka and Ain Tarma, densely populated areas
      in the Eastern Ghouta.

      "As opposition emergency services responded to those initial chemical
      attacks, rockets armed with high explosive warheads were fired into the
      same area, hitting ambulance teams as they tried to help victims of the
      chemical strikes.

      "At 4.21am, 18 more missiles were fired into eastern Damascus by troops
      loyal to Mr Al Assad, the SNC said. Another two missiles were aimed at
      Moadamiya, to the south-west of Damascus, an area known locally as the
      Western Ghouta.

      "By 6am, dozens of people from Moadamiya had been taken to a local field
      hospital suffering from the effects of exposure to a still unidentified
      poison gas.

      "At least five poison gas rockets were fired, according to the SNC, four
      landing in the Eastern Ghouta and one in Moadamiya. Strong winds pushed the
      gases out from their impact area in Zamalka across to Erbin, a neighbouring
      district, where more people died.

      "According to the SNC's account, loyalist forces close to the attack area
      were issued orders from a 'high level' to wear gas masks in anticipation of
      the attacks."


      Monday, 26 August 2013
      Finding The Exact Location Of An Alleged Chemical Munition, And What It
      Could Mean
      After the alleged chemical attack in Damascus last week a number of
      and photographs <http://imgur.com/a/1nziC>were posted online showing the
      munition opposition activists linked to the attack. One of the munitions,
      marked 197, was particularly well documented




      From these videos it's possible to extract some useful information. One
      blogger used photographs of the munition, and the shadows it cast at
      different points of the day, to estimate it had been firedfrom the
      it's final location. From the photograph and video imagery I believe it
      was even possible to find the exact location of the munition using
      satellite maps, so I invited my followers on Twitter to help with the Storyful
      Open Newsroom investigation<https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/118307175501987556985>
      the site, with Twiiter user @koincheking sent me his best
      of the location<https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=%2B33%C2%B0+31'+14.62%22,+%2B36%C2%B0+21'+26.81%22&ie=UTF8&hnear=0x1518e42e9b261227:0xf44b34eaeec19d6f,%2B33%C2%B0+31'+14.62%22,+%2B36%C2%B0+21'+26.81%22&gl=uk&t=h&z=19>,
      between Zamalka and Ein Tarma


      Now I had the task of confirming the exact location. Using
      and videos<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kllhsgFrgN0&list=PLPC0Udeof3T5crDTTJKj4bfd5gbquuVp7&index=1>
      the munition I found, I began to compare images of the location to what
      could be seen in the map. The quality of the satellite imagery wasn't too
      great, but it did give an idea of the location and size of various
      structures, and I managed to find 5 images from the videos and photos that
      I matched to the area.

      In the below images I've used photographs or video stills to mark the field
      of view onto the satellite map imagery. I've then numbered each point in
      the map and photograph/still that's a match, and explained it in more
      detail below. Click the image to see it full sized.

      *Image 1*
      for full size)This photograph shows the area to the north of the rocket,
      which is position near the northwest corner of the large apartment building
      to the south of it's impact location.

      At point 1 we can see the southwest corner of the building that's just
      north of the field. From the satellite view this building appears to be
      only one or two storeys tall.

      At point 2 we can see a multi-storey building, and can even just make out
      the rows of windows on the satellite image. To the right of that building
      is a green area with a single or two storey building, not visible in the
      photograph because of the angle of the shot.

      *Image 2*
      *This photograph shows the northwest corner of the apartment building south
      of the field, including the buildings in the distance to the south.
      Comparing this to the satellite view confirms there's no structures
      between the corner and the buildings in the southwest.

      *Image 3*


      This photograph shows the view to the north, taken from the middle of the
      field, east of the impact site.

      At point 1 we can see the structure that protrudes from the one or two
      storey building just north of the field. This partly blocks the view of
      the buildings behind it, but at point 2 we can see the multistory building
      behind it. You can even make out the pattern of windows on the buildings,
      with the balcony on the southwest of the building visible on the satellite
      map, then the four windows, the black area before the next building, and
      then the next building to it's right.

      Between point 2 and 3 there's a road, and a single or two storey building,
      resulting in a gap. At point 3 there's the same building shown in Image 1.

      *Image 4 *
      *This image is showing the view from the east side of the field.

      At point 1 we can see a small shed-like structure near to the apartment
      buildings south of the field.

      Behind that structure, at point 2, we see a pair of multi-storey buildings,
      behind which, at point 3, is another multi-storey building.

      Point 4 shows a distant building, and to the north of that, at point 5 we
      can see the southern edges of two large multistory buildings. Much of the
      view to the left hand side of the image is obscured by trees visible in the
      satellite image.

      *Image 5*
      *Here the camera is position to the east of the munition, facing southwest.

      At point 1 we can see the multi-storey building that's taller than the
      building next to it, marked as point 2.

      Behind those two buildings, to the southwest, is a smaller structure,
      marked at point 3.

      At point 4 we see the corner of an apartment building, the alignment of
      which matches both on the satellite map and in the image.


      Individually, none of the images would be strong enough evidence to confirm
      the location of the munition, but having examined 5 images that appears to
      match the satellite map, without any noticeable differences from what we'd
      expect to see from those positions based off satellite map data, it seems
      like this location is a very strong match.

      The munition itself appears to have buckled over on impact, which seems
      reasonable as the center section of the remaining warhead is a hollow metal
      tube. This would seem to strongly indicate the munition was fired from the
      north, where 6-8km away you'll find a number of military
      connected by a 2km road to the 155th Brigade missile
      In one version of events, the Syrian National Coalition has
      rockets were launched from bases housing the 155th Brigade.

      *Related Articles*
      Preliminary analysis of alleged CW munitions used in
      Images of rockets which 'delivered poison' to
      Claims Of Opposition DIY Weapons Used In This Week's Alleged Chemical
      More Videos Emerge Of Chemical Attack Linked Mystery

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