Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Syria Disaster Blame: "Assad" or the Regime Change Campaign?

Syria Disaster Blame: "Assad" or the Regime Change Campaign?
October 8, 2015

"A muddled international strategy, a brutal regime, and a turbulent Middle East drove Syria to become a hell on earth," writes Armin Rosen, in his recent analysis "The 3 main drivers that destroyed Syria" By Business Insider, October 5 (Yahoo Finance mirror). Or alternately, as he also writes "simply, the Syrian civil war has gotten this bad because the Assad regime has made it this bad." His muddled assessment of these one to three core causes annoyed me, and sparked the following general overview of what really sparked the fire and kept it stoked for going on five years now.

How "Assad" Started a Civil War
The basic rundown of drives is: brutal Assad, confused response and not enough fighting Assad, and, nearer to relevance, the whole Arab Spring upheaval mentality ("A region where there are no longer any certainties"). But ultimately, all the bombing and massacres, bloodshed, devastation, and displacement, the rise of Daesh (Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, and everything else bad is all on the shoulders of "a regime whose cruelty and desperation knows no limit." 

That's supported by an insanely long catalog of allegations suggesting Assad's cruelty also knows no logic. Such claims have been examined by many, including myself and team members at A Closer Look On Syria. We've debunked most of the bigger massacres by now. Rosen emphasizes only two major crimes, apparently chosen for their size; the Ghouta alleged sarin attack ("over 1,000" claimed dead, with the best evidence blaming the rebel side) and  the "Caesar" torture photos, ("10,000 tortured and killed inside of the regime's prisons since the uprising began" - the true story is not yet clear, but "Caesar" is clearly not to be trusted).

"The uprising" began, we recall, in mid-March, 2011 with peaceful protests allegedly crushed by government violence. As Rosen reminds us:
"Syrian government forces killed six people during a peaceful protest in Dara'a. The "stability" that the Assads had supposedly been so effective at fostering was rapidly exposed as a fraud. Massacres of protestors were frequent occurrences by the end of April, and by summer the country was in a full-blown civil war."
That's his short story of the war; protesters wanted regime change, the regime started killing them, and so they decided instead to fight for regime change. Then the first fighters were chased off by terrorists, and here we are. It's all the "regime's" fault, either directly or indirectly as they started the war by resisting their peoples' demands.

That's obviously missing some parts. As a random example, consider Kindi hospital in Aleppo, as shown at right after a terrorist truck bomb hit it in 2014. (It was housing soldiers at the time, not functioning medically). The role of "Assad's repression" in bits like this is indirect at best.

The record on peaceful protests vs. armed uprising and false-flag provocation is crucial here, but like the massacres, covered elsewhere (see Syria masterlist, point 6, for a partial overview). For now we can say that whether these claims of violent repression of protesters are true or not, the next question remains the same;  how did civil war became a viable option? Repression doesn't lead to organized violence, blasting buildings open, and seizing swathes of territory without access to weapons, fighters, financial support, safe havens, public relations, more weapons, etc.

Consider Bahrain. In the same report, Mr. Rosen notes:
No regime seemed safe — even Bahrain, a Gulf monarchy that hosted a large US military base, needed to call in the Saudi National Guard to quash a peaceful popular uprising. Back then, the entire Middle Eastern state system looked brittle, perhaps even primed for collapse....
How many towns or provinces did the Bahraini insurgents take over? How many army posts did they blow up? Zero, I think it is. They were repressed, but it didn't blossom into civil war there. Yet in Syria, it did. Why?

A bloody, prolonged civil war can take root if, for example, a neighboring country declares the government illegitimate, based on echoed but unverified opposition reports of genocide and extreme evil, and then it starts training supporting opposition fighters. Maybe they would allow Islamist fanatics to cross back and forth to heal and re-supply, share intelligence, send in weapons and occasionally air support, and lobby to create "safe zones" in the other territory, not its own ...

In short, the intensive intervention of NATO member Turkey is a crucial driving force enabling and prolonging the civil war. And this has happened with approval of their NATO allies, and with help from fellow Islamists in the Persian Gulf, Libya, and elsewhere. Everyone knows Turkey has supported all the Jihadist parties, even Daesh, in many ways but none of this is mentioned by Rosen. In fact, Turkey isn't mentioned at all. 

Financial and fighter support plus sectarian religious decrees flowing from the Persian Gulf tyrannies is absent from Rosen's analysis. The kingdom of Jordan's role in training and harboring fighters isn't mentioned. A known channel of weapons looted from post-war Libya into Syria goes ignored. CIA training and other US and Western hands in facilitating or covering up such things is not worth considering, Rosen decided.

But clearly, whether Assad started the conflict or not, outside powers have done much to make war an option, to make it the real state of affairs, and to keep it nice and prolonged (since outright victory is unlikely?).

Managing Expectations and Perceptions
The mental set-up for prolonged war goes back at least to mid-2011 declarations that the government was illegitimate, sparking hopes of a repeat of the Libya scenario. These criminal statements are mentioned by Rosen, but only derided in their lack of follow-through, not as having a role in enabling the civil war.

He does consider the Arab Spring mentality, in which protests + crisis + maybe intervention = regime change in favor of Islamists and against secular leaders. This mindset and expectation was of course engineered by Western-sponsored "democracy promotion" structures. These were, as usual, organized through the U.S. State department, this time working with Arab-world actors, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, and solidified with the Libya example (itself backed and laundered by the more peaceful Egypt and Tunisia examples).

This mentality could be seen as a sort of poison sprayed into the whole region, and some states (the Gulf monarchies) got the antidote while others were expected to die. The clear aim of this \in Syria, as with the others, was regime change. It was an optional decision taken before "Assad" killed a single "peaceful protester," and was taken for preexisting reasons (being an ally of Iran seems the primary one).
Consider Robert Ford, the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in years, sent to Damascus as a sign of thawing relations. But that was just weeks before the start of the "uprising" there, in late January, 2011. By early August the death toll was climbing when Ford vehemently denied any armed opposition fighters in Hama, a smear against the peaceful protesters there. This call was based on his own thorough inspection of the same city in early July; "the only weapon I saw was a slingshot," he said.

Extremists dump massacred policemen 
 in the river, Hama, August 1, 2011
The problem is the charges arose from an unprecedented July 31 armed rebel offensive that killed several police and soldiers in Hama in at least 3 different areas. 13 of the victims were dumped in the Orontes River the next morning (see detailed explanation here). At least one had his throat cut. The dumpers shout Allahu Akbar. Alarmed local activists warned that these were al-Qaeda fighters returned from Iraq. But the warnings were ignored, thanks to assurances like Ford's. In denying Islamist armed groups in Hama just as they seriously emerged there, Ford helped allow the civil war to take root without being clearly noticed as such. (see Robert Ford, Weapons Inspector: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 2) Was this by accident or design?

Before that and to the present, the U.S. and its allies have maintained a reflexive refusal of alleged  rebel crimes, alongside a blanket acceptance of rebel allegations of regime crimes, to often ridiculous effect. For years now this has maintained the cover for armed gangs turned loose on the Syrian people, as was clear by the end of July, 2011.

Why the War "Assad Started" Failed to Topple Him as Planned
One notable feature of this war is how it goes on and on, rather than having a decisive regime-change moment like in Libya ... after which it all goes to hell. This hell has a slower onset, and that is enabled by the mixed steering it gets, from Washington especially. The massage sent to rebels, Syrian and otherwise, is something like "you deserve help and victory, so continue the fight, but ... don't expect help or victory just yet. Maybe next month."

