Turkey, Gulf States Fund Syrian Opposition Paychecks: Report

 

 

 

After months of fighting without pay, Syrian "rebels" – foreign-backed terrorists-  in Aleppo are receiving their first salaries, paid with money commanders say is at least in part provided by foreign states.
 
In Aleppo's old city area, fighters gave their names to defected Syrian military officer Colonel Abdul Salam Humaidi, who searched through lists provided by ''rebel'' commanders before paying the men in crisp $100 bills.
 
The ''rebels'' made thumbprints in ink next to their names to indicate they had been paid.
 
As the fighters gathered, the crack of rifle fire could be heard from elsewhere in the old city, just one of many areas in Syria's one-time commercial capital that have become battlegrounds between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and ''rebels'' fighting to overthrow his regime.
 
"The revolutionary military councils... are undertaking to distribute monthly salaries to the fighters, especially on the front lines," Humaidi told AFP.
 
All fighters are now paid $150 per month, but this may change in the future, with different salaries given to those who are married and those who are on the front lines, he said.
 
Humaidi declined to say where the payroll cash was from, but ''rebel'' commanders in Aleppo told AFP it came from foreign assistance and from other supporters, though they differed on the specific countries involved.
 
"The Military Council (is) distributing the salaries, with Qatari support... of $150 per person registered for two months," said Haji al-Bab, a commander in the Tawhid Brigade, adding that fighters who are not registered are not being paid.
 
Ahmed Arur, a commander in the Saqur al-Sham Brigade, said that "international assistance (and) Syrian opposition traders are paying the salaries for the ''Free Army''." And Sheikh Mahmud Mujadami, a commander from the Halab al-Shahbaa Brigade, said sources of the money include "Turkey, from the Gulf states, from... Islamic states," and the Association of Muslim Scholars.
 
For the fighters battling the Assad regime's heavy weapons with light arms for which they sometimes even lack ammunition, the money has been a long time coming.

"We obtained salaries in the amount of $150, and we will use it for pocket money and for the family, for the house," said Mohammed al-Nasser, who has fought for six months without being paid.
 
He is married and has a son, but his family was able to get by with aid they received in Turkey. Now, they are back in Syria.
 
Ahmed al-Shawaf said he was a fighter for five months without a salary, and that while this did not personally cause his family hardship, there are "many difficulties" for a person who is "the only one working, and he stops his work because of the ''revolution''." He said that individual battalion commanders can decide to give fighters assistance.
 
Hussein Ristum defected from the police about three months ago, losing his salary.
 
"I was depending on the salary for my family, (but) thanks be to God, here in the Tawhid Brigade we do not need anything, food, we receive everything," he said.
 
Rebel forces helped his family during the time he served without pay. He said there were "difficulties, but thanks be to God, the Free Army and the guys provided housing."

Hurriyetdailynews/ October/23/2012

 

 

 

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate EU Making A Mockery Of Free Speech

 Only three days after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its alleged role in promoting peace and reconciliation across the European continent, the European Union made the most undemocratic and non-peaceful decision one might think of by ordering the French-based satellite provider Eutelsat SA to take 19 Iranian TV channels, including the 24-hour English-language Press TV off air, denying millions of viewers across the world the opportunity to benefit from the alternative, critical standpoint of a group of media which had for long endeavored to challenge the Western mainstream media's uncontested influence over the global public opinion.

The disputed move can be seen as the latest effort intended for pressuring and isolating Iran over its political independence and its steadfast resistance against the warmongerings and hawkish policies of the West is but a flagrant violation of the principles of free speech. This decision is made while the Europeans and American have constantly, since the World War II, been boasting of being the commander-in-chief and foremost pioneers of freedom speech and democracy. Albeit their claims are justifiable in the context that freedom of speech is allowed as long as it is used a pretext to lambaste and interfere in the internal affairs of unfriendly "others" such as Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria, which these Westerners very much like to capitalize on as the favorite villains to hit and attack.

