Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 1st, 2012
Obama administration works to launch new Syrian opposition council, Posted By Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy
Syrian opposition leaders of all stripes will convene in Qatar next week to form a new leadership body to subsume the opposition Syrian National Council, which is widely viewed as ineffective, consumed by infighting, and little respected on the ground, The Cable has learned.
The United States is withdrawing support for the Syrian National Council (SNC) and helping form a more representative opposition group. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.” The SNC is largely comprised of exiles. The Obama administration has been working behind the scenes for several months in negotiations to build a new Syrian opposition leadership. Clinton said she has been heavily involved in planning an Arab League supported meeting for next week in Doha, Qatar, where opposition figures will work to form a new opposition body. U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, pulled form Syria last year due to safety concerns, has also been working to assemble a new group. It is expected to have between 35 and 50 representatives, up to one third of which will likely go to members of the SNC. Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who defected in August, is one of the people proposed for the new council. Addressing increasing reports of Islamist extremist involvement in fighting in Syria, Clinton also warned the opposition should “strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution.” Meeting with U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria Lakdar Brahimi, China proposed a plan to end violence in Syria including a regionally phased ceasefire and establishment of a transitional government. Meanwhile, violence continued Wednesday with street fights in Aleppo and a bombing in Atarib, 12 miles west of the city, which hit a breadline and killed at least 15 people. Additionally, a bomb exploded at a Shiite shrine in Damascus near a government checkpoint.
Louay Safia, member of the Syrian National Council, called recent comments by Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, regarding the SNC “an astounding statement”.
Though Safia admits the largely foreign-based opposition group has under-performed in some areas, he said “the secretrary will have to take some credit for that”.
In response to Clinton’s fears of “extremist” groups taking hold in the Syrian opposition, Safia says such groups are everywhere, but “in Syria they are very marginal”.
Safia then went on to criticse US policy in Syria saying Washington is currently working on a deal with Moscow and that the Obama administration “would like to have quiet in Syria”, even if that means Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, retains some level of power.
The Creation Of A U.S.-Approved Syrian Government In Exile – OpEd
By: Paul Woodward, October 31, 2012
Is American diplomacy an oxymoron? The Syrian opposition has been notoriously fractured, so the goal of forging unity among what have hitherto been disparate groups clearly makes sense. What makes no sense but should be no surprise is Washington’s typical heavy-handedness in trying to achieve this goal.
An upcoming Qatar meeting “will include dozens of opposition leaders from inside Syria, including from the provincial revolutionary councils, the local ‘coordination committees’ of activists, and select people from the newly established local administrative councils.
So far so good. But then comes this message from a senior Obama administration official: “We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you’re going to do this now,” the official said. “We aren’t going to waste anymore time. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now.”
Stand to attention and follow our instructions because America is running out of patience.
Is that the kind of admonition that’s going to smooth out all the discord? I don’t think so. What it is, is the imperial American way….
Fighting erupts between Syrian rebels and Kurds – Liz Sly in Washington Post
BEIRUT — Nearly a week of fighting between Kurds and Arab rebels in northern Syria risks opening a new front in the already bloody battle for control of the country, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that threatens to ignite sectarian and ethnic tensions across the region…..
A friend writes:Thank you for your thorough reporting on all things Syria. Your blog is the best place to get information, and informed opinion, on what’s happening.I don’t know if you have read this op-ed already, but it is quite astonishing. Do you have any evidence, or heard any rumours, that the US was involved in gun running from Libya to the Syrian rebels? Could the Russian SA-7′s which the rebels have been using recently come from Gadaffi’s looted stores of Russian weapons?Retired Adm. James A. Lyons, former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations recently wrote an op-ed asking some rather pointed questions, and making some astonishing claims:Obama needs to come clean on what happened in Benghazi
Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.We now know why Ambassador Christopher Stevens had to be in Benghazi the night of 9/11 to meet a Turkish representative, even though he feared for his safety. According to various reports, one of Stevens’ main missions in Libya was to facilitate the transfer of much of Gadhafi’s military equipment, including the deadly SA-7 – portable SAMs – to Islamists and other al Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting the Assad Regime in Syria. In an excellent article, Aaron Klein states that Stevens routinely used our Benghazi consulate (mission) to coordinate the Turkish, Saudi Arabian and Qatari governments’ support for insurgencies throughout the Middle East. Further, according to Egyptian security sources, Stevens played a “central role in recruiting Islamic jihadists to fight the Assad Regime in Syria.”
Syrian rebels execute unarmed government soldiers; dozens killed in fighting
By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Thursday, November 1, 12: Wash Post
BEIRUT— Syrian rebels executed at least a half-dozen unarmed government soldiers Thursday after attacks on a series of checkpoints near the town of Saraqeb in northwest Syria.
At least 28 government soldiers and five opposition fighters were killed in the rebel operation that targeted checkpoints on roads connecting Saraqeb to Aleppo and Ariha, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The execution of the soldiers, which was documented in a graphic video posted online Thursday, is not the first time that rebel soldiers appear to have committed war crimes. United Nations representatives and human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized the Syrian opposition in recent months for carrying out summary executions and for abusing detainees.
In early August, members of a clan loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were executed by rebels and a gruesome video of that killing was widely disseminated on the Internet. That killing prompted some commanders of the Free Syrian Army to write a code of conduct for their fighters in an attempt to curb human rights abuses. But the execution of the soldiers Thursday was a clear sign that the code is not being observed by all the rank and file. ….
