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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Syria CW Infowar Latest Moves in Review

in review moves regarding the high-profile CW allegations of Douma, 2018 and  Khan Sheikhoun, 2017. I'm not that read-up on the news, so these may not be the best sources - more may be offered in comments below.
Here my comments
first Douma

Douma: an Emmy for NYT's Thought-Impaired Analysis -A few months back was the leak of a report by an OPCW engineering sub-team. A complete lack of an answer the challenge it brought - the OPCW's own suppressed science agrees with that of Russian scientists and all credible independent experts who like myself, who consider the actual details and show their work - as if to help erase that victory for truth, someone re-endorsed one of the worst efforts to support the fake narrative of the powerful, granting a News Emmy to the New York Times for last June's program "One Building, One Bomb." It's described as "the most definitive reconstruction" of the event, using amazing visual analysis to "cut through government denials to reveal how the attack took place and assign blame to the Syrian authorities." The NYT team here worked with Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat so all the genius wound up tripping over itself. This was an especially stupid exercise full of invented science that makes no sense. I could find several other examples if I reviewed it now, but here's a quick list of some of those I compiled earlier in a lengthy rebuttal.

- super-deadly dose, death in minutes - No. Everything known about how chlorine (rarely) kills argues against this. Maybe 1-3 people would die, probably in hospital after leaving this site. Chlorine is not a nerve agent, does not cause instant death, paralysis or impairment, just a lot of corrosive irritation and a desire to leave. These people appear to have died suddenly while doing bizarre things, or to have died at unknown speed in some gas chamber before their bodies were dragged into place here. I've always suspected the latter, and deeper research suggests more and more to be the case.

- corneal burns - No. The "opacity" cited is from being dead. It's as standard as rigor mortis. They suspiciously LACK the redness of corneal burns you'd expect from chlorine or other caustic agents. Still, it seems they were exposed to a caustic agent...

- grid pattern on the cylinder's side means impact through the metal grill - No. It would mean the thing was laid sideways like a sausage on that grill, while its bars were heated red hot to get the lines "seared in" on the side. NYT fake experts need to go to a barbecue someday and try to think that out. Do the grill marks on those hot dogs prove they flew lengthwise, like little meat missiles, crashing right through the grill?

- frosted cylinder - No. Malachy Browne at least proudly posted the image at right following supposed frost on the top of the cylinder at location 4, lasting for days after the event, including where someone wiped it with their hands and it never re-frosted. That's clearly settled dust, from the impact or - considering the many, many problems with this scene and the precedent set at loc. 2 - just sifted on top for realism. There's clearly a white dust coating the whole bed area, not just the cold metal of the cylinder. And as anyone on that team who actually looked into this auto-refrigeration might know, it happens only on the parts of the metal in contact with the cold-boiling liquid gas inside - the lower half, then a shrinking portion of the underside as it slowly boiled away trough the open valve or whatever breach there is.

The cylinder at location 2 is frosted only on a small part of its underside, as the same NYT report times it abut 10 pm  - some 2-3 hours after the attack it's close to empty. At loc. 4 the valve was intact, might have a hairline crack, and there are signs of major chlorine release, besides additional liquids - but it never seems to be frosted, was noted as half-full and NOT leaking when inspectors went (noted by Sander H), suggesting any release here was after someone opened the functional valve and then closed it again. And anyway, if that were frost it would be on the underside, you morons.

- black rust from chlorine - No. Black rust can happen in low-oxygen environments, underwater, on the steel inside the concrete on bridges, etc. No examples of prior chlorine attacks show a black rust, just the usual orange kind, on bare metal. We see that in Douma as well. Here the "rust" is seen on the intact yellow paint, which doesn't "rust" at all. And it looks like the black soot everything below the cylinder was coated with. That's clearly from a fire deliberately set atop the rubble (so the after the alleged cylinder impact), and might be a clue to the staging of the scene. But NYT, Bellingcat, FA, et al. totally missed it.

- missed: besides all the basic issues about logic, timing, and motive that always argued pretty strongly against government guilt: actual deaths needing another explanation, specific and unusual signs of their death that also need special explanation (in progress) - details large and small proving the cylinders did not cause the damage. Here again is a decent view from above and then below the impact point.

"One building, one bomb," yes, or maybe a mortar shell. It hit that upper left corner and detonated, sprayed shrapnel all around the balcony, impacted the floor of it first with its blast wave, hurling the concrete and rebar inward. Also, someone laid a gas tank at the same spot later on, and shoddy journalism helped them pass of that cheap trick, and THAT is what gets rewarded around here. But news Emmies aren't about truth but about that "news" thing - here it's assured authority, distracting computer graphics, dark, though-simulating mood music, and most importantly a "plausible" or politically acceptable conclusion in line with the accepted findings of controlled agencies so far. Bad news: Someone gassed babies and other civilians in a horrible manner and got away with it. Eh. Go ask Madeline Albright about the kind of hard choices we have to make to do the amazingly righteous stuff we do in the world.

KS liberated, Grim Discoveries
Syrian government force finally re-reconquered the city from HTS militants by August 22, ending a five-year occupation (Al-Masdar). Syrian and Russian officials inspected the site of the cave "hospital" from the 2017 videos - where people were left dying in the mud - and found attached a sprawling underground base, they say, considered adequate "for stationing 3,500 terrorists," with various facilities including propaganda "studios." Some discarded weapons were found, along with "military equipment, helmets and gas masks" and flags and uniforms of the defeated militants. (Fars News) RT showed some video footage of the tunnels, along with apparent jail cells showing squalid conditions, and women's clothing left behind (RT video set to 1:10 to show the same well-known exterior). This is all allegedly from just behind where those women, children and men were seen dead and dying, some later developing head wounds, some sporting them already.

No word on gas chambers being found on this site, but it's not clear they've found everything nor that this part would be done right here. The number of loaded trucks involved does still suggest gathering from somewhere else within short driving distance they've still never shown us.

New Info on Staging of CW Attacks with Murdered Hostages?
The same recent Fars News article cited above adds:
"In a relevant development on Wednesday, Director of the Fund for Research of Problems of Democracy Maxim Grigoryev stated that members of the so-called civil defense group White Helmets have deliberately executed women and children for the purpose of disseminating false information about the situation in Syria."
Grigoryev highlighted that White Helmets, on certain occasions, have used the bodies of hostages executed by terrorists on their territories to take photos and make video records of a staged chemical attack.
“Some of them, including women and children, were deliberately executed for the purpose,” he added."

The basis and veracity of these exact claims is unclear at the moment, but of course I've long suspected the gist of the allegation (managed massacres of captives) is true, and that there is valid evidence around, some of which I find, some more of which Grigoriev's team might have just found.

KS: Postol - Chen Critical Analysis Derailed:
An anticipated mainstream journal publication of a report co-authored by MIT professor Theodore Postol had its publication postponed, maybe cancelled. Science Magazine reported on this story:

"Now, a manuscript questioning that conclusion has caused a heated dispute among U.S. scientists. Until this week, the paper was scheduled for publication by Science & Global Security (SGS), a prestigious journal based at Princeton University. But as Science went to press, SGS’s editors suspended publication amid fierce criticism and warnings that the paper would help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian government."

Before, the journal had noted controversy existed, but "the scientific community has well-established practices for dealing with this challenge." But on 24 September, they mentioned "a number of issues with the peer-review and revision process" requiring they put it on hold to review those issues.

This comes after a concerted effort by regime-change activists to pressure SGS to refuse publication, raising concerns if their political pressure caused the journal to cave in.

The Bellingcat critique cited by Science Mag raises a valid point on lack of usual damage - Postol argues rebel rockets just don't fragment well, so they're pretty useless. He didn't seem to consider it was a non-explosive chemical rocket as I've always suspected.

