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Jihadists

Tag Archives | Jihadists

The Arab Spring Didn’t Buy the West Many Friends

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Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The Arab Spring brought about regime change as well as created instability. At the same time it emboldened a new generation of Salafi Islamists– spurred on by ultraconservative imams who had been muzzled for years.

Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The Salafi Islamist movement wants to control the governing process. Tunisia was the first to see regime change, followed by Egypt and Libya. Quick action by Algeria’s leader in reducing food prices, and modifying oppressive government actions saved him from the same fate. Morocco also fared better, with the monarchy allowing new parliamentary elections, addressing human rights issues, and giving up some sovereign rights. An Islamist recently won the election in Morocco, and became the prime minister. Salafi Islamists will continue to gain influence in the North African countries. These rulers have temporarily survived, but there is still underlying discontentment that won’t go away. Drought related issues, rising food prices, and high unemployment continue to be major concerns across the Maghreb.

In the Arabian Peninsula al-Qaeda and affiliated Islamic extremists are chipping away at the governments in Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Syria will eventually fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. The instability caused by these Islamists could spill over into Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the Emirates. In Saudi Arabia, al-Saud in 1744 embraced Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s narrow version of Islam, which included armed jihad. Osama bin Laden was a disciple. His al-Qaeda network has been angered by the House of Saud, which could put the Saudi leadership at risk. Islamic extremists will continue to destabilize countries, in their quest to establish Islamic states.

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World Braces for Syrian Trainwreck

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Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo's most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012.  Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, a grim milestone was achieved in Syria: several peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo were massacred.

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

The twist is that the demonstrators were calling for protection by the Syrian army to end the destruction of the city; they were shot by insurgents. A single, thinly sourced news item is not needed to demonstrate the profound moral and strategic disarray afflicting the Syrian insurrection as the country totters toward collapse. A handier and more reliable reference point is the abrupt and forcible reorganization of the overseas Syrian opposition at the behest of the United States. The Syrian National Council (SNC) is now just a junior partner in a broader opposition grouping, the “Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces” (SNCORF). Reportedly, this new group was formed at the insistence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is retiring in a few weeks and apparently wished to pull the plug on the ineffectual SNC and replace it with something less overtly Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood-esque. The SNC’s major sponsor, Qatar, and the great minds at the Doha branch of the Brookings Institute responded with the marvel that is SNCORF.

SNCORF is striving for rainbow-coalition inclusiveness. The big tent includes secularists, Christians, Alawites, and women - and also 22 SNC/Muslim Brotherhood holdovers - but, for the time being, no Kurds. Also, none of the Western reporting indicated that representatives of the most inclusive and legitimate in-country opposition, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, led by Hassan Abdul Azim, attended the meeting. In an attempt to have its communal cake and eat it too, SNCORF announced that this inclusive grouping would be headed by a Sunni cleric, an ex-imam of the Umayyad Mosque, one Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who appeared in a suit and tie to advertise, if not his secularism, his secular-friendly taste in attire.

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Islamists May Gain Political Control: Part Two

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Tuareg fighters. Source: Magharebia

In the Arab Spring dissidents involved in the uprisings used the U.S. and European allies for financial and military support, which led to regime change, but not to the democratic outcome that everyone had expected.

Tuareg fighters. Source: Magharebia

The ultraconservative Salafi Islamists may well become the beneficiaries of our efforts to achieve democratic governance. In the North African countries Salafists are pressing to institute Sharia, the strict Islamic law. Time will tell if the fragile governments formed to date will succeed, and whether the existing autocratic rulers will survive. If economic changes, needed to improve the poverty conditions in these countries, are not instituted quickly, we can expect more uprisings in which the Salafi Islamists will try to turn the countries into Islamic states.

We may still see more bloodshed in these countries, since attaining democracy in a tribal society will be difficult to attain. The protesters have said they wanted ‘change,’ which we interpreted as our form of democracy, which is a cliché in this part of the world. In reality the Salafists observe the narrow tenets of early orthodox conservatives, which clash with the tenets of democracy. The State Department recently defended the regime change stating, “It was the process that matters, not the ideologies of those taking part,” and noting that, “Along the way [they] trained and gave guidance to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist candidates in the electioneering process.”

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Islamists May Gain Political Control: Part One

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Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi

The Arab Spring started with uprisings by dissidents in Tunisia, and spread across North Africa, and to the Arabian Peninsula.

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi

Today Syria is under siege by rebel militias, and al-Qaeda linked affiliates are taking advantage of the destabilization by instituting their own style of terrorist attacks. The Islamist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Ansar al-Sharia, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which reportedly receive financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar sources. In Syria the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad may not lead to democratic governance, a goal of the Arab Spring, as we are witnessing in North Africa. These radical Islamists with their large cache of arms can outwait the U.S. supported rebel militias, to participate in government change under Islamic law.

In a May 23, 2012 Reuters article, it was noted that the Gulf Arab countries were alarmed by the crisis in Yemen, that gave “Al-Qaeda the opportunity to develop a base from which to launch attacks around the world.” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi stated, “Saudi Arabia is cognizant that their stability depends on that of Yemen” fearing an uprising there was a possibility. It is also possible that the ultraconservative Wahhabists could destabilize Saudi Arabia, and neighbors Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

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Can a Nuclear Armed Iran Be Contained?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly.  J Carrier/UN

During his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb to urge international action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly. J Carrier/UN

He emphasized that soon Iran will have enough enriched uranium to become a threat to the existence of Israel, and said the world has until next summer at the latest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The debate on Iran’s nuclear facilities has been going on for several years now, with arguments both for and against letting Iran enrich uranium. Not so long ago Kenneth Waltz wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he expressed his view that a nuclear-armed Iran could even be beneficial by providing stability in the Middle East, Netanyahu however argued that one cannot expect rational acts from the Islamic Republic and urged for the threat (or use) of force.

To shed light on the issue, we turned to Richard K. Betts of Columbia University, Sadegh Zibakalam of the University of Tehran, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Insitute, Gary G. Sick of Columbia University, Ze’ev Maghen of Bar Ilan University, M.J. Rosenberg a foreign policy commentator, David Menashri of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, renowned author Robert Jervis of Columbia University, Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, Austin Long of Columbia University, Ran Rovner of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Keenan Mahoney of Columbia University to ask: Can a nuclear Iran be contained?

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Jihadists on the March in West Africa

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Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

Terrorism in North Africa like in Algeria and Mali’s war illustrates the reach of Islamic militants throughout Africa.

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iran, Syria, and the evolving results of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups like Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other splinter terrorist organizations have made substantial progress in either heavily influencing or controlling significant swathes of territory in some countries in West Africa. The west of Libya, northern Nigeria and northern Mali are all experiencing extreme levels of violence at the hands of Boko Haram and likeminded Islamic militant groups.

A primary reason West Africa is experiencing so much violence and upheaval from so many Islamist militant groups is because the area is so expansive and the local governments are incapable of exerting control outside of major population areas. Northern Mali fell to Al Qaeda linked militants earlier this year, and their influence soon spread to Niger and Nigeria.

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Syria and the Dogs of War

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A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares to fire an RPG as a Syrian Army tank shell hits a building across a street during heavy fighting in central Aleppo. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war, that this foul deed shall smell above the earth, with carrion men, groaning for burial.” – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1601

A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares to fire an RPG as a Syrian Army tank shell hits a building across a street during heavy fighting in central Aleppo. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

“Blood and destruction,” “dreadful objects,” and “pity choked” was the Bard’s searing characterization of what war visits upon the living. It is a description that increasingly parallels the ongoing war in Syria, and one that is likely to worsen unless the protagonists step back and search for a diplomatic solution to the 17-month old civil war. From an initial clash over a monopoly of power by Syria’s Baathist Party, the war has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, ignited regional sectarianism, drawn in nations around the globe, and damaged the reputation of regional and international organizations. Once loosed, the dogs of war range where they will.

While the regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited the explosion by its brutal response to political protests, much of the blame for the current situation lies with those countries, seeing an opportunity to eliminate an enemy, that fanned the flames with weapons and aid: the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, plus a host of minor cast members ranging from Jordan to Libya. The results are almost exactly what Russia and China predicted when they warned about trying to force a regime change without a negotiated settlement: an opening for radical Islamists, a flood of refugees, and growing instability in a region primed to erupt.

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Syria: A Way Out

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Paris for the Friends of Syria Meeting with other Western delegates to hammer out an agreement. F. de La Mure/MAE

There are two tales about the crisis in Syria.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Paris for the Friends of Syria Meeting with other Western delegates to hammer out an agreement. F. de La Mure/MAE

In one, the vast majority of Syrians have risen up against the brutality of a criminal dictatorship. The government of Bashar al Assad is on the ropes, isolated regionally and internationally, and only holding on because Russia and China vetoed United Nations intervention. Secretary to State Hillary Clinton describes Assad as “a war criminal,” and President Barak Obama called him a “dead man walking.” In the other, a sinister alliance of feudal Arab monarchies, the U.S. and its European allies, and al-Qaeda mujahedeen are cynically using the issue of democracy to overthrow a government most Syrians support, turn secular Syria into an Islamic stronghold, and transform Damascus into a loyal ally of Washington and Saudi Arabia against Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Like most stories, there is truth and fiction in both versions, but separating myth from reality is desperately important, because Syria sits at the strategic heart of the Middle East. Getting it wrong could topple dominoes from Cairo to Ankara, from Beirut to Teheran. There is no question but that last March’s demonstrations were a spontaneous reaction to the Syrian government’s arrest and torture of some school children in Deraa. What is more, that the corruption of the Assad family—they dominate the army, the security forces, and much of the telecommunications, banking and construction industry, coupled with the suffocating and brutal security forces, underlies the anger that fuels the uprising.

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Saudi Arabia and Qatar Ratchet Up Pressure on Assad

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending the Friends of Syria group in Paris with other foreign ministers to plot a path forward

Running counter to the wishes of the United States and other western nations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar recently announced that they are taking steps to arm the Free Syria Army (FSA).

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending the Friends of Syria group in Paris with other foreign ministers to plot a path forward

Despite the significance of this step, it is unlikely to shift the civil war in favor of the rebels. The FSA, armed with light weapons, suffered a number of strategic setbacks. Their tactical retreat from the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs paints a picture of a rebel group that lacks the operational capacity to challenge the Assad regime directly. Even with more equipment and firepower supplied by the international community, without a no fly-zone, similar to Libya, the FSA is likely to face more strategic losses.

“The Free Syria Army don’t (sic) have heavy weaponry, and without them, I’m not sure they can survive,” said the FSA’s Mulham Jundi. Still, despite the reservations that the Obama administration has for arming the rebels, the United States is keeping its options open. While meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in the Oval Office last month, Obama reiterated the position of his administration: the international community must continue to send Assad the message that he must step down from power, and the United States, with allied support, must use every available tool to “prevent the slaughter of innocents” in Syria.

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International Efforts to Counter Al-Shabaab

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Burundi soldier serving with AMISOM outside Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

Since the al-Shabaab (The Youth) took control of most of south and central Somalia in 2007, no Somali force or coalition of forces has developed the capacity to counter the al-Qaeda affiliated organization.

Burundi soldier serving with AMISOM outside Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

Militias under the control of Somali warlords were largely a spent force before al-Shabaab seized much of Somalia. The international community has trained a significant number of Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, but they have not yet achieved the numbers, tenacity and ability on their own to challenge al-Shabaab. It does not help that periodically they are not paid, a problem that recurred recently for some of them. The decentralized Ahlu Sunna Wa Jama’a (ASWJ) forces, a political grouping based on adherence to traditional Islamic practice, have prevailed in several battles with al-Shabaab but have not demonstrated the capacity to challenge it across Somalia.

As a result, foreign military forces, often with the assistance of allied Somali troops, have taken on the task of trying to dislodge al-Shabaab from south and central Somalia. Several thousand Ethiopian troops entered Somalia at the end of 2006 to repulse the Islamic Courts militias, which had taken control of Mogadishu and were moving towards Baidoa, a remaining TFG stronghold in central Somalia. The Ethiopian troops stopped the advance and succeeded in pushing the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu. Ethiopian forces then remained in Mogadishu until they returned to Ethiopia in January 2009. In the meantime, the most extreme elements of the Islamic Courts created al-Shabaab and seized control of most of south and central Somalia and eventually most of Mogadishu.

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Boko Haram Brings Nigeria to the Brink of Collapse

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Nigeria’s troubles are fuelled by ethnic and religious tensions. Stringer/EPA

“Boko Haram is a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians.” – U.S. State Department

Nigeria’s troubles are fuelled by ethnic and religious tensions. Stringer/EPA

The people committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, or Boko Haram as they are infamously known to the international community, has escalated its war on the Nigerian government in recent months with devastating effects. In January alone, the terror group’s attacks have already claimed over 250 lives, more than half of all deaths inflicted by their attacks in all of 2011. With a history of sectarian violence and recent bouts of civil unrest, Nigeria is on the path of collapse as it faces one of the deadliest Islamic insurgencies in the world.

Maiduguri, located in north-east Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated Borno state, is the birthplace of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, Boko Haram’s official nom de guerre. Founded in 2002 by influential Muslim cleric Mohammad Yusuf, the group evolved from the leader’s mosque and madrassa members to a nation-wide threat aimed at establishing sharia law throughout Africa’s most populous nation. And despite security forces arresting and summarily killing Yusuf in 2009, the group has reignited its efforts under its new leader to destabilize the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Following Yusuf’s death, Boko Haram’s deputy leader, Abubakar Shekau took the reigns and has capitalized on the population’s growing discontent with the government’s handling of Nigeria’s economic woes, now coupled with its inability to prevent the group’s increasingly brazen terror attacks.

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Al-Shabaab and Somalia in the 21st Century

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A soldier from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Stuart Price/UN

My starting point is that Somalia today is not what it was in the 1960s. I am not referring to the obvious fact that Somalia became a failed state in 1991. I am referring to subtle and not so subtle changes in the nature of society itself.