Besides such blinking green lights to rebels, Rosen complains how Obama issued his chemical weapons "red line" threat against Syria, but then didn't follow-up on it. (side-note: it seems, rebels framed "Assad" by crossing the red line for him, on its birthday and just after UN CW "inspectors" arrived next to the attacks. Again, Assad's crimes know no limits and also no logic).

Further, Obama failed to develop any credible secular alternative to ISIS, leaving the battlefield to Jihadists vs. Jihadists vs. Assad, and "now the US policy towards Assad's role in a post-war Syria remains unclear." Maybe that's because they've failed but don't want to admit it yet, but have to start adjusting anyway.

In contrast to this chronic Western vacillation, Rosen writes,
"Assad's supporters haven't flinched. ... . There was never any doubt in the minds of Assad's backers, who were far more organized and more committed to the fight than their adversaries."
This is true, but he cuts the truth off at its knees. External players are highlighted (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah - but not the lesser roles played by Iraq or Lebanon, among others). But Rosen doesn't mention the Syrian people, especially its loyal Syrian Arab Army, among these supporters. They've lost more soldiers and officers than the U.S. did in its entire Vietnam War, and they keep on fighting. They and their backers know they're dealing with terrorists and a life-and-death conspiracy. They know they don't have the option - enjoyed by the conspirators - to play around with denying that.

 Damascus, late March, 2011: not all of
"the people" wanted to "topple the regime"
Of course some of the Syrian people reject the current government as worse than the devil, but the population at large apparently does not agree. Early in the crisis they put on demonstrations like the one shown at right, only to be widely ignored in favor of Islamists on Youtube and calls for a "No Fly Zone." In 2014,  those Syrians not in rebel-held areas or displaced to hostile countries managed to cast 10.2 million votes (88.7%) for the "dictator" Bashar al-Assad to be their elected president (this is disputed, but not very well). Today, about 90% of those remaining in Syria live by choice in the dwindling government-held areas, despite the fact that more than half the country's territory has now been "liberated" by this regime change campaign.

Perhaps nothing but a Libya-style air can have any hope of crushing the will of all these people, and so this remains the call of the "opposition" and its supporters with their "humanitarian" concerns. But you know, considering Syria's excellent air defense ... massive nuclear strikes would be the easiest answer.

"Assad" as Creator of the Islamist Menaces
In Western minds, the most alarming thing about the Syria crisis is the rise of the obnoxious Deash (Islamisc State/ISIL/ISIS). They're so brutal and extreme in their Islamism even al-Qaeda has disowned them, they seem like a self-demonizing cartoon of themselves, and yet they control a good chuck of two nations. They could plot attacks on the West from inside Iraq and Syria, instead of somewhere else. It's a problem we finally have to stop, maybe. 

We've all seen the many lazy attempts to paint Daesh and "Assad" as cooperating on some illogical "evil" side in the conflict, either in a general sense (Assad's sectarian brutality drives recruitment, etc.) or direct, tactical and financial teamwork (secret oil deals, etc.). There were similar efforts to link "Assad" to the once-embarrassing al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra before the emergence of ISIS, and also to the FSA's Farouq brigade before that.

In Armen Rosen's article, the allegation appears in this form;
 "The regime freed jihadists from its prisons in the early days of the war, hoping to hasten the buildup of a jihadist element in the insurgency so that the regime could position itself as the only guarantor of the country's stability."
They claimed it was to help quell protests by meeting some demands, but Rosen sees through that to his imagined true intent. So the rise of ISIS was all an Assad plot? Well if so, no one in on the regime change campaign was taken in by it. Everyone in that camp knows there is so another protector of stability besides Assad. No one knows who it is, but since anyone would be better, they're pretty sure he'll appear right after the carpet bombing of Syria and destruction of its central government, saving the day from chaos ... just like someone probably did in Iraq and in Libya. Right?  

And just like the war he started but other continued, somehow Assad was able to get Turkey, Gulf monarchies, and their Western sponsors and other allies to sign on and help maintain these Islamist distraction forces that now run half of Syria.

There's ample evidence for US and allied support for the "jihadist element" but for those needing a reminder, let's just recall the released U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) documents from 2012 that reveal what the leaders' analysts knew at the time. To verify, see Judicial Watch PDFs - relevant ones are August 12, 2012 and October 12, 2012.  Between the redacted majority are some golden snippets (see external analysis here and here).

The first notes that "western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey" - as the specified "supporting powers to the opposition" in Syria, were pursuing (or "wanted") the rise of an "Islamist Principality" (Islamic State) in the Syria-Iraq border area. Exact words:
"If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime" 
Areas of control and support for Daesh 
in Syria and Iraq, mid-2014 (CNN map)
This willful unraveling was clearly to "isolate" Syria from any support from Iran or Iraq, to break the Iran - (Iraq?) - Syria - Lebanon / Hezbollah Shia-oriented "axis of resistance" as they call themselves.

This DIA report is widely read as predicting the rise of Daesh/Islamic State and its announced global caliphate (a type of "salafist principality" with radical implications). The more immediate emergence though was al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN, who declare emirates, not as radical). JaN emerged on the Syrian battlefield prior to this report - noted therein as AQI elements fighting under the name "Jaish al-Nusra" - and was using the final before 2012 was out. The broad strategy, whoever's it was, may have been to emerge both movements in this way, creating a Hegelian dialectic (or a "good cop-bad cop" routine). That would be to make the JaN creation a palatable "middle choice" between verbotten ISIS and verbotten "Assad."

Islamist principality, isolating the Syrian regime, in Iraq
The DIA noted in 2012 that al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), as well as the more radical Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) "supported the Syrian opposition since the beginning," seeing it as a "sectarian uprising" they boosted in their Friday sermons, recruiting fighters to help kill the heretics in Syria. These same sectarian groups were "trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighboring Turkish borders," the report adds. These are just the areas where JaN and Daesh soon emerged. 

As the DIA noted in 2012, "Western countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey are supporting these efforts." Although allies "wanted" it, the analysts warned against this "unraveling" - not because of the problems it would cause for Syria but because of probable spill-over into Iraq.
The DIA apparently saw no intelligence supporting Bashar Assad creating this menace just to make himself look good (maybe that's in the redacted parts?) Also, this dire warning is not mentioned in Rosen's analysis of what caused the violence and terrorism in Syria today, as he writes:
"Even during the crisis of late 2011 and early 2012, few predicted just how bad things would get." 
Luckily some of those few who did were paid to predict, and their information was passed on the leaders who could make informed decisions (presumably the DIA weren't the only ones seeing these signs).

So informed, what did the White House, State Department, CIA, and allies against Assad do? They amplified armaments to the insurgents, kept up the green lights, downplayed terrorism worries until it became undeniable, then blamed Assad when an "Islamic State" appears in the Syria-Iraq border areas. Even then, they mainly ignored Daesh as long as it only bled Syrians; only when they destabilized Iraq as well with their brutal conquest of Mosul, it became an emergency requiring action. That action had been mainly in Syria, with little effect on Daesh outside of Kobane. But it does let them prolong their ISIS campaign, in which removing "Assad" remains the top goal, even above fighting ISIS - let alone the proper al-Qaeda terrorists or their allies - because ISIS is the main worry, and Assad is of course the main precondition that caused ISIS. 