Supposed expert J.P. Zanders' critique that Syrian sarin was used is faulty, based on a faith that past use as all by Syria. But that was always circular, accepted based on prior believed use, never on established fact. Or IF this is the real recipe Syria used, and not just the one that keeps turning up, he ignores that recipes can be replicated by people with a more rational motive than Damascus would have.

Still none of these critics can find anything but alibis in the radar record (right), and they all ignore key facts like that the observed wind was opposite of that needed for the allegations to work. (below, my classic wind graphic for upper-level winds - ground level is more westerly (to the east). Anyone who thinks this must be or can be shown wrong, be sure to check here first, and if you still feel that way, bring it there.)

CW expert and regime-change activist Gregory Koblentz "says Postol has disregarded overwhelming evidence and has a pro-Assad agenda," Science reports, and warned with some telling hyperbole "The paper would be “misused to cover up the [Assad] regime’s crimes" and "permanently stain the reputation of your journal."" To "cover up" "crimes" that were just bogus accusation to begin with, by demonstrating that they were bogus, is not an ethical lapse not something that should harm anyone's reputation. Mr. Koblentz probably has no special reason to be so sure his own obvious anti-Assad agenda is based in fact rather than just a politically convenient narrative that's been steered to emerge. He's a hypocrite.

But all these critics may have varying points. I'm not sure how to "properly" judge a scholarly paper, but I've looked at the Postol, Chen, et al. report and it seems to have some logic issues (at least the debatable answer to lack of fragmentation, as noted above, the insistence the metal fragments must be from the weapon used, and must be some kind of pipe or tube). Working alone these last years Postol's output is rather poor and error-prone, to the extent I've looked at it. Working with Richard Lloyd in 2013-14 the team output was excellent. With others, Goong Chen and his team, it seemed on quick review they came out somewhere in the middle.

I humbly suggest from my corner we take advantage of this pause. That exact paper should be cancelled, but considering the complexities, a slot should be left open. Perhaps Mr. Chen could lead a revision of the findings for a better product with no logical or factual errors, just political ones. That could be the test; as it stands, it's hard to separate political agendas from genuine technical issues. It seems from my end the truth tends to help Syria and Russia in the way Mr. Koblentz suggested Postol's paper would, and could be blocked for that reason alone. Is that the case here? I wish I could be more clear on that question.

KS: Bellingcat's Dying M4000 Narrative
Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins was excited recently to solidify some fragment IDs they made last year, comparing scraps from the Latamnah and Khan Sheikhoun sarin attacks in March and April 2017 to a Syrian-made M4000 chemical bomb. This is taken as proving Syrian forces dropped that bomb from a jet that must have been over the town somehow, and ignores the possibility the pieces are planted. But the new twist is an old example of an M4000 seen in 2013, and then another from 2014, being noticed and brought to compare - the first visual comparisons possible so far. Neither of these, he thinks, was used for CW, both of them likely being re-purposed for conventional explosives (which he says Syria has claimed and which I don't doubt).

But in the 2017 cases, sarin turned up, so that would be the M4000 doing its original job. If that's what these scraps are from, and if they relate to the attack.

An earlier March 24 attack … did the M4000 turn up there too? I'm not so read up on that one, but it's thought to have caused a doctor to die the next day after a simple chlorine attack on the 25th. It went totally unreported at the time, but later had reports lodged, and samples gathered 10 months later that tested positive for intact, non-degraded sarin - meaning it was introduced to the source material probably just weeks earlier, not 10 months earlier.

The 2013 M4000 is said to fall from a jet ("gift of Mig") and landed near fighters in the southern Damascus suburbs, with no visible damage besides some mild denting of the tail assembly. This suggests it landed on its side, likely tail-end first, after a short and unstable fall, from maybe 50 meters up? Maybe at an angle, arcing in after it was hurled with some crude catapult? Or maybe I'm under-estimating the damage and someone dropped it off the bed of the delivery pickup truck? To me it looks more in that range than any range of plausible aircraft altitudes. Here it is (bottom) compared to the broken and distorted parts found at Latamnah.

Allegations: Both of these fell from jets and landed. Neither detonated with powerful high explosives. Aside from perhaps the drop altitude, no difference is proposed besides one having a small CW dispersal charge triggered upon impact. The 2017 story is debatable, likely involving high-explosives and thus ruling out sarin. But the 2013 story is out. If it makes no sense, it's not true. And if it's not true, wonder why they don't tell us the true story of how militant got at least one copy of a M4000 to play around with.

I've never been one to doubt that identification (see Postol-Higgins debate post), and I'm not about to start now. Others insist on challenging it as if it were central, as if it has to be from the weapon used and can't just be planted to sow a bogus story. But these things have a way of being in bogus stories. I was working on this subject is a little more detail for a post of middling importance I may not complete on "The M4000 distraction." If this seems to be needed, I'll finish it. In the meantime and in case, my advice is quit doubting the ID unless you can find a VALID reason, neither fully accept nor reject it, and just focus on the follow-up question: "if it were M4000 scraps, so what?" As Charles Wood proposes:
"In a spectacular own goal, Higgins has 'disclosed' that Syrian terrorists have long held bomb parts that could be used to fake the Khan Sheikhoun sarin bombing.
That's not to say an M4000 was even used, just that the parts in the crater are 'consistent' with Higgin's bomb parts."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Mr. Pesticide" Part 3: On CW Crimes of Ba'athist Leaders

Mr. Pesticide, Gen. Asaad Al-Zoubi
Part three of four:
2018-19 Comments on CW Crimes of Ba'athist Leaders
September 24, 2019

< Back to Part 2
< part 1

3a) Blessing Saddam's Soul for Halabjah?
As part 2 explained, FSA General Asaad al-Zoubi's made a lot of fairly loony public claims in 2016 comments, during his term heading the negotiating team for the whole Syria opposition in Geneva. Perhaps the most controversial among his comments were those about the Kurdish people, their military forces and statehood aspirations, as covered in part 2. Some of these spurred the Kurdish contingent within the HNC to quit the project just two weeks into talks.

But those weren't his first or last words on the subject. A recent re-iteration of the theme in a twitter message of 16 August, 2019, caused a new stir. As one twitter response put it: “Asaad Alzoubi, one of the Syrian opposition's leader praising Saddam Hussein, because he was killing Kurds by using a chemical gases. Today, Zoubi wants to play the same role by commiting chemical attacks against Syrian Kurds... # example of Syrian negotiator_”

Another criticism doesn't mention anything chemical, but includes a re-tweet of Al-Zoubi's exact words. But that original tweet was "unavailable" before I saw it. Well before. On 17 August (the day after the tweet) someone asked "Has he deleted the tweet or shut down his account?" Presumably, he deleted it in embarrassment by then, with or without a friend's advice. At the time I checked (around 27 August), most of the other tweets at his account were still visible, but that one was gone.

It caused him trouble anyway - his account had already been suspended, as someone noticed on 22 August. I didn't know about that when I first looked a few days later. It must have been down just briefly before he had the decision repealed. But just checking now, it seems he's suspended again (as of Sept. 11, and still on Sept. 24). That's presumably for the same thing, which is probably the Kurd-bashing comments possibly praising CW-genocide. He was banned more firmly, maybe permanently, we might note after more time to review the complaints and his reasons for the brief repeal.

He used to be charged with helping shape the future of a nation - what could stop the fighting, who needs released from jail, who cannot be president, etc. That might have played into the initial repeal ("I was at Geneva, you oafs!"). Now he's not even allowed to air his thoughts on Twitter, a platform often criticized as too lax on hate speech and the like.

