Posted by Joshua on Friday, February 24th, 2012
The Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis is a “challenge” to Assad, not an “ultimatum”, US officials are saying. This means that it will be another exercise in raising the rhetorical bar of condemnation against Syria but will probably not do much damage to the regime or rescue the Syrian opposition in Homs. The Saudi delegation has pulled out of the conference, accusing it of “inactivity.”
Representatives from more than 60 Western and Arab countries are meeting in Tunis, Tunisia today to call for the Syrian government to implement an immediate ceasefire and to allow humanitarian assistance for civilians and people wounded in violence. The group is not expected to discuss military options. They will increase sanctions. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been appointed as a special envoy by the United Nations and the Arab League to represent them in finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.
“One of the things you are going to see coming out of the meeting tomorrow are concrete proposals on how we, the international community, plan to support humanitarian organizations … within days, meaning that the challenge is on the Syrian regime to respond to this,” said a senior U.S. official.
Asked if the group’s call would amount to an ultimatum, a second U.S. official told reporters: “It is a challenge.”
The Syrian opposition council announced it would ask the “Friends of Syria” to prioritize the creation of humanitarian corridors….
News Round Up
….At a news conference on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton moved the United States a step closer to recognizing the Syrian National Council though a formal recognition is not expected in Tunis. She also said later, discussing growing pressure on Mr. Assad: “There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will — from somewhere, somehow — find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures. And the pressure will build on countries like Russia and China because world opinion is not going to stand idly by.”
On Friday, Mr. Hague, the British official, urged Moscow and Beijing to revise their pro-Assad policies. “I think the Chinese government is constantly assessing the position and so I hope they will change their position,” he told reporters.
Syrian state TV referred to the conference as a meeting of “symbols of colonialism” and said the countries attending were “historic enemies of the Arabs.” Neither Russia nor China, who vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution based on an Arab League plan aimed to end the Syrian violence, attended the conference. The “Friends of Syria” seem to be favoring the opposition Syrian National Council, but are not giving the group exclusive recognition. The other main opposition group, the National Coordination Committee, is boycotting the conference. They lay out their reasons for the boycott, here.
‘Q&A: Nir Rosen’s predictions for Syria’ (Nir Rosen, Al Jazeera English)
“If the struggle drags on, the local civilian “political” leadership of the revolution will lose influence, and the more moderate Sufi sheikhs who exercise an influence over armed groups will also lose control. The insurgency and its supporters will become increasingly radicalised. They will condemn those leaders who looked to the outside world for support, and those who called for restraint. Those voices who say Islam is the only solution will become loudest; those voices calling for a declaration of jihad will be raised, and they will, in my opinion, target Sunni rivals as well as Alawites and other minorities. This scenario is also possible if the regime kills or captures enough senior leaders of the revolution. On the other hand, even if Assad and his family wanted to leave power – or even leave Syria – how would they explain this sudden about face to their supporters? The regime’s fans, especially its base among the Alawites, may also be radicalised, embracing maximalist violence out of fear. And what happens to the cronies who benefit from the system as it is, and to the security forces who have nowhere to go? Do they just go home — or do they fight to the death out of fear of extermination, and then hang on as some kind of insurgency against any new regime installed with the help of the West, Turkey and the Arab League?…
The insurgency will gradually carve out autonomous zones, from Idlib to Hama to Homs and approaching the suburbs of Damascus. Foreign intelligence agencies will eventually provide covert assistance to the insurgency. But Iranian – and possibly Russian – advisers will likely provide advice to the regime in counter-insurgency. So parts of the country will fall into opposition hands, and parts will remain in the hands of the regime. Alawites in Homs may flee to the villages they originally came from. Christians will flee to their former villages or to Damascus. Both of these trends have already started. Sunni remaining in Latakia will be vulnerable, and in the event of Alawites returning to Latakia’s mountain villages, fleeing from other parts of the country, the region’s Sunni may also be forcibly displaced….
Syria is crumbling before our eyes, and a thoroughly modern nation is likely to be set back many decades.
….20. The activity of the Free Syria Army (FSA) groups resulted in the temporary withdrawal of State forces from cities or areas in the Rif Dimashq, Idlib and Homs governorates. Since December 2011, the army has attacked these areas with heavy weapons, leading to massive casualties and the destruction of homes and infrastructure (see paragraphs 38-46 below).
21. The Government stated that other armed non-State actors not affiliated to the FSA are operating in the country, including Al-Qaida and other religious extremists. In its report, the League of Arab States also makes a distinction between the FSA and “other opposition armed groups”. Numerous sources report the presence of extremist groups in the country. The commission was unable to verify information on the membership, background and operations of such groups.
22. On 23 December 2011, 50 people were reportedly killed in two bombings next to the offices of security agencies in Damascus, which the Government attributed to Al-Qaida. No one, including Al-Qaida, claimed responsibility. In its report, the League of Arab States mentioned that its observers in Homs, Hama and Idlib reported the bombing of a civilian bus (with eight casualties), a police bus (two casualties), a train loaded with diesel fuel, an oil pipeline and small bridges. In other cases, League observers found that alleged bombings were falsely reported. On 10 February 2012, 28 people were reportedly killed and 235 injured in two large explosions at Military Intelligence and police buildings in Aleppo. The Government and other sources attributed these explosions to terrorists. On 14 February, a major pipeline near Homs exploded. The Government blamed “terrorist saboteurs”, while opposition activists attributed the act to State forces shelling in the area.
23. According to all accounts, casualties rose steeply as the violence intensified; thousands of lives have been lost.
24. On 27 December 2011, the Government informed the commission that, according to hospital and police reports, at least 2,131 civilians had been killed in the period from 15 March to 19 December 2011. The Government added that a total of 913 soldiers and 215 police officers (1,128 people in total) were killed during the same period.9 According to the Government, from 23 December 2011 to 10 February 2012, a further 651 members of the army and security forces were killed and 2,292 injured.10 In addition, 519 unidentified bodies were found. On 15 February 2012, the Government provided additional figures, according to which 2,493 civilians and 1,345 soldiers and police officers had been killed in the Syrian Arab Republic in the period from 15 March 2011 to 18 January 2012.
25. The Violations Documenting Centre, affiliated to the local coordination committees, counted 6,399 civilians and 1,680 army defectors killed in the period from 15 March 2011 to 15 February 2012.11 The victims included 244 adult women, 115 girls and 425 boys…..
After a year, deep divisions hobble Syria’s opposition
by Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, February 24, 2012
“Nearly a year after the uprising began, the opposition remains a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, all deeply divided along ideological, ethnic or sectarian lines, and too disjointed to agree on even the rudiments of a strategy to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government…..
“This is a manufactured problem,” said Burhan Ghalioun, the council president, in a brief interview outside an executive committee meeting last week. “Some independent people don’t want to join the S.N.C., but there is no strong opposition power outside the national council.” …..
Scores killed in wave of al-Qaeda bombings across Iraq – Wash Post (Asaad Alazawi, Ernesto Londoño)
BAGHDAD — A wave of bombings across Iraq killed dozens of people Thursday morning, security officials said, in a grim indication of the strength of the insurgency two months after the U.S. military completed its withdrawal….
LONDON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that Syrian opposition forces will become “increasingly capable” of carrying out offensive operations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad….