It's said that this controversial decision is in line with the unilateral sanctions imposed upon Iran by the European Union; however, the question which can be raised is that, can the belligerent states of the EU go as far as banning the television stations of a sovereign country which have been operating in compliance with the technical rules and regulations of the satellite providers? Are the satellite providers legally entitled to investigate the content of the programs of the TV stations which they give coverage to?

Mike Harris, the managing director of the Arizona-based AMT Capital Partners, a private equity investment banking firm believes that it was Israel, the uneasy and perturbed entity in the Middle East, which triggered and encouraged the ban on Iranian TV stations.

"Let's look at who Eutelsat really is.... and let's look at them for a moment because their CEO is a French-Israeli duel national citizen. If you look at the executive committee, they are all French-Israeli duel national citizens," said Harris in an interview with Press TV.

Of course Israel will substantially gain from the removal of Iranian television stations from the Hot Bird frequencies. Press TV, Al-Alam and other Iranian channels on the Eutelsat's blacklist were giving a robust, specialized and regular coverage to the atrocities committed by the United States, UK and their Middle East stooge and client state, Israel, and it was seemingly going beyond the pale. No other major media outlet in the world, with the influence, dexterity and proficiency of Press TV maintained such an anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism policy, and this could not be tolerated anymore, especially in the wake of the deep socioeconomic crisis and depression which the Western world is experiencing.

"Eutelsat is an intelligence operation as are most communications billing companies, mobile phone providers and the infamous 'choke points' that make sure all communication, all progress, all privacy is subject to what is allowed. Most of such 'chokepoints,' companies like 'Google' for one, are Israeli owned. Call it a coincidence," wrote Gordon Duff in a recent article.

Since it was launched in July 2007, Press TV was under huge pressure by the Western states, especially the UK government, which finally realized its nightmarish dream of silencing Press TV by taking it off the Sky platform in January 2012 and imposing a fine of 100,000 pounds on the channel for what it called the violation of its broadcasting regulations.

"Ofcom is said to have close ties to Britain's royal family. And the cables released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks show that Press TV's programs on the royal wedding, which many in the country described as extravagant, angered the royal family," reported Press TV on January 20, 2012.

Now, with the intensification of EU's anti-Iranian hostility which has been manifested this time in the punishment and penalization of a TV station whose only sin is being different from the corporate, Zionist-run media in policies and trajectory, it's being proved more than before that the European Union did not reserve such a high-profile and prestigious award as the Nobel Peace Prize and that the decision made by the Swedish Nobel Committee was absolutely political, aimed at salvaging the crisis-stricken Europe from the socioeconomic predicament it's drowning into. If the EU has contributed to global peace and fraternity, why can't it tolerate the free and unrestricted operation of a progressive and independent media outlet?

EU Commission's decision in taking Press TV and 18 other Iranian television stations off air is absolutely a violation of the freedom of speech, but let's be frank: who will hold the culprits in this criminal action responsible? Perhaps none of the European leaders will react to this hostile and unjustifiable decision, because they are the first ones who will cheer and relish at the "imprisonment" of Iranian media which have always been a thorn on their side. It's time for the international organizations, peace activists, human rights advocates and journalists around the world to voice their protest at this blatant and unashamed assault on free speech and put an end to the unending and inexplicable duplicity and hypocrisy of the West. '

By Kourosh Ziabari

18 October, 2012

@ Countercurrents.org

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian Journalist

 

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim

 

 

‘Bloodshed, torture, medieval darkness brought to Libya with Western involvement’

 

 

 

A year on since the death of Colonel Gaddafi, RT speaks with political analyst Ibrahim Alloush who thinks that it is the involvement of NATO and its allies that handed the country over to ‘a group of fanatic criminals.’

­It's as the former regime strognhold of Bani Walid is bombarded by the army in attempts to restore order in the volatile city.

RT:The tensions around Bani Walid just underline the challenges for transforming Libya into a peaceful country but despite this, was the western backed Arab Spring a success, is the country better of without Gaddafi?

