Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 8th, 2013
Preparing for the day after al-Assad’s fall Inside Syria – Aljazeera
Presenter Ghida Fakhry: Joshua Landis; Yazan Abdallah, a Syrian academic and member of the Syria Dialogue – a group calling for transitional change in Syria; and Saleh Mubarak, a member of the Syrian National Council and a professor at Qatar University.
See PBS Frontline on Syria tomorrow – Tuesday – Very impressive and powerful documentary produced by Azmat Khan and filmed by Olly Lambert.
AZIZ NAKKASH, March 2013
[Excellent article based on interviews with numerous Alawi inhabitants of Homs, explaining their reasons for supporting the regime and fighting in the various branches of the military and shabiha. ]
Faltering role of tribal leaders tested by oil-related disputes in Deir Ezzor (Part III) Hassan Hassan [Great new Blog by Hassan]
Syria oil industry buckling under rebel gains
By BASSEM MROUE | Associated Press
Syria’s vital oil industry is breaking down as rebels capture many of the country’s oil fields, with wells aflame and looters scooping up crude, depriving the government of much needed cash and fuel for its war machine against the uprising.
Exports have ground practically to a standstill, and the regime of President Bashar Assad has been forced to import refined fuel supplies to keep up with demand amid shortages and rising prices. In a sign of the increasing desperation, the oil minister met last week with Chinese and Russian officials to discuss exploring for gas and oil in the Mediterranean off Syria’s coast…. ”Businesswise there isn’t a company that is willing to invest in Syria these days,” said Seifan, who currently lives in Iraq.
A new report on the northern city of Aleppo goes some way to showing how dire the situation in Syria is economist.
War in the South: US and Jordan Training Syrian Forces
By Taylor Luck, Published: April 2 – Wash Post
AMMAN, Jordan — The United States and Jordan have stepped up training of Syrian opposition forces that may be used to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border, according to U.S. and Jordanian officials. Training begun last year has been expanded and accelerated after rebel gains in the south, including capture of a stretch of the Jordanian-Syrian border near the Golan Heights, two military outposts and the country’s main border crossing with Jordan.
Jordanian security officials said a previous timetable to complete training of about 3,000 Free Syrian Army officers by the end of June has been moved up to the end of this month in light of the border victories.
Creation of a buffer zone would aim to convert areas now in rebel hands into permanent havens for thousands of army defectors and displaced civilians in the area and allow easy access for humanitarian aid. More than 470,000 Syrian refugees have already crossed into Jordan — a number U.N. officials expect to pass the 1 million mark this year.
Officials from the United States and Jordan cautioned that implementation of the zones has not been set in motion and listed several stumbling blocks, including the ongoing refusal of the United States and other international backers to provide air cover to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force from attacking rebel outposts.
Two years after the start of the Syrian conflict, Western and Middle East governments are struggling to devise an effective strategy they can agree on, even as the war appears to be spinning beyond their ability to influence it, short of the direct intervention they have refused to contemplate.
But the officials cited growing concern that moderate rebel forces, who have fought effectively in the south and around Damascus, would be overtaken by extremist Islamic fighters who have become dominant in northern areas under rebel control.
“The last thing anyone wants to see is al-Qaeda gaining a foothold in southern Syria next to Israel. That is a doomsday scenario,” said a U.S. diplomat in Jordan who was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject….
The Obama administration and regional governments fear the fighting may soon spill over into other countries.
“Buffer zones on the Syrian side of the border is the only way to keep the conflict away from Jordan,” said Mahmoud Irdaisat, head of the Amman-based Center for Strategic Studies at the King Abdullah II Defense Studies Academy.
The Obama administration, which sent a force of about 150 U.S. military personnel to Jordan last year, has repeatedly refused to comment on reports that the force is training Syrian fighters…
Obama administration officials have expressed repeated concern that some of about 20,000 of the weapons, called MANPADS, have made their way from the arsenals of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi to Syria.
The administration has acknowledged that Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, and it has helped vet the recipients. But it has repeatedly expressed concern that adding surface-to-air missiles to their arsenal would risk putting the weapons in the hands of militants and pose a threat to Israel and other nearby countries…..
…But while the fall of southern Syria would facilitate the rebel push for Damascus, it might also create dangerous complications, potentially drawing Syria’s neighbors into the two-year-old civil war. Besides abutting Jordan, the region borders Syria’s side of the Golan Heights, along a sensitive frontier with Israel.
