Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Iranian Hand in the Houla Massacre?

August 11, 2015

One of the more widely-read pieces on the May, 2012 Houla Massacre remains this piece in the Guardian I haven't explicitly tackled yet: Houla massacre: US accuses Iran of 'bragging' about its military aid to Syria  Chris McGreal in Washington Tuesday 29 May 2012 16.51 EDT
Victoria Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, said that Iran's hand is clearly visible in the killing of more than 100 people, including scores of young children, by a Syrian militia group, the Shabiha, which closely resembles an Iranian militia, the Basij.
"We took this action (expelling Syria's ambassador) in response to the massacre in the village of Houla – absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable massacre against innocent children, women shot at point blank range by regime thugs, the Shabiha, aided and abetted by the Iranians who were actually bragging about it over the weekend," said Nuland.
This accusation of a clear "Iranian hand" in the massacre might sound about like the picture at right, minus the question mark; the Mullahs in Tehran directly and knowingly assisted in sectarian slaughter like the rebels allege happened in Taldou that day. But the argument - and the Guardian's reason for attaching "Houla Massacre" to this report about general military aid - is kind of roundabout.

The actual accusation, which accompanied the expulsion of Syria's ambassador, was that Iran was helping Syria in general with boosting its local paramilitaries now called National Defense Forces. The derogatory nickname for these - "Shabiha" - does not mean "thug" as widely believed, or anything exactly. It's apparently derived from the militia's original name, Lijan Shabiya, or Popular Committees (sometimes called Local Committees, I think) distorted maybe to imply "ghosts" or the act of tearing a person apart (see here). And they are not an Alawite death cult as widely claimed, but of whatever faith the locals are, and secular in operation. After the Iranian-aided boost, they became the more official and capable NDF we see today fighting and often dying in the field. 

The purely Sunni and largely foreign rebels hate the "Shabiha" and from 2011 forward have blamed them for a slew of horrific crimes, most notably this Houla Massacre, creating a mythical, cartoon villain version of the real militias. This is the version Nuland is talking about.

It's never alleged that Tehran helped directly in the operation of the massacre itself, just that they sent their barbarity over to take root as its own Syrian version, with continued general assistance, and that led to the killings. The State Department analysis, as passed on by Nuland, found similarities between the "Shabiha thugs" and the Iranian Basij militias. But if "the Basij and the Shabiha are the same type of thing," as Nuland says, that does not mean they're definitely organized by the same people. Models can just be copied, or naturally wind up the same, as with adaptation in the wild.

But there was a more concrete sign of a connection alleged: The Guardian piece continues:
Nuland further implicated Iran by drawing attention to the timing of a claim by the deputy head of its Quds force, Esmail Ghani, that it has played a "physical and non-physical" role in Syria, and that if it were not present "the killing of citizens would be greater."

Nuland noted the timing of this, coming over the weekend immediately after the killings in Houla. This "Bragging" just then could have one of two non-coincidental reasons, depending how the evidence pans out:
1) They were excited to be involved in the genocide against Sunnis and hoped to help expand the killing (the implication of State's allegation)
2) They were excited to help the local militias prevent more destabilizing terrorist massacres like that, in their allied nation of Syria.
The quote included "if (Quds) were not present "the killing of citizens would be greater."" Well, that's not option 1) unless they're talking in code, as State probably meant to imply. These were candid, intercepted calls? And that's the juiciest quote they could find? Sounds to me like they're talking, honestly, about option 2, expressing worries that wind up being the ones supported by the best evidence.

It turns out rebel-supplied video evidence of the events of May 25, carefully analyzed, contradicts the rebel-supplied narrative on which all the Shabiha blame is based. Opposition sources said rebels were in charge in the "village" of Houla (but were really in charge of most of the 3-town area), but they ran away under regime shelling of the "village." This let the local Shabiha, mostly from a few nearby Alawi (Alawite) villages, march in to murder random Sunni families. This is the version Nuland referred to.
Taldou, security posts vs. massacre sites

But the scant video shows no government attack, and instead shows that Sunni rebels shouting Allahu Akbar attacked security posts on the day of the massacre, overrunning the last government-held part of the Houla region. This was the southern half of the southernmost town of Taldou, and it was immediately before the lamented families were massacred in southern Taldou, behind that erased line of protection. (see The Battle for the Houla Massacre, report with all lodged challenges and updates, here).

So who would be best positioned to carry out a massacre there on that day? Maybe the same folks who wound up with all the bodies after? That would be the anti-government forces, FSA and probably al-Qaeda, supported in myriad ways by the United States and its allies. With actual video evidence, not just words, ... well I wouldn't say Washington's hand is clear in this massacre of whole families in Syria, but... that would be way way closer to the truth than blaming Iran and the defenders they were supporting.

Taldou defenders, Iranian-backed
Any proto-NDF Popular Committees fighters involved in the battle for Taldou would be local defenders who, like their colleagues in the Army, were unable to stop that unprecedented rebel assault. In fact the guy in civilian clothes laid out here, with some soldiers killed in the Battle for the Houla Massacre, might be one of them. (Source: ANNA News video, Taldou, May 26 - composite view)

We don't know for sure who the civilian victims really were, but the more credible witnesses and sources - the ones who mentioned the rebel attack rebels themselves deny - have a prevailing explanation. According to them, the victims were of 2 types, one being Sunnis (mostly named al-Sayed) accused of rejecting the rebellion, being in the military, or having a family relation to a member of parliament (secretary Mashlab, just sworn-in).

But the major part of the victims were former Sunnis who converted to Shi'ism That was the extended Abdulrazaq families, with intermarried others totaling as many as 90 of the 100+ civilian victims (see here for that little-known tidbit). The most credible version says they were Shia (Shi'ites), members of the same majority religion in Iran, of which Assad's Alawi faith is a localized offshoot. Sunni extremists hate Shi'ism worse than anything, and faith traitors who would willingly embrace it.
So ... 
"We find it interesting that it was on this very weekend that the deputy head of the Quds force decided to take credit for the advice they're giving to Syria," she said.

No one could deny it was likely the Houla Massacre that spurred Ghani to this discussion. On the weekend following a great loss of civilian lives, of coreligionists no less, massacred by rampant Sunni extremists, they were overheard discussing how to boost local defense forces to stop further massacres. This is Nuland's idea of shady timing, but they "brag" only that if they and their help weren't there, "the killing of citizens would be greater."

State suggests that's code for wanting to kill more. But it's far more likely Nuland and so many others are seriously talking in an established code when they go on about saving lives. The Houla Massacre had to give Victoria Nuland a hard-on. This bleeding of Syria - by destabilizing terrorist events just like that - is essential to the script, and she knows it.

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