Ibrahim Alloush: Well I think the picture speaks for itself. For the last three weeks Bani Walid has been lying under siege and recently it was bombarded, many civilians were killed and wounded, the city was not allowed to receive medical supplies, food or fuel for that matter. Let me remind you that several hundred people from Bani Walid have been abducted after the new regime came into power. This picture is not only restricted to Bani Walid in-fact there are several places in Libya where the so called revolutionaries, the NATO mercenaries that invaded Libya with support of NATO airplanes have kidnapped and are still keeping in jail without trial or any form of supervision, tens of thousands of supporters of Colonel Gaddafi.  Also amnesty International recently demanded that the siege of Bani Walid be lifted. This siege represents a form of collective punishment that is not very different from the way the Libyan people were treated by NATO airplanes or by the so-called revolutionaries.

RT:As you pointed out, Bani Walid is indicative of how unstable the country is, and following the death of the US ambassador last month, NATO has offered its help to improve security in the country. Do you think that Western countries should now be more involved in bringing stability to this very troubled country now?

IA: I think that the involvement of Western countries was the source of trouble for Libya as a whole. We have seen that the state has become dismantled, as happened in Iraq and Somalia, wherever NATO, or US troops have walked in. There was a total implosion of the central state, and this is why you have cases like Bani Walid. If you look at it from the point of view of the rule of law, in fact, there is no rule of law in Libya, and this is the best environment for the control of states that used to be considered rogue states, as they refuse to abide by the dictates of the imperialist countries.

RT:Rogue, failed states are a target for extremists, for the likes of Al-Qaeda. Just how dangerous now is the situation in Libya, where the authorities basically lose control to extremists?

IA: I think the question is who brought Al-Qaeda to Libya, and now to Syria. It’s the same Western involvement, with the support of petrodollars from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That is handing the country over to a group of fanatic criminals, who are bent on bloodshed, torture, slitting throats, bringing the country back to medieval darkness. We have seen very clearly what these people are aiming to do. They want to punish Bani Walid for its stance against the invasion of Libya by NATO. This is a form of collective punishment against the whole population for standing up for their independence and the sovereignty of their country.

RT:Today Turkey has called on the US, Britain, and its allies to intervene in Syria to prevent the looming humanitarian disaster there. Would the situation in Syria be different from that in Libya, if there was foreign military action?

IA: I think they are already intervening in Syria. All the weapons and all the volunteers, the fundamentalists who are coming into Syria through Turkey, and sometimes Iraq and Lebanon, they are not coming in on their own. They are being financed and armed by Western countries, as well as GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries. What we’re seeing here now, is a form of destabilization. The same is happening in Beirut, this recent bombing is an attempt to destabilize the country, and an attempt to put Syria under siege by imploding Lebanon internally, along sectarian lines.

 

RT.com

 

 

 

British gang of Muslims waging war in Syria 'pose threat to UK'

 

 

 

A British jihadi has been identified as a key ringleader of a gang of Muslims who have gone to fight against the Assad regime in Syria, it has been reported.

By Telegraph Reporters

6:30 AM BST 18 Oct 2012

The Security Services have reportedly identified the young man, who has not been named, as the leader the gang of more than 50 men who have waged a holy war against President Bashar al-Assad.

The man, who is his 20s and believed to be from a Bangladeshi family, is regarded as a high-ranking officer in an international group of terrorists devoted to bringing down the regime, the Times reported.

According to the paper, the man, who is from London, is believed to be a pious individual involved in military training for “raw” British recruits, who mostly live in the capital.

The jihadis, who said to have volunteered to the cause, include “hardened” Chechen fighters and crossed into Syria over the border from Iraq or Turkey.

The newspaper claimed that Scotland Yard had seized computers and mobile phones from addresses in Britain linked to the men with the material being “urgently” analysed.

Security chiefs estimate that there are just over 50 Britons in Syria fighting to bring down President Assad. A number of the group are believed to be Islamic fundamentalists, it added.

The gang are believed to be young Muslim males, mostly of Asian origin but with a number from North African backgrounds and some being white or Afro-Caribbean Islamic converts.

Authorities are particularly worried about the conflict because it is said to attract violent Muslim idealists who are likely to make contact with the global jihadi movement, the Times claimed.

