BY ZEINA KARAMVIVIAN SALAMA
BEIRUT (AP) — Amid the ornate walls of Damascus’ famed Omayyad Mosque, preacher Maamoun Rahmeh stood before worshippers last week, declaring Russian President Vladimir Putin a “giant and beloved leader” who has “destroyed the myth of the self-aggrandizing America.”
Posters of Putin are popping up on cars and billboards elsewhere in parts of Syria and Iraq, praising the Russian military intervention in Syria as one that will redress the balance of power in the region.
The Russian leader is winning accolades from many in Iraq and Syria, who see Russian airstrikes in Syria as a turning point after more than a year of largely ineffectual efforts by the U.S.-led coalition to dislodge the Islamic State militants who have occupied significant parts of the two countries.
The reactions underscore that while the West may criticize Putin for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, there is some relief in the region at the emergence of a player with a coherent – if controversial – strategy.
“Putin does more than just speak,” said Sohban Elewi of Damascus, summing up the views of Syrians on opposing camps who regard U.S. policy in Syria and Iraq as fumbled and confused.
Russia began its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, joining the fray of those bombing Syria at a critical time for Assad and his embattled troops. The Syrian army’s loss of the northern province of Idlib opened the way for rebels to come dangerously close to the coastal Alawite heartland, leaving his soldiers there vulnerable and dejected.
Russia insists it is targeting the Islamic State group and other “terrorists.” But Syrian rebels and opposition activists say Moscow’s warplanes in recent days have focused on Idlib and the central province of Hama, hitting U.S.-backed rebels in areas with no IS militants.
The planes also have provided air cover for Syrian ground troops who launched an offensive in central Syria, reinforcing the belief that Russia’s main aim is to shore up Assad’s forces.
In addition to the warplanes taking off from a base in Latakia, Russian ships in the Caspian Sea have fired cruise missiles that fly nearly 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) over Iran and Iraq to strike Raqqa and Aleppo provinces, in what many see as a show of force meant to portray muscle more than serve a specific military goal.
Among Assad’s war-weary and frustrated supporters, such elaborate displays of support provide a much-needed psychological boost, and have injected new hope that their flailing battle against rebel factions and the Islamic State group can still be won.
“The (Russian) intervention has raised the morale of the Syrian army and the Syrian people alike,” said Dr. Samir Haddad from the central city of Homs.
“President Putin has a distinguished personality and charisma, and it has become clear that world leaders have gradually started approving, openly or secretly, of this intervention,” he said.
In Iraq, where the U.S.-led war against IS has stalled, many say they want Russian airstrikes against IS to extend to their country.
Buried between paintings of Baghdad architecture, mosques and landscapes, some art shops in Baghdad have begun selling portraits of Putin, a tribute to his intervention in what Iraqis see as the new military front against IS.
“Russia does not play games. They are problem solvers, and they do it quietly and efficiently, not like the Americans who prefer to do everything in front of the cameras,” said Hussein Karim, a 21-year-old medical student from Baghdad.
In one cartoon widely distributed among Iraqis on Facebook and Twitter, U.S. President Barack Obama is dressed as a Sunni sheikh, while Putin as a Shiite imam, suggesting the two are taking sides.
Another cartoon shows a bare-chested Putin holding IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by the collar of his jalabaya, looking very intimidating. He says to al-Baghdadi: “Where do you think you’re going? I’ll flatten you like flour,” a popular Iraqi expression.
Al-Baghdadi, holding a cellphone, shouts: “Obama, save me!”
Most of the cartoons portray Putin as muscular – a perception that echoes the one at home in Russia, where he has cultivated an image as a man of action.
In addition to conducting his official duties, he often is shown on Russian TV doing such activities as playing ice hockey – as he did last week on his 63rd birthday – or climbing into a submersible to explore the sea.
T-shirts with his image are sold at shopping malls, souvenir stores and even from vending machines in Moscow airports. Some depict him looking tough in dark sunglasses, while others show him riding a horse to the words from a pop song: “They are not going to get us.”
