Grayzone Project articles and reports on Syria, the Syrian Civil War, foreign intervention, rebel groups, ISIS, and the role of the US, UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Iran, and Russia

US Ambassador Confirms Billions Spent on Regime Change in Syria, Debunking ‘Obama Did Nothing’ Myth

The US government spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, former ambassador Robert Ford disclosed in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

By Ben Norton

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

This striking figure provides a further glimpse of the exorbitant sums of money the U.S. spent trying to topple the government in Damascus. It also bluntly contradicts claims by Syrian opposition supporters that the former administration of President Barack Obama “did nothing” in Syria, or that it supposedly did not seek regime change fervently enough.

Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford disclosed this information in written testimony prepared for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on February 6.

“The cost of US military operations in Syria between FY 2014 and the end of FY 2017 was between $3 and $4 billion,” Ford said. “In addition to the cost of those military operations, the FY 2017 budget request included $430 [million] to build local security forces and the FY 2018 request was for $500 million.”

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Genocide in Iraq: When Local Sunni Became ISIS and Slaughtered Their Yazidi Neighbors

When ISIS came to butcher the Yazidis of Iraq, they simply went next door.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

This is the third in a series of articles on the plight of Yazidis in Iraq. Read the first and second installments.

On August 3, 2014, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, orchestrated a pre-planned and systematic campaign of genocide against the Yazidis in northwest Iraq, driving hundreds of thousands of them from their ancestral homeland in Sinjar. Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking people who practice a pre-Islamic religion that ISIS ideologues equate with devil worship. All across Sinjar, wherever Yazidis were captured, the Sunni extremists forcibly converted or killed the men and enslaved the women and children.

The onslaught sent tens of thousands of Yazidis fleeing to Sinjar mountain, where they were trapped for days in the punishing Iraqi summer heat. The dusty and rugged mountainous terrain was their refuge, but for some it became a tomb. Hundreds, especially children and the elderly, died of thirst and hunger.

According to Yazidi survivors I spoke to in Baghdad, Sinjar, Erbil and Dohuk, the 2014 assault was carried out not by strangers, but by their Sunni friends and neighbors, by people they trusted and considered family. While much has been documented about the horrors ISIS inflicted on Yazidis, there has been little examination of how their genocide was made possible by the cooperation and collaboration of their Sunni neighbors and its consequences on communal relations going forward. Yazidis are strongly distrustful of Sunnis. They fear and loathe them and never want to live in a place where they are outnumbered by Sunnis again.

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How a Free Syrian Army Unit Uncovered the Rebels’ Israeli Connection and Switched Sides

Before the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group the Golan Brigade was targeted for destruction by Israel and Al Qaeda, it was allied with them.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

QUNEITRA, SYRIA – Ahmad Kaboul has big shoes to fill. Earlier this summer, his childhood friend and commanding officer of the Golan Brigade, Majed Hamoud, was killed by Jabhat Al Nusra, Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, which now goes by the name Hayat Tahrir Al Sham.

Founded as one of the dizzying array of fighting units in Syria’s six-year civil war, the genesis of the Golan Brigade was one of the most remarkable. The brigade was established in 2014 by Syrian fighters who had defected from the Free Syrian Army rebel group after they made a shocking discovery: their unit had been coordinating with the Israelis.

After switching sides to support the Syrian government, they witnessed the Israeli military providing direct air cover for attacks launched against them by Al Qaeda. The Israelis even tried to kill Majed on several occasions before Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Nusra, finally did him in.

This July, I met veterans of the Golan Brigade and heard their stories. They painted a picture of the war that stood almost entirely at odds with the dominant narrative of the conflict spun out in Western mainstream media. And this is perhaps why they have received so little attention.

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I Visited Al Qaeda’s Syrian Stronghold and Saw How U.S. Backing of ‘Moderate’ Rebels Is Bolstering Jihadists

Journalist Lindsey Snell reports from inside Idlib, al-Qaeda’s Syrian stronghold.

By Lindsey Snell / AlterNet

I spent a night this past July crammed in a sitting room with a family in Kafr Halab, a small village in the western countryside of Aleppo. The Russian air force was in the midst of a bombing campaign, dropping cluster munitions on homes in the area. I held my breath each time I heard a plane, but the family’s matriarch offered reassurance. “If you can hear that plane sound, it means they are far away.”

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British Gov-Funded Outlet Offered Journalist $17,000 a Month to Produce Propaganda for Syrian Rebels

Emails reveal that the Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) media office, a popular source for the mainstream Western press, is a UK-backed propaganda outlet that offered reporters huge sums of money.