Wow. That must have been some misstep I should have a look at it if possible. I asked the resourceful Michael Kobs, who found an archived copy of the tweet (at a link that almost instantly expired on my end). The screen grabs he sent are below with details, original text, and an auto-translation to English. (Kobs tweet)

LBD = PYD, etc. an Arabic-speaking friend helped check the nuances and gave the same gist but no word-for-word, so this is a guessed refinement of the auto-translation. Anything it misses that's significant, someone let me know (comments).
Whenever we uncover the truth about the character of the Kurdish terrorist organization the PYD, it reveals many animals (donkeys who are tired, howling dogs, cockroaches, tints [sounds like some tiny insect?], cockroaches, and many worms). There is no need to use pesticides for these insects.
God bless his soul.

(It's pesticide enough?) for these insects to say the name Saddam, and they quickly disappear. So their appearance always makes us have mercy on Saddam.
God bless his soul.

Halabjah 1988. Al-Zoubi: "God bless (Saddam's) soul"
He might have seen this as lighthearted, proposing as it does NOT gassing people; even if it might seem warranted, to deal with the subhuman pests of the PYD "there is no need to use pesticides for these insects." Simply remind them how Saddam (Hussein?) did that once (Halabja 1988?), and ...the pests will go away? He seems onto something ugly, if not logical.

Following an "attack on social media" Al-Zoubi explained himself in an interview for Arabic-language Zaitun Agency. He says it was a misunderstanding. As he clarifies, Kurdish people in general are brother Syrians, but the PYD militant group - at least - "coordinates with the Syrian regime to thwart the people's revolution. They exploited the revolution of the Syrian people and called for an independent entity ...and committed the crimes of genocide and forced components of the core of our people [meaning some (Arab) Sunni Muslims?]" apparently, to lose their homes (translation is unclear).

Forced relocation in areas PYD and other Kurdish forces take over is credibly reported by Human Rights Watch in Iraq (Nov. 2016), and also in Syria, as reported by The Nation, Feb. 2017. It's considered an act of genocide, which is a continuum, obviously.

The claims were variously denied by Kurdish officials, or explained as a counter-terror measure, and they might point – in Iraq anyway - to forced Arabization of historically Kurdish areas, acts of genocide they were just just “correcting” (so corrective genocide?). The Kurds are no angels, and I'm no expert, but I noted in 2013 some clues their leaders in Iraq at least took advantage of the ISIS situation, perhaps even helping to create it, to enable their Iraqi Kurdistan; they would let some land be shaken from Baghdad's control, blame them for being too sectarian and causing ISIS, then as possible take the land back and keep it. Consider from the HRW report a commander of Kurdish forces in Iraq, reportedly declaring upon conquests in Nineveh governorate “These territories are Kurdistan's now. We will not give them back to the Iraqi army or anybody else.”

Their cause is not that crucial, but they're selectively boosted in the West because, I guess, they can cause grief for to the Syrian and Iraqi governments, because they want their own country, not a caliphate or an emirate. Little wonder there's a long attraction, but this Islamist takeover is quite a sinister thing for the Kurds and their external sponsors to be taking advantage of. They should stand with the nations they're in, and talk degrees of autonomy later. First both ISIS and all those others the HNC had under its umbrella would need to be defeated.

So Al-Zoubi may have a point, or just a pointless, hate-inspired gripe with a near-explanation available. But he never did explain the references to “Saddam” and "pesticide" use, and why that event can be glibly invoked against just the PYD when the attack itself was against primarily civilians. He offered no explanation and also deleted that tweet as if it simply could not be explained – at least within civil bounds. Now, this is/was a professional political operative, heading negotiations on issues of war and peace, justice and morality, etc. - by record of tweets anyway, he says little, and it will be relatively guarded and careful. This kind of comment could mark the edges - things he wouldn't normally say, has to un-say if he slips. I mean, he's not talking about Alawi or Shia people here, but the widely-championed Kurds. we can wonder how wide and deep is the pool of uglier thoughts he's even more careful with?

I can partly endorse the efforts of some French Kurds' effort to sue Gen. Al-Zoubi over this comment. They hope to have him tried in French courts for "apology for war crimes and genocide," punishable by up to five years in prison." (Le-Point) For anyone in the world? As someone who's been accused of apologizing for war crimes, this raises questions for me. But I'd be denying the crime, not smiling about it and waving it in peoples' faces. Their lawyer, Antonin Péchard, found the deleted tweet counted as "provocation to violence." That's debatable, but he cites "a direct and unambiguous allusion to the crimes committed in Iraq in 1988, recognized as genocide before the court in The Hague.” As he decodes it, “the menagerie” - or what I have as “many animals” - “is the Kurdish people.” He actually specifies PYD, not the Kurds at large. But then “Saddam, of course, is Saddam Hussein and "the insecticide is the poison of his chemical weapons," most famously used at Halabjah against a lot of Kurdish people at large, so the meaning of “menagerie” IS pretty dubious.

On a side-note, Saddam Hussein also gassed a lot of Shi'ites in Iran in 1988 and earlier, some background information for Al-Zoubi and other hardcore Sunni fanboys of that Ba'ath party leader. Considering all this and how it plays into the following, I've given al-Zoubi the nickname “Mr. Pesticide.”

3b) Damning Assad's Soul over Douma
So there's some worry about Al-Zoubi's rehtoric inspiring future acts of violence, perhaps even chemical violence. Just from what's seen, that's a stretch. But either way, some of his allies need no encouragement.

The Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) of his fellow HNC bargainer Mohammed Alloush is epic in its criminality. They're behind killing off all sort of opponents and critics and the sectarian-based kidnapping of hundreds of civilians at once in December, 2013 at Adra (teamed with Jabhat al-Nusra). They've arrested thousands more from Adra and elsewhere across East Ghouta, military and civilian alike, including women and children. They subjected prisoners to harsh conditions and torture, starvation and slave labor, besides other crimes known and still-unknown.

Some possible JaI crimes involve chemical weapons allegations, two of which we now consider, starting with the Douma incident of 7 April, 2018. This was easily blamed on the Syrian government, triggering the second of two yearly April missile strikes led by US president Trump. Al-Zoubi firmly credits Assad with the attack and considers the attack criminal, not laudable. So he's for all CW attacks, and not even for all those blamed on Ba'ath party leaders. He's more selective than that. The Douma attack was said to kill random Sunni Arabs, not Kurdish or PYD "terrorists." And Assad, for what it's worth, is not a Sunni Muslim like Saddam Hussein was, and gets aid from Iranians instead of gassing them. For whatever mix of reasons, Al-Zoubi does not ask for Assad's soul to be blessed, but labors instead to expand the case for its damnation.

In the 18 months since the Douma incident, serious study has shown the opposition's claims to be fraudulent on every level. The physical evidence is clear to OPCW's suppressed experts, Russia's experts, and independent researchers who show their work: someone manually planted two barely dented chlorine gas cylinders at or beneath unrelated damage from explosive weapons. There are troubling signs the 35 seen victims – mostly women and children - were captives of Jaish Al-Islam, mass-murdered so they could plant some bodies underneath one of those forged scenes and blame Assad. It seem s they were intentionally killed in a gas chamber using an unusual method that left ugly clues still being unraveled. Al-Zoubi's Islamist buddies piled the bodies near water faucets so the residues could be washed off their faces and hair just minutes before the first video – leaving behind dingy rags and one of the respirator masks they probably wore to protect against the fumes still coming off these people during transport (likely in Jaish Al-Islam's fabled tunnel system – a confined space). Visuals below, from my own tweet.

Yes, this was almost surely a false-flag managed massacre by JaI as they finally lost their home base in Douma, and saw their last chance to gas any hostages they'd rather not free, and last chance to have a lot of bodies at once to blame on Assad. They had promised to release some 3,000 detainees as part of the surrender deal, but a lamentable 200 or so ever emerged (AFP). Quite likely some of the missing thousands wound up piled in those photos.