They would return home having learnt how to use arms and explosives, posing a terrorist threat in Britain.

Security sources told the newspaper that authorities were concerned about the domestic threat emerging from Syria than they were about the conflict in Libya last year.

In comparison most of the “British fighters” who fought to overthrow Col Muammar Gaddafi were Libyan exiles.

Most of them live in the Manchester area and are said to be have been motivated by patriotism rather than an ideological jihad.

Scotland Yard has not commented on the claims.

 

 

 

Syria could be Turkey’s Vietnam

 The recent polls have repeatedly shown that the Turkish public opinion is strongly opposed to any military intervention in Syria.

The curious part is that this opinion is present even within the ruling party, AKP, despite PM Recep Erdogan’s “forward policy” toward Syria.

The prominent Islamist daily Zaman, which is identified with the AKP’s ideological guru Fethullah Gulen (living in exile in the United States), has been lately featuring articles warning Erdogan from going overboard over the Syrian situation... Zaman’s exclusive interview today with former Turkish FM Yasar Yakis becomes highly significant.

Yakis is a highly respected former diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East affairs; in fact, he could be considered as one of Turkey’s best “Arabists”, having served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.

Most important, he is an MP belonging to the AKP and he is considered close to President Abdullah Gul (who in a meaningful recent remark described the Syrian situation as a “civil war”)

Yakis’ expert opinion is that Syria could turn out to be Turkey’s “Vietnam”... He rubbishes the idea of a “safe zone” within Syria adjacent to the Turkish border because that region is Kurdish-dominated and Turkish troops will have to be stationed there right inside Syria for that zone to be kept “free”.

But, Yakis warns, Syrian Kurds will inflict a million cuts on the Turkish soldiers deployed there, who will increasingly find themselves trapped in a quagmire.

Yakis flags the danger of Syria’s fragmentation. Interestingly, he sees western intervention in Syria as unlikely.

A Mitt Romney administration in the US might begin to supply arms to the Syrian rebels, but not otherwise.

His warns against “proxy wars”; these wars will be fought on the basis of the respective interests of outside powers — that is, it is entirely up to Turkey to coolly weigh where its interests would lie even if it were to act in concert with the US.

 

Turkey should readjust its policies in Syria, says Yakış

Regarding Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, Yaşar Yakış, a former minister of foreign affairs and the president of the Center for Strategic Communication (STRATİM), told Today's Zaman that “Turkey should make an adjustment to its foreign policy route just like the captain of a ship would.”

 Yakış, who is also a retired ambassador and the country's longest-serving diplomat in the Middle East, added that "you cannot insist on a policy just because it was a part of your foreign policy in the past. Each new situation requires an adjustment in foreign policy because if the captain of a ship holds the steering wheel in a constant position, the ship changes its direction due to external factors.”

“Turkey took part on the right side of history [when] a dictator was confronted by his people, but while doing this our actions went beyond the actions of other actors and destroyed all bridges with the regime.” He claims that in Syria Turkey acted with the motivation of “not repeating the mistake it made in Libya, where it expressed misgivings regarding the relevance of the NATO operation, and he went on to say: “The Western countries encouraged us, but then put on the brakes because of a fear that fundamentalists could take over in Syria. Turkey was caught off guard and remained alone, in the offside position.”

Commenting on a statement that Syria might become Turkey's Vietnam if involved, Yakış gives a conditional response, saying, “If Turkey becomes involved, it might become a Vietnam for Turkey as some argue, but if it stays away, there is no such danger,” as he strongly recommends Turkey “act with caution,” while hoping that it would not become involved at all.

Referring to internal and external encouragement for Turkey to establish a “secure zone in Syria,” Yakış warns against the possible dangers of the deployment of Turkish soldiers in a Kurdish and Arab region. “Most of the secure zone will be in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Both because of the PKK's [Kurdistan Workers' Party] existence there and the fact that the current regime is hostile to Turkey, it would be wrong for Turkish soldiers to enter Syria. If they did, it is almost impossible to come back with success.” He also directs attention to the ambiguity around the term “secure zone” as he comments that even if established, soldiers from overseas should protect it. “In Sinai, for example, there are Guatemalan soldiers,” he said, supporting his argument.