By Rania Khalek / AlterNet

The Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) media office, a major Syrian opposition media outfit and frequent source of information for Western media, is funded by the British government and is managed by Westerners operating out of Turkey, according to emails provided to AlterNet by a Middle East reporter RFS tried to recruit.

The outlet stirred controversy this November when it released a video at the height of the Mannequin Challenge, a pop culture craze in which people compete for how long they can freeze in place on video. The RFS video depicted a staged rescue by the White Helmets, the Western-funded rescue group that operates exclusively in rebel-held territory. RFS quickly removed the video and issued an apology out of apparent concern that the staged rescue could raise questions about the authenticity of other videos by the White Helmets.

Over the summer, the Middle East reporter, who asked not to be named, was contacted by an American acquaintance and former colleague about working for RFS.

“I’m currently in Istanbul, working on a media project for the HMG [the British government],” wrote the acquaintance in an email time-stamped June 23. “We’re working on media surrounding the Syrian conflict, as one of their three partners.” The email included links to RFS Media’s English website and SMO Media, an Arabic website that covers the Southern Front, a Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.

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How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria

Created by Western governments and popularized by a top PR firm, Syria’s White Helmets are saving civilians while lobbying for airstrikes.

By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet

The following is Part 2 of a two part investigation into the forces cultivating Western public support for regime change in Syria. Read Part 1 on the Syria Campaign here.

It is rare for a short Netflix documentary to garner as much publicity or acclaim as The White Helmets has. Promoted as “the story of real-life heroes and impossible hope,” the film is named for the civil defense organization whose members have gained international acclaim for saving lives in rebel-held territory in the hellish war zones of eastern Aleppo and Idlib. The film’s tagline, “To save one life is to save all of humanity,” that is remarkably similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List: “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

The Netflix feature comes on the heels of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for the White Helmets, an “alternative Nobel” award known as the Right Livelihood Award and endorsements from an assortment of celebrities. “The move [by the celebrities] draws attention to both the horror of the conflict and the growing willingness of well-known Americans to adopt it as a cause célèbre,” wrote Liam Stack of the New York Times.

Footage of the White Helmets saving civilians trapped in the rubble of buildings bombed by the Syrian government and its Russian ally has become ubiquitous in coverage of the crisis. An international symbol of courage under fire, the group has become a leading resource for journalists and human rights groups seeking information inside the war theater, from casualty figures to details on the kind of bombs that are falling.

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Inside the Syria Campaign, the Shadowy PR Firm Lobbying for Regime Change

Posing as a non-political solidarity organization, the Syria Campaign leverages local partners and media contacts to push the U.S. into toppling another Middle Eastern government.

By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet

In Part II: How the U.S.-funded White Helmets rescue civilians from Syrian and Russian bombs while lobbying for the U.S. military to step up its own bombing campaign.

On September 30, demonstrators gathered in city squares across the West for a “weekend of action” to “stop the bombs” raining down from Syrian government and Russian warplanes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Thousands joined the protests, holding signs that read “Topple Assad” and declaring, “Enough With Assad.” Few participants likely knew that the actions were organized under the auspices of an opposition-funded public relations company called the Syria Campaign.

By partnering with local groups like the Syrian civil defense workers popularly known as the White Helmets, and through a vast network of connections in media and centers of political influence, The Syria Campaign has played a crucial role in disseminating images and stories of the horrors visited this month on eastern Aleppo. The group is able to operate within the halls of power in Washington and has the power to mobilize thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Despite its outsized role in shaping how the West sees Syria’s civil war, which is now in its sixth year and entering one of its grisliest phases, this outfit remains virtually unknown to the general public.

The Syria Campaign presents itself as an impartial, non-political voice for ordinary Syrian citizens that is dedicated to civilian protection. “We see ourselves as a solidarity organization,” The Syria Campaign strategy director James Sadri told me. “We’re not being paid by anybody to pursue a particular line. We feel like we’ve done a really good job about finding out who the frontline activists, doctors, humanitarians are and trying to get their word out to the international community.”

Yet behind the lofty rhetoric about solidarity and the images of heroic rescuers rushing in to save lives is an agenda that aligns closely with the forces from Riyadh to Washington clamoring for regime change. Indeed, The Syria Campaign has been pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria that would require at least “70,000 American servicemen” to enforce, according to a Pentagon assessment, along with the destruction of government infrastructure and military installations. There is no record of a no-fly zone being imposed without regime change following —which seems to be exactly what The Syria Campaign and its partners want.

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