Posted by Joshua on Friday, December 21st, 2012
Foreign Policy: Syrian rebels gain ground in Hama province
Syrian rebels gained ground in the central Hama province on Thursday, taking control of parts of the strategic town of Morek, which lies along the route from Damascus to Aleppo. Victory over President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Morek would allow the rebels to cut off government supply lines into the northern Idlib province, where rebels have made sizeable gains. Rebels also laid siege to the Alawite town of al-Tleisia, contributing to fears that the conflict could become even more deeply sectarian.
Meanwhile, additional reports emerged detailing the use of cluster bombs by government forces, including a Dec. 12 attack on the town of Marea, which deliberately targeted civilians. The Syrian army has also resumed firing Scud ballistic missiles at rebel strongholds, the New York Times reports. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin, long a stalwart ally of Assad, further distanced himself from the Syria government, saying Russia would not defend it “at any price.” Putin remained steadfastly opposed to foreign intervention, but told journalists, “We are not concerned with the fate of Assad’s regime.”
A new U.N. Human Rights Council report warns of widening sectarian conflict in Syria. It said that communities are arming themselves because they feel at risk, and “ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides.” The most severe division is between Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim minority. However other sects are increasing getting pulled into the conflict. Many opposition fighters interviewed in the inquiry were aligned with Islamist militias rather than the Free Syrian Army. Additionally, al Qaeda is capitalizing on deteriorating conditions in Syria and is building its presence. The al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, recently designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, is exploiting divisions and recruiting Sunnis. The Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for deadly bombings in Damascus and Aleppo.
Turkey plans to start transporting troops to and from domestic military bases by air, following a string of deadly attacks on convoys by the PKK.
U.N. seeks $1.5 billion to help Syria residents and refugees
A Syrian-American sent me this argument for why he believes Damascus will take longer to fall than Aleppo.
The Syrian regime wants to continue fighting to keep its Sunni supporters. An Alawi will face 5 to 6 Sunni in a future Syria if the opposition triumphs. Now he faces 3 to 4 or 4 to 5. Alawites and minorities have the support of almost their size in Sunnis. The Syrian Regime even today has the support of 30 percent of the Sunnis in Lebanon. I think this is why the Syrian Regime will continue to fight in Damascus, Homs, and Hama where the Syrian Regime has advantages. It anchors to the mountains to the west of Hama and Homs. The Damascus battle is difficult for the opposition as the Syrian Regime there anchors to Israel and Lebanon. Assad will continue fighting until the elections in 2014 when he will have half the Syrians with him.
Damascus is anchored to Lebanon and connected to Iran through the Shiites in Iraq and thus Damascus can not be taken from the Syrian Regime. Aleppo and the north are anchored to Turkey and this is why the Free Syrian Army has the advantage there. Also Damascus has popular committees, Alawite neighborhoods, and considerable supporting neighborhoods. Aleppo has considerable supporting neighborhoods but no popular committees and Alawite neighborhoods. These are the differences between the battles in Damascus and Aleppo.
Assad’s Cash Problem: Will Syria’s Dwindling Reserves Bring Down the Regime?
By Vivienne WaltDec. 21, 2012 – Time
With more than 40,000 people killed in Syria’s devastating war, and about three million people driven from their homes, Western and Arab leaders are grappling with one question: How and when does all this end? The answer, say some, might lie not in the horrific bloodshed but in a simpler factor: money. Economists say President Bashar Assad’s regime has effectively gone broke, and is running out of ways to raise revenues and keep most of its soldiers properly fed and paid. “The economy is the basis of everything,” says Samir Seifan, a prominent Syrian economist who fled last year. He spoke by phone from Dubai. “Without services, boots, money, you cannot do anything. If the government cannot finance the army, they [soldiers] will simply go away.”