Yes in fact I can finally see how this is true. Assad and Syria's government and culture underlies all of this by continuing to exist and to do so off the West's geopolitical script. This requires, in some genius minds ... things like fostering the rise of Islamic State just to "isolate the Syrian regime," and then to trying to monopolize the ineffective fight against that creation, and use the fight to instead topple the isolated government.

Clearly the regime change campaign is the primary cause of the crisis in Syria, even though this is denied by people who insist that the only answer is more of the regime change campaign.

Does this mean the world is insane? It was seeming so, and quite clearly. But finally, there's the materialization of Russia's anti-Daesh campaign, and hey ... that's not just part of the world but a sizable part. The final results are yet to be seen, but sanity has a new chance here, much to the dismay of the regime change camp. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mina Hajj Tragedy: Saudi Arabia Blames Iran

Mina Hajj Tragedy: Saudi Arabia Blames Iran
October 3/4, 2015
(last edits Oct. 4, princes updated and minor edits)

The massive human compression tragedy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) just over a week ago is one of the deadliest in recent memory. The September 24 "stampede" during the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) claimed  at least the 769 lives the kingdom claims, probably over 1,000 and maybe over 1,500, as claimed by Iran, who lost far and away the most citizens - nearly 500.

This tragic event was not a deliberate massacre, one presumes. But it was at least preventable (to all but the the few minds in the kingdom who declared it an "act of God"). It's being marketed and anti-marketed  on the world stage, in a drama involving Saudi Arabia and Iran - players in the Syria and Iraq conflicts that can be "defamed" by this - by false versions or by the truth, depending. How can I not be tempted to dive in?

With small but valuable input from others, I've been hashing over this with the ACLOS wiki article and its talk page. The news has covered this incident and Iran's massive share in the loss - currently at least 464 considered or confirmed dead. Tehran claims embassy staff were denied visas to come help identify the victims, amid talk of mass burial together inside the kingdom. This is all being negotiated, but if Iran's numbers are right, KSA so far also claims it just never found at least half of the Iranian victims, besides however many of the hundreds still just "missing" from other countries. 

Everyone knows Shi'ite Iran blames its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia for incompetence or worse, and most even seem to understand why. But less visibly, the seeds of the dubious inverse story - where Saudi Arabia blames Iran - might be sown already. The charge isn't yet overt, but I sense this is coming, and is worth calling out in advance, even at the risk of halting their plans and mooting my prediction.

Disputed Cause: Inept or Worse vs. Unruly or Worse
Until I see reason to do otherwise, my general presumption of the cause is mainly an accidental storm of the many mental ailments accumulating for nearly 300 years of al-Saud family totalitarian rule. General incompetence and bungling might be enhanced by entrenched and extreme sectarian bigotry against Shi'ites, little regard for the truth, and willingness to use barbaric means to achieve any amoral goal they decide on, all left unhinged by a lack of accountability.

By my cursory reading so far, survivor accounts bear that out, citing poor management and general callousness adding to the disaster in various ways. But some alleged details go beyond that and point in a disturbing direction - police keeping help at bay and discriminating against Iranians in delivering aid, and so helping ensure as many victims as possible - especially Iranians - died from the ordeal (see here, for example). 

Further, Saudi authorities may have initiated the tragic wrong move. Many reports blame the blockage of a street 206 (see here and here) by royal escort for Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, a son of king Salman. Some say he's the Chairman of the Higher Committee for Haj, and so they may mean a different prince (Khaled bin Faisal?). It's a crucial allegation with some confusion best covered in detail elsewhere, but some prince allegedly made an unusual visit to Mina for unclear reasons, with his massive security buffer leading to the closure of "street 206" in Mina, disrupting the traffic flow, and thus causing the crush.

The main point here is KSA denies this possibility quite clearly in the media (second link above). Consider also the incident mapping by royal-owned al-Arabiya shown below, that gives the wrong incident location and denies any connection between it and this disputed street 206. This visual denial just underlines the problem by displaying touchiness on the subject. 

But the denial they aim for helps keep the blame slot open to fill, so far, with random improprieties by poorly-trained pilgrims violating movement rules all on their own. First, it was reported African Hajis were reportedly blamed. This was met with ridicule, but actually may have never been said (KSA denies it and I can't find the source). But it's undeniable they've blamed unruly Iranians, and they may consider it more than a simple mistake. We'll get to the details of that shortly.

Disputed Death Toll: Hundreds "Missing"
For the first week, Iran had a large batch of citizens, numbering around 300 (now lower, once higher)  whom they persistently listed as missing - not vouched for as dead or injured, but out of contact. Each day they failed to turn up after disappearing on the day so many died the more likely they were to be simply dead. 

The first published count of missing Iranians was 344. That shrank by 103 to 241 missing by the 29th. In the same span, confirmed deaths rose from 136 to 239, an increase of ... 103. The pattern down the line seemed to be that the "missing" were all laying dead in Saudi Arabia but with delayed confirmation. Carried over to the last 241, it seemed likely that as many as 480 Iranians were killed. And Tehran now say it was 464, then 465 and likely to inch up a bit higher.

So many Iranians killed in a prentable mishap in the virulently anti-Iranian Kingdom is something its rulers might want to cover up. They've offered no official number of Iranian dead, but have stuck to their overall death toll of 769, too low to allow nearly that many Iranians. So, they implicitly deny it.

Iran's consistent range: "at least" 1,200/1,300 killed, "expected" to exceed 1,500, or perhaps "2,000" if rounding up. (The dramatic 4,000 claim is a fluke with no support). But an AP study found Iran's total plus other nation's confirmed death tolls is over 1,000, with 600 still "missing" like Iran's 300 once were (see here) Numerous ways of counting of 1,000 or more have piled up, but are formally refuted; since the 25th, KSA has stuck with 769 and denied all arguments for a higher number - perhaps because denying half their dead is part of their plan to blame Iran. And they may feel locked into that dispute.
Other nations have/had comparable numbers of "missing" and likely dead (Egypt and Nigeria especially) but only Iran has that on top of so many confirmed dead, and has made the dramatic leap to all dead. And only they are now apparently set to take the blame.

The open cause and disputed fatalities may be foundations for a looming accusation that Tehran somehow set this all up to embarrass the noble kingdom. On the one hand it was an "act of God," on the other hand it was perhaps an Iranian plot, but in no way shape or form was it any fault of the noble kingdom 

Suggested Motive for this Iranian Plot
The apparent motive is fairly clear, and the one part of the proposition that works. The episode plays perfectly into Iran's ongoing campaign to improve their perception in the world, to weaken Saudi influence and prestige, and lately to de-Saudize the Hajj. When a giant crane collapse killed 111 pilgrims at the grand mosque two weeks earlier, including one of Iran's top space scientists, Tehran was already calling Saudi management inept at best. As the Hajj belongs to all Muslims, they argued, it should be managed by all, working through the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). That call has gained far more acceptance outside Iran after the September 24 incident.

This reasonable solution to a real problem, on top of nuclear agreements and a supposed thaw with the West, turns in the Syrian conflict, and their mammoth tragedy added up quick; the world uncomfortably finds itself sympathizing with and almost cheering for Iran.