 Yakış, who served in Syria as a diplomat between 1980 and 1984, argues that Assad acted like a chess player and gave Turkey a message when “he withdrew his forces from the Kurdish populated northeast portion of Syria -- called al-Hasakah -- and left it to Kurds.” According to Yakış, “It is safe to assume that this may have contributed to the increasing PKK terrorism in Turkey lately.”

In response to a question over whether Kurds had gained a historic opportunity in the region, Yakış says, “This ideal, an independent Kurdish state, exists in the mind of every Kurd.” The former foreign minister added that “Kurds are the most well-organized group in Syria who would take advantage of the situation there if thing get worse.”

If chaos lingers, there is the risk of the dissolution of Syria, and it is not only Kurds who would have their autonomy, says Yakış.

“When the Ottomans withdrew from Syria in 1921, France established six autonomous republics: Damascus, Aleppo, Jabal Druze, Jabal Lebanon, Alexandretta and Jabal Alawite. Now, a Kurdish region has been added to that. There is a base for such separation,” he said.

However, according to Yakış, international intervention is less than likely. “The international community may never be involved in Syria. The US might or might not become involved [after the election] because Americans do not want their sons to die there.” He further comments that “what matters in terms of the US election results is whether or not the country will start providing lethal weapons to Syria or not.”Yakış, stating that countries will decide on Syria based on their own interests, warned against “proxy wars” in which the Syrian people would continue to die while others clash for power. “If Turkey and the US are more involved, it would be a proxy war not only for them, but also France, Russia and Iran would be a part of such proxy wars,” he claims.

 Based on his long diplomatic vocation, Yakış points out that “foreign policy aims are moving targets,” calling on Turkey to adapt its policies to the changing conditions, especially in Syria. According to Yakış, “the biggest difference in Syria is that now the low intensity civil war seems to be leaning towards becoming chronic.”

 

The Turkish Today's Zaman

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim

 

 

 

"Rebel" Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria

 WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian "rebel" groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.

“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that ''rebel'' groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into ''rebel'' hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.

But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.

Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, officials said.

The C.I.A. has not commented on Mr. Petraeus’s trip, made to a region he knows well from his days as the Army general in charge of Central Command, which is responsible for all American military operations in the Middle East. Officials of countries in the region say that Mr. Petraeus has been deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort, though American officials dispute that assertion.

One Middle Eastern diplomat who has dealt extensively with the C.I.A. on the issue said that Mr. Petraeus’s goal was to oversee the process of “vetting, and then shaping, an opposition that the U.S. thinks it can work with.” According to American and Arab officials, the C.I.A. has sent officers to Turkey to help direct the aid, but the agency has been hampered by a lack of good intelligence about many rebel figures and factions.

Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian ''rebels''- mercenary terrorists- said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various ''rebel'' groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.

“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”

The disorganization is strengthening the hand of Islamic extremist groups in Syria, some with ties or affiliations with Al Qaeda, he said: “The longer this goes on, the more likely those groups will gain strength.”

American officials worry that, should Mr. Assad be ousted, Syria could erupt afterward into a new conflict over control of the country, in which the more hard-line Islamic groups would be the best armed. That depends on what happens in the arms bazaar that has been feeding the rebel groups. In several towns along the Turkey-Syria border, ''rebel'' commanders can be found seeking weapons and meeting with shadowy intermediaries, in a chaotic atmosphere where the true identities and affiliations of any party can be extremely difficult to ascertain.

Late last month in the Turkish border town of Antakya, at least two men who had recently been in Syria said they had seen Islamist rebels buying weapons in large quantities and then burying them in caches, to be used after the collapse of the Assad government. But it was impossible to verify these accounts, and other ''rebels'' derided the reports as wildly implausible.