It took a while to see all that, but just one day after, on 8 April, 2018, as most of us were rather hazy, Gen. Asaad al-Zoubi gave an interview to Turkey-based SMART News where he's described only as “a political and military analyst,” revealing a stunning inside view; as the headline sums it up, "Opposition general reveals that Russia and Syrian government prepared toxic gas month before Douma massacre." Considering my interest in the details of the Douma incident, his full explanation is worth some detailed analysis in another post (part 4, forthcoming). But it's worth relating in brief here, for comparison.

Like many, he seemed sure it was Assad's deadly sarin nerve agent that killed people in Douma; "Al-Zoubi assured that the forces used a nerve gas that causes immediate asphyxia, and has a stronger effect than chlorine gas." He or SMART News thought the death toll was at least 85 (which is also noted as the death toll for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack a year earlier). But that was “at an early count” that actually grew to ~180 and was later claimed to be 187. Mysteriously, only 42 were ever "verified,” and only chlorine turned up at the location where most of the bodies were found. Simple chlorine should have killed close to zero people, not 42, or 85, or 187. Did Al-Zoubi know about that problem in advance? On day 2, he claimed the chlorine dropped along with the nerve agent instantly erased all signs. But as I'll explain in part 4, this is nonsense.

He claimed to know all about the super-deadly agent that's “similar to sarin” (which seems to mean it was sarin – allegedly – but he'd rather leave some wiggle room?). He says it was specifically brewed for the purpose a month earlier, in full violation of Syria's OPCW obligations, and with the help of three particular Russian officers Al-Zoubi could probably name (but didn't), in a pretty audacious and satanic conspiracy. He claimed to know where the poison was made, when it was moved and where to, including to Dumayr airbase, where people said the CWs were loaded onto helicopters for use on 7 April. He probably failed to mention any of that knowledge over the weeks of alleged preparation because it only appeared in his "information" network - fully formed – just a few hours before this interview.

But despite being total nonsense, the Zoubi narrative might be too well-informed to be an innocent guess. His info was likely provided by the true experts who knew inside details like how no sarin would turn up, as they originally planned. Again, the likely perpetrators are Douma-based Jaish Al-Islam, whose state of defeat might cause logistical failures like their sarin supply getting unexpectedly blown up, for example. Because, again, their political leader was one of Zoubi's contacts from the HNC days. And the victims ... not Kurds or probably any other minority, but the largest portion of a named 35 are seemingly related to a military opponent of JaI: An “FSA” faction called Douma Martyr's Brigade led a tragically failed rebellion against the “Army of Islam” in late 2014. That in turn started a few months after its founder – Mohammed Diab Bakriyeh – was killed “in clashes” with government forces, on the same day an apparent civilian brother of his was killed by random government “shelling.” (see here.) Does that reflect the same growing tensions that led to open rebellion soon after? And does it show Commander Bakriyeh's family was fair game to kill and falsely report the cause of death? The answers could both be yes, and if so, it's quite possible that 11 people named Bakriyeh (plus unclear others related by blood and marriage) would get kidnapped over time, held until the end in 2018, and finished off then rather than set free. If so ...the elaborate story Gen. Al-Zoubi passes on would be fake, and he'd be helping conceal a gross war crime by his allies, bt passing it off as yet another Assad crime. To the intelligent, that would be cause to wonder how often that kind of thing happens.

3c) When Jaish Al-Islam Gasses Kurds
Considering his take on Douma, if Gen. Al-Zoubi's Islamist cohorts ever did gas some Kurds, don't be surprised if he weighs in with dubious but specific "information" blaming Syria and implicating Russia, or Iran, or perhaps ISIS or China.

In fact, I had to check with an attack on the Kurdish-majority Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, on 7 April, 2016. In this little-understood event, I propose the agent used was not the reported chlorine gas. The agent color is wrong (seen on video, too orange-yellow, and also too lightweight), and the smell might be (described as "strange," not bleach-like). It might have been a nerve agent, going by the reported symptoms (including "convulsions, spasms and vomiting"), and its killing a reported 23 people to an expected zero for chlorine. (gathered sources at ACLOS)
7 April, 2016: Al-Zoubi ally's militia launches "pesticide" against Kurds? 23 died?
(color: increased saturation but same hue = not chlorine (yellow-green))
Note: "Yellow phosphorous material" was also cited as the agent, but that should probably be a sort of burning irritant, not likely fatal (based on some research). Also I've seen before where someone mistranslates “organophosphate” this way to describe a likely sarin attack. Three such cases are listed here: Interestingly, twice before in the same district – shortly before in 2016, 9 March (with the same "yellow" description) and in 2013, 13 April, where 3-4 civilians were listed as killed, later revised to 14. the VDC heard early reports of “white phosphoric material and then other sources said it is (Sarin Gas)" which won the contest. (The same odd weapon involved in Sheikh Maqsoud was used in another event 2 weeks later at Saraqeb, that was verified as having sarin inside.) And 2013, 3-24 Adra, Damascus Suburbs, next to Douma and partly occupied by Jaish Al-Islam, where 2 fighters were reportedly killed and several sickened: "Doctors are describing the chemical weapon used as phosphorus" that otherwise fits the bill of a nerve agent. Spasms are seen, and atropine was an effective treatment. ACLOS None of these reports mentions pinpoint pupils, a key indicator, but otherwise ...

In 2016 anyway, this is not chlorine, nor is it mustard gas, nor that mysterious BZ/Agents 15 phoned in a few times. Is it sarin, or something else not yet identified as a CW used in Syria? Either seems plausible to me. More clarity would be nice. Whatever it is, apparently Jaish Al-Islam has it. Further clues a few paragraphs down suggest they share this access with Al-Qaeda franchise Jabhat Al-Nusra.

In what can only be a coincidental twist, that fatal Aleppo attack was exactly two years before the Douma incident we just considered. So both of these 7 April incidents across the country from each other were probably the work of Douma-based Jaish Al-Islam which, as a coalition, also had external branches, including one in Aleppo. It was they who were fingered for the Sheikh Maqsoud chemical attack, and a statement followed that one of their fighters was in trouble for using "prohibited weapons" there. I found no comments by Gen. Al-Zoubi, but he would surely agree with his chief negotiator Mohammed Alloush, who denied the claims - not as part of the HNC but as the political leader of the likely perpetrators. “This is really a big lie, which is laughable.” He swore JaI had no chemical weapons and if they did, would never use them on "our civilians." Rather, To Sputnik news, Alloush "once again accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons in the country," if not in this particular case. He explained they only fired regular grad rockets at "our civilians" in Sheikh Maqsoud that day, and someone else must have fired in that toxic gas on the Kurds at the same time. He gives no indication who that would be, and implicitly suggests there was no chemical incident at all. I mean, how else could the situation be “laughable” to kind of guy once charged with heading big talks in Geneva? (Global Security.org)

JaI at large has also claimed the public statements about "forbidden weapons" were misread – they never referred to the CW claims they seemed to refer to, but coincidentally made a public show of reprimanding a fighter for unauthorized modification of GRAD rockets. (The Daily Beast) Maybe he modified them to deliver CW, and it actually was authorized, but just caused to much bad PR. Alloush found the ensuing confusion “laughable,” so maybe that big non-admission is the practical joke it kind of seems like. (ACLOS)

Some context: 5 April the deadliest day yet of indiscriminate terrorist shelling of the Sheikh Maqsoud district. "Saad, a pharmacist, described 5 April as “the bloodiest day the neighbourhood had witnessed”. He said that shelling from armed groups continued for nine hours straight. He added: “We counted at least 15 Hamim rockets and more than 100 mortars. The shells were falling everywhere, it was indiscriminate.” (Amnesty International) Two days later came the deadly "pesticide" - as some might put it - launched on the Kurds there by the group led by Zoubi's chief negotiator.