The Syria Report’s Evelyn Aissa provides a roundup of international reportage and commentary on Syria with close to 100 links! (free access)
UN Accuses Syria of Crimes Against Humanity as Foreign Leaders Prepare for ‘Friends of Syria’ Meeting in Tunisia – Syria Report
Today, a report released by the United Nations and submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, accuses the Syrian government of committing “gross human rights violations” tantamount to “crimes against humanity”. The report, derived from 360 interviews with individuals inside Syria, also charges that security crackdowns constituted state policy from coming from “the highest levels of the armed forces and the government”. The same report, however, also charges the Free Syrian Army, an armed element of the opposition, of committing serious abuses. To that end, as violence continues to deepen across the country, Syrian officials continue to adamantly charge that they are fighting against armed terrorist groups – an allegation now partially echoed in some parts of Washington, as a number of senior American officials claim that the terrorist group Al-Qaeda is behind some of the country’s violence. The same US officials did not publicly put forth related evidence. …
‘How to halt the butchery in Syria’ (Anne-Marie Slaughter, New York Times)
“The key condition for all such assistance, inside or outside Syria, is that it be used defensively — only to stop attacks by the Syrian military or to clear out government forces that dare to attack the no-kill zones. Although keeping intervention limited is always hard, international assistance could be curtailed if the Free Syrian Army took the offensive. The absolute priority within no-kill zones would be public safety and humanitarian aid; revenge attacks would not be tolerated.”
The U.S. and other ‘Friends of Syria’ still search for a strategy to oust Assad
Posted: 22 Feb 2012
Tony Karon writes: “It is time we gave them the wherewithal to fight back and stop the slaughter,” said Senator John McCain on Monday, referring to Syria’s opposition amid the carnage being wrought by the Assad regime’s efforts to quash a year-old rebellion. But McCain’s call is unlikely to be heeded by the Obama Administration or other Western governments as they prepare for Friday’s inaugural meeting in Tunis of a “Friends of Syria” forum established to coordinate an international response to the crisis. That’s because Western decision-makers are not quite sure just who the Syrian opposition would be — there is no single leadership that speaks on behalf of those fighting the regime on the ground in cities across Syria, and there are certainly signs that its ranks may include elements deemed hostile to the West. And also, because it’s far from clear just how arming rebel forces would, in fact, “stop the slaughter” and not intensify it.
The problem confronting international stakeholders as they grapple for a response to the slow-moving bloodbath is that there at least three different narratives playing out at the same time in Syria, each of them complicating the others. There’s the narrative of the brutal authoritarian regime confronted by a popular citizens’ rebellion that it has been unable to crush despite a year of slowly escalating repression — a crackdown that has wrecked the country’s economy and made it impossible for the regime to restore stability, much less regain its legitimacy. (Nobody’s expecting the constitutional referendum to be staged by the regime on Sunday to yield a credible popular mandate for Assad’s rule.)
Then there’s the narrative of sectarian warfare, in which Syria’s ethnic and confessional minorities — the ruling Alawites who dominate the regime and its security forces, but also the Christians, the Kurds, the Druze and smaller sects — shudder in the face of a predominantly Sunni rebellion in which they see a specter of sectarian retribution that prompts many of them to remain on the sidelines or support the regime for fear of the alternative.
And finally, there are the geopolitical stakes, as the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf see an opportunity to hobble their Iranian nemesis by helping their indigenous allies overthrow a Tehran-backed regime. Syria also becomes an arena for China and Russia to block the expansion of Western influence in the Middle East through toppling regimes. [Continue reading…]
The Yazid ibn Muawiyah Battalion announces its formation in Biyada, Homs. This video suggests the rise of anti-Shiite militias in Syria.
‘Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān: يزيد بن معاوية بن أبي سفيان commonly known as Yazid I, was the second Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate based in Damascus. Many Muslims condemn Yazid’s rule as contentious and unjust because he was appointed by his father, Muawiyah, and because he killed the Imam, Husayn at Karbala in an effort to stamp out the gathering Shiite movement that looked to the house of the prophet for Caliphs as opposed to the emerging Umayyid dynasty that had moved the capital of the Empire to Damascus.
Salafist Muslims, mostly living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, in sharp defiance to Shia Muslim belief, maintain that Yazid was a just, noble, religious and administratively efficient ruler.
Husayn ibn Ali, the son of the forth Caliph and grandson of the prophet Muhammad, along with many other sahaba among the Muslims, disapproved of Yazid’s appointment to the caliphate, declaring it a usurpation of power and against the spirit of Islam. They rode forth to contest his rule and were cut down at Karbala.
The dead are regarded as martyrs by Shi’ah Muslims, and the battle has a central place in Shi’ah history and tradition, and has frequently been recounted in Shi’ah Islamic literature.