Moreover, the ''rebels'' often adapt their language and appearance in ways they hope will appeal to those distributing weapons. For instance, many ''rebels'' have grown the long, scraggly beards favored by hard-line Salafi Muslims after hearing that Qatar was more inclined to give weapons to Islamists.

The Saudis and Qataris are themselves relying on intermediaries — some of them Lebanese — who have struggled to make sense of the complex affiliations of the ''rebels'' they deal with.

“We’re trying to improve the process,” said one Arab official involved in the effort to provide small arms to the ''rebels''. “It is a very complex situation in Syria, but we are learning.”

New York Times

By DAVID E. SANGER

Published: October 14, 2012

Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russia bridges Middle Eastern divides

A multi-billion dollar arms deal with Iraq, a summit meeting with Turkey, a fence-mending exercise with Saudi Arabia, a debut with Egypt's Sphinx-like Muslim Brothers - all this is slated to happen within the period of a turbulent month in the Middle  East. And all this is to happen when the United States' "return" to the region after the hurly-burly of the November election still seems a distant dream.

  Simply put, Russia is suddenly all over the Middle East.

 Moscow announced on Tuesday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in town and the two countries signed contracts worth "more than" US$4.2 billion in an arms deal that includes Iraq's purchase of 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42

 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems that can also be used to defend against attack jets.

 The joint Russian-Iraqi statement issued in Moscow revealed that discussions had been going on for the past five months over the arms deal and that further talks are under way for Iraq's purchase of MiG-29 jets, heavy-armored vehicles and other weaponry.

 A Kremlin announcement said Maliki is due to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and the focus of the discussions will be energy cooperation between Russia and Iraq.

 The stunning news will send US politicians into a tizzy... Reports say the phone kept ringing in Maliki's office in Baghdad as soon as it transpired that he was to travel to Moscow and something big could be in the works.

 Queries were coming in from the US State Department and the National Security Council as to what warranted such a trip at this point in time.

 The point is, Maliki still remains an enigma for Washington.

  He is no doubt a friend of the US, but he is also possibly more than a friend of Iran. Now, it seems, he is also fond of Russia - as Saddam Hussein used to be.

 Washington and Ankara have annoyed him repeatedly, taking him for granted, even writing off his political future, by consorting with the northern Kurdistan over lucrative oil deals, ignoring his protests that Iraq is a sovereign state and Baghdad is

  its capital and that the country has a constitution under which foreign countries should not have direct dealings with its regions bypassing the capital and the central government.

 Booting out Big Oil

 They not only ignored Maliki's protests but also chastised him for opposing the plan for "regime change" in Syria and for robustly supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

  Lately, they even started needling him on providing facilities for Iran to send supplies to the embattled regime in Syria. They then exceeded all proprieties and gave asylum to an Iraqi Sunni leader who is a fugitive under Iraqi law.

 They are currently endeavoring to bring together the disparate Sunni groups in Iraq in an ominous move that could lead to the balkanization of Iraq.

 Kurdistan is already a de facto independent region, thanks to US and Turkish interference.

  The game plan is to further weaken Iraq by sponsoring the creation of a Sunni entity in central Iraq similar to Kurdistan in the north, thus confining the Iraqi Shi'ites to a moth-eaten southern region.

 The Russia visit shows that Maliki is signaling he has had enough and won't take this affront to Iraqi sovereignty anymore.

  What is almost certain is that he will propose to Putin on Wednesday that Russian oil companies should return to Iraq in full battle cry with investment and technology and pick up the threads from where they left at the time of the US invasion in  2003.

 Maliki can be expected to boot out Big Oil and the Turkish companies from Iraq's oil sector.

  The implications are profound for the world oil market since Iraq's fabulous oil reserves match Saudi Arabia's.

 Clearly, Maliki intends to assert Iraqi sovereignty.

 Recently, he decided to terminate the Saddam-era agreement with Turkey, which allowed a Turkish military presence in northern Iraq to monitor the PKK separatists' activities.

 But Ankara balked, telling off Maliki... The Russian deal enables him now to rebuild the Iraqi armed forces and make the Turks think twice before they violate Iraqi air space or conclude that their military presence in northern Iraq could continue unchallenged.