And following on that were reports of an earlier chemical attack: "Lebanese Hezbollah fighters said that they were also attacked by chemical weapons during the night from Sunday to Monday (April 3/4), when terrorists attacked the settlement of al-Yis in the south of Aleppo." Kurdish YPG sources "confirmed" the claims; "According to the militias, dozens of civilians suffered as a result of the attack," which they blame Turkey for. There's no mention of deaths directly caused by the chemicals. (RIA, Russia) The place is not phonetically obvious, but probably Al-Eis on Wikimapia, the only place south of Aleppo I found with a name that could also be transliterated al-Yis. Arabic: العيس Gtrans pronunciation: aleyisu) It's described as Sunni-majority (and not Kurdish?), well southwest of Aleppo city, about halfway to Saraqeb, but still inside Aleppo province. Other Names: Ash Shaykh Isa. Next-door areas labeled Tell Al-Eis and Jabal Al-Eis.

A Reuters report of 6 April said "the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front … last week attacked and captured a town" south of Aleppo, killing 11 Hezbollah fighters and 43 Syrian soldiers, then "shot down a Syrian warplane on Tuesday (the 5th) and captured its pilot" The town is given as Telat al-Eis - probably meaning the Tel Al-Eis (al-Yis) above with the chemical attack during the Aug. 3-4 conquest. On the 6th, the Reuters story related "intense air strikes in the southern Aleppo area," described as "the fiercest government assault in the area since an agreement to ease the fighting came into effect in February."

The HNC's al-Zoubi "told Reuters the truce was “in danger of ending” due to government violations." He referred to the February deal he apparently had nothing to do with, and seems to mean these new strikes – not the 5 April shelling of Aleppo by his allies, or the 3/4 April gassing and takeover of a town near Aleppo. His only and urgent issue was government retaliation against the designated terrorists of al-Nusra Front. The article notes Nusra (then calling itself Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) was never party to the ceasefire, but "its fighters are deployed near rebel groups that are.”

In fact they often share the exact space with and cooperate with such "good-guy" Islamists. The same article cites a fighter of the Sham Revolutionary Brigades who "said his group had taken part in repelling the attack (on al-Eis), and Shi’ite militias fighting with the government had suffered heavy losses." The Sham Revolutionary Brigades probably was party to the cease-fire and off-limits, despite being embedded with al-Nusra. The ceasefire was said to cover basically everyone but Nusra and ISIS, and these guys in particular were one of the "moderate" Islamist groups in Aleppo province who were vetted and given US TOW anti-tank missiles in 2015 (child-beheaders Nouredin al-Zenki were another such sponsored group - news story)

So in context, the HNC head of delegation implied that even Al-Nusra should be allowed to overrun anywhere and do anything from there, so long as they have some exempted “rebels” tagging along as human shields. A failure by Damascus to recognize that protection would destroy the fragile and ever-so-useful dialog in Geneva. Can we see what a scumbag this guy is? Al-Zoubi denounced only the government's responsive portion of this as harmful to peace. On that basis, he threatened yet again to end talks, and encouraged more terrorist attacks (explicitly on the 17th - see part 1). Any further chemical attacks on Kurdish fighters and civilians, like the one that happened the day after his statement about government violations ... “Mr. Pesticide” would see nothing to complain about, anyway, and in private, he might praise some souls over it.

Friday, September 20, 2019

"Mr. Pesticide" Part 2: The World According to Asaad Al-Zoubi

Gen. Asaad Al-Zoubi, "Mr. Pesticide"
Part two of four: 
The World According to Asaad Al-Zoubi (in 2016)
September 20, 2019

<< Part 1: The Saudis' Man for Scuttling Peace

On searching around now, it seems General Asaad Al-Zoubi made a lot of mainstream news stories during 2016 due to his position as the HNC's head of delegation, compared to none before and very little since. A few more recent statements of interest regarding the Kurds and chemical weapons are covered in parts 3 and 4, but first this overview of 2016 comments. Just in those limelight months, this unhinged conspiracy theorist promoted at least the following dubious, false, and troubling claims to support his and the HNC's tough anti-Assad bargaining stance.

* March: The Assad government was using "fatally dangerous" North Korean mercenaries to crush the Syrian peoples' movement. (UPI, Anadolu Al-Arabiya)

* October: “Brigadier Asaad Al Zoubi” said in an interview with Sky News Arabia in Riyadh: "There are 2 types of soldiers who are now blocking the city of Allepo. First is the Assad Shia regime forces, and the second is a mercenary army consisting of the Russian military, Iranian Shia, Palestinian mercenaries and Nujaba militia from Iraq," He then explained how it was the latter group of foreign “mercenaries” and not the Syrian Arab Army as claimed, leading the re-conquest of eastern Aleppo city. This suggests, as opposition hacks often do, that Syria's Sunnis majority does not support the government, except via fighting under compulsion with the "Shia regime" in the SAA. (translated from EraMuslim, Indonesia, October 2016)

It should be noted president Assad is an Alawite, said to lead an “Alawite regime” he and most Syrians would just call Syrian. Oh, and secular. Further, while Alawism is an offshoot of Shi'ism, Alwaites have tried to avoid the Shi'ite label and forge their own identity. This common display by certain Sunnis of "seeing through that ruse" and calling it Shia suggests they're keyed into a troublingly widespread mindset – they see a global satanic conspiracy by the Shi'ite infidels - the enemy within Islam and increasingly seen as the only enemy that matters. If this is how the man speaks publicly when he's being careful, then in private he might buy into such hateful thinking full-tilt.

* May: Unable to contain the rebellious Sunni majority, Assad was planning an Alawite state apart from Syria. (Asharq al-Awsat - (Saudi-owned, I think) He was allegedly planning this from the start in 2011, initially as a desperate escape from a Syria in revolt. It would be the Alawite-majority coastal districts to break away, presumably. The plans kept seeming imminent, but even in 2019, never came close to materializing. How do these people get such faulty predictive powers? Aren't they supposed to be the most cutting-edge in their grasp of reality everyone else is out-of-touch with?

But in this different plot al-Zoubi relates … In more detail but via Peoples' Mojahedin of Iran, for an idea of who gobbles this kind of story: “al-Zoubi confirmed that based on a Russian plan, which is getting Russian-Iranian collaboration, mayhem will be sparked at the core of Syria in the upcoming few hours. The campaign will launch on the premise of annihilating all signs of revolution and will set the foundations to Syria shifting to federalism. ... The eventual aim of the plot is to provide Alawites a northern state. However, a part of the western side of Aleppo is expected to be handed down to the Kurds.” The Alawite state would be named "Handy Syria" (?) and basically run across the Turkish border (Afrin and Khamsi are given as bounds of the area). I didn't map this out, but I don't think it has any Alawite-majority areas, just Kurdish and Sunni Arab, with a lot of enclaves. So the Alawite part of "Handy Syria" would include previously Sunni areas. Was ethnic cleansing planned? The Russians wanted it on the Turkish border in order to cut off all the "Syrian people" in the heartland from any support from the friendly Turks. The Kurds and the Alawites could be trusted guarding the twin gates in this nefarious plot. And again, the plot was set to unfold starting in the next “few hours.” Was there some chaos unleashed? Did any moves that way happen? Here we are, some 66,000 hours later by my quick count ... Maybe they gave up on the plan after Zoubi outed them? Just didn't want to show him right?

So in contrast to earlier Alawite state alleged plots, the breakaway state would stay allied with a Syria still under Assad's rule (and the Kurdish one would be controlled by Russia). So ... why make it separate? Just because this kind of "federalism" is such a bad thing to him? The kind of thing terrorist Kurds and terrorist Alawites do? Or because it leads to implications of further acts of genocide that would be required? And that's more reason to be all stern and stuff when you go back to Geneva next time? If so … do they let these guys brew up their own methamphetamines too?

* April: Assad cooperated with ISIS is a staged re-capture of Palmyra, suggesting the Islamic State movement is not truly a Sunni Muslim force to support (as with all other Sunni extremists, including Al-Nusra). (Qantara.de) Al-Zoubi might feel, as many do, that ISIS is rather a part of the satanic Shi'ite conspiracy against them. He seriously might believe just that.

* September: “(Al-Zoubi) added that the Arab League abandoned Syria in favour of taking the UN Security Council’s lead and did not hand Syria’s seat at the league to the opposition, a move which he described as supporting the Syrian regime. He also claimed that the Arab League did not support Syrians in overthrowing the regime that killed them and sold away their homeland to Iranians and Russians, according to his statement.” (Middle East Monitor) Is the Arab League in on the conspiracy? He seems to be wondering that, threatening to wonder more if they don't play by his rules.

* March: "There is an international conspiracy and a cover-up of Russian massacres and a cover-up for (president) Bashar," said Zoubi, who is chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC)." International conspiracy, huh? Is it the Jews? No, probably not. The Shi'ites! They run everything! (Reuters, March 10, 2016)

* May: Hezbollah killed its own military commander Mustafa Badreddine during clashes in Syria. Why? Maybe just to make the Sunni "revolutionaries" look bad? So Zoubi understands false-flag logic, as long as it's by the Shi'ite conspiracy side. (Al-Jazeera, reaction tweet)

* March 30: "Syrian Kurds are pressuring the Syrian opposition to resign Asaad al-Zoubi, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation to Geneva talks, after he suggested Kurds were “bandits and “mercenaries throughout history”. " (ARA News). The HNC initially had Kurdish representatives included, but they resigned from the effort on March 29, likely after less-public requests to the same effect were rebuffed. (Wikipedia - HNC) Al-Zoubi stayed at HNC. The Kurds are generally Sunni Muslim, not Shi'ite, but a bit secular-minded. Perhaps for this reason – and for being part of the HNC's broad membership, Al-Zoubi had to cut them some guarded slack, but be extra-annoyed when even they seem to get in the way of the really Sunni Arab freedom fighter-types (plus Chechens, Uighurs, etc.) ...

* September: Zoubi complains The U.S. "preferred to work with Kurdish ‘terrorist’ groups such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Peshmerga forces and Yezidis, “while refusing to deal with the FSA that effectively fought against ISIS in Northern Aleppo, and recently in Jarabulus.” Furthermore, he says Kurdish (and perhaps Yezidi) forces are "terrorists," unlike "FSA," and their ilk, including Jabhat al-Nusra.  (ARA News, tweet)

Sunni Muslim women used as human shield by Kurdish terrorists … no, wait...
Jaish al-Islam for example is super-cool by him despite the horrific reality, including killing and mass kidnapping of civilians just because of their religion (see again my best overview here). It's not as clear if he lumps these popular groups into the broad conspiracy along with ISIS (whom the Kurds and Yezidis were fighting, sometimes desperately) and of course thence with the other terrorists like Hezbollah and the "Assad Shi'ite regime." But that sounds like his kind of thinking.

My Semi-Informed Observations

There's an ugly sectarian thinking that's grown in the last decades and drives Sunnis of the extremist, takfiri persuasion from across the globe to come and kill Shi'ites in Iraq, and now Alawites in Syria, besides in other battlefronts across the globe against various regional infidels. These supposed villains, as the impressionable hear it, are killing Sunni Muslim babies for sport, a global satanic conspiracy by the Shi'ite infidels - the enemy within Islam and increasingly seen as the only enemy that matters.

The public words of Al-Zoubi, just as seen in this short sampling, give reason to suspect he susbscribes to such views. He's far from unique in that regard, unfortunately. I don't know how especially he needs to be called out over it; he just happened to seem extra interesting to me in light of his later comments on the Douma chemical attack in 2018 (see part 3, and later part 4), and then seeing his scrap with the Kurds and Twitter (see part 3).

In Syria at least those riled up to fight the Satanic conspiracy get all sorts of outside assistance and enabling, and usually get paid to kill – by design, better than Syria can afford to pay its own soldiers. Of course, sources in the Persian Gulf tyrannies supplying most of the money. But to Saudi-sponsored Al-Zoubi, only those supporting the government side, and especially Shi'ite forces, - the ones legally invited to help, by the legal and popular government of Syria – are spitefully dismissed as “mercenaries.” Whereas on the opposition side, he'll call everyone but ISIS just “rebels” at worst, since even he can't pretend they're all “Syrian freedom fighters.” Naturally, he would ignore or tacitly approve of any crimes they committed in the pursuit of the divine mission.

So he paint a simplified picture of heroic Jihadists vs. regime villainy he calls it “Shi'ite” at almost every chance. And there's some broader global conspiracy involved, trying to obscure Assad's and Putin's crimes in Syria. This might help show how it's not just Shi'ites as people here but something broader and insidious working through them and others - like Satan, maybe, pulling a great many strings as he would, so one's God could seem more awesome compared to the challenge. I don't need to read the full version to know the plot includes Russia and Syria, of course, plus Iran, and North Korea. It's it's not clear who else - probably China? Yes, Satan is big on commies, and generally on Russians, besides Shi'ites. Non-state parties he'd include: Hezbollah, Shi'ite forces or forceful voices anywhere, various media outlets and reporters, other parties to be decided as he feels the need to exert leverage here or there. (e.g. September example above: suggesting maybe the Arab League has been swayed to the dark side too - not explicitly here, but if the friction grew over time, I bet he could talk himself into that corner.)

He seems alarmed at this pro-Assad conspiracy, maybe because it was so sneaky as to get a shitload of factual truth behind it, or to simply get reality itself bought off? No, he wouldn't want to put it like that. But yes, that has to aggravate the man. Anyway, he could calm his panic, if he wanted to, by noting how the Western world, the Gulf tyrannies, and half the rest of the world's media and leaders seem totally immune to their plot. They remain staunchly anti-Assad, and open to nearly any propaganda claim against him, no matter how absurd. Nonetheless, the faith might have been waning, skepticism growing. So, blame a conspiracy.

He keeps fairly mum about the Alawites, suggesting he has nothing but venom for them. The exception is his urgent warning of the plot for Alawite and Kurdish states “Handy Syria” set to begin within hours. A lot of Sunni Arabs might have to be forced out or killed to facilitate that plan. He might expect gleeful Alawite militias would help with the rape and rounding up of the people in the way of their new homes.

As noted above, the secular-leaning Kurds might be guardedly tolerated by Gen. Zoubi, as fellow Sunnis, until they get in the way, then he's instantly ugly about the treachery, and stays that way. He's cool sitting with Christian George Sabra, because George echoes the opposition line. He doesn't represent Syria's Christians, who tend to support Assad and thus to Al-Zoubi, any of them who takes up arms would classify as terrorists, like most or all Kurdish forces anywhere, and perhaps the Yezidi (sort of Christian) forces in Iraq.

Another suggestion of his comments: no Sunnis who rise up to fight the government class as terrorists – he might agree in form about Al-Nusra Front, but then take every chance to cover for them anyway. Only Islamic State / ISIS / ISIL / Daesh classes as terrorist for him, but he seems to think they're part of the Shi'ite conspiracy, so ... he seems to be delusional.

Al-Zoubi's flippant, or flipped-from-correct, use of the “terrorist” label comes a matching penchant for moralistic exaggeration, with phrases like “annihilating all signs of revolution.” The basic gist of his firm stance is deep certainty – no mere suspicion – that Assad is the only real problem in Syria, and his victory would “bring destruction to the whole country.” Heck, it might usher in an epic genocide of all the Sunnis, and threaten the whole world. To the great moral philosopher Asaad Al-Zoubi, the foreign-backed “rebels” from FSA to Jaish al-Islam and the “Syrian people” they represent are pure as snow. Again except for all the parts of it they managed to sweep under that ISIS (Persian!) rug.