The military intervention in Syria is viewed by many as a sign of shifting alliances in the region as Russia takes a greater role in the fight against IS.
Russia has had strong ties with the Mideast for years. The fascination with Putin is driven largely by a longstanding suspicion of the West and anger about decades of U.S. intervention in the region that many say has led to more wars and sectarianism. Many hope a stronger Russia would lead to a more balanced approach.
Iraq’s prime minister said last month that his government also entered a joint intelligence sharing agreement with Russia, Iran and Syria, opening an operations center in the heart of Baghdad.
In Egypt, Russian flags and posters of Putin’s face hung across Cairo during his visit in February. At the time, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper profiled him, with photos showing Putin shirtless and holding various weapons, headlined, “A hero of our times.”
His appeal has extended to Lebanon, where some demonstrators – Christian allies of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group – wore T-shirts bearing Putin’s face at a protest Sunday calling for Lebanese presidential elections.
“Putin considers the Syrian crisis an excellent opportunity to erode America’s standing in the region,” said Ghassan Charbel, editor of the London-based Arabic daily newspaper Al Hayat.
In a front-page editorial Monday, he warned that while Syria presents Moscow with an opportunity to exact revenge from the West, it may transform quickly into an Afghanistan-like quagmire that threatens to erode Putin’s image as a “czar.”
But the Russian airstrikes also have drawn the ire of rebels in Syria who have formed a joint operations room to fight the new foe.
At a recent demonstration in the northern city of Idlib, armed rebels set fire to a Russian flag. “We will trample on your heads,” read one banner, addressing the Russians.
Salama reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed reporting.
“These are American parachutes that the Americans sent to IS when they were here in Baiji”
By MIKAEL THALEN | INFOWARS.COM | OCTOBER 9, 2015
Iraqi residents have once again accused the US government of supplying ISIS jihadists with food and weapons in a viral video posted online this week.
The video, which features a group of men who appear to be soldiers, shows both supply crates and parachutes alleged to belong to the Unites States military.
“Look, film this too. These are American parachutes,” an Arabic-speaking man says in a translation acquired by Infowars. “We are inside the Baiji oil field. Is there anyone that doesn’t see them? You all see them!”
The unknown man goes on to claim that both food and weapons were supplied to ISIS fighters during their time in the area.
“These are American parachutes that the Americans sent to IS when they were here in Baiji,” he states. “With them they sent weapons and food. So that no one can say that we are lying, film this so you will see…”
According to Guardian contributor Hayder al-Khoei, who posted the footage to Twitter Thursday, “Vids like this & others of helos flying above Hashd/ISF positions towards ISIS-held areas” often reinforce the popular “narrative that US supports ISIS in Iraq.”
As noted by the Wall Street Journal last June, a growing number of Iraqi residents believe ISIS jihadists are receiving direct support from the American government in light of the terror group’s continued gains.
“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who fled Ramadi, told reporters.
Alia Nusseif, a prominent Iraqi lawmaker, also accused the US government of using ISIS as a proxy army to “divide and weaken” the country.
“We don’t have any trust in Americans anymore,” Nusseif said. “We now think ISIS is being used as a tool by America to divide and weaken Iraq.”
The belief among Iraqis became increasingly widespread last year after ISIS jihadists posted footage online with weapons they received from a US airdrop. According to the US government, the airdrop was intended to reach Kurdish fighters battling in the city of Kobani.
A seperate airdrop by the Iraqi air force that same year also saw large amounts of food and water fall into the hands of ISIS jihadists near the western province of Anbar.
While facts surrounding the latest video’s claims have yet to be substantiated, declassified 2012 Pentagon documents recently uncovered by a US-based political watchdog group show that the Pentagon purposely allied itself with Iraqi terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, in an attempt to topple the Syrian government.
“According to the newly declassified US document the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq,” reports award-winning journalist Nafeez Ahmed. “Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the ‘Syrian opposition’ — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated ‘Salafist Principality’ as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.”
The refusal to share intelligence on terrorists “just confirms once more what we knew from the very start, that the US goals in Syria have little to do with creating the conditions for a political process and national reconciliation,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Thursday.