 Does this mean Iraq is on a course of strategic defiance of the US? What needs to be factored in is that the US still remains Iraq's number one arms supplier.

 Iraq is expecting the delivery of 30 F-16 aircraft.

 A strategic defiance of the US is far from Maliki's thoughts - at least, for now.

 Maliki's message needs to be taken more as one of assertively stating that Iraq is an independent country.... Simply put, the US needs to come to terms with such happenings as Maliki's decision to revive the military ties with Russia.

  Conceivably, it could be Egypt's turn next to revive the ties with Russia... As a matter of fact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to visit Cairo in early November in the first high-level exchange with Morsi's leadership.

 Indeed, much depends on the composure with which the US is able to adapt itself to the new realities in the Middle East.

  As things stand, the US has succeeded in selling $6 billion worth of arms to Iraq. It is indeed comfortably placed.

 The US State Department's initial reaction exuded confidence.

 Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the Russian deal doesn't signify any scaling down of Iraq's "mil-to-mil" ties with the US, which are "very broad and very deep".

 She revealed that discussions are going on for "some 467 foreign military sales cases" with Iraq worth more than $12 billion "if all of those go forward." Nuland said, "We're doing some $12.3 billion worth of military business with Iraq, so I don't think  one needs to be concerned about that relationship being anything but the strongest."

 New, untried alchemy

 But the touch of anxiety in Nuland's words cannot be glossed over, either.

  The plain truth is, the "Russians are coming" and this time they are capitalists and globalists; they also know the Iraqi market, while the Iraqi soldier is familiar with the Russian weapon.

  During the Saddam era, Iraq was a major buyer of Russian weaponry and Moscow is estimated to have lost contracts worth about $8 billion due to the US-sponsored "regime change" in Baghdad in 2003.

 Conceivably, Russia will do its utmost to claw its way back to the top spot in the Iraqi market and to make up for lost time.

  But then, arms deals invariably have political and strategic content as well.

  In the near term, the "unknown unknown" is going to be whether Maliki might choose to share the Iraqi capabilities with his close Iranian and Syrian allies.

 Significantly, high-level Syrian and Iranian delegations have also visited Moscow in recent months.

  Eyebrows will be raised that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is scheduling a visit to Baghdad shortly.

 In fact, even as the Russian-Iraqi arms deal was signed in Moscow, the commander of the navy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrived on a visit to Iraq, signifying the close ties between Baghdad and Tehran.

  No doubt, Washington will remain on its toes on this front.

 Equally, Russian experts have written in the past about the emergence of a new "bloc" in the heart of the Middle East comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with which Moscow can hope to have special ties.

 However, the incipient signs as of now are that Moscow's regional diplomacy in the Middle East is shifting gear, determined to bridge the regional divide that the Syrian crisis has brought about.

 Of course, the enterprise seems awesome in its sheer audacity... But then, Putin is scheduled to travel to Turkey next week; Lavrov hopes to travel to Riyadh in early November to attend the second session of Russia's Strategic Dialogue with the

 Gulf Cooperation Council states (which was once abruptly postponed by the Saudi regime as a snub to Moscow for its dogged support for the Assad regime in Syria); Lavrov will also make a "synchronized visit" to Cairo for meeting with the new

 Egyptian leadership and Arab League officials.

 Disclosing Lavrov's scheduled diplomatic missions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov added, "We [Russia] are interested in the dialogue and open partnership discussion with our Arab colleagues from the Gulf, which, in particular

  Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, play a rather active and not one-meaning role in Syrian affairs... We always favor discussion of these issues, even disagreements, at the negotiating table, especially since we have the Strategic Dialogue mechanism."

 Without doubt, Russian alchemists are experimenting with new, untried formulations that may help heal the Syrian wounds... But, as Bogdanov sought to explain, these formulations are also broad spectrum medications that will help induce the  overall metabolism of Russia's regional ties with recaltricant partners who are upset for the present over Syria.

 Ideally, Moscow would like to see that healing process is embedded within an overall enhancement of mutually beneficial economic ties.

 Russia's ties with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for instance, were going strong during the phase of the pre-crisis period in Syria.

 While the ties with Turkey lately have somewhat stagnated, Russian-Saudi ties have run into serious difficulty.

  Evidently, Moscow is keen to restore the status quo ante.

 The interesting part is the Russian diplomacy's assessment that the present juncture provides a window of opportunity to make overtures to Ankara and Riyadh, no matter the incessant blood-letting in Syria.

 The backdrop to which this is happening is significant... In Moscow's assessment, evidently, there could be hopeful signs for a renewed approach to seeking a political solution to the Syrian crisis even though the skies look heavily overcast... There  may be merit in making such a shrewd assessment.

 As things stand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are facing an acute predicament over the Syrian situation... Neither thought that the Syrian regime would have such a social base and political will to hang on; both are frustrated that any "regime change" in  Syria is going to be a long haul fraught with uncertain consequences not only for the Syrian nation but also for the region as a whole and even for themselves.

 Again, while there is no let-up in the dogged opposition to outside intervention in Syria, which Moscow and Beijing have amply displayed, a UN Security Council mandate for intervention is to be ruled out.

  Without a UN mandate, on the other hand, a Western intervention is unlikely, and in any case, the US remains disinterested while the European attitudes will be guided by their priorities over their economies, which, according to the latest

 International Monetary Fund estimation, are sliding into a prolonged recession from which a near-term recovery seems highly improbable.

 Sultan with a Nobel

 In short, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are holding a can of worms containing the Syrian rebel elements that are not only disparate but also could prove troublesome in future.

 As for Turkey, with or without a UN mandate, the popular opinion is overwhelmingly against an intervention in Syria.

 The Turkish people remain far from convinced that their vital national interests are at stake in Syria.

  Besides, the Turkish economy is also slowing, and a deep recession in Europe can play havoc with Turkey's economic fortunes.

 The ruling AKP's trump card so far has been that it steered Turkey to a period of unprecedented economic prosperity.

 Increasingly, therefore, all this proactivism on Syria looks more like the hare-brained idea of the academic-turned Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan than a well-thought out foreign policy initiative.

 But even here, Erdogan's political priorities are going to change as he prepares for his bid to become the executive president of Turkey under a new constitution in 2014.

 A Syrian quagmire can threaten his political ambitions, and already he senses rivalry from the incumbent President Abdullah Gul, whose popular ratings are manifestly far better than his own.

 In sum, Erdogan wants regime change in Syria and he is still pushing for it, but he wants it now... He can't wait indefinitely, since that will upset his own political calendar... He is upset, on the other hand, that US President Barack Obama is not a man in a hurry and the Europeans are distracted by ailments.

 All factors taken into consideration, therefore, it should come as no surprise that Putin has made a visit to Turkey such an urgent priority - although Erdogan visited Russia hardly two months ago.

 Putin has excellent personal equations with Erdogan... They were instrumental in taking Russian-Turkish relationship to such qualitatively new level in recent years.

 Putin is a very focused statesman... He wants to revive the verve of the Russian-Turkish tango... In the process, the contract for building a $25 billion nuclear power plant in Turkey could be advanced to the implementation stage, and Russia may

also secure contracts to sell weaponry to Turkey.

 In the Russian assessment, Erdogan's underlying ideology in terms of pursuing an independent foreign policy needs to be encouraged, despite the recent deviations such as the decision to deploy the US missile defence system on Turkish soil.

 Putin's expectation will be that within the framework of a revival of the Russian-Turkish bonhomie and taking advantage of Erdogan's travails and dilemma over Syria, a meaningful conversation between Moscow and Ankara might be possible leading to a purposive search for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

 This is the season of Nobel, after all... If Erdogan could be persuaded that he could be the first ever sultan - and probably the last, too, in Ottoman history - to win a Nobel prize for peace, Putin would have made a huge contribution himself to world peace.

 Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service.  His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

 By   M K Bhadrakumar

Asia Times, Oct 11, 2012