So not only is he wrong and delusional, he insists on being extreme about it. But he was the right kind of wrong, and the right kind of certain – to some influential minds. So it shouldn't be surprising that this FSA general was selected by the Saudi royal family, along with a leader of a sectarian terrorist group they sponsored, to head up deciding the entire opposition's demands for the Geneva III stall-a-thon. That alone would suggest a rather bad apple, but it surely helps to have such a peek inside the parts of his brain he shows the world. That peek continues and goes deeper in part 3. Again, all this above was just from 2016, in his polished showing under the limelights at Geneva. Afterwards, it gets more scant but less sanitized.

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Mr. Pesticide" Part 1: Scuttling Peace

Gen. Asaad Al-Zoubi "Mr. Pesticide"
Part one of four: The Saudis' Man for Scuttling Peace
September 18, 2019
edits Sept. 20, 21

Note: this is a decent-size part of a huge bottlenecked and delayed project I'll do in four parts, with parts 2 and 3 expected to fall in place quicker, and part 4 a bit later. There was a lot of related details I didn't know and had to do lookups, ranging from quick to fairly deep, and wanted to relate most of it in one place. Or. I was thinking two, but the first one had to be split, and in three works best. All-told, I'll explain: the Saudis' Man for scuttling peace, peddling lies, and promoting genocide.

General Asaad Al-Zoubi ( أسعد الزعبي ), born 1956, has a long history in the Syrian military from the 1970s, reaching the rank brigadier-general before he defected to the opposition side during the current conflict. It was reportedly in mid-2012, but a bit unclear, when he fled Syria and joined the opposition SNC and FSA, where he was given the rank of general. As of 2019 he holds a leadership position with US-backed, Jordan-based Southern Front, a coalition with both Islamist and secular units, allied with - but not including - Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra ("sometimes"). The southern Front promises to not be defined by its Islamist tendencies, and is vocally and/or militarily opposed of ISIS (Islamic State, ISIL, Daesh), and sometimes opposed to al-Nusra. (Wikipedia) His lack of a beard might suggest he's no Saudi-style Islamist. But with the mustache and leather jacket, he looks to me more like a Turkish Islamist, which he seems to act like. (Photo source: Geneva, Switzerland, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

Al-Zoubi was born in Daraa province, where his clan is large and prominent (FWIW the family name translates "doubtful"). It's spawned a previous prime minister of Syria, and their current information minister, besides this SNC-FSA sellout. The Daraa Zoubis were targeted early on in the uprising. In one case, a reported 16 of that name, aged 17-75, were the largest sector among 52 men and boys killed in a late-April, 2011 "Saida massacre." One of them was the famous 12-year-old Hamza al-Khatib. The lodged story of that event has been thoroughly disproven, by the way. (See my 2016 report - and the eldest Al-Zoubi got to be the first entry in the “Caesar photos” file.) Asaad al-Zoubi may have bought into the claims of a massacre of his kin at Saida, but it took a while before he defected sometime the following year. It's not clear what he did for the next 3+ years prior to January, 2016, when he was chosen for an important job.

Defected Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab was selected in December 2015 to head the Supreme Negotiations Committee (aka High/Higher Negotiations Committee, hereafter HNC) being formed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Wikipedia) This was to be a broadest-yet umbrella of opposition groups, ranging from moderate Islamist to extremist, but excluding designated terrorist groups, including some ostensible secular voices, at least one prominent Christian, and even a Kurdish contingent was involved, briefly. The HNC was given the power to select the opposition delegates for the upcoming peace-oriented, talk-related process called Geneva III, or the 3rd Geneva conference on "the future of Syria." Hijab selected Gen. Al-Zoubi as the "head of delegation" for the HNC but had him working with two others:

* "chief negotiator" on the team: Mohammed Alloush, acting political leader of the extremist, sectarian terrorist group Jaish al-Islam, and a relative of genocide-minded JaI founder Zahran (or Mohammed Zahran?) Alloush. Zahran's father was a salafist cleric long-ago exiled to Saudi Arabia for criminal extremism. Riyadh sent strong support to his son's JaI in Douma, so by 2016 they were holding half the Damascus suburbs hostage and  able to hit the capitol on command, besides fielding franchises throughout Syria. So Mohammed Alloush was a natural choice to head up some tough "negotiations." His marketing-heavy education and fairly polished style (well-trimmed beard, etc.) were definite recommending features as well. (some prior work on JaI bringing Hell to E. Ghouta while sending Alloush to Geneva.)

* The “we're not Islamists” guy on the team: George Sabra, an anti-Assad CHRISTIAN! apologist for terrorism and total puppet (NCSROF until 2018 anyway). He's also a writer for the Arabic version of Sesame Street, so he gets how muppets and puppets have their words written for them. (Wikipedia)

Image: HNC tweet "Head of the negotiating team Asaad Al-Zoubi and chief negotiator Mohammed Alloush arrive in #Geneva for #SyriaTalks March 2016" Sabra was off-frame somewhere, perhaps making them grilled cheeses sandwiches.

Syria, Russia, Iran, and Egypt opposed the HNC's decision to have members of terrorist groups (by their formal, legal definitions) have a leading say in "the future of Syria." They referred to Alloush's Jaish Al-Islam and to Ahrar Al-Sham, who also had at least one member involved. (Al-Masdar News) But that formula was forced through, causing visible problems from the start.

Before January was out, U.N. special envoy Staffan De Mistura complained the HNC was trying to make itself "THE opposition delegation" - a position supported by the U.S. Obama administration. As the same Al-Masdar article put it: "According to UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, Saudi Arabia is attempting to complicate his efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the war in Syria." In context, they were using the HNC as a tool to that end, and Gen. al-Zoubi was picked as one of its trusted operators. As De Mistura said, the core issue involved the HNC's "seriousness about the process," which was needed to "give a meaning to a peace conference.” This is the bouncing ball to follow in the following paragraphs.

It seems there was a lot of pre-dialog before any meetings in Geneva began in March. At the start of February, Reuters reported, “Bashar al-Jaafari, head of the government delegation, said on Sunday Damascus was considering options such as ceasefires, humanitarian corridors and prisoner releases ... as a result of the talks, not as a condition to begin them." But "the opposition High Negotiations Committee indicated it would leave Geneva unless peace moves were implemented (first)." Likelihood of progress: minimal. Still, an early ceasefire was agreed to by the U.S. and Russia in late February. It was the first one ever agreed on such a scale, per a Wikipedia article on them that fails to even mention the HNC. This ceasefire held with “hiccups” and fragility, through July, by most accounts, with both sides blaming each other for the all the failures.

With first meetings in Geneva planned for March 12, a March 10 Reuters report has Al-Zoubi threatening to pull the HNC out at the last moment because of “massacres” and a "conspiracy." "The head of the Syrian opposition's negotiating team said on Thursday it was not optimistic about peace talks getting under way in Geneva, and has still not confirmed if it will attend the U.N.-backed negotiations." Al-Zoubi is cited as telling Al Arabiya and/or al Hadath TV (both Saudi-run) "There is no optimism ... there is an international conspiracy and a cover-up of Russian massacres and a cover-up for (president) Bashar."

On March 12, however, they did arrive in Geneva, ready to blame the other side from a closer distance. (HNC tweet)

Add Sept. 21: A Reuters report of 6 April said "the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front … last week attacked and captured" the town of Telat al-Eis south of Aleppo, killing 11 Hezbollah fighters and 43 Syrian soldiers in the process, then "shot down a Syrian warplane on Tuesday (the 5th) and captured its pilot." This triggered, on the 6th, "intense air strikes in the southern Aleppo area," described as "the fiercest government assault in the area since an agreement to ease the fighting came into effect in February." The HNC's al-Zoubi was quoted on this story: he "told Reuters the truce was “in danger of ending” due to government violations." He referred to the February deal he apparently had nothing to do with, and seems to mean these new strikes against the designated terrorists of al-Nusra Front, who were never party to the ceasefire (although some covered "moderate" forces were working with Nusra and coming under attack). More on this issue in part 3.

