Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows

by

It must be the most beautiful front line in the world. Turn right at the ancient city of Qatna, drive east for 40 miles and you’ll come to a village called Telwared, the “Hill of Roses”. There are fields of yellow flowers, sheep and cattle and almond orchards and an old T-62 tank and then a series of largely empty, slightly sinister two-storey houses and a row of gentle hills to the south. That’s where Isis holds its ground, an ideology quite divorced from all this beauty and bright sky and sunlight.

They’re just the other side of the low mountain range to the south which stretches all the way across to Palmyra. But it’s difficult to shrug off the lethargy. Surely the old shepherd sitting with his back to the road, two cows tethered beside him, isn’t worried about the war. Can the children playing with their mother behind a red-painted house have the slightest idea why there’s a Syrian army checkpoint down the road at Jibl Jarrah, the very last bit of territory before the forward troops of the shrinking Isis caliphate?

The great geopolitical battles in Iraq seem far away until you notice the contrails sweeping the skies far above Jibl Jarrah and the military map in the local company headquarters which depicts three bleak grey and black circles to the right. “South al-Mushairfeh, east Habra, west Habra” are written in them. Isis holds these villages to this day.

On the highway driving out here, there were Russian military engineering convoys on the Palmyra run, heavy armoured vehicles between each truck, soldiers with cloth webbing draped from their helmets to their chins. Some of them wear Ray-Bans and you remember that this is also a European war, that these are Putin’s men, their equipment gleaming, their heavy machine guns pointed up the road.

You’d think the crusty Syrian colonel round the corner, billeted in an ancient shrine, would be watching the television news of the fighting for Mosul, the suicide bomb attacks on his Iraqi brother soldiers far to the east. Nothing of the sort. Isis mortared Jibl Jarrah a few hours ago. They send in artillery rounds each night. When their men captured and held the village for six hours on 21 January, the colonel managed to evacuate every civilian safely – but it cost the lives of three soldiers, another 12 in the neighbouring village of Mesaudia, and six members of the local “national guard” militia.

So much for the hill of roses. The colonel saw one of the Isis men who was captured on the road. “They send in Syrians first and then foreigners behind them,” he said. “Chechens and Afghans. He was a short man, blond-haired, about 19 or 20. He said he was from the village of Ankalhawa. He said they wanted to attack with waves of fighters. Fifteen at first, then maybe 200. They failed. Isis couldn’t operate here if they didn’t have Syrians with them. All of us grew up loving our homeland, but they’ve played on the sectarian question to turn these people into extremists.

“We never thought a Syrian would turn a gun against another Syrian but the Arab nations – Qatar, Saudi Arabia – they give them the money and ideology. This situation is very strange to us.”

As the colonel says repeatedly, most of the Isis men on the other side of these gentle hills are clearly not Syrians. Repeatedly, Syrian intelligence officers monitoring their radio chat find themselves listening to Dari (the Afghan version of Persian) and Chechen, which is meaningless to them.

The Syrian soldiers agree that they all talk about the motivation of these strange men. The colonel saw a lot of prisoners in Idlib. “I arrested a lot of Syrian fighters. Before this, I thought they were forced to fight; but when they were questioned, they said they believed in what they did.”

Deceptive, too, are the quiet roads leading west from Jibl Jarrah. You would never imagine that the blasted old building at Alamod was a school targeted by a suicide bomber two years ago. Thirty children were killed, all Shia Muslims, four from one family, the killer a Sunni Muslim. In Mukharam, there’s a pulverised building in the corner of the square, where another Sunni man, an Islamic student well known in the village, blew himself up among his neighbours just four months ago, wearing a suicide belt, waiting till market day to kill as many as possible.

No wonder the colonel, puffing away on his Armenian cigarettes – they say that Akhtamar cigarettes have to be smoked to be believed – is so puzzled. This web of villages, right up to the front line, has for years been a blaze of mixed religion so typical of Syria; Christians, Shiites, Alawites, Sunnis. Many people here are Sunni Circassians and the locals insist their white complexion comes from Russia generations ago. And looking at the young Russian soldiers on their Palmyra convoys, you can see a faint similarity.

The colonel kept shaking his head. “We see Isis as kind of monsters,” he said. “Even traditional enemies are more honest than these people. Killing pregnant women. Why would anyone do such a terrible thing? At least Israel makes normal, typical war.” The colonel wasn’t being kind to Syria’s traditional enemy. He merely hasn’t fathomed what lies behind Isis and he’s too far from Mosul to work out if his monsters are in their death throes.

But like as not – if any of them can get out of Mosul, or if the Iraqi army and Americans let them – Isis will move across to the lands east of Homs and try another attack on this all too beautiful front line.

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 Compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
Ron Jacobs
Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!
Russell Mokhiber
Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia
Michael Barker
The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”
Murray Dobbin
Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich
Dave Lindorff
Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize
Rafael Bernabe – Manuel Rodríguez Banchs
Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María
Oliver Tickell
#FreeJackLetts
Victor Grossman
From Jamaica to Knees
Michael Welton
Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?
Graham Peebles
Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism
Louis Proyect
On Gowans on Syria
Charles R. Larson
Review: Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s “Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby”
David Yearsley
Katy Perry’s Gastro-Pop, Gastro-Porn Orgy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail