Tag Archives: Middle East

Mark Collins – Sublime Erdogan the Magnficent Pushing his Syria/Iraq Turkish Delight

The ever more maximum president is certainly making things difficult for POTUS and many others:

Erdogan reasserts Turkey’s role in wars in Syria and Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday [Oct. 27] that he had informed President Obama of Turkey’s intent to participate in an offensive in northern Syria. His remarks are a reminder of the strategic conundrum facing the United States, which is working to defeat the extremist Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with both cooperation from Turkey as well as from Syrian Kurdish militias being targeted by the Turks.

In a televised speech from the Turkish capital, Ankara, Erdogan said he told Obama that Syrian rebels backed by Turkey in an ongoing operation called “Euphrates Shield” would advance on the Syrian border town of al-Bab, which is held by the Islamic State. They would then march on to Manbij, a northern Syrian city that earlier this year was liberated from the Islamic State by a coalition of Syrian militias led by a Kurdish faction known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Turkish government considers the YPG an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist faction that has waged a decades-long insurgency within Turkey and is deemed a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

Then, Erdogan said, “we will go toward Raqqa” — the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria.


…[In Iraq] too , Turkey hopes for “a place at the table.” As WorldViews noted earlier, Erdogan has demanded a role for Turkish troops in the Mosul campaign that nobody — neither the Americans, nor the Iraqis — has planned for and has invoked grievances from World War I and sectarian rhetoric while doing so.

“We did not voluntarily accept the borders of our country,” Erdogan said, referring to the defeated Ottoman parliament’s disregarded 1920 territorial claim to Mosul and its oil-rich environs…

Oh dear. More here on President Erdogan.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – The World Needs More Canada, Suez Section Part 2

Further to this post,

The World Needs More Canada, Suez Section

Not in this article by Andrew Bacevich in the London Review of Books on Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War–no mention of the then Dominion…

there is a new book on the 1956 crisis, in the defusing of which Canadians take inordinate pride based on our country’s supposedly crucial role and on external affairs minister’s Nobel-prize winning part in helping establish a UN peacekeeping force:

Oddly enough the rest of the world remains almost blissfully oblivious to that great moment in our history; there no note of Canada or Mike Pearson in this British review of the new book nor in this American one (second section at the link). We really should have a bit more humility, i.e. a realistic appreciation of our importance.


Canadian Suez Policy was not About the Middle East
[a personal note at the end]

Canadian Suez Policy Was Not About the Middle East–Nor International Law

I do like Ike. Peacekeeping haunts us still.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Syria: POTUS be Prudent vs Assad and Bad Vlad

While I have often been sceptical about President Obama’s handling of international matters, and awful as things are in Syria and as great the moral outrage, I not think this is the time to develop a steely backbone; where it would all end knows only–perhaps–President Putin:

Why the United States Should Exercise Restraint Before Launching A New War in Syria
The Russians might not be willing to back down in a confrontation with American forces.
Dave Majumdar

Tensions between Russia and the United States are coming to a head over the civil war in Syria. Washington has suspended bilateral talks with Russia to end the five-year old war. Moscow has suspended an agreement to destroy 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that was reached during the year 2000, using especially harsh rhetoric. Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces—with the backing of Russian airpower—are continuing to mount a fierce attack on the partially rebel-held city of Aleppo with Washington seemingly powerless to influence events on the ground.

As a result of the recent collapse of a ceasefire negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the subsequent Syrian regime offensive, there are many in Washington clamoring for firmer U.S. action—a so-called Plan B. However, President Obama and his National Security Council staff are faced with limited options.

Among the four options that may be under consideration are a no-fly-zone, safe zones, attacking the Syrian air force and arming the Syrian rebels with additional weaponry. But each option carries with it significant risk of escalation or blowback.

While the United States has the capability to defeat Russian and Syrian regime air forces and air defenses, which is necessary to establish a no-fly zone or safe-zone, or to destroy the regime’s airpower, there are several risks from a legal and military standpoint. The legal problem comes from the fact that the United States is not technically at war with the Syria, nor is there a UN resolution authorizing American forces to operate inside that nation.