Mock Homs at Your Own Risk
The epicenter of Syria’s revolt has long been the butt of jokes. But Homs may get the last laugh.
BY OMAR ADAM SAYFO | FEBRUARY 17, 2012
The negative stereotypes about Homsis returned in force during the 11th century, when the Mirdasid dynasty recaptured the city and converted it to Shia Islam. Homsis very soon became victims of the polemical debates between Sunni and Shia clerics. The famous Sunni cleric Ibn al-Jawzi recorded many ironic narratives about the strange habits of Homsi religious officials and the supposed stupidity of their followers.
According to one anecdote, three Homsi religious students were discussing a hadith – a saying of Prophet Muhammad — about the parts of the human body. “The nose is for smelling, the mouth is for eating, the tongue is for speaking,” they concluded. “But what is the ear for?” As the hadith did not give the answer, they decided to ask their sheikh. On their way to the sheikh’s house, however, they saw a tailor patching a cloth. The tailor was cutting pieces of yarn and hanging them on his ear. “God has sent us the answer,” the students concluded, and returned to the mosque.
Homs has long been a bastion of resistance — first as a Muslim stronghold in the efforts to repel European invaders during the Crusades, and then as a base for Mamluk commanders’ war against the Mongols. But such heroism did not rid Homsis of their age-old stigma. Rather, many linked Homsis’ victories to their alleged simple-mindedness…..[This is a lovely article… read it all]
The Ordeal of Syria. Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Now nearly a full year into a terrible struggle between a dictatorial regime and a rebellion determined to overthrow it, what can be done? What follows is a range of opinions and preferences. This is the first of what we envisage to be a periodic online symposium on the contemporary dilemmas of the Greater Middle East. We will draw on the membership of Hoover’s Working Group on Islamism and the International Order….
….A number of countries – including US NATO allies such as France and Turkey – increasingly entertain the prospect of creating a “humanitarian corridor” in Syria, potentially along the border with Turkey, to provide relief to both the Syrian population and dissident groups opposed to the Asad regime. These calls are echoed by Syrian opposition forces both in and outside Syria, including the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC).
These calls do not address the real world challenges of creating such a “humanitarian corridor”: joint and combined military operations to suppress Syria’s air defense network, the need to neutralize the country’s air force, eliminating Syria’s asymmetric deterrence by containing unconventional threats from long range missiles (potentially armed with chemical or biological agents) and instability along the Golan Heights. They also do not address the risk of eventually having to engage loyal Syrian ground forces (including large concentrations of Alawites) that see few prospects in a post-Asad Syria.
Some consider military intervention in Syria to be a potential next step in shifting the regional balance in favor of the US and its allies. There is little question that sustained military operations in Libya would have been impossible without American logistics, targeting, command and control and sheer military capacity. In the case of Syria, military intervention is similarly unlikely to succeed without US involvement. However, military intervention, in the Middle East, let alone near the epicenter of the Arab-Israeli conflict, always involves serious risks and the impact of the law of unintended consequences…..
Washington’s Syria policy is imaginary
February 23, 2012
By Michael Young, The Daily Star
The administration of President Barack Obama has often been ridiculed for what it describes as “leading from behind.” More often than not this has been an excuse for not leading at all, and nowhere has American vacillation been more on display than in Syria.
For instance, it is the United States that has lent credence to accusations by the Syrian regime that Al-Qaeda is assisting the Syrian opposition. Last week, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believed Al-Qaeda in Iraq had infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, and was behind bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. Clapper needn’t have made that statement publicly. Not surprisingly, the Syrian opposition read it as a sign of American hostility toward its aspirations
Politically as well, Washington has been all over the place. In an interview with France 24 just over a week ago, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said that the Obama administration was looking for a “peaceful political solution” in Syria. “Even the Syrian people do not want a military solution to this crisis,” he said, before adding: “We believe [President Bashar] Assad should step down, but at the end of the day the Syrian people will make the decision, not the U.S.”
A few days later, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, sounded less affirmative. While also defending a political solution, she observed, “[I]f we can’t get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures.” To many people this suggested that the U.S. might possibly endorse arming Syria’s opposition if that became necessary. Evidently, the Obama administration – amid the carnage in Homs and elsewhere in Syria, and rising calls in the Arab world and even in the U.S. Congress for Assad’s opponents to be supplied with better weapons – feared that it would fall behind the policy curve.
There are no easy answers in Syria, but Washington’s trouble is that it has no strategy for the country. This is proving very damaging indeed, given that the Russians and Iranians do have one, and it can be summarized quite simply: Actively support the repression by the Syrian army and security services, bringing the opposition, or a portion of the opposition, to the negotiating table….
Nikolaos van Dam interview on Syria – “Any Western military intervention will be a disaster”….
…ومع ذلك فإن أي تدخل عسكري غربي سيكون كارثياً كما يرى الدبلوماسي الهولندي السابق ومؤلف الكتاب ذائع الصيت الصراع على السلطة في سوريا نيكولاس فان دام. كسفير هولندي سابق في عراق صدام حسين, يدرك فان دام جيداً مدى قسوة وسوء الديكتاتورية ولكنه يرى أن هناك ماهو أقسى وأسوأ من ذلك وهي الحرب الأهلية كالصراع الطائفي الذي عايشه وخَبِرَهُ في لبنان عندما بدأ عمله بالسلك الدبلوماسي هناك. عندما تتصادم الطوائف ضد بعضها البعض يصبح الجميع معرضين لخطر الموت وفي سوريا المنقسمة دينياً فإن حرباً طائفية تلوح في الأفق كما يرى فان دام. يهمين بعض أعضاء الطائفة العلوية على النظام في سوريا وهم فرقة من الشيعة يشكلون ما نسبته 12% من مجموع السكان بينما تَتَشَكل المعارضة من خليط من جميع الطوائف ولكن السنة والذين يشكلون أكثر من 60% من مجموع السكان يلعبون الدور الأهم داخل المعارضة. يخشى العلويون من العودة إلى فترة الخمسينات والستينات حيث كانوا مضطهدين ومهمشين بينما يتجه الإستياء والسَخط داخل السنة نحو الإنفجار وهذا ما يؤجج الصراع. لا يزال النظام متشبثاً بالسلطة, بدأت المعارضة بمظاهرات سلمية ولكنها مالبثت أن رفعت سقف مطالبها وبدأت ترد على النار بالنار. إذا ما أراد الغرب دعم المعارضة عن طريق تسليحها مثلا فإنه بذلك يكون كَمَن يصب الزيت على النار يخشى فان دام. قد تكون المعارضة أقوى عددياً ولكن النظام يملك وحدات النخبة المسلحة بالأسلحة الثقيلة
وهذا قد يؤدي الى سفك دماء قد يستمر لسنوات وهذا مانراه في العراق. ولذلك لايزال السفير السابق يدعو لحوار مع بشار الأسد. يجب إقناع النظام بالتخلي عن سلطاته ولكن فرصة حوار كهذا تتضائل يوماً بعد يوم يُقر فان دام ولكنه رغم ذلك لايرى بديلاً مباشراً ماعدا استمرار الصراع الدموي والذي سيُخلف نتيجة مغايرة تماماً لما هو مُنتَطر. مايجري في حمص يخلق شعوراً بأن على أحدهم أن يتدخل ولكن يجب عليك أن لا تفكر فقط بأنك تشعر بأنك مسؤول وأن الحالة سيئة وأن عَلَيكَ أن تَتَدخل ولكن عَليكَ أيضاً أن تفكر بما سينتُج عن مثل هكذا تدخل وهنا تكمن المُصيبة. إذا أدى التدخل العسكري إلى حرب أهلية على نطاق أوسع ستقول ” لقد قمنا بالخطوة الصحيحة أخلاقياً ولكن هناك مئات الأف من الضحايا الذين سقطوا نعم للأسف ولكن لم نكن نقصد ذلك “…..