“I would risk saying that by doing this the US and the countries that joined the US-led coalition are putting themselves in a politically dubious position. The question is: which side are you fighting for in this war?”
Earlier, the Russian military said they would welcome American intelligence on the forces of terrorist group Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) to help with Russia’s bombing operation in Syria. But the US State Department said it would not be possible because Russia and the US do not share the same goals in Syria.
“I don’t know how you can share intelligence when you don’t share a basic, common objective inside Syria. We’re not at that – we’re nowhere near that point. There’s no shared, common objective here about going after ISIL,” said John Kirby, a State Department spokesman.
The US has accused Russia of failing to target ISIS and instead bombing moderate rebel forces, which Washington wants to replace the government of President Bashar Assad. Russia denies the allegations.
Ryabkov said that without US intelligence Russia would remain quite effective in the Syrian operation, considering that it has plenty of other sources.
“There are our own means of reconnaissance. We get intelligence from a number of other countries and coordinate its flow through the Baghdad information-sharing center,” the Russian diplomat said, referring to a facility in the Iraqi capital that is used by Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia to coordinate their efforts in fighting ISIS.
The US-led coalition has been bombing ISIS targets for over a year and provided supplies and assistance to forces such as Iraqi and Kurdish militias, which are fighting the terrorists on the ground. But it has refused to deal with either Damascus or its key regional ally Tehran, saying that the downfall of the government of President Assad is part of the solution to the crisis. Despite the coalition’s efforts, ISIS has enlarged the territory under its control over the last year.
Senior Syrian and Iranian officials questioned America’s determination to defeat ISIS, saying that the coalition airstrikes are more of a show and are not intended to actually harm the terrorists. Instead Washington is trying to get ISIS topple the Assad government, hoping to deal with them later.
Russia voiced similar concerns on Wednesday, after reporting that its week-long effort had done serious harm to the jihadists in Syria.
“The US Air Force and other parties has been conduction airstrikes for a year. We have reasons to believe that they don’t often hit terrorist targets, or rather do so very rarely,” said Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile Russia’s effort seems to have paid off, as on Tuesday the Syrian Army announced a major offensive against various terrorist groups. Commenting on what role Russia’s support played in turning the tables on the jihadists, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said that Russia “has produced significant results in several days that greatly surpass those achieved by the [US-led anti-ISIS] coalition in over a year.”
Speaking ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Fallon said the deployment is designed to show the military alliance is still strong.
“This is further reassurance for our allies on the eastern flank of NATO – for the Baltic States and for Poland,” he said.
“That is part of our more persistent presence on the eastern side of NATO to respond to any further provocation and aggression.”
The troops will be part of a NATO training, evaluation and capacity-building mission in Eastern Europe that will take place in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
“They will be part of a more persistent presence by NATO forces,” Fallon said.
The UK has already sent RAF Typhoon jets to patrol Baltic States’ airspace. In June, RAF jets were scrambled from an Estonian airbase to shadow two Russian planes across the Baltic Sea.
The NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels amid escalating tensions over the Russian bombing raids in Syria, which have largely been condemned by the West.
“Russia is making a very serious situation in Syria much more dangerous,” Fallon said.
“We will be calling on Russia specifically to stop propping up the Assad regime, to use their influence constructively to stop Assad bombing his own civilians and themselves to avoid the use of unguided munitions in areas that are not being controlled by ISIL,” he said.
Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) on September 30, making 120 combat sorties that hit 110 targets in just over a week, according to the Defense Ministry.
Russian military intelligence claims the assault has destroyed numerous ISIS bases and strategic facilities across Syria.
Among the objects destroyed are 71 armored vehicles, 30 other vehicles, 19 command facilities, two communication centers, 23 depots with fuel and ammunition and six plants used to make IEDs, including car bombs.
But western powers believe Russia is targeting other rebel groups, thereby propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“If Russia wants to help here, the single most helpful thing they can do is use their influence on Assad to stop barrel-bombing his own civilians, their children, his own cities and villages,” Fallon said. “That’s how Russia could help to resolve this conflict.”