The video posted online Thursday, which allegedly was filmed at the Hamisho checkpoint west of Saraqeb, shows rebel soldiers kicking and insulting the government soldiers who are spread out on the ground. Some of them appear to be wounded. One of the soldiers pleads, “I did not hit anyone, by Allah. I did not kill anyone.”
The man filming the video tells the soldier to shut up and says, “Organize them for me.” The fighters pull the soldiers into a pile in the center of the room and open fire on the group, kicking up clouds of dust. The shooting continues for 20 seconds.
A second video posted online Thursday, which appears to have been filmed shortly after the execution, shows at least three other bodies spread out around the checkpoint. The man filming approaches two of the bodies and says, “The shabiha of Assad, the dogs.”
A friend writes:
This week there are clashes between FSA and popular committees from two predominantly Shiite towns. The two towns fighting the FSA are Nubbol (population 21,000) and al-Zahraa (poulation 14,000), about 10 miles north of Aleppo on the way to Azaz (FSA) and Afrain (Kurds), and just north of Anadan (FSA) and Hretan (FSA). The news clip said that the armed committees from Nubbol and al-Zahraa supported by Syrian Army artillery and tank fires, attacked the FSR in Anand.
The creation of a U.S.-approved Syrian government in exile
Posted: 31 Oct 2012
Is American diplomacy an oxymoron? The Syrian opposition has been notoriously fractured, so the goal of forging unity among what have hitherto been disparate groups clearly makes sense. What makes no sense but should be no surprise is Washington’s typical heavy-handedness in trying to achieve this goal. An upcoming Qatar meeting “will include dozens of [...]
…..Further militarization of the Syrian conflict would exacerbate an already volatile situation on the ground, deepening and protracting Syria’s sectarian civil war. Far from providing relief for innocent civilians, fueling the conflict with more arms risks further endangering civilians. The armed opposition’s inability to unify and its continued radicalization as well as enduring divisions between key patrons, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscore the inherent risks of this option. Differences among Syria’s various armed opposition groups, not to mention between Arabs and Kurds, could erupt into open hostilities in Syria’s mounting chaos. Meanwhile, jihadist elements, while still a distinct minority, appear to be gaining influence.
Moreover, the arming process could pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests given the difficulty of ensuring that the arms ultimately do not end up in the wrong hands. The blowback of U.S. interventions in Iraq in the 2000s and Afghanistan in the 1980s is a potent reminder of the risks. Experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan also suggest that arming the opposition will not necessarily confer greater U.S. influence on them should they come to power. Time and again, the United States has been confronted with the limits of its influence if it was garnered solely by supplying arms and in the absence of deeper political and strategic common interests.
Nor does channeling more sophisticated weaponry to the armed rebels guarantee that they will gain a strategic edge over the regime. Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia — the Syrian regime’s primary patrons — would likely meet such an escalation with a commensurate upping of the ante. Already, Tehran has doubled down on its support for the regime since mid-July when the rebels mounted a successful attack against key elements of the regime and escalated the battle in Damascus and Aleppo. Likewise, Hezbollah has provided greater support to the Assad regime, reportedly sending fighters to train and possibly fight alongside the shabiha, Syria’s sectarian paramilitary forces.
Establishing a safe zone in northern Syria will require a significant U.S. military commitment. The United States will necessarily need to play a leading role in disabling Syria’s complex air defense systems, including batteries south of Damascus. Moreover, a safe zone will require a military presence (possibly Turkish or Arab) on the ground to defend the area. U.S. military involvement in Syria, even if limited to air strikes, likely would catalyze jihadist involvement in Syria, drawing more foreign fighters into an arena in which the United States is directly engaged.
Rather than pursue military options, the United States needs to build a broad-based coalition for a peaceful transition in Syria. It should seek to create conditions that will alter the dynamic from militarization to diplomacy. The United States must resist the temptation to join a sectarian battle that threatens to engulf the region. It should tamp down sectarian tensions across the region, not play into them by viewing Syria solely via a sectarian prism that pits the region’s Sunni powers against the arc of Shiite influence spearheaded by Iran.
Instead, the United States must rise above the violence and help provide a way out of the crisis. Washington should leverage the latest escalations — both inside Syria and regionally — to assert its leadership via NATO and the United Nations and shift the dynamic regionally and globally. It should seek to turn the real danger of a regional war into an opening for regional and global diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force via Article 5 of the NATO treaty should these efforts fail……
Syrian culture and society, particularly from the perspective of Syrian women. After several years living in Syria and conducting academic research there, I began writing stories based on what I was learning. Dreams in the Medina is a full-length novel, a coming-of-age tale which explores the aspirations, passions and tragedies of a group of young Syrian women, who on the surface seem to have nothing in common but who are brought together in the deepest of bonds as they study and live together at the University of Damascus.
The book is now available for download as an e-book! My desire is that this book will be a discussion. Read it with friends and talk about Syria. Transport yourself to the world of the Medina Jamayeia in Damascus and relive the dreams of youth. Then, tell me what you think and how I can improve this project!
**The stunning cover image is by the brilliant artist Suhair Sibai. See more of her work here.
Tom Schutyser’s new book, “CARAVANSERAI – Traces, Places, Dialogue in the Middle East”
Both photo essay and travelogue, this stunning volume documents the caravanserais of the Levant region in the Middle East. Tom’s powerful photographs are illuminated by contributions from some of the most eminent writers, thinkers, and journalists specializing in the Middle East and foreign relations. The result is an engaging new perspective on both the history and current-day affairs of this region.
Photographs and texts by Tom Schutyser, Introduction by Andrew Lawler, Contributions by Reza Aslan, Rachid al-Daif, Robert Fisk, Dominique Moïsi, Paul Salem