With a compelling motive, it all comes down to moral willingness to follow through, and that's a no-brainer to Saudi-sponsored "thinkers" - those villainous Shia will sacrifice any number of their people just to smear the kingdom and to garner this global sympathy. In fact, it's unlikely that would have happened without a dramatically large death toll among Iranians, and so we can even see a potential motive to take that hit.

This semi-logical reason to suspect Tehran, coupled with the need to keep the blame off themselves, might make blaming Iran irresistible to KSA. See now some Saudis who can see that motive, like this editorial in Asharq Al-Awsat English (London-based but Saudi-supported):
It is a never-ending story. Whenever an emergency occurs during the Hajj season, certain parties blame Saudi Arabia who, nevertheless, continues to give pilgrims top priority. [...] When the tragic stampede occurred in Mina, Saudi Arabia was blamed again by those who seem to have wished for the accident to happen in order to exploit it politically.
Perhaps with this in mind, the foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir, standing with Secretary of State John Kerry, said: “I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty.” Jubeir vowed a full and open investigation and truth, and that anyone who made mistakes "will be held accountable." That's sure to be true if they decide the guilty were Iranians and their mistakes were intentional.

Suggested Plot Mechanics: 300 Suicide Saboteurs?
One problem with this potential allegation is the question of how he plotters could engineer a mass casualty event inside KSA without the Saudis detecting and halting the operation. The question doesn't seem very well-answered yet.

Recalling the once-missing Iranians, once numbering 344, it's interesting how KSA also both made them "missing" by not verifying their deaths and also had at that time a batch of "around 300" Iranians who they say caused the tragedy. The numerical similarity itself might be a coincidence, but the guilty Iranians are clearly alleged and must be considered. Some pass the story on eagerly as the way out of the mess: pro-Saudi Arab News is widely cited in blasting Crush Cause: 300 Iranians violated rule. They cite "sister publication" Asharq al-Awsaat, who ran Hajj stampeded caused by Iranian pilgrims not following instructions: Hajj mission official on September 26.

The alleged source is an anonymous (and so unverifiable) official from Iran’s Hajj mission, so an insider, who they say "revealed" (to AA exclusively, it seems)  a story totally contrary to the one real Iranians were telling. The article says he told them all the problems began:
...after a group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims failed to follow orders requiring them to wait for clearance to leave Jamarat—the site where pilgrims perform the “stoning the devil” ritual. Instead, the group went back to their mission’s headquarters as other groups were on their way to the site as scheduled, according to the official. “The group stopped for a while, causing the coming pilgrims to take a route no more than 20 meters wide,” he said, adding that such behavior often leads to tragic consequences in crowded areas. The Iranian pilgrims were scheduled to leave Jamarat hours after the accident took place, the official said.
So KSA media tells us these victims were instructed to wait at the bridge but for unclear reasons they turned back to the their tents, which jammed up the chute as the next batch was coming in. That would presumably be accidental, leading as it did to the death of hundreds of fellow Iranians, probably including themselves. But some people may be arguing otherwise.

Alleged Iranian Movements
This is a little complicated. At right, an area map set to true north. Mecca and the grand mosque are to the west. Here is the Jamarat bridge structure, site of the "stoning the devil" ritual, and the tent city of Mina to the southeast. The incident was in the near end of Mina from Jamarat. Movements will be explained.

Daily Star (Bangladesh) reports on Saudi claims the suspect group of 300 "did not follow the instruction to go to their tents from Muzdalifah (to the south, apparently) and went to Jamarat with their baggage, the Saudi media said. “They had been instructed to take rest in their tents and wait for the time allotted for them to perform their stoning ritual.”" That would be northbound towards the bridge area. The problem: they were in a hurry to get to the site, and got there at the wrong time.

Then another wrong move. A report from 5khtawat.com, auto-translated from Arabic, says Al-Arabiya reported this first; 300 Iranians "decided to return in the opposite direction after" the stoning ritual. An included al-Arabiya video (Youtube direct link) shows a computer animation of the scene and the allegation. The defiant Iranians' wrong moves - north past the tent city (from another site to the south) and then southeast into Mina from Jamarat - are shown in this.

So they were allowed in at the wrong time, and told they had to stay for their full wrong time slot. But again they walked the wrong way at the wrong time and - get this - no one stopped them on safety grounds, or put in a call to adjust traffic or anything, as the disaster unfolded at walking speed over more than a kilometer. Even if this story is true, Saudi handling of the incident was terrible - and the story is most likely not true.

I found the actual September 26 Al-Arabiya report (Arabic): Iran Hajj mission official: 300 reversing Iranian pilgrims behind the stampede As auto-translated, this explains:
The official said, in an interview with the Middle East (Asharq al-Awsat) "The violation details began when this group ... moved Thursday morning directly to the stoning ritual and did not come down in their allocated camps as is the case for the whole of pilgrims to put their belongings and wait for an appointment time, and then went contrary to the trend at 204 Street . "
The official added that this made up of about 300 pilgrims Iranian group, did not wait for the completion of throwing cinder Aqaba, according to the instructions which demands that you wait in the camp until the deadline, and decided to go back in the opposite direction, which coincided with the exit other missions by the ad hoc schedule for the stoning ritual , and resulted in a direct collision with human blocs. 
I thought at first AA was claiming these Iranians left the site of the crush alive, but it seems that referred to Jamarat. However, Riyadh does insist on a low number of victims and refused to acknowledge nearly 300 Iranians as dead. So this might be, or might have been, an unspecified plank of their case - the instigators somehow caused the event and just walked away. That would be a third wrong (alleged) move authorities also failed (allegedly) to prevent.

Why is the incident mapped wrong? 
The incident is mapped wrong in al-Arabiya's video, if not in their whole narrative. For reference, here's the area the evidence suggests, and its connecting streets. All agree people died on street 204. By most sources the crush was at the intersection of that and 223, with dead on both streets. The photo at top was taken on street 223, facing southwest towards 204 in the early afternoon (metal roofed structure starts at picture's right edge). I'm not clear yet on which directions the victims on 204 were concentrated in, or how each group was moving, but people clearly died on 223 as well as on 204.

But Saudi sources seem to deny this. As shown at right, al-Arabiya's animation has the collision happening entirely on a straight stretch of street 204, well south of the intersection. A blind corner would make more sense, but here two groups just kept on walking and pushing towards each other, despite being able to see it coming for some time. (on the left, northbound pilgrims headed to the stoning ritual, right, stationary Iranians jamming things up. Red is center of disaster. Orange I guess is ways the left group was forced to divert into but couldn't, due to poor site design that leaves pilgrims jammed into inescapable chutes.

The corner it happened at makes more sense than this, but the real site includes street 223, and that connects to street 206, allegedly blocked for the crown prince. And in this Saudi animated version of the incident - coincidentally - that intersection explicitly does not even exist. An imaginary row of tents prevents any real intersection, and so 206 must be unconnected. Not that anything happened there anyway, right? What a move. What can this verifiable map alteration do except show how touchy they are about the 206 connection?

Re-Considering the Original Story
Details like this may be added to the "revealed" story, and the core issue remains: is the Hajj official's alleged statement real, or just an unverifiable work of fiction? Was it perhaps distorted from a true conversation? Here's a narrative to consider:

The Hajj mission (there won't be an embassy, obviously) got several calls from this group of about 300 Iranians, as they turned back unexpectedly - and maybe there were details about why that the Mission didn't mention or that Aawsat chose to ignore. The mission told the Saudi authorities that they feared these people were among the dead, simply giving a last known location and direction of travel, hoping for information. Maybe these parts were also left out of the version handed to al-Awsat, and then the distorted plea was re-packaged as some whistle-blower's smoking gun testimony that the Iranian victims may have deliberately set this up.