By April 13, the HNC had lost its Kurdish portion (see part 2), and talks at Geneva had reached a likely related “deadlock,” and taken a recess (time frame unclear). Thing were just resuming when al-Zoubi declared, as a DW.com article puts it: "President Bashar al-Assad is the problem and Syria can only start to heal once he's gone." Or as an AP report translated his day's comments, Al-Zoubi said president Assad is a "disease" and Russia is "not serious" about the obvious cure of removal from power, the only hope for Syria's future. (Associated Press)

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said a transitional government as proposed amounts to a coup d'etat and "will never be accepted". He noted how most of the world except Saudi Arabia and Turkey have given up on pushing for Assad's removal. Mekdad explained "if we have to proceed" with talks, "then we need to forget or we need others to forget the dreams they had for the last five years." (Belfast Telegraph) But Zoubi knew it was destiny, not a dream. Parliamentary elections in Syria began at the same time, but he said, also on the 13th, “These elections do not mean anything.” Because they don't require Assad to step down, they were "theater for the sake of procrastination" – that is, putting off the inevitable. (Reuters) Basis for expecting progress: slim.

Two days later, Zoubi used fresh alleged attacks on Aleppo to declare “the regime ... sends a strong message that it doesn’t want a political solution, but a military solution that will bring destruction to the whole country.” He added that same-day administrative moves showed Damascus was “not serious about the political solution” and “divorced from reality.” (Reuters 15 April). Back in reality, 17 April, "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for just four months longer, until a transitional government takes control of the war-torn country" according to HNC's Mohammed Alloush. The form of it wasn't agreed yet; "another HNC source" (al-Zoubi?) outlined a proposal for a new government they recently heard, but rejected: "Effectively, Assad would stay in a ceremonial position. But we categorically rejected the proposal," the source added. (The New Arab - 17 April) They're way too 'in touch with reality' to settle for that. A "disease" has to be wiped out, not compromised with or left as a figurehead. They preferred the deal they had (?) where Assad would be out of power in four months time.

Also on 17 April, al-Zoubi paused his confident peace-talking and transition plans to send out word to the fighters: “We will not stay for long negotiating.. .In the event a missile targets them (rebels), they have to retaliate with ten missiles,” … rebels “must gain control of as many areas as possible, they must take advantage of the ceasefire as the regime has done”. (Reuters)

It must be noted, and here seems good: it's not always clear even now what exactly the “criminal Assad regime” has really done as opposed to just been accused of. We can suppose the Syrian military were killing and weakening the militants, and perhaps this alone was cause to demand a halt to attacks. But it's the alleged criminal targeting of homes and hospitals, etc. that's put forth as the reason. These allegations are never proven, usually dubious, and often disproven (a good example in a moment...) On the basis of  crimes that might be entirely fictional, the “transitional government” could only exclude the current government ("Assad or any ruling group"). (Sputnik News)

So the terrorist-linked panel insisted on the regime's agreeing to suicide, basically, while green-lighting militant attacks on government-held areas and civilians. Then on April 21 when the government still insisted on fighting instead, and was still getting blamed for atrocities, the HNC really promised to walk out, calling talk pointless until the military situation changed - but NOT in the government's favor. (Reuters)

Six days later (27 April) came an allegation they didn't comment on (that I saw) but a great example of the kind: Al-Quds Hospital in Aleppo, allegedly bombed by Assad forces, killing 55 civilians. But the hospital was clearly not “reduced to rubble” as reported by MSF, and almost certainly not hit from the air at all (no damage to the roof or any external wall). Some internal explosions are seen, but these are provable from 4+ distinct bombs placed in different spots and triggered simultaneously to mimic an airstrike – an inside job. It did injure and kill some people, mainly in the emergency room (number there unclear, but 55 dead seems strangely extreme). And the most famous death of the “last pediatrician in Aleppo” Dr. Maaz likely didn't happen. Some clues suggest he coordinated the inside job, and a shady video edit might cover him leaving the ER prior to the blast there he might know just how to avoid. THIS is the kind of fake crimes people like Al-Zoubi eagerly pass on as true, never wanting to ask questions, perhaps knowing how fragile the illusions really are.

But it took that, everything before, and another month's worth of allegations before finally, on 29 May, the HNC started delivering on its promises. Chief negotiator Mohammed Allosuh resigned that post over the lack of progress in removing Assad or halting the allegations against him. About four months he pouted and threatened to run away from Geneva and the HNC before he finally did. Meanwhile, as DW reported, “the head of the main Syrian opposition delegation Asaad al-Zoubi also told the Saudi al Hadath TV channel that he too wanted to be relieved of his post, but did not confirm he had taken a similar step."(DW) Al-Zoubi was still called the leader of the HNC in articles as late as October 8, 2016. (Reuters) But the HNC delegation was led by a Naser al-Hariri when it participated in the new Geneva peace talks that commenced in February, 2017. (Wikipedia – HNC)

I didn't dig much past that, but it apparently didn't go well at Geneva IV in 2017 either. In February, the HNC rejected moves by the UN's Staffan de Mistura to re-exert control over delegate selection for the talks, and insisted the Kurdish PYD could not sit under its umbrella. (as they had non-Islamist George Sabra explain: "should the (PYD) want to take part, it has to do so on the regime side.”) (Rudaw) By mid-November, the HNC still existed when its founder, Riad Hijab, was among a dozen opposition figures who "resigned, apparently in protest of others being too willing to accept the continued rule of a man (Assad) they view as a discredited tyrant." (Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa, Associated Press, 22 Nov.)

Who were these other people worth resigning over? They sound more correct. It could better be said the tyrants in Turkey and Saudi Arabia were discredited by Syria's continued defiance. In fact the tyrants were starting to acknowledge it themselves, even as some more zealous agents held out; the same AP article explains “Aides told local papers that Hijab, in his resignation Monday, was protesting Saudi Arabia giving up on calls for Assad to step down. Media reports suggested Saudi Arabia didn't invite HNC to the 2017 Riyadh meeting." A lack of invitation sounds like a lack of favor. In fact, Hijab's Wikipedia entry states “in 2017 he resigned as head of the (HNC) group following Saudi pressure.” (Wikipedia – Hijab)

It seems the HNC was dissolved after this, dropping off the radar. Nothing past 2017 is mentioned in the relevant Wikipedia entry. Even the visionary Saudis were "out of touch with reality" so the HNC's people retreated to their shrinking kingdom of truth. It might take longer than those four months, but the diehards seemed to maintain faith in the inevitable forced end of Assad's rule, even if the whole world procrastinated over it.

The approach taken by the High Negotiations Committee was never likely to advance a peaceful settlement. But they took that approach anyway, maybe because they planned to fail and blame the other side. It could be said - as Staffan De Mistura suspected early on - that they were never serious about the peace process. Instead, it seems they were engaged in an unstated and criminal process to pursue the Saudis' preferred military non-solution.

Since outright regime change was becoming unlikelier by 2016, it seems they adopted a policy of regime-bleed; delay the inevitable resolution so Syria can remain embattled, demonized, sanctioned and suffering until its will was broken, or as weakened and wounded as possible. The end goal isn't clear to me - perhaps as simple as having one less or one weaker ally for Iran in some big war against them planned down the road. Most likely it's a cluster of reasons mostly related to that regional struggle, including competing oil pipeline schemes and the like. But there can hardly be a morally straight reason for this kind of deceitful and murderous policy.

On to part 2