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PostPutin, MBS, and Jeish al-Islam (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 06/16/18 7:33 am)
Gary Moore writes:
I've archived Helen Pitlick's (June 15) useful reminder on demonization and geopolitics:
"Russia the government and Russia the people aren't always one and the same....the Russians I know are...not right-wing bots like Americans now think they all are."
Helen mentioned the World Cup match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, in whose audience Prince and Putin sat amicably chatting. An irony in this is that Saudi Arabia has been the principal backer of the Jeish al-Islam rebel group in Syria, defeated in its city-fortress on April 8, largely by Russian bombardment (in the maze of the poison gas controversy of April 7).
Al-Jeish, with Saudi roots, is a Salafist/utopianist movement less internationally aggressive than ISIS, though any "moderate" label shipwrecks on the group's secretiveness. Salafism demands a return to the days of the holy and pure, more than a millennium gone (though now, seeing Prince Salman's Saudi reforms, would they add drivers' licenses for women?). Al-Jeish was another product of the Arab Spring euphoria of 2011, when the distant Saudis backed this Syrian horse (as opposed to more frankly horrific Syrian rebel factions) in a push to take the Syrian capital by 2013 and get the whole thing over with--whereupon Al-Jeish, presumably, would have safeguarded Syria's Sunni majority from its Alawite/Shia minority that runs the Assad government. "It'll all be over by Christmas," as they said in the Guns of August.
When Jeish's early offensive stalled, they withdrew to their fortress city, Douma, only six miles from Damascus, and settled into a highly mysterious bunker mentality, a city of 200,000, including perhaps 10,000 rebels, largely cut off from the outside world. The Saudis were then said to cool on Al-Jeish. What their exact role was, or wasn't, at the grisly end this year is another unknown. As of April 8, the now-defeated Al Jeish was bussed en masse to refugee camps run by Turkey, an enemy of Assad in Syria--and of Russia, and, intermittently, of the United States, while Iran and Russia cement a Persian bridge to Lebanon and the Mediterranean. Sounds as confused as the Balkan Wars of 1912. So that faint thunder. Is it the cheering football crowd? Must be. It's not August.
JE comments: Wikipedia transliterates the group as Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam). It would have been fascinating to be the proverbial fly buzzing over the Putin-MbS Soccer Summit. Where were their interpreters, I wonder?