Do note that anyone in the crush is also a witness to their part of this incident. Those speaking so far seem to be relatively unaware of what caused the initial wrong move, although the closure of street 206 is mentioned. These accounts are from the ones who lived, who will tend to be those on top, originally furthest back from the initial spark of the tragedy.

In contrast, the pilgrims who changed direction - after encountering the crown prince's guard or not - share these traits:
* Were allegedly Iranians and numbered around 300
* In turning around they allegedly caused the tragedy
* They would know the most about why they turned around
* If it was because of 206 being closed, they'd be southwest-bound on street 223, the denied area.
* By the stats, they overwhelmingly wound up dead and unable to tell us why they turned around.

I don't suppose this was actually set up by the House of Saud either just to kill some Iranians and then have to come up with some bizarre explanation. These Iranians couldn't both cause a deadly stampede and walk away. In the end they'll have to blame suicide saboteurs if they follow through on this, and having to do that hardly seems like something they'd want to do. But once there was an incident sufficient to spark panicked thinking, this is what a senile dynasty's thinkers might come up with to deflect blame. And consider how the field would be left open for them to give it a try if the best witnesses wound up dead.

Suicide Ringleader? Ambassador Roknabadi
One of Iran's more prominent missing likely victims of the tragedy is Ghazanfar Roknabadi, their former ambassador to Lebanon and apparently still an influential figure. He joins two news reporters and a prominent political analyst on that list, state media reported. Like them, he was consistently reported missing for the first week - not confirmed as dead or injured but not answering his phone, and now considered dead.

Allegedly, Saudi authorities have denied Roknabadi was even in the kingdom at all, unless he sneaked in on some secret work. The original report is credited to al-Arabiya, and heartily refuted in Iran. Press TV (Iranian state-run) reports
The Saudi-owned Arabic-language TV channel Al Arabiya claimed earlier in the day that there had been no official records showing that Roknabadi had arrived in the Saudi territory for performing Hajj rituals. The report said that the diplomat could have entered the kingdom through unofficial channels.
This implies clandestine work, perhaps with a fake Hajj stamp, and up to no good. Perhaps with the media people he sneaked his way right up to this disaster, and helped set upthe mob of saboteurs hell-bent on crashing themselves into the kingdom's public reputation to help Tehran make its arguments. If Iran insists on showing he was there, it's proven. All documents to the contrary were likely burned, all witnesses to the contrary locked up or beheaded.

I checked Al-Arabiya's website, searching for his family name in English and Arabic ( رکن‌آبادی،) and found no recent matches on English or Arabic pages (he does appear in older reports under this name. But where it matters most, in their 28 September report- which I finally found - it has the wrong name. Why? 
Saudi sources told Al Arabiya News that official records show that the name of the former Iranian ambassador to Beirut Ghazanfar Abadi does not appear among this year’s pilgrims.
If his presence during the pilgrimage is confirmed, that would mean that he has entered the country by “unknown manners,” possibly registering with a different name and description.
This might be a legitimate difference in reading his name. They have  Ghazanfar (Rukn-)Abadi vs. Ghazanfar Asl Roknabadi (Or actually Ghazanfar Mohammad Aslroknabadi as his visa says - see below). Iran is being quite open about the pseudonym of this potential ringleader. Or ... is this a glimmer of Saudi incompetence we've been hearing about?  Or was it just a fake cause to suggest he was up to no good, and claim simple error once it fell apart? Why bother? I guess its ineptitude.

Continuing with Press TV's report, which shared the visa as shown at right: Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham on Monday described the Al-Arabiya report as “incorrect” and "hasty" ... saying the ministry has documents showing that Riyadh had approved an ordinary Hajj visa for the missing diplomat.“Mr. Roknabadi set off for the Hajj pilgrimage with his ordinary passport and detailed information on the passports of all pilgrims, including his, are at the disposal of the authorities of the Saudi government,” Afkham said. Further. videos aired in Iranian media seem to show the man on Hajj in Mecca before he vanished.

Just in case it was proven he was there (and it sounds like that) he must have snuck in, KSA may be saying (not clear). They may or may not push that, may keep this reason or come up with another one. Maybe they'll see their error, check again, and find that no Ghazanfar Mohammad Aslrokn ever passed through either.

Will it Come Together?
There's still no clear sign I've found that they're going further with this, and I now suspect they won't, on their own advice or that of an ally. Bt in case they do, keep an eye on how may planks will they  with:
* 769 dead, or under 1,000 anyway / around 300 Iranians missing
* Mr. "Abadi" sneaked in and is among the unconfirmed/missing
* An Iranian group, likely his, caused the incident, through no fault of KSA

Will they expand on the implications they did it willfully, in collusion with Tehran, in ... this "act of God" ... that mainly killed Iranians? Someone may well be laying a different basis as this one crumbles, official clerics would  bless it, ... I kind of hope they miss this preview and make the prediction come true. But if they don't - this was why I suspected they were seriously thinking about doing it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Douma Market Attack: Victims Dead Before the Attack?

Douma Market Attack: Victims Dead Before the Attack?
September 5, 2015
last edits Sept. 27

Note, Sept. 23: The following article relates the findings as they were at writing and for a short time after. I've questioned the findings below on photo time, in a continuing technical discussion here, and we've gone back and forth a bit, with real math entering the picture now. An updates section at the bottom will offer more refined time estimates and implications. Also the comparison time of attack estimate may have updates, which I'll add at bottom as well.

The Telltale Photo
This is a Syrian Civil Defense photo, posted at 2:52 PM here and, perhaps the first posting, the well-connected Douma Revolution channel ran it at 2:23. Corpse collection site 1: Men and boys, dirt floor (mosque?) courtyard, unwrapped then wrapped - canopy cover, west or southwest wall is blue screen or tarp, not a true wall. No gate at the corner. Considering 6 photos of this scene at different times (inset), there are at least 24 (probably 25+) bodies in the nearer row, and eventually at least 17 in the back row. So at least 41 total corpses are gathered here, likely the same 45+ seen wrapped in another similar courtyard (site 2, tile floor) a bit later. Here, five are clearly boys (considered here), and  others might be. 

This seems to be the earliest photo, or among the earliest set of photos, of this corpse array. And this point there are perhaps the full 41 already assembled (not totally clear, but nearly all of them anyway) They're laid on a UNHCR tarp.