‘‘This is a very sensitive triangle we are talking about,’’ said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese Army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut. ‘‘The fall of Daraa, if it happens, may usher in strategic changes in the area.’’…
‘‘Damascus will be liberated from here, from Daraa, from the south,’’ declared an armed fighter,….
Opposition fighters battling Assad’s troops have been chipping away at the regime’s hold on the southern part of the country in recent weeks with the help of an influx of foreign-funded weapons.
Their aim is to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to Damascus in preparation for an eventual assault on the capital. …
A Western diplomat who monitors Syria from his base in Jordan said the fall of Daraa appeared imminent, possibly in the next few days or weeks. His assessment was based on classified intelligence information, he said.
Daraa’s fall could unleash lawlessness on Jordan’s northern border and send jitters across the kingdom, a key US ally which fears Islamic extremist groups on its doorstep.
Also of grave concern are rebel advances in areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. ‘‘If Daraa falls, the rebels will come face-to-face with the Israeli army in the Golan,’’ said Hilal Khashan,Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he believes Syria could turn into another Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia backs push to carve out liberated southern Syria
By Ruth Sherlock, Magdy Samaan and Suha Maayeh in Amman, 05 Apr 2013, Telegraph
Saudi Arabia is backing a push by Syrian opposition rebels to carve out a “liberated” area in southern Syria, opening a key route of attack on Damascus…. Americans are supervising the flow of arms and the Saudis pay for them,”….Those receiving training are mainly moderate Sunni Muslim tribesmen from central and southern Syria, many of whom have served in the Syrian army….
General Salim Idriss, who heads the SMC has been touring donor countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Kingdom to rally support and map a military strategy.
Qatar has been working more closely with Turkey, who are more sympathetic to the Doha backed Muslim Brotherhood, whilst Saudi Arabia has been pushing much of its support through Jordan, analysts and diplomats have said.
Syria Update: The Southern Battlefronts
Apr 5, 2013 – Jonathan Dupree – ISW
Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he believes Syria could turn into another Afghanistan. Dempsey, who is on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, also said “…
I have grave concerns that Syria could become an extended conflict” that drags on for many years. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of Army and security personnel, have been killed in the violence…..
Syrian leader warns of domino effect and accuses Arab neighbours of sheltering rebels who seek to overthrow him…
“If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control … the situation will inevitably spill over into neighbouring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he said in an interview with Turkish television.
Turmoil would spread “east, west, north and south. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come,” Assad said in the interview, posted by the Syrian presidency on the internet.
Opposition & Rebel Brigades
[Important read]…The National Coalition is not simply an SNC clone, but it has replicated the representation game that the SNC and the Friends of Syria had already played over the preceding year. A central assertion in Clinton’s critique of the SNC was that it was insufficiently representative of those opposing the Assad regime. The National Coalition claims to represent the Syrian opposition more broadly than the SNC—but that is a stretch…..The SNC had still not set up permanent aid offices or a supply structure to deliver the most urgently needed commodities to liberated areas—such as fuel to run power generators for field hospitals, bakeries, and water pumps, and for heating. Nor had it attempted systematic surveys of needs and data collection….The scale of the challenge, and its political complexity, were highlighted when the Syrian government authorized the United Nations World Food Program in mid-January 2013 to work with local nongovernmental organizations to distribute food aid worth $519 million. The program was already delivering aid for up to 1.5 million Syrians a month through the government-controlled Syrian Arab Red Crescent, but the new agreement allowed it to reach an additional one million Syrians in need. The National Coalition protested vociferously against giving assistance to “the regime that destroyed cities and shelled hospitals and bakeries and displaced inhabitants, to help it to fix what its own hands have perpetrated.”34 Noting that rebel areas, “in which over ten million people reside, or nearly half the Syrian population,” were receiving only 10 percent of what they needed, its Aid Coordination Unit offered itself as a more effective and equitable alternative for aid distribution.35 Syrian activists acknowledge that the Friends of Syria lack confidence in the operational capacity of the National Coalition to deliver international aid on a large scale, and resent this. Its ability to provide security is an added concern, as United Nations food and fuel convoys have come under rebel attack. In late January, National Coalition Chairman al-Khatib acknowledged that “much of the relief aid has been stolen or looted by gangs exploiting the security anarchy.”36 ….Activist writer Hajj-Saleh, who remains in hiding in Damascus, offered a bleak assessment of the local civilian structures at the start of March 2013. The grassroots movement provided a “multifaceted creativity” that the formal opposition lacked, he noted, butThis is not to say that conditions in the society of the revolution or its various local communities are promising. In reality we can speak of widespread signs of dissolution, damage to social ties even at the local level, the spread of violence and use of violence to settle diverse scores or for private profit. The forms of self-organization do not meet needs in most areas, as the elements of dissolution, fragmentation, and selfishness are more present and influential than those of healing, cooperation, and joint action.49
Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood: influential, organized, but mistrusted
April 04, 2013, Agence France Presse
BEIRUT: Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood may be President Bashar Assad’s best-organized political adversaries, but they are also loathed by some dissidents who accuse them of trying to dominate the opposition, backed by funds from Qatar.
In late March, some 70 dissidents sent a letter to the Arab League criticizing “the dictatorial control exercised by one of [the opposition’s] … currents over its decisions and actions, and the flagrant hegemony of diverse Arab and regional players.”…
London-based Ali al-Bayanouni, the Brotherhood’s deputy political chief, rejected the accusations.
“Our role in the coalition has been greatly exaggerated, and we are not financed by any state,” he told AFP, saying the group’s funding comes from “members and supporters, from Syria and elsewhere.”
“We represent just 10 percent of the coalition. How can they say we control everything?”….
“They believe that they are the natural leaders of Syria, they believe … their time has finally come and that they represent the nation better than anybody else,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.
“That self-assurance is resented of course by all the other groups. … The Brotherhood are the presumed winners, and that is why they are targeted.”
Analysts and dissidents admit that the Brotherhood are Syria’s best-organized opposition group. They have a hierarchy, offices, a website and even a newspaper.
“Qatar and Turkey support them because they are the only institutional party that has any chance of organizing Syria” should Assad fall, Landis told AFP…..
And the Brotherhood is confident they have real support on the ground too. “When there are democratic elections in Syria, we shall see w
Phil Sands, Apr 1, 2013 – The National
ANTAKYA, TURKEY // Syrian rebel fighters have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of undermining the revolt against Bashar Al Assad and trying to dictate opposition politics.
Rebel officers said the Brotherhood was putting narrow factional politicking over the broad interests of the revolt.
“We hold you responsible for delaying victory of the revolution and the fragmentation of the opposition,” the Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army said in an open letter to the Muslim Brotherhood.
There was a “deep confrontation” within the opposition between the Muslim Brotherhood and other secular, national and military factions, the FSA said.
Anti-Brotherhood sentiments, particularly in Damascus, were running high, the FSA warned, with growing anger at efforts by the group to control military and humanitarian relief efforts administered by the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition bloc given Syria’s seat in the Arab League at a summit last week.
A significant majority of its members are directly or indirectly allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, much to the dismay of other rebel factions who say the group’s representation in the SNC political chambers vastly outweighs its street presence inside Syria.
Tawheed brigade establish traffic police in Aleppo “liberated” areas. Their uniforms look like Lebanese darak
The uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s rule entered its third year in March. The process of disaggregating the political and armed currents that are struggling against the Ba’athist regime, however, remains an exercise in futility. Despite ardent efforts by the numerous opposition factions to portray an image of ideological moderation, the preponderance of evidence indicates that radical Islamists dominate the Syrian insurgency. Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical Salafist organization that is acting as al-Qaeda’s surrogate in the conflict, has solidified itself as the most deadly insurgent faction fighting in Syria today. Yet other similarly motivated extremist formations are also making their presence felt. It is against this background that the activities of the Kata’ib Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of Greater Syria Brigades, hereafter referred to as Ahrar al-Sham), a radical Salafist faction operating largely in northern Syria, warrant a closer look.
Ahrar al-Sham has consolidated its influence in strategically important theaters across Syria, including portions of Syria’s second city of Aleppo and its environs as well as vital supply and communication lines extending to Turkey (al-Monitor, January 13). It has also reportedly engaged Syrian security forces in some of the fiercest combat witnessed since the militarization of the uprising, including a series of fierce battles for control of a number of military air bases and civilian airports in January and February (al-Safir [Beirut], January 30; al-Jazeera [Doha], February 12). Perhaps most importantly, the instrumental role played by Ahrar al-Sham in the formation of the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), an association of eleven like minded Salafist militant factions that came together in common cause in December 2012, is emblematic of its growing influence.  Ahrar al-Sham is widely reputed to maintain a dominant presence within the SIF.  In another sign of its expanding authority, a number of fellow Salafist insurgent groups merged under Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership structure to form the Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya (The Islamic Movement of Ahrar al-Sham) in January 2013 (AFP, February 13).