Even ongoing U.S. military operations inside Syria are acts of war—and are technically illegal. The Obama Administration is aware of this technically as Secretary Kerry noted during conversations with Syrian rebel activists. “The problem is the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do,” Kerry told the rebels in a recording published by the New York Times. “We don’t have a basis—our lawyers tell us—unless we have a U.N. Security Council resolution—which the Russians can veto or the Chinese—or unless we are under attack from folks there or unless we are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime.”

A no-fly zone or safe zone would require U.S. combat aircraft to intercept and possibly shoot down Russian and Syrian warplanes entering into the area designated by Washington and its allies. U.S. policymakers would have to make the gamble that Moscow—which is likely eager to avoid war with the United States—would back down and acquiesce to the American imposed no-fly zone. However, Washington is equally averse to fighting a war with the Russia, which, despite possessing only a fraction of the military might of its Soviet forbearer, remains the only power on Earth that can reduce the United States to charred radioactive cinders.

It is highly unlikely that any U.S. President would be willing to risk war against a nuclear-armed power with only four months left in office in a conflict with few—if any—vital American interests at stake. The Russians know that and might not be willing to back down in the event of an air-to-air confrontation with American forces because too much national prestige—and even Mr. Putin’s personal prestige—would be on the line. Thus, such an encounter could escalate in unpredictable ways. One only needs to look to history to demonstrate the unforeseen consequences stemming from relatively localized events—no one could have predicted that the  assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have precipitated the events leading to the First World War in 1914 [read on]…

Awful though it may be one puts it bluntly: what vital US national interests–not to mention the interests and safety of many, many others–are worth the risks? Pride and credibility are not enough.

More here on 1914

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Islam, Jihads, Caliphates and End Times

Excerpts from a review article at the Times Literary Supplement:

Wars of Religion
THOMAS SMALL [more here]

This piece forms part of a TLS Special Feature, our primer on the complex politics and religions of the Middle East

A hadith (or saying of the Prophet Muhammad) considered sound by all major authorities and widely circulated among Sunni Islamists states that the history of the umma will go through five phases: first, the Prophet himself will rule over it and teach it the right way to live; then will come the time of caliphate, when caliphs will rule according to the Prophet’s teachings; then the time of benign kingship obtained by force, followed by the time of oppressive kingship; finally, the time of caliphate will rise again, where a caliph will rule once more in accordance with the Prophet’s teachings, and usher in the end of the world.

From this eschatological perspective, Ataturk’s abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1923 marked the end of the third of those five phases, the phase of benign kingship. Since then, the Islamic world has been suffering the injustice of oppressive kingship, whether at the hands of brutal dictators or morally bankrupt monarchs. And though jihadist groups differ over the best way to achieve it, they are united by an ultimate aim, which they share, broadly speaking, with all forms of Islamism: the restoration of the Caliphate as a necessary step along the way to the Last Judgement.

In June 2014 a particularly savage Al Qaeda splinter group achieved this aim – though not before falling out with its parent organization. Having conquered territory on either side of the Iraqi–Syrian border, the Islamic State announced that its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would henceforth be known as Caliph Ibrahim. From his base along the Euphrates in the Syrian city of Raqqa – where the most famous Abbasid caliph of them all, Harun al-Rashid, also based his court, moving it there from fractious Baghdad in AD 796 – the caliph and his followers now prepare for the End Times, which they believe are imminent, by purifying the world of idolaters and apostates.

The rise of the Islamic State is simply the latest twist in the unfolding tale of the various jihads that have plagued the Muslim world for two decades now, claiming well over a million lives, mostly Muslim. People are understandably struggling to know what to think about all this…

Ignoring or playing down the way Islam in particular sacralizes warfare is to obscure much. Islam was originally a political theology that went something like this: Out of all the peoples and tribes of the world, God chose a tribe of Arabia called Quraysh to carry out his final plan for humanity. From among their number he selected a prophet, revealed his will to him “in clear Arabic”, and instructed him to establish the quintessential divinely ordained polity at Medina. But the death of this prophet was still just the beginning of the story. The Quraysh remained God’s chosen instrument, despite the non-Qurashis swelling their ranks. And though the umma disagreed about how they could determine God’s will in the matter of who exactly was to be caliph — whether by tribal deliberation, patrilineal heredity, trial by combat, or a combination of the three — it was a matter of faith (except for some outlying schismatics) that God intended him to be a Qurashi, and that under his charismatic leadership the Qurashis would extend God’s sovereignty across the earth until every worldly power was placed under his dominion…

Very relevant, based on a major 2015 piece at The Atlantic:

“What ISIS Really Wants”: The End, My Friend

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Who's Doing What in Anti-ISIS Coalition?