My first notes, modified a bit: 
1) The bodies don't seem to display rigor mortis, which means they either died less than 2 hour ago, or about a day ago.  
2) The blood on them all seem fairly dry. No one's pouring blood, and only the worst injuries seem to be smearing at all.
3) There are at least 41 bodies, just of men and boys, who already died from their injuries, stopped bleeding, and got fairly dry by the time of this photo, which we'll come back to as a crucial point.
4) The injuries they supposedly just died from are generally unclear. At least one has a missing leg, one a nasty chest wound, at least two have fatal-seeming head wounds, others are unclear and some are covered up. But dozens of men and boys are seen, appearing totally intact,
5) They're somewhat smoky but not dusty. There was no rubble really to pull them from in this attack, and no indication they were under any. Quick gathering could happen of victims hit by bomb shrapnel in the open. But on this scale? They mostly show some combination of peppered and ripped-up a bit, bleeding from random spots, which is consistent. If as they say 300+ other men were wounded but lived, along with 200+ boys, it just means the areas were super-packed with males. Apparently this many were just hit precisely in some fatal areas (like execution victims are, by the way).
6) Pants are torn a lot with both the men and the boys, with entire legs missing perhaps more commonly than usual. With the men but not the boys, belts get undone and pants get pulled halfway down or go missing more often than not. This can happen by accident, or be a sign of disrespect for the dead. (that is, it might suggest these were people the rebels disliked, government loyalist or non-Sunni families)
7) Again, this is a segregated scene, but in all other scenes and records, there's still no sign of any more than 3 women and about that many girls killed, to what seems about a dozen boys and about a hundred men. Were the females spared the way bomb victims sometimes are, randomly? Or were they "spared" the way Islamist war booty sometimes is?

The main point for the rest of this point is what I think might be a smoking gun as to who's behind this massive crime. The bodies of dozens of male victims were gathered too early to be victims of the market blasts as alleged; they must have been killed before those blasts, and the story connecting them to it was concocted to conceal the truth. To the extent the analysis below pans out, this finding would underline all the more speculative points above, besides the others already noted (the bulk disposal of their bodies in mass graves, the signs that some were face-burned and/or tortured rather than bombed, etc.)  

This bold claim comes from deciding on two times and then comparing them. Neither time is set exactly or with certainty yet. But the ranges are clear enough, I think, that we can safely call a mismatch - and far from the first one - between what "activists say" and what their own visual record proves. I hope to firm this up in time - whether it's in favor of more or less certainty, we shall see,

Attack Time

Media Reports
The opposition story laundered by Western media and "humanitarian" sources is quite clear the attack was by a Syrian fighter jet. But they provided no kind of independent evidence (video, etc.) and couldn't even get a remotely exact attack time.
Human Rights Watch was told by a mix of activists and Douma local authorities, as their appeal for an arms embargo on Syria explained, "the four airstrikes hit the crowded markets ... at about noon." No specific time is cited. Others say vague things like mid-day. A later HRW report gives "the busy midday period," and AP reported "during rush hour." Syria Deeply cites "Hassan Taqi al-Din, a local media activist and Douma resident," who says he witnessed the attack and told them “It started at about noon..." 

All of that is suspiciously vague. We might now have a reason for that.

Visual Reading
A clear and reliable visual time would be the one good measure, but that's still a little unclear. This has now been expanded into southwest views analysis

Brief summary: I've got a massive but blurred smoke plume seen probably around 2 PM or later and, at some earlier point it was four smaller plumes, like they say, from 4 blasts, (inset). That's harder to time, but from a similar view, decisive analysis pending. Sunlight is from almost behind the camera in both cases, as they face northeast towards Mount Snir (the sharper peak in both images) A working range for this photo is broadly 1:10-1:45 PM.

Even with a time for either image, I'm not sure yet how to say how long before that the attack happened. How long does it take plumes of this or that size to form? We could estimate, roughly, an attack between 12:50 and 1:30.

So this isn't clarified yet, but seems consistent in pointing to something about an hour off, and likely more, from literal noon. "About noon" would still be accurate, perhaps, but not very precise. It didn't sound precise anyway, did it? But it was an imprecision it seems everyone agreed on. Odd, that.

Social Media
Another way to get an idea is to see when people started talking about it, in a forum with lots of talking that moves quickly. Does it start at more like 12 or 1? I picked a few well-informed Twitter accounts to see when they first alerted their readers to news of the attack. Perhaps the best source would be DoumaRevolution, almost an official source it seems, and based in Douma, presumably. (All other related Douma accounts I checked posted nothing that day, having ceased all posting a while back - this is the active one).

These and the below are mainly auto-translations, times given as local - Twitter's California time plus 10 hours (or shift AM to PM and subtract 2). 

1:27 PM was their first news: 'Urgent ::  #Douma  coordination :: huge explosions rocking the city, together with constant overflights of warplanes in the sky ... ' They had an update at 1:28 and by 1:42 they knew "MiG flight now in Sky of Douma after targeting crowded city markets...' By 1:58 'dozens of martyrs and wounded hundreds in a new massacre committed by gang crime Asadi in the market ...' At 2:04 'more than 200 wounded and 35 martyrs...'  first video shared at 2:19 and at 2:23 they knew of 'more than 55 dead...' Also at 2:23 the dead men and boys photo from above has its first posting here, (maybe anywhere?). At 2:36 they show a photo of market damage after the wounded were removed and the smoke cleared.

They said nothing about this loud and obvious attack before 1:27. But maybe others had their own sources going back earlier? I can't say for sure, but all these I checked only come on board slower than that, not faster. LccSy (Local Coordinating Committees) only broke the news at 1:58 of 'scores between martyrs and injuries...' UK-based syriahr (SOHR) first reported at 2:26 on 'the martyrdom and wounding of dozens more ...' SyriaCivilDef  ("White Helmets") broke the news to their followers only at 2:52, and Shaamnews only reported it at 3:23.

So far I see no sign of the attack in anyone's awareness prior to 1:27. Let's say there may have been a moderate delay, or not, and keep it broad: this suggests an attack anywhere from 1:00-1:25 PM. That lines up fairly well with what the video, so far, seems to say. And in doing so, again, it softly contradicts the vague "around noon" claim from opposition sources.

Bodies Gathered By Then!?!

So again, when was the photo above taken? No later than first posting at 2:23 is pretty vague, when there's sunlight in it showing - to the right reading - exactly what time it was. To start, we don't have a location or wall orientation yet (but this right wall must face roughly south, probably a bit southeast). Compass direction to the sun - solar azimuth - is the best way to get time, but without exact place details it can't be done.

The vertical angle, however, could be measured. Just on the surface we can see it's notably steep; this is mid-day sun, fairly close to solar noon. Vaguely then, it's at the same time as the attack, per rebel sources. And considering the above, this could even be before that later-than-implied attack. 

But that's vague. Let's move forward a bit.

To be clear, I'm not certain I know how to read the three-dimensional angle of sunlight hitting walls seen at this angle to determine the sun's elevation. A straight reading of a line painted on the photo, rotated 5 degrees from the photo's rotation, first seemed to say 67 degrees. That would equate with approximately 1:30 PM. 

I asked Petri Krohn, who's at least more technically adept, if not a true expert either, and he weighed in with better tools reaching a quite similar finding (see here). Measuring from the blue cooler he found an elevation of 68.77 degrees explained it. The correlating time for that is 1:12:30 PM!

We can see how less than 2 degrees difference equals 18 minutes time difference, so it's not good to be too exact with this just yet. But I looked again and decided, depending on the real angular calculations, 67, 70, and a few other angles seem possible, but I agreed 68-69 degrees is the best range. This gives a fairly narrow time range of 1:09-1:20 PM, or more broadly we could say 1:00-1:30.

Again, it's alleged missiles hit "around noon," caused damage to the bodies of these and other civilians, and then these died, some instantly, some of them after struggling for some moments. We can presume they were pronounced dead, their bodies gathered from however many locations, and brought here (location still unknown), and we can see they stopped bleeding much and became fairly dry. All of that allegedly happened after the first missile impact, but before the time of this photo.

The best attack time estimate of 1:00-1:25, plus this best-yet photo reading means the photo was taken anywhere from 25 minutes before the rockets hit to 30 minutes after. I think we can rule out anytime before - what would the photographer be thinking with no news to explain such a spread?  It should look troubling enough just with such quick gathering from the attack minutes ago. There's clearly no way these can be victims of those blasts with anything like the above process unfolding, in 30 minutes or less. They must have died earlier, from something else, which their rebel handlers don't want to tell us the truth about.

But here they would have bodies and cover story lined up perfectly ... if nearly simultaneous were perfect. But it's not. Is this a lack of "local coordination" or too much of it?

Considering points 1 and 2 above about the lack of bleeding, moist blood, or rigor mortis, the victims might well have been murdered not just earlier in the day but sometime the day before. Even more clearly, that could hardly be an honest mix-up.

This time reading also suggests the photo was held back before publication, it seems, for just about one hour (earliest found posting is 2:23). That might show worry about the image, and it might be the same worry shown by the man in the crop of it at right. Considering the situation, he could well be thinking "Oh crap, they're taking pictures already? Our rockets just hit and we haven't even announced the jet attack yet. This could go poorly." Much to their surprise, perhaps, the captured sunlight still looks the same even after a delay in releasing it.

Post-Writing Updates
September 9:   (see technical discussion). I think due consideration of shadow angles puts the photo time range about 20-25 minutes later than I thought. I may have overdone the correction, but I think considering all the details, still a photo no later than 2:00 and maybe earlier than 1:30 is still far too soon after a 1:10-1:25 attack for this photo to make the kind of sense alleged.

September 15: I overdid the correction. The best answer, now at the same link and noted below, close to my first guess and keeps the point strong. As explained here, the best method was this: both outer walls cut apart and skewed to equal proportions - a square of width of one panel and one pilaster was marked, with relevant ground lines (edges of cooler and of shadow) drawn across from the right spots along each side of the grid - the rectangle of shadow angle was then measured at its true (app.) proportions, and the slant across it couple with clloer height was found to yield an elevation of 66.25 degrees, and a time of 1:36:30 PM. There's little room for exactitude here, so a fair range might be 1:30-1:45. That's between 5 and maybe 45 minutes after the attack.

September 23/24: Petri Krohn offers a placement for the body collection point - for both this dirt floor scene and the later tile-floor scene. This is as I map it below, and helps consider transport time., It's not a major factor (a few hundred meters to one km, up major streets). Dying and drying time is what seems to be lacking.
 Although these images aren't clear on the point, there's also an east gate in this area, but I suspect IF bodies were brought in and not killed on-site ... it could easily be by either gate. The van shown above either came from the east, or backed into this spot. It doesn't matter except to suggest where they came from - in this case, likely not from the direction of the rocket attacks.

A location allows an azimuth reading (compass direction to the sun). Using my ground grid for the above reading, the angle of shadow gives an azimuth 201.5 and so an earlier time of just about 1:10 PM. It's not exact either and seems early, but done right azimuth is far better than an altitude reading. Then I noticed the shadow I've been measuring going back a bit further, which points later (than 1:10). At the moment I say best guess is azimuth 207 = about 1:18-1:19 (or range 1:12-1:25). And I still suppose the photo is taken after the blasts and news of attack, but ... it can't be very much after. By the unrevised broad estimate range 1:00-1:25, this is anywhere from 13 minutes before the attack to maybe, in a stretch, 25 minutes after.

September 27: However, ACLOS member Pmr9 offers a start at proper algebraic calculations between camera plane and horizon and the scene, but using different shadows, that may point earlier yet. His latest revision puts the time of the photo at about 12:55-1:00. I can't (easily) vouch for that - it seems reasonable, but... 

September 21, 2015 Aleppo Market Attack

September 21, 2015 Aleppo Market Attack
September 23, 2015
last edits Sept. 24

Note: No real research on this yet, but some thoughts, starter material, etc. ...

AP reports (via New York Daily News) under the headline "Syrian government forces kill at least 18 in market blast: activists" "Activists" again refers to the SOHR, and also the LCC, calling on their sources in Shaar, "a rebel-held neighborhood" of Aleppo city. Rebel shells and rockets on government-held areas have been rather intense lately, killing sometimes dozens of civilians at a time. Once again, the rebels and sources - who should be ebtirely Islamist-leaning by now - come back with this market-centered accusation to shift the balance of propaganda back in their favor. 
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the surface-to-surface missile hit a market in Aleppo’s Shaar neighborhood, killing 18 and wounding dozens. It added that a wave of rockets struck the area afterward.
The Local Coordination Committees said the attack by Bashar Assad’s brutal regime targeted a street with clothing stores. It said 20 died and more than 40 were wounded.
* Mashable: attack caught on video (shares Civil Defense videos of aftermath, not the attack)
* Al-Jazeera Assad forces kill dozens of civilians in Syria's Aleppo: "(SOHR's) Abdelrahman said 18 civilians were killed, but other sources told Al Jazeera that the fatalities were as high as 32." Byline claims "at least 32."
The "brutal regime" targeted clothing stores - whose? Which rebel group runs this area? Are they terrorists? If so, they might do this themselves. If not, they'll surely have terrorist competitors in the area who would do it.

Or maybe, as they say, the regime did it. But that's not fair to presume by recent precedent It has some similarities to the Douma market attack just over a month ago - an alleged jet attack that allegedly killed over 100, that appears instead to be done by surface rockets and as cover for people mainly dead before that. There's also the August 3 market attack in Ariha, Idlib province, where activists swear a jet bombed the market then deliberately crashed into it. In reality, that too was probably a surface rocket rebels have plenty of. Other jet claims that fell apart are among the precedents for these precedents, and there may well be other insights from the spectrum of alleged market attacks in Syria cataloged here, many blamed on jets or, more often, helicopters with their all-powerful "barrel bombs."

In this case, there's no jet alleged, just a surface rocket. I suppose this time the weapon is true, but one way or another anti-Syria terrorists probably fired this, just like the others hitting market areas and fulfilling their propaganda needs. It's quite likely, however, that they managed to fake a firing line that points to a Syrian forces position, and the unanswered question will be how far out along that line. (that's just a guess before even looking)

And by precedent, the majority of the dead may have nothing to do with the blasts themselves, which serve mainly to launder whichever local massacre rebels want to shift the blame for on that day. .
Victim Records
VDC Record Evolution
Opposition Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC), linked to the LCC lists 24 dead this day under the note "More than 20 people killed due to shelling by Syrian regime forces using what so called "elephant missiles" on the civilian population areas."

There were only 22 entries, so two were added since I first looked. All are dated 9-21, suggesting no later deaths among the critically wounded. These 24 are 17 men (was 18), five boys (was 2), one woman, and one girl. No repeat family names, but 12 adult males were unidentified when I first looked. Now 4 of those are named, some as boys.

Names compared to other recent deaths in the area might yield interesting patterns, but I haven't yet. All are listed as from Shaar, no non-locals - some do include ages, if no other info. Boy ages: 10, 13, 16, 17, 17. I'm guessing men cluster on the other side 18. The girl was aged 10, the woman aged 50. All females in between these ages were miraculously spared from death?