Details surrounding the precise origins and leadership of Ahrar al-Sham remain murky. The group is believed to have organized in late 2011 and is reportedly led by Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi. While the nisbah portion of his name suggests that he hails from Hama, it has also been reported that he hails from Aleppo (al-Monitor, January 13).  Ahrar al-Sham’s founding members are said to be former political prisoners who were incarcerated in the infamous Sednaya Prison located just outside of Damascus until they were granted amnesty in May 2011. While it welcomes foreign-born militants into its ranks, Ahrar al-Sham boasts of its mostly Syrian-born membership (al-Monitor, January 13; AFP, February 13). Ahrar al-Sham’s influence is centered largely in Syria’s northern governorates of Idlib, Aleppo and Raqqa and, to a lesser extent, the western-central governorates of Hama and Homs. An accurate estimate of its membership is difficult to discern. An alleged member of the group asserted that Ahrar al-Sham commands between 5000 and 6000 fighters in Aleppo governorate alone, a figure that is likely to be inflated for propaganda purposes (al-Monitor, January 13). Tens of regional-based detachments likely organized around local village, town and city networks operate under its auspices.
Ahrar al-Sham’s track record to date is fraught with contradictions. From an ideological perspective, Ahrar al-Sham has declared its objective to transform Syria into its image of an Islamic state. Members of Ahrar al-Sham have stated that their conception of an Islamic state would protect religious minorities and be based on the premise that the majority of Syrians, who are Sunni Muslims, would choose to live in an Islamic society (Daily Star [Beirut], February 13; al-Akhbar [Beirut] January 5). Yet its official discourse is replete with extremist themes and
symbolism informed by its radical Salafist pedigree. Ahrar al-Sham’s frequent resort to sectarian diatribes targeting Alawites and Shiite Muslims, both of whom are viewed by hardline Salafists as h
eretical, is often cited as a point of concern.
Video appears to show world’s most powerful rifle in hands of Syrian rebels
By Paul Alster, April 03, 2013, FoxNews.com
Brown Moses: Another Case Of Weapons Mis-Identification In The Media – “British AS-50s” On Al-Arabiya. Rebels are not using the AS50 as reported in the previous article, Brown Moses demonstrates. Also see his Early Signs Of The “Aleppoisation” Of Southern Syria
….The majority of Kurds in Syria have been pro government through the uprising. Now the Kurdish card is being played. They will promise the Kurds their own state that runs from Iraq and through Syria. A new state will be carved. What was once the Skyes-Picot Agreement will be the Erdogan-Hamad deal….
Erdogan plans to draw Iraq’s and Syria’s Kurds into the ‘Turkosphere’, writes David Gardner
In 10 years as Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at times reliably unscripted and unpredictable, has attracted his fair share of brickbats. But not last week when, buried in bouquets of praise, he started decisively down the road to peace with Turkey’s Kurds.
On Kurdish new year, or Newroz, Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), called a truce in its 29-year war against the Turkish state, after a delicate negotiation with Mr Erdogan’s most trusted aides.
This process is a high-risk strategy to address a tangled story, with tactics that appear inconsistent and policy signals that will look contradictory. The reward for Turkey if it works is potentially enormous…
In exchange for the PKK standing down, a deal would require: reform of anti-terror laws that criminalise opinion (and jail thousands of Kurdish political activists); replacement of ethnic references in the constitution with equal citizenship; equality for the Kurdish language in education and public life; devolution of some power, probably through a broad decentralisation of Turkey; lowering of the electoral threshold to enter parliament, currently at 10 per cent, which prejudices Kurdish parties.
There will also have to be a formula to release Kurdish prisoners and exiles (including the reviled Mr Ocalan), and a reconciliation process to establish the truth about a dirty war that has cost about 40,000 lives.
All this requires not just cultural change but almost doctrinal revolution, and Mr Erdogan’s aides warn that the prime minister will continue to seem unpredictable, if only to keep at bay the wolves of Turkish nationalism.
But what seems to have set Mr Erdogan on this course – from which he at least once before pulled back – is the accelerating disintegration of Syria in the chaotic uprising next door against Bashar al-Assad…..
“We are broke,” U.N. Says as Syria Refugee Funds Dry Up By Tom Miles | Reuters
Syria’s archaeological heritage, which has yet to be fully studied, is imperiled by threats ranging from outright destruction to opportunistic treasure hunters.
Ancient City of Palmyra Threatened in Fighting;