Syrian ‘moderates’ aren’t so moderate in Iraq

Who are the 'moderate' rebels President Obama wants to train and arm?

Well, God bless Barack Obama – he’s found some “moderate” rebels in Syria. Enough to supply them with weapons and training worth $500m. Congress wants to arm these brave freedom fighters, you see. And Obama, having sent his 300 elite Spartan lads to Iraq to help Nouri al-Maliki fight the rebels there, needs to send help to the rebels in Syria – even though most of them are on the side of the rebels in Iraq whom Obama wants Maliki to defeat.

Confusing? You bet. So first steps first. Who are the “moderate” rebels whom Obama wants to train and arm? He doesn’t name them – and he can’t, because the original “moderates” whom America swore to arm (with the help of the CIA, the Brits, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) were the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, mostly composed of deserters from Assad’s government forces. But the FSA – briefly beloved of John McCain until he discovered a pro-al-Qa’ida fighter sharing a photo-op with him in northern Syria – has decomposed.

Its men have gone home, switched to the bearded Islamists of the Nusrah or Isis – or Isil if we heed the latest acronym – or re-deserted to the government army and taken up arms for Assad again. Some freedom fighters! They weren’t given enough weapons, we are told. Now they’ll get more. And no doubt sell them – as they did the last lot. For it is a sad fact of war that whenever a gun crosses a border, it represents not loyalty but cash.

Give an FSA man – if you can find one – an anti-aircraft missile and it will be sold to the highest bidder. In all the civil wars I’ve covered, I’ve never seen a weapon in the hands of a militia which hasn’t bought it from someone else. In a humiliating interview on Channel 4, our own Defence Secretary admitted that weapons given to Syrian rebels had fallen into the hands of the bad guys. How do you monitor all the guys whom you give a gun to? Send them off with a personal drone to make sure they don’t sell it?

Besides, how do you actually find a “moderate” these days in Syria’s war? The Islamist rebels fight to the death. No “moderates” they. And – accursed facts now intervene – these are the very same Islamist rebels now threatening the Iraqi state. And just to make things even more confusing, Maliki has just been thanking Assad’s boys for air-raiding his own rebel enemies on the Iraqi-Syrian border on the grounds that Syria and Iraq are “friends”.

So now to our own real friend, the Department of Home Truths. What’s left of the FSA has been fighting the Islamist Isis-Isil forces. So have the Kurdish militias in northern Syria. So have a few village militias. And the Syrians have a suspicion that this is Obama’s half-baked plan: to arm the anti-Islamist Syrian rebels to fight the pro-al-Qa’ida rebels and thus – indirectly – keep both the Assad and Maliki regimes in power.

The problem is that Obama must do this without revealing that the Syrian-Iraqi battle against Sunni Wahabis is one and the same war, that Assad’s Syrian army – using Russian jets – is struggling against exactly the same enemy as Maliki’s Iraqi army, also soon to be augmented (if we are to believe Maliki’s blather to the BBC Arabic Service) with Russian jets. In other words, Assad not only has the public support of Moscow; he has the private support of Washington (and therefore, of course, of Israel).

Why else would the White House say that the money for Syrian “moderates” would help “counter terrorist threats” – “terrorist” being Assad’s description of his enemies. But of course, Obama must keep calling Assad a “brutal dictator”. Difficult to explain all this on Fox News, of course. So just keep repeating the word “moderate”. Over and over again.