The Siege

October 14th, 2014 No comments
Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. On this day the air was filled with a thick haze but the pungent black plumes were still very much visible form the city’s embattled skyline. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Don’t have time to crunch out much text today as I’m firing off a few reports from the past few days for a client but I wanted to post some more images of the siege of Kobane. While it has fallen down the headline mast a bit what with people back home being enthralled by the Ebola drama that has breeched the West from West Africa, the war here is still ongoing.

The Islamic State is not letting up on their target of this now desolate Kurdish-majority town as the YPG/YPJ fighters hang on for dear life. US-led bombings continue but Turkey’s position toward the PYD’s militia has not fundamentally changed. Meanwhile there are competing narratives over the Incirlik basing use agreement as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu insists Turkey has not made such an agreement, thereby contradicting an earlier statement by Susan Rice.

The predictions a week ago that the city would fall have so far not panned out as cynics warned. It may indeed fall but for IS their predictions of celebrating Eid in their hoped for killing fields of the YPG have fallen well short.

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. There is something not right with the world when we know how to create such environments so quickly and efficiently. Too many wars. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. I’ve read that some people believe that Kobane is being over emphasized by the media at the expense at the rest of Syria’s civil war. They refer to this site as “the hill of shame.” Yet these same naysayers would say shame on the world if nobody at all came to cover it. Some people just like to take diametrically opposing positions for the sport of argumentation it sometimes seems to me. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Border

October 13th, 2014 No comments
The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric without coordination from fighter jets and YPG commanders on the ground for targeting purposes (unless there is backchannel coordination we on the outside are somehow unaware of).. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Things have been hectic here in recent days and I don’t have time to write much text for TWD but wanted to put up a few images that might otherwise go unseen. The battle for Kobane is nothing short of brutal and it is happening in front of local and global media outlets which makes it that much more frustrating that the international community cannot stop something it can see in real time. Syria is the most dangerous place on earth for journalists and here in Turkey we have found a bit of a safe haven.

Much of what we see from the war is via youtube and after I went to Idlib Governorate in early 2012 I didn’t return once the hostage taking metastisized later that year. I nearly went to Rojava (PYD-controlled Syrian Kurdistan) last year but backed after I decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward in that particular crossing. Warfare so close to the relative security of Turkey has made for a kind of perverse theater but it has at least put the Islamic State in view of the public for the first time not through their own visual propaganda.

A photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

A Blackberry photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey's border with the PYD-YPG 'canton' of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey’s border with the PYD-YPG ‘canton’ of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense but only observe due to an ever-tightening Turkish blockade. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish Tanks Moving Outside Siege of Kobane Syria from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane and Turkish tanks sit in the background. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Middle East, Syria, Turkey Tags:

From Gaziantep

October 9th, 2014 No comments
The Sirvani mosque near Gaziantep's castle. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Sirvani mosque dating back to the Mamluk dynasty lights up at dusk near Gaziantep’s hilltop castle. A moment where I realize why I fell in love with this region to begin with. It’s deep history is far more enriching that the day to day politics that often consume us. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Gaziantep- It is being reported that four people have been killed in clashes between Turkish ethno-nationalists and Kurds here tonight according to CNN Turk. I was just outside the main government hospital while going to an all-night bakery and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It’s shameful that the civil war in Syria is awakening ethnic tensions here. Earlier today I was talking to the receptionist at the hotel about how luckily there wasn’t a curfew here as had been imposed in other cities this week. That could change.

I arrived in Gaziantep in the middle of the night to make my way to the somewhat Orwellian media circus adjacent the siege of Kobane. I assumed most journos are basing themselves in Sanliurfa though I met a French TV correspondent that was on my flight telling me she and her crew are staying here. The Kobane crisis is pathetic on so many levels. The YPG, the PYD’s military wing has their backs against the wall with the wall being a barbed wire border fence backed by Turkish tanks. Turkey refuses to step in a rescue the PKK-aligned YPG (or Syrian wing of the PKK if you prefer) because that would save a sister organization that the Turkish forces have formally been at war with on and off since 1984.

After 30 years of guerrilla war in southeastern Anatolia, Ankara may prefer to let IS come right up to its border rather than help the enemy it knows. To the Turks, both movements are unpalatable and the only options were complicated highly politicized ones that suit their agenda for which those under siege in Kobane do not have time. Even if American aerial bombardments can stave off the IS advance as it purportedly brings in reinforcements from Raqqa, there is for the time being no way, at least that I know of, for the YPG to be resupplied with munitions, not to mention food and potable water.

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep's streets are eerily quiet after sundown. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep’s streets are eerily quiet after sundown. Last night I got chased by a pack of feral dogs at 3am as soon as I stepped out of the hotel looking for food. No such vibe in the seaside town of Marmaris where I’d just come from. This is not a party town. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Turkey Tags: ,

Sunsets of Fire

October 1st, 2014 No comments
A typical sunset as seen from Oia. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A typical sunset as seen from Oia. A cliché to be sure, but undeniably timeless. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- I’ve been existing in my news vacuum here for just about two weeks. I wanted to see if I could go 14 days without ingesting any news. Taking a break from breaking news on beheading videos, leading from behind the curve Obama speeches, people ranting about Putin and Putin not caring whatsoever etc. I’ve been doing some personal projects here with photo installations, writing, catching up on some old books I never finished in NYC over the years, and simply socializing. No one talks about world events here as if nothing is happening.

When I was here a few years ago and anti-austerity protests in Athens had a causal effect on the island with sanitation, airport and ferry strikes being instigated in solidarity here, we talked about Greek politics as it was unavoidable in the context of that time. My achilles heal however was my new hobby Instagram account. I was following a journalism power couple who work for opposing news outlets and when I noticed they were both on the same story at the same time next door in Turkey, I knew I was missing something big.

Otherwise I’ve had no inkling of what’s going on beyond the island save for a snippet I saw of a Greek news broadcast in a mini market talking about the crisis spilling over into arch rival Turkey. People are here to do yoga retreats and party. It’s fairly simple.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 1.42.31 PM

I put images of my guerrilla art gallery on Buzzfeed just to get the project out there. For years and years, I’ve had a drawer of old prints sitting around from the turn of this century that have never seen the light of day and I finally decided it was time to do something with them that I had envisioned at that time.

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

In other news, I very belatedly saw that I was quoted in early 2013 on PBS NewsHour/Council on Foreign Relations titled What Is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?. In no way a new development but I only now noticed it. More recently my work from Kirkuk in 2013 was cited by Stanford’s Mapping Militant Organizations project in its entry on JRTN.

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Santoriniana

September 22nd, 2014 No comments
The 1980's-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein's daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus' Old City. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The 1980’s-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein’s daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus’ Old City. While I hung out there Iranian pilgrims quietly milled around the site in awe. I dug this image up while mentioning Damascus in my writing today. So many places I’ve traveled to may be inaccessible now due to war or the ability of regimes to google journalists perhaps. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”-Homer, The Odyssey

Thira- Back on Santorini after two months in Barcelona doing some long form writing and not near the bustle of any major city, although some of the drivers here think they’re racing to beat a red light in Athens. I’m keeping my head down from the constant news out of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, West Africa or even Scotland or Catalunya.

My Magyar friend Patrik gave me an impromptu motivational talking to in Barcelona mid-summer. He’s off to Turkmenistan this week to see the Darvaza Crater a.k.a. the Door/Gate to Hell and view the absurdities of Ashgabat. When I was in Turkmenistan 13 years ago I didn’t dare take my camera out of the hotel due to the pervasive paranoid there. That’s one place, like Damascus pictured above, I’d very much like to return to.

I read yesterday that cruise ship traffic to this island is down because of “political instability in the eastern Mediterranean.” Santorini is nowhere near Syria. Are people worried about Achille Lauro redux? It kind of reminds me of being in Budapest in 1999 and the drop in tourism was credited to the NATO campaign in Kosovo. I understand people being risk averse. But sometimes boundless precautions are a bit over the top. I doubt IS is going to suddenly overwhelm Tartus and then begin a Somali pirate economy. But what do I know.

The shooting down of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine may have seemed unlikely until it happened. Weird to think a place as tranquil as this is somehow affected by Syrian chaos in a butterfly effect for lack of a more original term.

On an unrelated note, my 2011 biography on Khalifa Haftar was cited in Libya: from Repression to Revolution: A Record of Armed Conflict and International Law Violations, 2011-2013 edited by M. Cherif Bassiouni, Emeritus Professor Law at DePaul University.  A 2012 article I authored from Mali for CNN was cited in Fragile Stabilität – stabile Fragilität (Fragile stability – stable Fragility) in a chapter written by Scott G. McNall, professor of sociology at the University of Kansas and George Basile, Professor of Practice, School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Very pleased to learn of these citations.

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today's inescapable news cycle. of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today’s inescapable news cycle. Sometimes one has to shut down and look into longer term trends.  of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Europe, Syria Tags: , ,

When an Anniversary Becomes History

September 11th, 2014 No comments
A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left TV crews prepare to broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn's DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Floo

A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left a TV crew prepares for a live broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Today is just another 9/11 anniversary it seems. On twitter, everyone is consumed by Obama’s speech last night vowing to “destroy” the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The brutality of al-Qaeda has been rhetorically lessened with foolish tracts saying that Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s movement because AQ 1.0 was put off by IS’s even harsher methods as if there has been a collective forgetting of what al-Qaeda and its allies have done over the years. This is an absurd assertion.

The split is based more on divisive interpretations of salafi ideology, a supreme contest of egos within a very violent subculture, and plain envy. Bin Laden was not primarily a takfiri (one who maintains the authority to declare lesser Muslims or minorities within its reach ‘apostates’) but in his alliance with the Deobandi Taliban he was simultaneously focused on both the near and far enemies. Baghdadi has thus far been more narrowly focused in constructing his personality cult whereby the desired targets of IS’s aggression are the Shia and other related sects and those affiliated with regional regimes they deem worthy of death. To say one group is more ‘brutal’ than the other is a futile comparison. It is far more about the ebb and flow on the centers of power within trends in global militancy than a zero sum game.

Here in Barcelona, it’s Onze de Setembre (National Day of Catalonia), a celebration of Catalan martyrdom that is experienced as hyper localized nationalism. Drums beat, scooters beep and a rivalry in the heart of the first world rages on.

To me, it is simply 9/11.

For a solid decade I would return from wherever I was in the world to New York to document the goings on at the World Trade Center which for many years was referred to simply as ‘Ground Zero.’ For all of the anniversaries I attended in order to document, I did so without accreditation except for the final one–the 10th–when I applied for permission from the Bloomberg administration to photograph the two visiting presidents. That last few years since the 2011 shoot, I haven’t returned to the World Trade Center.

Yesterday here in Catalunya it was in fact the furthest thing from my mind as I hung out with friends at the beach in Barceloneta. Nor did I think about the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud either. Things that I have felt and witnessed and people I once knew who have died have since been enveloped into history as once so viscerally palpable anniversaries have often morphed into more ordinary days as the healing current of time passes by.

People observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

People observe a moment of silence in Zuccotti Park in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

We often think of history in a linear form comprised of a 365 day year based on  the Gregorian calendar with momentous anniversaries in one-year increments up until the 5th year and in five year increments thereafter (and later potentially being noted in 10 year increments) i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th anniversaries being momentous and then culminating (for now) at the 10th which forms a time capsule known as a ‘decade.’

But for the people directly affected, is today’s 13th anniversary any less significant than the 1st back in 2002, the 5th in 2006 or the 10th in 2011?  History as we live it is a living, breathing organism. Time never does stand still. I may be in the fever of minority linguistic politics here along the western Mediterranean as if Franco died yesterday but I cannot escape the track in which the events that day 13 years ago defined the course of my adult life. Though I no longer rush back to New York to document the day, it will forever remain in my aching heart.

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush look on as families of the victims speak from the podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Floo

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, and Laura Bush, look on behind bullet-proof glass as families of the victims speak from a podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Peace In Light of War

August 30th, 2014 No comments
The sun sets over Cituadella Parc. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The sun sets over Parc de la Ciutadella. The air and light in the Mediterranean region is like no other which is part of  why I return year after year. This spot is calm incarnate. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I realized the other day that going to wars for years and years affects perhaps not only the psyche over the long term but also the synaptic algorithms that are part of an unending string of decision making processes driving daily routines. I can be in the most secure Western city environment but am still often making the smallest decisions in a wartime mindset without even realizing it. Hard to explain but basically always bracing for the worst. Here the most petty detail like the food stores being closed on Sundays somehow evokes the most careful conflict behavioral patterns. I remember in Afghanistan in 2001 when ABC and CBS had teamed up to set up a joint broadcast compound and they had gone to a bottled water warehouse in Tajikistan beforehand and bought half the potable water in Dushanbe to take with them down to Takhar.

Those early experiences had a molding effect on me that is often difficult to gauge. Now even if I am just coming to the EU, I find myself prepping and packing as if I was going off to war. You can leave a war but war never quite leaves you.

The last significant acts of terrorism here were a parking garage bombing in June 1987 that killed 21 attributed to ETA and a bar bombing that December which killed an American sailor during a Christmas port call and was claimed by Catalan radicals. But the wealthy from societies in conflict today seem to all be here as tourists and so to me war is never far away. Just before I shot the above photo, a nouveau riche family with a brand new Porsche bearing unmistakeable Ukrainian plates had their car towed where friends and I were sitting and asked for our help as they did not speak Spanish much less Catalan. As I was shopping for clothes in the discount department store yesterday, I find myself reflexively trying to discern where the niqab-clad North African in line ahead of me might precisely be from. This stuff is just always on my mind. An innate curiosity coupled with too much experience often makes it difficult to zone out.