All civilian, killed by shelling 9-21, from Shaar
Abdullah Kharmah Child - Male 13
Hani Darweesh AlDarweesh  Child - Male     17
Ahmad Assaf  Adult - Male    48
Abdulnaser Beetar  Adult - Male    
Taha Mamdouh Sabbagh  Adult - Male   
Majed Omran  Adult - Male   
Amira Ghazal   Adult - Female   
Deebow Qbeia   Child - Male    
Nawaf Housein Ibrahim Albaha   Child - Male    
Mohammad Hassoun Rannan    Adult - Male    
Unidentified 12    Adult - Male    
Firas Jaber    Adult - Male   
Sara Masree     Child - Female  
Unidentified 1   Adult - Male     Aleppo 
Unidentified 2   Adult - Male     Aleppo 
Unidentified 3   Adult - Male     Aleppo
Unidentified 4   Adult - Male     Aleppo 
Unidentified 5    Adult - Male     Aleppo  
Unidentified 6     Adult - Male     Aleppo 
Unidentified 7     Adult - Male     Aleppo  
Muhammad Jamal Beibee    Child - Male 
Osama Abdullatif Abdulaltif      Adult - Male  
Muhammad Jamal Ramee     Adult - Male   
Bakree Ahmad Marroush        Adult - Male    

Another Arabic list I found has only 15 entries, at least some matching names, most with ages. (note: VDC entries can be switched to Arabic for checking: type /ar in the url were /en is and reload). This has victims from two districts/neighborhoods: 6 from al-Sha'ar and 9 from al-Midan Children ages shown: 12, 16, and 16. This says three unidentified dead from Midan were of family al-Basha ( الباشا ) , first names unknown - VDC's list has no such name, but one is close: one is identified Nawaf Housein Ibrahim Albaha ( البها ) age 17. I'm guessing this is what they meant, and 2 more of the unidentified share his name.

Just being lazy and saving the whole list here:
حي الميدان :

1- ﻣﺤﻤﺪ ﻋﺎﺩﻝ ﺍﺣﻤﺪ ﻋﺰﻳﺰﻱ 21 سنة
2- ﻓﺮﺍﺱ صالح ﺟﺎﺑﺮ 25 سنة
3- فاتح نجيب سراج الدين 18 سنة
4- ريان بكري نيرباني 12 سنة
5- عائشة بكري نيرباني 16 سنة
876- من عائلة الباشا
9- مجهولة الهوية

حي الشعار :

10- احمد عساف 48 سنة
11- عبد الناصر بيطار 38 سنة
12- طه ممدرح سباغ
13- ماجد عمران 50 سنة
14- اميرة غزال 50 سمة
15- ديبو قبيع 16 سنة

Images  (video and photo)
*  aftermath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pv207oFslU
* aftermath, helmet camera (in compilation) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK9pmqLWY8E
* Damage photo, Getty/Anadolu
* There was at least one photo I saw of a small rocket impact mark on pavement that could easily show the firing direction. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Syria: Massacre of the Jet

September 15
last edits Sept. 25

This is an especially interesting example of Syrian market attack that deserves its own post, and now, even if incomplete (that is, it's worth completing eventually, so I'll lock myself into it with this post)

War News Updates reports 27 civilians were killed and dozens wounded "after a Syrian army fighter jet crashed into a marketplace in the Syrian town of Ariha in Idlib province." Citing Reuters citing locals, they say civilians were mainly killed, and "The plane had dropped a bomb on the main Bazaar street at low altitude only seconds before it crashed," Ghazal Abdullah, a resident who was close to the incident, told Reuters."

* Reuters report: Syrian jet crashes into market in rebel-held area, 27 killed 
"The plane had dropped a bomb on the main Bazaar street at low altitude only seconds before it crashed," said Ghazal Abdullah, a resident who was close to the incident.
The Observatory said the jet was not shot down.

* The Guardian (almost the same but adds a photo of wreckage and a different video)

Ariha, Idlib province  was recently conquered by the al-Qaeda-led "Army of Conquest," with the most overt Turkish assistance yet, a bit after Idlib city. As such it will be another Islamist occupation area like in Douma. All the reliable sources are dead or fled, if more recently than in Douma.

The opposition VDC (Douma-based, co-founder long-ago abducted by local Islamists, or...) lists 34 dead in Idlib this day under the note ""Massacre of the Jet, "several people martyred due to the falling of a Meg Jet on the local market in the city." 32 men, 2 boys, no females (listed). Generic Videos, not reviewed: 1 - 2 - 3.

Suicide Crash? By WarNews' report, No shooting is mentioned in the crash, the SOHR specified the plane was not shot down ... original source forthcoming - SOHR reported that the jet was not shot down, so ... all damage should be from its bombs or, less-obvious to me ... are they saying the jet bombed the market then crashed in without being shot down? The SOHR may be hearing - from their remaining (Islamist) sources in Ariha - that regime jets are suicide-attacking markets now, just to kill civilians and make an expensive and illogical new case for a "no fly zone."

SOHR reports
As Reuters said, "the observatory said the jet was not shot down." I looked for their own words on it, but it seems to be something they said to reporters, not in their own dispatches. Between their Facebook page (with an unusual blank span that day, with thin days before and after) and their website, there's no mention of this aspect of implied suicide attack. It's not mentioned if it was shot down or not. But Reuters says they did say this, so they probably did. Was it retracted or just not repeated?

August 3: toll from "aerial bombardment and crashing of a warplane in the vegetable market area in the city has risen to 17, including a child." It also says "destiny of the warplane crew is still unknown" This suggests, logically, they didn't die with jet but just willingly sacrificed the jet to parachute out, willingly, over Islamist areas, all to ... make the regime look bad and become "unknown destiny"? Or ... it was shot down. (and still maybe the 'hit the market' part was made up - or true ...)

Later: "it rose to 34 they are three children under the age of 16 and a citizen woman and 25 men over the age of 18, and five unidentified men the number of deaths who have died as a result of warplanes bombing and the warplane crash on the vegetable market area in ​​the city of Ariha, and the number of deaths is likely to rise because there are more than 60 critical wound and others are missing."

VDC has only 34 with that note, no rise, but divided 32 men and 2 boys - implied, one boy and one woman listed as men - but there are no apparent female names. One the 4 unidentified with two identified maybe? Repeat family names include Mahloub, Badawi, etc.

Jet Evidence
Getty Images/Anadolu Agency has a photo (detail at right) to support the claim "a Syrian regime warplane crashed into a market in Syrias northwestern Idlib province, according to a local civil defense official," an event with no mentioned shooting, but 35 civilian deaths.

More wreckage:
* same or similar piece from a different angle (high res) 
* Engine and other wreckage all together at the curb.

And so, in this earlier precedent for jets attacking markets, there was proof. Some flag-marked jet wreckage, next to melons. It looks arguably natural how it came together, but ... to me, the metal appears to be quite weathered, having spent some time outdoors in this same crumpled state. From the close-cropped photo, the size of material appears easily transported and planted. If there's much more of it, maybe not. If this jet was shot down long ago and had its wreckage saved as a prop and later dropped here to prove jet-on-market action ... what does that say about later alleged jet-on-market attacks?

attack site video ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToagdK4e_fE
weathered bodies? Maybe dead 2 days already, placed in a van, now scattered realistically at the blast site? Other bodies seem clearly fresh in their injuries - why is one man injured mainly beneath pre-exisiting bandages torn open? Etc.