Compare our effort with others’, listing starts at p. 10 PDF at link below–at Foreign Policy’sSituation Report“:

Crib sheet. Here’s a very handy little report from the Congressional Research Service listing what countries are taking part in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Iraq, what their contributions are, and where their troops [and air personnel] are based…

Even without CF-18s engaged in bombing (the current government clearly does like the routine application of deadly force), our contribution does not appear inappropriate to me. Especially given the CAF’s operation in Ukraine and the ones upcoming in with NATO in  Latvia and with the UN in  Africa (somewhere).

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – A Canadian, ISIS, Bangladesh and Terror…and Earlier Calgary

Further to 2) at this post before the Dhaka massacre,

Islamist Butchery in Bangladesh–With a Canadian ISIS Connection

more background on the local ISIS leader, a Canadian, just killed in Bangladesh:

Canadian shot by Bangladesh police linked to Calgary terrorists

A Canadian man killed by Bangladesh police on Saturday for his suspected role in plotting a deadly terrorist attack at a Dhaka café was linked to a cluster of radicals from Calgary who are collectively responsible for more than 70 deaths overseas [see links at the end of this post].

Bangladeshi officials believe Tamim Chowdhury, 30, was the architect behind last month’s attack that killed 24 in the name of the Islamic State movement. Gunmen stormed a popular bakery, taking hostages, separating out those who identified as Muslim from the rest and executing a number of patrons for being foreign non-Muslims.

A University of Toronto student, Tahmid Hasib Khan, was at the bakery during the terror attack and is still being detained by Bangladeshi authorities. He has not yet been charged and the Canadian government is in contact with its Bangladeshi counterpart, but says it is limited in what it can do for non-citizens. His family has maintained his innocence.

While it is known that Mr. Chowdhury, a Canadian-Bangladeshi citizen, returned to Bangladesh three years ago, little has been made public about his connection to other radicalized individuals inside of Canada.

Related: Detained University of Toronto student formally arrested in Dhaka

The Globe and Mail has learned he spent time with what’s known as the “Calgary cluster,” which has been responsible for at least two large terror attacks. An imam who confirmed the connection and has been working actively to combat radicalization in Calgary says the federal government must focus resources on supporting community leaders and grassroots initiatives as it prepares to launch a new deradicalization initiative.

“Always have a counternarrative,” said Imam Navaid Aziz [more here], discussing the steps that can be taken to blunt the formative period of an extremist. “[Having] people that are willing to engage and debate with them is very, very important.”

Almost a decade ago, Mr. Chowdhury lived in Windsor, Ont., where he attended high school and university, visiting Bangladesh only a handful of times in his youth…

In 2012, Mr. Aziz moved west, taking a job at the Islamic Information Society of Calgary [website here]. After leading his first Friday sermon, he was surprised to see Mr. Chowdhury, who had also moved to Alberta to work for an oil or engineering firm. Mr Chowdhury, who pretended not to know the imam, was beside Damian Clairmont, a convert to Islam who would later gain notoriety as a Canadian terrorist killed overseas, said Mr. Aziz.