A soldier from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Stuart Price/UN

While clans remain important and, in some circumstances, are still the single most important feature of society, the role of Islam has changed dramatically. This has been accelerated by the breakdown of traditional society following years of civil war, broken families, failure of governmental institutions and the movement of large numbers of Somalis from rural areas to Mogadishu, other cities in Somalia and the overseas diaspora.

Political Islam, admittedly a term that holds different meaning for different people, has been present in Somalia for decades. It was a minor factor in the early years after Somali independence and harshly repressed during the Siad Barre regime. Even following the overthrow of Said Barre in 1991 and the breakdown of government, warlords initially filled the void before political Islam could assert itself.

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A Case for a United Nigeria

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One of the 46 churches burned by mobs of Muslims during the inter-communal violence in Jos, Nigeria in 2009.  Source: Human Rights Watch

The idea of Nigeria splitting into different sovereigns has gained traction over the last several weeks.

One of the 46 churches burned by mobs of Muslims during the inter-communal violence in Jos, Nigeria in 2009. Source: Human Rights Watch

A growing chorus of local leaders in Nigeria, looking to avoid what happened in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan are urging the federal government to look at splitting the nation before there is too much bloodshed. Muammar Gaddafi notoriously said the OPEC nation should split into two distinct nations; although everyone knows his motives were not pure. Still, when one looks at what a divided Nigeria would look like, the character of the Nigerian people and the incendiary faction, along with recent political events; one finds a strong case for unity.

Religious strife has gripped Nigeria, Africa’s most populace country. As predicted, the terrorist group Boko Haram bombed churches near the capital of Abuja and another in Jos, on Christmas Sunday of last year, killing 27 worshippers. Just a couple of weeks later, the radical Islamists killed 20 more people at a town hall in Mubi, a town in northeastern Nigeria near the Cameroon border, then again in Yola, killing 12 worshippers. This is nothing new for the oil rich, West African nation. Boko Haram, whose name in the regional Hausa language means, “western education is sinful,” has been credited, and taken credit for, over 500 deaths in the past year alone.

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The End of Gaddafi, the Beginning of Unknown

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Destroyed Libyan tank from NATO airstrikes. Source: Internews Network

After sustained NATO bombing of Libya for five months, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule is over.

Destroyed Libyan tank from NATO airstrikes. Source: Internews Network

The fall of Gaddafi will be a welcome event to many, but Libya is no Tunisia or Egypt. Unlike Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the collapse of Gaddafi’s dictatorship is a result of massive military intervention. Two points should be made at the outset. Libya is the second oil-rich state after Iraq to be a target of U.S.-led intervention since 2003. A small country of just over six million people, Libya is also endowed with vast high-quality oil reserves. Assuming authorization to “protect civilians” under a United Nations Security Council resolution in March, NATO flew nearly 20,000 missions over Libya, including 7,500 bombing missions.

NATO air power imposed a no-fly zone, and destroyed much of Gaddafi’s air force, tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery in the initial phase of its operations. British, French and Italian special forces were deployed as “advisers” in Libya, although foreign forces were forbidden under the Security Council resolution. NATO played a big role in helping the rebels storm Tripoli. Then, British and French took on the job of guiding anti-Gaddafi fighters toward Sirte, his birthplace and last major stronghold. To insist, as NATO did, that regime change was not its objective is far from the truth. The international community, within the United Nations and without, did not have the appetite to send a peacekeeping force while the no-fly zone was enforced.

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On Liberation and Libya

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Libyans celebrate in former ‘Green Square’ in Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

Many around the world took a celebratory tone when learning earlier this week that rebels in Libya gained control over Tripoli, the capital of that oil-rich country. Yet, these celebrations miss the point.

Libyans celebrate in former ‘Green Square’ in Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

To be clear, the Libyan people are now in control of their destiny in a way which they never have been; that is worth commending, but the means through which this was achieved are not. Indeed, one need only to look at the facts to see that the conduct of this revolution has been rather less than inspiring. Despite its name, the Arab Spring was actually triggered last winter following protests in Tunisia. The largely nonviolent protest movement in Tunisia resulted in the resignation and exile of an authoritarian president who had actively employed armed force against demonstrators. After some confusion, the leader of the largely symbolic legislature became President. What followed were similar nonviolent actions in other Arab countries, which, to a large extent, have only partially subsided.

The successful revolution in Tunisia was followed by upheavals in Egypt where, once more, armed force was applied against largely nonviolent public demonstrations. There, the military toppled the regime following backpedalling by the Egyptian president regarding his promise to step aside in response to the crisis. Following revolutions in two neighboring counties, demonstrations in Libya turned violent sparking a civil war which, as of this writing, remains ongoing even as a rebel victory now appears all but assured.

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