That tipping point, in which the government faces all-out financial collapse, seems to be drawing near—between three to six months from now, according to the calculations of Seifan and others who have examined Syria’s finances. Already, Assad has abandoned about 40% of the country’s territory to rebel forces, withdrawing his troops from the ground while his jets continue aerial bombing, apparently because the army is too thinly stretched to defend both rural areas and the government-held pockets of Damascus and Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo. And while Assad appears still to have considerable resources in Damascus, the economic indicators suggest his country is in free-fall, and that he has little way to generate fresh cash—at least not without appeals to allies. …..
Al Qaeda grows powerful in Syria as endgame nears
ReutersBy Khaled Yacoub Oweis | Reuters – Thu, 20 Dec, 2012
…..”NOT A MONOLITHIC GROUP”
The identity of al-Nusra’s leadership is not clear. A shadowy figure known as Abu Muhammad al-Golani – whose nationality is not known – has been named by some as the head.
But an Islamist opposition campaigner who toured northern and central Syria a few days ago and met Nusra commanders said the group operates more like an umbrella organisation with little coordination between units in different regions.
“They are not a monolithic group. The nature of Nusra in Damascus is more tolerant than Idlib. They have a real popular base in Idlib, where most Nusra members are Syrians, as opposed to Aleppo and Damascus.”
He said it did not appear to be seeking to impose Taliban-style control. “Many rebels I have met say they joined al-Nusra because the group has weapons, mostly seized from raids, and that they will go back home after the revolt,” he added.
But many centrist opposition campaigners fear that al-Nusra will turn its guns on any non-Islamist order that could come if Assad was deposed. “The big question is how to contain Nusra in a post-Assad Syria,” said an opposition figure linked to jihadist groups, who did not want to be identified.
“Al-Nusra is the type of group that could declare the most pious cleric a heretic and kill him in the middle of a mosque just because he does not share its view,” he said.
Nusra members are estimated to number in the thousands and are particularly strong in the northern region of Aleppo and Idlib, where they have joined or carried out joint operations with Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid unit.
In and around Damascus they are fewer in number but remain potent, and are only 20 kilometers (12 miles) at some points from the Golan Heights front with Israel.
Abu Munther, an engineer turned rebel who operates on the southern edge of Damascus and goes to Jordan to meet other rebels, said in Amman that al-Nusra numbered hundreds of people in Damascus, as opposed to thousands in the north.
But those numbers could grow. Al-Mujahideen brigade in the southern Tadamun neighborhood of Damascus declared its allegiance to al-Nusra after dissatisfaction with Arab-backed military groups headed by defector officers.
Another opposition figure, who did not want to be named, said international intelligence agencies were trying to curb Nusra’s influence in Damascus and the southern Hauran Plain, where they are near Israel and close to the Jordanian border.
“Western intelligence agencies are realising that the Nusra is the biggest threat in a post-Assad Syria and are devoting more resources to deal with the threat,” he said.
“For the first time al Qaeda is within striking distance of Israel,” he said. “Many are realising that the best that could be done for now is to contain them in north Syria – even if the area risks becoming an Islamist emirate of sorts – while trying to build a civic form of government in and around Damascus.”
All (Syrian) Politics Is Local
How jihadists are winning hearts and minds in Syria.
BY HASSAN HASSAN | DECEMBER 20, 2012
…. Jabhat al-Nusra currently controls most of the vital sectors in Deir Ezzor, including oil, gas, sugar, and flour. Its source of funding is unclear, although I was told by residents that Gulf nationals with tribal links to the region support most of the fighting groups in the province. According to residents, the group’s local emirs are typically foreigners, while the majority of the rank-and-file are Syrians from the region. Many people are drawn to the group by virtue of its effectiveness in fighting the regime and delivering public services….
Jabhat al-Nusra is also cultivating links with local communities. It maintains a relief program that works to win hearts and minds among the population, in tandem with its military operations. Its fighters also have a reputation for professionalism: While the Free Syrian Army (FSA) tends to accept volunteers regardless of their personal merits, Jabhat al-Nusra’s cadres are perceived to be more disciplined and concerned with local communities’ needs….