Both Mr. Chowdhury and Mr. Clairmont were part of a study group at the 8th and 8th Musalla, a prayer room in downtown Calgary frequented by at least six Canadians who have fought for extremist groups. Another member, Salman Ashrafi, would go on to become a suicide bomber, killing 46 in Iraq. In a televised interview from Syria in 2014, Farah Mohamed Shirdon described himself as an Islamic State fighter and warned U.S. President Barack Obama that his group would plant the black flag of the group on the grounds of the White House. He then threw his Canadian passport into a fire. Other alleged members of the Calgary cluster include two brothers, Collin and Gregory Gordon, both killed in 2014 while fighting for the Islamic State…

Mr. Aziz’s recollections about Mr. Chowdhury being in Calgary align with the views of Amarnath Amarasingam, a professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in radicalization and terrorism [more here–I have seen the Prof. speak and he knows his stuff]. He believes Mr Chowdhury may have also written a series of 2014 blog posts using the name Abu Dujana al-Muhajir. The blog eulogizes Mr. Clairmont and Mr. Ashrafi after they were killed fighting in the Middle East…

That Calgary connection:

Calgary Jihadi Stampede

Syria/Iraq: Calgary Jihadi Stampede, Part 2...

One does wonder how much intelligence Canadian security agencies have on Mr Chowdhury.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – "2016 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada"

Here’s the “Executive Summary” from this year’s report:

Threat Environment

The principal terrorist threat to Canada remains that posed by violent extremists who could be inspired to carry out an attack in Canada. Violent extremist ideologies espoused by terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaida continue to appeal to certain individuals in Canada.

As in recent years, the Government of Canada has continued to monitor and respond to the threat of extremist travellers, that is, individuals who are suspected of travelling abroad to engage in terrorism-related activity. The phenomenon of extremist travellers—including those abroad, those who return, and even those prevented from travelling—poses a range of security concerns for Canada. As of the end of 2015, the Government was aware of approximately 180 individuals with a nexus to Canada who were abroad and who were suspected of engaging in terrorism-related activities. The Government was also aware of a further 60 extremist travelers who had returned to Canada.

The National Terrorism Threat Level

This Report, for the first time, includes a description of Canada’s National Terrorism Threat Level system. The threat level has been unchanged since October 2014; it is MEDIUM, meaning a violent act of terrorism could occur in Canada. The threat level aims to ensure a consistent understanding across the Government of the general terrorism threat to Canada. The threat level serves as a tool for government officials, including those in law enforcement, to identify risks and vulnerabilities from threats and, in turn, determine appropriate responses to prevent or mitigate a violent act of terrorism.

The Global Environment

The threat environment has also evolved beyond Canada’s borders. Daesh has continued to dominate the landscape in the Middle East, where other terrorist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Hizballah also operate. Elsewhere in the Middle East, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of the civil conflict in Yemen to capture territory there and strengthen itself. This past year also saw Daesh’s expansion in Africa, and Boko Haram (now rebranded as an Daesh affiliate in West Africa) continues to pose a major threat to regional stability. In South and Southeast Asia, Daesh expansionism and entrenched regional groups shaped the threat environment.

Emerging Issues

This Report includes a feature on emerging issues in terrorism. These issues—the role of technology in terrorism, the participation of women in terrorist activities, and use of chemical weapons by terrorist organizations—have been widely discussed in the media over the past year. They represent only a fraction of many evolving issues that make terrorism such a complex problem.

Responding to the Threat

Since 2002, 20 individuals have been convicted of terrorism offences under the Criminal Code. Another 21 have been charged with terrorism-related offences (including 16 since January 2015) and are either awaiting trial or have warrants outstanding for their arrest.

Canada is contributing in a robust way, with more than 60 other countries, to the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh. This includes military initiatives and efforts to stem the flow of “foreign terrorist fighters,” cut off Daesh’s funding sources, support stabilization, and expose and counter Daesh’s ideology. More broadly, Canada has maintained a Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program as a key part of its terrorism prevention efforts.

The Government of Canada’s counter-terrorism efforts to address this evolving threat continue to be guided by the twin obligations to both keep Canadians safe and safeguard fundamental Canadian values and liberties…

Note this in the “Ministerial Forward“:

It is a serious and unfortunate reality that terrorist groups, most notably the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), use violent extremist propaganda to encourage individuals to support their cause. This group is neither Islamic nor a state, and so will be referred to as Daesh (its Arabic acronym) in this Report…

So the Canadian government is in a position to decide what is “Islamic” and what is not? Plus a good question in a tweet:

One wonders.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds