Posted by Joshua on Friday, December 28th, 2012
A friend on Alawites:
I remain skeptical regarding the Alawite community’s plan B. in my view there is no plan A, no plan B and no plan C. to make things worse there is no Alawite community. the original community’s communal structures, its forms of leadership, its elites, its identity, its religion and its rapport to its own territory have all been gutted, to a large extent, by the regime. This explains in part why Alawites both loath Bashar and desperately cling to him. they have nowhere to go, no alternative, no ability to organize enough to produce one of their own. They are confused by their absorption into a state that has proved to be a fiction. they are offered no exit by an opposition of eradicators who whisper nice words and think murder. I believe — and was just in Damascus — that the regime will go down fighting, in the capital, which it will destroy in the process. that doesn’t preclude other struggles in other places, such as Latakia. of course, and as always, I hope I’m wrong.
The Secular Idiot’s Guide to Syria’s Jihadist Groups [an absolute must read] Even Syria watchers need an honest laugh sometimes.
The dollar crossed the 100 pound threshold in black market trading this week in Damascus.
Syrians’ Moscow visit seeks Russian rejection of Ibrahimi points regarding limited future Assad authority and ineligibility for third term. — Murhaf Jouejati (@mjouejati) December 28, 2012
Two Syrian Air Force generals, five colonels, two majors, two captains, four lieutenants, three major sergeants and their families entered into Turkey at the border village of Bükülmez in Hatay’s Reyhanlı district. With the latest defections, the total number of defected Syrian generals Turkey is housing has risen to 49. – Zaman
Regime warplanes have carried out four attacks on Darya, rural Damascus, 28-12-2012 so far today, dropping missiles and cluster bombs on residential areas near the town centre. At least one martyr, a youth named as Tariq Mahmoud, has been confirmed killed in the brutal aerial bombardment. Moadamiyeh, Damascus, 28-12-2012: Moadamiyeh is under bombardment by MiG warplanes in conjunction with heavy artillery shelling by the regime’s notorious Fourth Division.
In an audio tape posted online on Friday the head of the group, Abu Mohammed Al-Jawlani, said clearly – and repeatedly – that Islamists must rule in post-Assad Syria.
Assad’s Roll of the Dice: Is Winter Coming for the Syrian Rebellion? – Dec 24, 2012
By Tony Karon: Time Magazine
…. “The greatest challenge facing the rebels is providing the basic necessities of life to Syrians living in areas no longer controlled by the state,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “That’s why the regime is trying its best to disrupt food supplies in rebel-held areas. It needs them to fail, even to starve while they’re living under rebel control. The regime can’t allow the rebels to establish a workable alternative that pays salaries and is able to provide for those in its domain in the way that the state currently serves as the key provider to many millions of Syrians.”….
Syrian rebels sidetracked by scramble for spoils of war
Looting, feuds and divided loyalties threaten to destroy unity of fighters as war enters new phase
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Aleppo, The Guardian,
Syrians carry a desk out of a school in the Saif al-Dawla district of Aleppo. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
It wasn’t the government that killed the Syrian rebel commander Abu Jameel. It was the fight for his loot. The motive for his murder lay in a great warehouse in Aleppo which his unit had captured a week before. The building had been full of rolled steel, which was seized by the fighters as spoils of war.
But squabbling developed over who would take the greater share of the loot and a feud developed between commanders. Threats and counter-threats ensued over the following days.
Abu Jameel survived one assassination attempt when his car was fired on. A few days later his enemies attacked again, and this time they were successful. His bullet-riddled body was found, handcuffed, in an alley in the town of al-Bab.
Captain Hussam, of the Aleppo military council, said: “If he had died fighting I would say it was fine, he was a rebel and a mujahid and this is what he had set out to do. But to be killed because of a feud over loot is a disaster for the revolution.
“It is extremely sad. There is not one government institution or warehouse left standing in Aleppo. Everything has been looted. Everything is gone.”
Captured government vehicles and weapons have been crucial to the rebels since the start of the conflict, but according to Hussam and other commanders, and fighters interviewed by the Guardian over a fortnight in northern Syria, a new phase has been reached in the war. Looting has become a way of life.
“Spoils” have now become the main drive for many units as battalion commanders seek to increase their power.
The problem is particularly pronounced in Aleppo, according to Abu Ismael, a young lieutenant from a wealthy family, who ran a successful business before joining the fight against Bashar al-Assad.
Many of the battalions that entered the city in the summer of this year came from the countryside, he said. They were poor peasants who carried with them centuries-old grudges towards the wealthier Aleppans….
Fleeing Civil War, Syria’s Kurds Enter Another Geopolitical Minefield
By Jay Newton-Small / Dohuk, IraqDec. 27, 2012 – Time
Samira Selo cradled her 2-year-old on her hip and looked across the low valley toward Syria, a country that until a month ago she called home. Some sheep and goats grazed nearby. Behind her, in the old tiny tent she, her husband and three kids call home, her family’s possessions were rolled up under two thin mattresses still damp from a week’s worth of rain. The floor of her tent was mud, the same mud that formed, often knee-deep, every lane zigzagging through the Domiz refugee camp in the north of Iraqi Kurdistan……
Thus far, the Syrian Kurds have remained somewhat neutral in the civil war ravaging Syria. Some splinter groups seem to be supporting Assad, and others the opposition, but for the most part, the Kurds have sat out the fight. “As far as the Syrian Kurds are concerned, the opposition is as bad as the regime,” Talabani says. Until the opposition pledges to respect Kurdish rights and grant them full representation in the new government, the Kurds will remain wary.
In fact, the refugees are suspicious of anything and everything except the Kurdish government in Iraq. Kurdish flags fly from dozens of tents. “I won’t fight for Assad or against Assad,” says Shanki, “but I will lay down my life for Kurdistan.” The group of men surrounding him all murmur — and some shout — in agreement.
Battle for Aleppo shows both sides’ weaknesses
NYTimes, 28 Dec 2012 Via War in Context
C.J. Chivers reports:…. has also left rebels vulnerable to allegations of corruption, including the theft of much needed food and other aid.
Simultaneously, the fighting has exposed the government’s seemingly fatal miscalculations. For all of its statements to the contrary, and no matter its effort to mass soldiers and firepower here, Mr. Assad’s government has mustered neither the popular support nor the military might to stop the rebels’ slow momentum, much less to defeat them.
These days rumors circulate of Mr. Assad’s dilemma — will he flee Damascus, Syria’s capital, or die behind the palace gate? — while it is rebels who speak with confidence.
“Now we are making very good progress,” said Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, a former Syrian military officer who is now one of the senior rebel commanders in the Aleppo region. “Almost all of the military bases and regime forces in Aleppo have been surrounded.”
As winter descends, intensifying the humanitarian crisis for Aleppo’s civilians, the battle’s direction has decisively shifted….
Alawite cleric: Assad duped us into sectarian war
Sharq al-Awsat, 28 Dec 2012 via War in Context
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an opposition Alawite religious cleric who recently fled to the Turkish town of Antakya revealed that “the Alawite community is living in a state of great fear, after we have become aware that the collapse of the al-Assad regime is imminent, which will [...]
Taking Syria back from the extremists
By Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, Thursday, December 27 – Wash Post
Mohammed Alaa Ghanem is senior political adviser, strategist and government relations director for the Syrian American Council in Washington.
The U.S. commitment to aiding the Syrian opposition against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad has been one of many words and few deeds. Repeated pledges of support absent material assistance have allowed fringe elements to establish themselves in northern Syria. If this trend persists, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning of “efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution” will soon become reality.
During a recent three-week trip to the Middle East, I observed both encouraging and disturbing developments. I went into Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and industrial capital, to see how Syrians were coping with chaos. About 75 percent of Aleppo is under opposition control.
I expected to talk to average people overwhelmed with trying to restore order. Instead, I encountered a sophisticated civilian governance structure. The Aleppo Transitional Revolutionary Council, run by a 23-member board of university-educated professionals, has emerged in the liberated areas. To restore critical services to the heavily damaged city, the council has formed 12 committees covering law enforcement, education, bakeries, relief efforts and more. The medical council alone was running eight hospitals. (Shelling by the Assad regime leveled one of those hospitals last month.)
The people I met with impressed me with their professionalism and they way they emphasized the “interim” before their titles. All said they plan to abide by election results once peace is restored to the city.
A few months ago, the majority of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements in Aleppo coalesced into the Revolutionary Military Council under the disciplined leadership of Col. Abduljabar Ekeidi. They have shockingly few resources: Because of protocols governing how supplies can enter Syria, the council is able to scrape together enough ammunition for a day’s fighting about every two weeks. Forces loosely affiliated with the FSA make up about 80 percent of the armed groups in the city; the others are undisciplined or hard-line organizations or criminal groups taking advantage of the violence.
Civilian efforts to provide governance and medical care and bring lawless and extremist elements to heel have been hamstrung by lack of resources. Brig. Gen. Adib al-Shallaf, a defector from Syrian security forces, has plans to reestablish a civilian police force for Aleppo. But some weeks he is not able to regularly feed his recruits, much less buy them uniforms. He told me he was not sure how long his effort could survive.
Halab al-Shabaa Brigade, one of the larger FSA units under the military council in Aleppo, is considering disbanding. The unit commander, a moderate, told me he knew that the extremist militant group Jabhat al-Nusra had approached some of his men. Jabhat al-Nusra is well-financed: Many of its cells have more food and weapons than recruits, and they are approaching Syrians to expand. Their obvious advantage is that they can provide what more moderate groups and civilian councils cannot: salaries and weapons.
I was shocked when a liberal commander of a brigade from al-Hasakah, a province in northeastern Syria, told me that he was considering joining Jabhat al-Nusra. His view of why he had “no option” was strategic: “I’m struggling with funding, and if the deal comes through me, I’ll maintain influence over the 20-year-olds fighting in my brigade, most of whom are not terribly educated. If the frustration grows, they will leave me, and they might end up with Jabhat al-Nusra, at which point they might embrace their ideology.”
Since I visited Aleppo, the United States has designated Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization and an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Iraq. While Jabhat al-Nusra leaders undoubtedly profess an ideology similar to al-Qaeda’s, Syria experts agree that the timing of the designation has been disastrous for mainstream Syrians’ perception of the United States. First, Jabhat al-Nusra has helped on the ground in ways Washington has not: The group cooperates closely with the Free Syrian Army; it has achieved military successes and has delivered critical civilian aid. Second, the U.S. designation failed to distinguish between Jabhat al-Nusra’s core of hard-line ideologues and Syrians who join because Jabhat al-Nusra has money, weapons and proven military successes.
When leaving Aleppo, I had an experience that underscores the problem. Our group encountered members of Jabhat al-Nusra at a roadblock. Their respectful treatment and their short beards caught me off-guard. I initiated a conversation with the men manning the checkpoint. They were local people from a village about half a mile away. They joined Jabhat al-Nusra, they told me, because the group has the weapons and supplies necessary to protect their families. One man even expressed sympathy for the Alawite minority, Assad’s sect, and referred to Alawites as his brothers. “We only have a problem with the Assad regime,” he said. These men clearly did not support Jabhat al-Nusra’s extremist ideology, but they see the organization as their only option.
Groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have been allowed to establish not just a presence but also a foothold. If the civilian councils and other governance structures emerging in the liberated regions can be sufficiently funded, they can provide policing and relief services to stabilize their communities. But without support from the United States and other allies, well-funded extremist groups can continue to recruit fighters from a population that would otherwise ignore them.
As winter sets in, the Syrian people will be in desperate need. The United States must do all it can to bolster the legitimacy of civilian councils and other moderate organizations, including delivering aid through the coalition and regional councils rather than third-party nongovernmental organizations. This would help enable civilians to run their communities and increase the likelihood that a post-Assad Syria will become an inclusive democracy, rather than a failed state.
Read more from Opinions: Jackson Diehl: A jihadist group prospers in Syria The Post’s View: Syria’s war spills into Lebanon David Ignatius: A defector’s account of Syrian chemical weapons
Raqqa Emergency Appeal
Damascus 26-12-2012 – Building the Syrian State
An increasing number of reports indicate that armed anti-regime brigades are surrounding the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria with the plan to enter it. There have already been some attacks on the outskirts of the city. Raqqa is among the few relatively safe areas in Syria that civilians can still to escape to. As a result, the city is now heavily, densely populated hosting nearly three million people more than half of whom are internally displaced living in very dire conditions.
Pushing the city into armed conflict will result in a tragedy to add to the countless tragedies the Syrians are already suffering. It is even more tragic considering that the city will probably not play any strategic role in settling the conflict in Syria.
The location of Raqqa near Tabaqa military airport, which is under the control of the regime, ensures that the city will be under immediate threat of aerial bombardment by regime
Assad Cultivates Support from Minorities. CBS visits Jabal Druze
Syria: interview with a Jabhat al-Nusra official
Time: 26 Dec 2012
Abu Adnan, a 35-year-old religious scholar and Shari’a law official in Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership in the Aleppo area, gave an interview with Rania Abouzeid for Time magazine.
The interview took place in a town in northern Syria, in the countryside outside Aleppo. I was not blindfolded nor subjected to a physical security check. I was picked up at a northern Syria border post, driven for about 15 minutes inside the country before the vehicle stopped in front of a black pickup truck waiting in the middle of an otherwise empty stretch of road. There were three men in the vehicle, including Abu Adnan, who silently approached the car I was in, and sat in the backseat. He did not introduce himself until I asked who he was later.
We drove to a small cold concrete room with a tiny window that barely let in any light from an already overcast sky. We sat among boxes of long-life milk and bags of blankets and winter clothes waiting to be distributed. Our host, the driver, tried to start a portable gas heater, but there was no gas.
“America has called us terrorists because it says that some of our tactics bear the fingerprints of al-Qaeda in Iraq, like our explosives and the car bombs,” Abu Adnan said, his breath condensing as he spoke. “We are not like al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are not of them.”
Jabhat al-Nusra does count Syrian veterans of the Iraq war among its numbers, men who bring expertise — especially the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — to the front in Syria. Still, Jabhat al-Nusra is not the only rebel outfit to use IEDs and other groups — some so-called moderates operating under the loose umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have also allegedly used suicide bombers who were either willing or unwilling (i.e prisoners). Like Jabhat al-Nusra, a number of other Islamist groups also want to install an Islamic state in Syria, while even secular rebel units increasingly speak in ugly sectarian terms that demonize minorities, particularly members of Assad’s Alawite sect. Yet only Jabhat al-Nusra’s tactics were designated as “terrorist” by a U.S. administration that admits it is still trying to understand the various armed elements in the Syrian conflict, fueling all manner of theories about why Jabhat al-Nusra was slapped with the description. Also why time the announcement just as rebels as a whole seem to have gained a renewed momentum? The key, it seems, is the alleged links to al-Qaeda in Iraq….
He said that if anything, Jabhat al-Nusra was keeping itself in check. “Many of the people who are wanted by us, who we have scores to settle with, very important people are present in Turkey, in areas close to the border, we can easily reach them. It would be very easy for us, but we won’t do this and yet they still call us terrorists. We are fighting in Syria, and who are we fighting? The security forces, the shabiha [proregime thugs also listed as terrorists by the U.S.] and those who help the regime.”
At the same time as announcing plans for an Islamic state in Aleppo, Jabhat al-Nusra has begun undertaking relief efforts in the neighborhoods of the city it is based in, seeking a stronger foothold in the local community, even though paradoxically like many rebel groups operating in Aleppo, its fighters are largely not from the city. It has distributed much needed supplies of petrol, diesel, and flour to bakeries. “We are keeping the price of bread at 15 lira [about 21 U.S. cents], which was its true price,” Abu Adnan said, adding that transgressors would be punished according to Shari‘a. (Jabhat al-Nusra has also thus far avoided indiscriminate civilian casualties.)
That’s not to say that Jabhat al-Nusra does not have fierce critics, especially within rebel circles. In addition to its civilian detractors, many more secular-minded fighters are wary of the group’s social conservatism, but insist that its brand of ultraconservative Islam will not find a home in any post-Assad Syria. These fighters often say that they will “deal” with conservative groups like Jabhat al-Nusra later, but that right now they need them in the fight against Assad. Other rebels view Jabhat al-Nusra as a transient jihadi group that will move onto foreign fronts like Afghanistan or Gaza after the fall of Assad.
Abu Adnan smirked when asked to comment about such sentiments, especially by fellow Sunni fighters, whom he dismissed as “the brainwashed.” He repeated that “the idea that we are a global organization or that we have some other goal elsewhere after the fall is not true.” He was emphatic: “We are Syrians.” He admitted that “we also have foreigners who came from other countries, but,” he explained, “that is because the wounds in the Arab lands are the same wound, and the oppression is the same oppression.”
Rocky transition expected in Syria
Karen DeYoung DEC 24 Wash Post
Planning for post-Assad transition has become a race against time that proponents of a democratic Syria fear they are losing. …
“Even secular-minded people who acknowledge the jihadis are a potential threat to them say they’re the only people who helped us and you didn’t help us,” said Malinowski, who returned last week from rebel-held areas of Syria. “There is not much time left to demonstrate to Syrians that the United States was with them when they needed it most.”
U.S. officials say they recognize the urgency of the situation, as rebel military forces increase their hold on Syrian territory amid escalating civilian deaths and mounting humanitarian needs. “But there are legal issues involved” in moving beyond humanitarian aid, a senior administration official said.
Providing the rebel military with the same kind of organizational and training aid being given outside Syria to the political opposition is just as illegal as handing over weapons or sending troops, U.S. officials said.
Without an international mandate from the United Nations or approval from Congress, the United States has no basis on which to aid or interact with the Syrian rebels, under the legal opinion on which the administration has based its policy….
“If we speculate that the regime collapses soon, we have to recognize that we would see a period of fairly intense political competition in which actors on the ground who had established credibility would have a significant advantage” over anyone or anything coming from the outside, Heydemann said. “Military commanders in many cases would assert their authority, at least temporarily.”
“Ultimately, I think, this work has to be understood as an effort to avoid worst-case scenarios, not as an effort to develop ideal structures that will permit Syria to transition immediately and seamlessly into a popular parliamentary democracy. I don’t think anyone envisions that.”
‘This is going to be messy’
What worries Rami Nakhla and others is that the hands-off approach adopted by the United States and its European allies may be ensuring the chaotic outcome they say they seek to avoid. Nakhla’s own apocalyptic prediction is that powerful armed elements, including extremists, will look for a new enemy to retain their power after vanquishing Assad and will settle on neighboring Israel. The West will inevitably oppose them, and “the Syrian people will start to view the international community as their enemy,” Nakhla said in a telephone interview from Turkey. A Damascus university student who slipped out of Syria just as the uprising began in early 2011, he spent months hiding from Syrian intelligence in Beirut while disseminating video and updates from protesters inside Syria to the outside world on the Internet….
Recruited to work on USIP’s project, he is now in Istanbul to set up the independent Day After organization to provide technical assistance to the coalition.
No Easy Route if Assad Opts to Go, or to Stay, in Syria
By ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD
Published: December 24, 2012
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria sits in his mountaintop palace as the tide of war licks at the cliffs below.
Explosions bloom over the Damascus suburbs. His country is plunging deeper into chaos. The United Nations’ top envoy for the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, met with Mr. Assad in the palace on Monday in an urgent effort to resolve the nearly two-year-old conflict.
How Mr. Assad might respond to Mr. Brahimi’s entreaty depends on his psychology, shaped by a strong sense of mission inherited from his iron-fisted father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad; his closest advisers, whom supporters describe as a hard-line politburo of his father’s gray-haired security men; and Mr. Assad’s assessment, known only to himself, about what awaits him if he stays — victory, or death at the hands of his people…..
Dr. Nikolaos van Dam, the Netherlands’ former ambassador to Iraq, tells Rudaw (listen) that in order to avoid conflict and bloodshed it is better for Iraq’s Kurdistan Region to remain “de facto independent” than to fully claim it. Author of The Struggle for Power in Syria, van Dam believes that, whatever the outcome of the conflict in Syria, the country’s Kurdish population need not fear renewed persecution on ethnic grounds, as in the past. Here is his interview:
The commander of Syria’s military police has defected from President Bashar-al Assad’s government and reportedly fled to Turkey. Lt Gen Abulaziz al-Shalal is one of the highest-ranking officials to join the uprising against the Syrian regime. The army had failed to protect Syrians and turned into “gangs of murder”, the general said [...]