As the Assad regime crumbles, all Syrian politics is now local. If the world wants to ensure that the country is not a breeding ground for extremists or another dictatorship, it should reach out to local leaders determining events on the ground. Victory in Syria does not only mean winning the battle in Damascus, it means establishing good governance in hundreds of cities and towns, like those dotted across Deir Ezzor.
Syria Unleashes Cluster Bombs on Town, Punishing Civilians
By C.J. Chivers | The New York Times
Caught Between al Qaida and Iran, U.S. Struggles Over Syria Conflict
By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers
The bloodshed in Syria has continued for so long that extremist forces have taken charge, with U.S. officials saying they now face two familiar enemies in the struggle to find a resolution: al Qaida in Iraq cells and Iranian-backed sectarian militias…. opposition groups who control the Aleppan countryside are deploying a vice-and-virtue police to enforce a deeply conservative interpretation of Islamic law.
The opposition insists that the new force is the revolution’s version of a civilian police squad, whose primary purpose is to fight crime, particularly those committed by undisciplined members of the armed factions. In fact, there are those who support its creation for this very reason.
One local resident, for example, argued that “there were a number of transgressions committed by some Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, and this police force will punish those involved – their door is open to whoever wants to lodge a complaint. We shouldn’t judge them before we’ve tried them.”
Then, rumors began to circulate that such a formation was patrolling the streets of the town of al-Bab in Aleppo’s countryside and herding people into mosques during prayer time and preventing women from driving cars. The opposition quickly denied the news…..Secular opposition activists were shocked by the news, with some suggesting that the whole affair was fabricated by the regime.
Syria: Religious Police Patrol Aleppo’s Countryside
Al Akhbar English – Basel Dayoub
The Syrian opposition groups that have taken control of Aleppo’s countryside are deploying a religious police force to enforce new laws, such as barring women from driving and making prayer compulsory…..
Russian president seen to be distancing himself from Syrian counterpart as he says Syria’s fate is more important.
Putin said he wanted to ensure that any solution to the conflict in Syria must prevent the opposition and government forces just swapping roles and continuing to fight indefinitely.
“We are not concerned about the fate of Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there,” Putin said.
“We are worried about a different thing – what next? We simply don’t want the current opposition, having become the authorities, to start fighting the people who are the current authorities and become the opposition – and (we don’t want) this to go on forever.”
توقفت كل من مصفاتي بانياس وحمص للنفط، وهما المصفاتان الوحيدتان في سوريا، عن الاستثمار لأسباب “أمنية”، في وقت تلبي كلتاهما 50% من حاجة البلاد.
وأكد محافظ اللاذقية، سليمان الناصر، وجود أزمة مازوت في المدينة، كما هي الحال في المحافظات الأخرى، بسبب وضع مصفاتي حمص وبانياس اللتان هما خارج الخدمة حاليا، حسب صحيفة الوطن السورية.
وأضاف الناصر أن السبب أيضا يرجع إلى “الحظر الحاصل على النقل والنفط”.
Worldview: Time Nearly Gone to Lead on Syria
By Trudy Rubin, Inquirer Opinion Columnist
The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, December 16, 2012
As President Obama enters his second term, Syria has become the most urgent test of his foreign policy leadership and style
If Obama finally takes ownership of the effort to unseat Bashar al-Assad (which would not require U.S. troops or planes), there’s still a chance of preventing a Syrian implosion. If the administration leads from in front, it may be possible to head off a strategic disaster that would endanger Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel.
Yet early signs indicate that Obama will continue the muddled Syria policy of his first term, while continuing to lead from way, way behind.
Our Syria policy is unclear to both our enemies and our allies, as well as to the Syrian rebels. The administration has long called for Assad’s ouster, but has not really pursued it. It has chased a diplomatic option, even though Assad’s main ally, Moscow, won’t dump him until it believes he is virtually defeated. As for sending Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, that has symbolic value, but it won’t affect the situation on the ground in Syria.
Washington has outsourced the arming of rebel groups to Gulf states that prefer Islamist fighters. Meantime, the United States won’t help arm secular and moderate rebel commanders. So do we want Assad gone or don’t we? Do we want an Islamist Syria or don’t we?
Ordinary Syrians are also cynical about the U.S. “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. They feel it gives Assad a virtual green light to use any other weapon against civilians.
No wonder a Turkish official told me during a recent visit to Ankara: “We want more clarity in the United States position. People expect more from the United States.”
This lack of clarity haunts U.S. policy even after the election. Last week, the United States, with European and Arab allies, recognized a new Syrian civilian opposition council that it had helped godfather. The hope is that this group will provide a means to funnel more humanitarian aid into Syria. (Since U.S. and allied officials were able to organize this group after our presidential election, one wonders why they couldn’t have done it before.)
However, U.S. policymakers still insist this new civilian group – not the rebel fighters – is the key to overthrowing Assad. The new council supposedly will be able to convince Assad’s Alawite sect and other minorities that they can safely abandon their support for the regime. U.S. officials also hope the council will be able to assert civilian control over rebel fighters
Such hopes are badly misplaced. Civilians alone cannot determine the Syrian endgame. Unless Obama’s policy becomes more robust – and more convincing to the region – the Syrian conflict will spiral out of control.
The arguments for not arming the rebels are long outdated. If we were concerned weapons might fall into the wrong hands, we should have put more resources into vetting rebel commanders. U.S. officials have been permitted to meet with Free Syrian Army commanders only in the last few months. And from what I hear, the amount of CIA resources devoted to the task is still underwhelming.
Even now, there is plenty of information about key Syrian rebel commanders who are secular or moderate Muslims to whom weapons could be directed. But they are skeptical at best, and hostile at worst, about U.S. intentions.
Col. Abdul-Jabbar Akidi, a secular senior rebel commander in Aleppo, told me in November: “Syrians believe that America is with Bashar Assad. America does not support us.”
It’s no wonder he feels that way, since we have outsourced delivery of weapons to the Qataris and Saudis. By doing so, we’ve ensured that the lion’s share goes to hard-line Salafi militias or those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Saudis were handed control of a major meeting of Free Syrian Army commanders last week in Turkey with the goal of setting up a unified command. Early reports say the command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. Why should we be surprised?
Perhaps the strongest indicator of a policy muddle was last week’s designation of the Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. True, the group has some al-Qaeda links. But it has waged and won some of the toughest battles against Assad’s forces, which is why most rebel commanders oppose the U.S. designation.
Echoing many other rebel commanders, Col. Akidi told me: “We are not united with jihadi groups, but we fight together with all people who fight Assad.” For the same reason, the president of the new civilian rebel coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, disagreed publicly with the blacklisting of the group.
If the United States were arming non-Islamist rebels, they wouldn’t need Jabhat al-Nusra’s help. If the administration weren’t outsourcing to the Saudis and Qataris, non-Islamist fighters would be in a stronger position.
Instead, U.S. officials have sowed confusion over whom they support. They have undermined secular fighters and given a boost to those with beards. And they have confused our friends and opponents as to our aims, making a negotiated settlement less likely as neither Moscow nor Tehran thinks we are serious about ousting Assad. The Syrian dictator probably doesn’t think so, either, which will encourage him to try to hold on in Damascus.
The longer this conflict lasts, and the stronger the Islamists become, the more likely it is that sectarian war will spill over Syria’s borders. The only chance of preventing that is to speed up the endgame. That would require Obama to convince all parties, friend and foe, that he wants Assad gone.
Rhetoric will be no substitute for concrete actions. The time remaining is short.
Dear Syria, Save Damascus’ Old City
December 18, 2012 |
I am confident that my favorite places in the Old City of Damascus still exist—after all, they’ve been there for centuries—but I am less confident that they will exist in recognizable form in a month or two. The rebels are at the gates of the Old City, and there is reason to doubt that the impending assault on Damascus will spare it. When confronted earlier in the war with the danger of pulverizing Syria’s heritage, the Assad regime has achieved a perfect record of unsentimentality. The Crac des Chevaliers—the world’s best-preserved Crusader castle—suffered shelling, and the ancient center of Aleppo has been pounded into dust. (Assad’s lack of sentimentality about the more than 40,000 dead civilians goes without saying.)
Damascus’s Old City easily surpasses these other sites for cultural importance, and it too could face ruin. So far, almost no fighting has reached the Old City. But its population is diverse, and its Christian Quarter includes religious minorities who have profited from the secular Baathist regime. In addition, much of the Old City’s inhabitants immigrated in recent generations from impoverished rural areas such as Hauran, and the from the outskirts of the capital. These areas are rebel strongholds—notably Daraa, the birthplace of the rebellion. This mix of rebel sympathizers and regime loyalists could make the Old City contested ground……
There are two possible trajectories for the current Syrian crisis. The first is a purely military scenario in which the opposition forces engage the regime in a bitter war of attrition until its annihilation. The success of such a course of action, however, is difficult to guarantee, and the cost to the country…is likely to be catastrophic. In fact the more probable outcome is a protracted bloody stalemate, leading to the collapse of the state, sectarian genocide and the fragmentation of the country with significant blowback into neighbouring states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
The second trajectory would feature a political resolution. Negotiations would bring about the departure of the Bashar Assad’s regime along with a peaceful transition to democracy. Such a political outcome is the one clearly favored by the international community and was strongly endorsed at the latest friends of Syria meeting held in Marrakesh on December 12 both in statement and in action (by not publicly agreeing to the provision of any military assistance to the Syrian opposition). It is also the option that should be favored by the Syrian people since they too have no interest in seeing their country succumb to the fate described above.
There are certain conditions that must prevail in order for the preferred political outcome to have any chance of success. …
First, the regime and its core pillars of loyalist military support have yet to acknowledge that their situation has become critical, let alone perilous…..
In order to bring about such a significant shift, the opposition military forces need to acquire the necessary qualitative resources to topple those first dominoes and break this military stalemate. Advanced anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons as well as secure communication equipment are a prerequisite but not sufficient. More importantly, the opposition must have in place a credible negotiating body to engage the Assad regime and hold them accountable for the enforcement of whatever provisions for a peaceful transition are agreed upon, notably the safety of the core Alawite areas and their protection from retribution attacks. This last point is of major concern to the Alawite minority that forms the rump of the loyalist forces to regime. It is likely to be a deal breaker if it cannot be guaranteed….
Recently some progress has been made with regards to the emergence of a credible negotiating body from the opposition. The National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition, also known as SOC, was formed in Doha on November 8-11. SOC represents the unification of various opposition factions under a twelve-point agreement plan…
The unfortunate overpopulation of SNC members in the coalition means that the SNC’s rampant malfeasance and personal bickering will be transferred to the new coalition. The SOC will be stricken with the very malaise that afflicted its predecessor.
Such challenges have significantly hampered the ability of the coalition to agree on the makeup of a transitional technocratic government. In spite of cajoling and intense pressure that had been brought to bear on the SOC leadership, no transitional government was established in time for the December 12 Friends of Syria meeting held in Marrakesh….
it would also need to have some sort of command or influence over the opposition’s armed components. At the very least, the technocratic entity must be able to guarantee the acceptance of any binding agreements made on behalf of the opposition as a whole.
The formation of this joint military council is significant because it enables coordination between the SOC, the emerging technocrat government, and the opposition’s brigades. There are indications of efforts toward uniting the main military brigades of the opposition, with the recent announcement of the formation of the Higher Council Joint Military Command headed by General Salim Idriss. In their press statement the council declared its commitment to freedom, justice and equality and identified itself as Islamic and moderate. The new joint military council has five regional commands covering operations across Syria.
So, if slowly, the conditions needed to bring about the Syrian regime’s necessary shift in position are gradually being checked off, such as the apparent coalescence of the opposition’s disparate political and military entities, along with their latest advances on the ground around Aleppo and Damascus….
Serekani is a small Kurdish town whose name was Arabized and dubbed “Ras al-Ain” under the dictatorship of Hafez al-Assad. With a population under 50,000, the majority of whom are Kurdish, in addition to Arab and Christian, Ras al-Ain was considered one of the exemplary cities of the peaceful, civilian-led revolution. Since the beginning, along with other Kurdish regions, it has reflected the true civilian face of the revolution and the desire to establish a civil state in Syria through protests, local councils, and aid to refugees fleeing from bombings and massacres committed by the regime in Deir al-Zour, Homs, Raqqa, and other cities. Today, however, Ras al-Ain has been transformed into a Salafi emirate, perhaps under Turkey’s tarbush….
Turkish government fears the popular armed groups loyal to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and their attempts to act as an alternative governing and administrative body to the region, in addition to their support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Therefore, Turkey supported fighters and Islamic-Salafi brigades through an agreement with the heads of Arab clans living in Istanbul to control the Kurdish area, whose gateway is the city of Ras al-Ain.
Another Turkish concern with regards to Syria’s Kurdish region is its wealth in oil, gas, and grain, its racial and ethnic diversity, and its geographic and geopolitical reach toward both Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey’s Kurdish majority areas. Strategically, Turkey is motivated to create ethnic tension between the Kurds, the Arabs, and the Christians in order to weaken the Kurds politically within the revolution, and therefore distance them from participating in the post-Assad era to determine the future of Syria.
It seems possible that, with the help of Turkish intelligence, the jihadis entered the city from the Turkish border under the pretense of fighting the regime and liberating the province of Hasaka, when in reality, the goal was to fight the PKK and create chaos within the Kurdish community. This angered the Kurdish people, as well as Arabs and Christians, who refuse to coexist with jihadis under the name of the FSA who will turn the region into a battlefield for settling accounts and confrontations between Turkey and the PKK.
Caught between the jihadi forces, Turkey, and supporters of the regime in this grave situation, the region is heading for an unknown fate, which could result in ethnic war in the interest of the regime and Turkey, and against the true goals of the revolution.
Jehad Saleh is an independent Syrian Kurdish journalist based in Washington, DC.
As the civil war escalates around the capital, doctors are treating up to 100 injured a day at the 400-bed Damascus Hospital and have had to use local anesthetics even for complicated operations, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. Cases of severe acute malnutrition in children being referred to the hospital from rural Damascus, Deir al-Zor, Hassakeh, Deraa and Homs have risen to 7-8 a month from 2-3 in previous months, he said, and staff and patients have difficulty reaching health care facilities due to deepening insecurity.
What a Bosnian Mass Grave Can Teach Us About Syria’s Civil War
Mark V. Vlasic – Atlantic
… perhaps the greatest justice could be found in ensuring a way for the international community to act, to prevent such slaughters. For whether they are yesterday’s mass graves in Bosnia, or today’s mass graves in Syria, the sick, sticky scent of death will linger, long after the international community fails to act.
Syria: Alternate Perspectives & Implications for UK
University of exeter – Strategic and Security Center
The situation in Syria is becoming more volatile by the day. ‘Applied strategy’ is not a spectator sport; it is about defining choices and their implications so that well-informed purposeful action can be taken. Recently, SSI in conjunction with Exeter’s world-renowned Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, conducted an exercise designed to better understand the prospects for Syria, the Region and the west. It involved senior members of various UK government departments, the Syrian opposition and experts on the Syrian conflict including some with first-hand recent experience. … Several critical issues were exposed, including the imperative to send appropriate and clear signals to the vast majority of Syria’s security and intelligence forces, many of whom will ‘have blood on their hands’ after more than 18 months of civil war. They may well feel they are being backed into a corner where they must fight for the Regime rather than contributing to an orderly transition. Messaging, also known as ‘strategic communications’, is a powerful tool in modern strategy, and its use must be closely integrated with other levers, such as economic sanctions, and military force.
A copy of the report can be read here: Syria: Alternative Perspectives And Implications For UK