The past few years the only way I could justify being here was by go to and fro to conflicts; Libya in 2011, Mali in 2012, Iraq in 2013. This summer I decided to simply return to Catalunya without forcing myself to justify it. Did I miss out on the big Sinjar drama? Of course I did. One thing I have learned in all this time is that if you do miss out on a story, if you’re patient enough another one will pop up in no time. Despite tracts written about how this is the most peaceful time mankind has yet lived in comparative to the scale of the World Wars that consumed the first half of the last century, there are seemingly always more wars to come. They may not have vast trench networks and poignant ballads written about them but today’s wars are many if not ‘Great’ or “Patriotic’ in the grandiose appellations of an era gone by.

To relative safety. After being nearly shot by a regime sniper nest in Qwaleesh my agile driver roared our Hi-Lux back to a friendly checkpoint hoisting Qatari and Tunisian flags. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

To relative safety. After being nearly shot by a regime sniper nest in Qwaleesh, my ultra agile driver roared our Hi-Lux back to a friendly rebel checkpoint hoisting Qatari and Tunisian flags. That era is the thing of the past as Libya has no single internal enemy to rally around and Libyans have turned their many guns on one another. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

For what I suppose is part of the make up of my personality every single trip I have ever done has been alone. I meet other journos in war zones but almost always by sheer happenstance. No one has ever bought me a plane ticket to go anywhere ever. No big name outlet has ever called me up out of the blue and thrown an assignment at me. Everything I’ve ever done has essentially been as an autodidactic hustler.

I’ve worked in conflicts since 9/11 yet have never been written up as a ‘veteran’ while loads of people from the class of Libya 2011 have quickly surpassed me at least in terms twitter/instagram fame and so forth. Hell, one random guy with an iphone who spoke zero Arabic wound up with a spot in the world’s most prestigious photo agency and with a documentary then being made about his exploits by a big name Hollywood director. Suddenly people were getting famous for not dying after others did. Coming to NYC and winning big awards in the aftermath. The ‘Arab Spring’ morphed into a major turning point for journalism itself. It became a veritable free-for-all environment for those just getting started.  Safety norms were either not heeded in many instances or simply went out the window of the technical fighting truck.

My fixer driving us into outskirts of Kirkuk last year. He is plenty busy now. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

My fantastic fixer driving us into outskirts of Kirkuk last year. He is plenty busy now, one can be sure. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

To my knowledge another photojournalist has never shot my photo while I’m working along a front line. If I went missing in one of these places there wouldn’t be a flurry of action shots of me to raise awareness. I’ve also never worn or had access to a bullet proof vest. Perhaps I simply don’t do enough socializing when I’m in these places. To add to that I also occasionally like to cover events before they’ve been totally blown out in the mainstream. In Iraq last August I didn’t encounter a single other war correspondent. Iraq was considered a dormant conflict to many and was definitely not ‘hot’ story-wise what with Syria going on next door.

I’m currently debating whether its worth doing any more wars from here on out. Perhaps a couple more. There is only so much that can been gleaned from hiking up a mined hillside or facing off a guy with a Dragnov rifle when you only have a long camera lens to shoot back with. Of course to truly understand the human dynamics you have to actually go to these places. There is a middle ground between an adrenalin rush and an armchair twitter warrior also where you can go to Kiev or Erbil and be mostly safe without venturing toward Donbas or Mosul for example.  This is the modus of the more reserved journos or more actionable wonks.

There’s a whole crew of millennial wunderkinds making their names in prominent think tanks or King’s College War Studies Department or Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies Department by analyzing trends in salafi social media and venturing into the ummah’s safer nodes like Casablanca, Tunis or even Sana’a on a good week without ever really putting their lives at risk.  But I don’t fit into that category either. A senior analyst in DC once told me on the sidelines of a conference that as far as he was concerned a true subject matter expert concentrates on one, possibly two, but no more than three countries (his were Morocco and Algeria and sometimes Tunisia). That gave me insight into just how competitive the think tank set is.

Rather than befriend gatekeepers who prove difficult, I just move in another direction until a more friendly door opens. Things have a way of falling into place if you let them it seems.

A few weeks ago I went partying with some friends atop a dilapidated bunker from the civil war here where people now congregate for sunset gahterings with a spectacular view of the city below. That bitter war between Franco’s Nationalists and the floundering Republicans is firmly in the ash bin of history, its legacy is relegated to anti-fascist graffiti slogans and sparse ruins from the era. Every war, no matter how long or brutal, eventually ends.  Even in dark, peace can and will be found in light of war.

A bunker from the Spanish Civil War has now become an underground party place for people here. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A bunker from the Spanish Civil War has now become an underground party place for people here. The Catalan reads: “The Bunkers are of the neighborhood.” I think whoever wrote this was trying implore either for outsiders to respect the area or maybe a ‘locals only’ vibe. There is some old adage about every war zone eventually becomes a tourist destination. That could not be more true with this city. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Destroying Existing State Systems to Build New Ones

August 20th, 2014 No comments
A lost opportunity? Abu Muhammad, a Free Syrian Army unit commander in Idlib, pleaded for the international community to implement a no-fly zone extending 5 kilometers from the Turkish border to create a cordon sanitaire for fleeing refugees and injured rebels. His call was never heeded. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A lost opportunity? Abu Muhammad, a Free Syrian Army unit commander in Idlib, pleaded for the international community to implement a no-fly zone extending 5 kilometers from the Turkish border to create a cordon sanitaire for fleeing refugees and injured rebels. His call was never heeded. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have a new report out this week for IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in London on my analysis of the Islamic State’s brutal campaign to establish a religio-politcal entity among several of the former Ottoman (the last recognized caliphate in existence) vilayats that now inhabit the governorates of Syria and Iraq where IS is working to consolidate territorial control.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 4.21.19 PMThe conflict inside Syria morphed from minor protests that resulted in disproportionate regime reactions that in turn gave rise to an armed rebellion in 2011. That armed rebellion which I explored in early 2012 then became Islamized by both Islamist Sunni nationalists and later by salafist peer competitors. A cacophonous battlefield erupted over time where sectarian difference, religious difference and ethnic divides created perhaps the most highly complex internecine war of the post-modern era in terms of the sheet number of war fighting groups and conflicting agendas.

 

On a related note, I returned home after a great day out with friends here in the city to check my twitter and learn of the execution of James Foley.  The reactions to the tragedy on twitter were sadly all too predictable. Many tweets sought to emphasize that the overwhelming majority if IS’s victims in Syria and Iraq are indigenous peoples who perish largely in silence and that the Foley case was overshadowing a grand scale human tragedy with the plight of a few Westerners being over played by the Western media.

Yet other tweets dwelled on the ethics of sharing such an awful product or even watching it at all. I recall these precise arguments from beheadings in the early years of the Iraq war and other incidents in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Aside from those, there is the talk of the predicament of what to do about the remaining hostages. Then arguments begin to become ballooned out to what Obama should or should not have done in Syria earlier on, how Benghazi affected the White House’s Syria policy or lack thereof and so forth. Much of this echoes the Iraq war to begin with. Hostages crises, myriad militant organizations, Ba’athism, Kurdish secessionism etc.

Obama has sought to improve America’s standing here in the EU and around the world as a whole which in theory is a commendable objective after years of disastrous neoconservative-inflected, poorly informed foreign policy decisions. But there is also a futility in this as an end goal. I recall talking to a Catalan woman I was rooming with in this neighborhood some years ago and-as is often the case as an American in the EU-she volunteered her views on U.S. foreign policy without me prompting her to. “I think Obama is a an actor. A very good actor” she said to me. Was she referring to his not closing down Guantanamo? It didn’t really matter. The initial euphoria over his election had long since waned and knee-jerk cynicism had set in.

I remember not long before that when people here were heralding the end of the Bush era and a new, hopefully healthier trans-Atlantic partnership. But of course latent anti-Americanism reared its head again in no time at all. Was his refusal to overtly (as opposed to covertly) act on Syria related to it being too evocative of Bush unilateralism that turned so much of global public opinion against American’s immensely tarnished image? Or was it the fact that Washington’s Israeli partners who occupy a swath of southern Syria hadn’t themselves decided on their own response to which D.C. could not act without their consent? As an outside observer one can only speculate on these matters. An observer is not one of history’s actors so to speak. An observer bears witness and records events but is not meant to influence them in the purest interpretation of observational ethics.

The rise of Baghdadi’s Islamic State and the brutal death of James Foley illustrate that whatever is being done with regard to Iraq and Syria by major and regional powers alike is an abject failure. There will simply be more air strikes, more hostage issues and increased radicalism should the present course continue unchallenged.

Categories: Iraq, Syria Tags: