Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
Syria Comment is working again. There was a problem with the server. Thanks to those who helped guide me through the fix, particularly to Camille.
Mounting calls in Israel for Western military intervention to topple the Assad regime are being sounded. Amos Yadlin, head of the country’s leading strategic affairs think tank, the National Institute for Security Studies, wrote an article in the Independent on Thursday urging a Western bombing campaign Libya style to stop the bloodshed. He also mentioned that toppling Assad would deal a blow to Iran. And now the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman is also going on record urging Western military intervention.
Turkey has shifted its policy on refugees, demanding they either enter camps or move deeper into the country away from the tense border region. According to the United Nations and Turkey, about 80,000 Syrian refugees are housed in camps along the Turkish border, and 40,000 others are living within Turkey’s cities. Turkish officials say the policy is meant to disperse the Syrians to separate them from possible antagonists. However, it will create added stress for Syrians injured in the conflict or those working from Turkey to aid the opposition. Turkey has criticized the United Nations, United States, and Europe for abandoning the country on the front line of Syria’s civil war. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council has convened in Geneva on Monday, where U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said both the Syrian government and opposition are responsible for human rights abuses. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for all war criminals in Syria to be “brought to justice.”
Effort to Bring Iraq’s Vice President to Justice for War Crimes Provokes Deadly Wave of Attacks
Iraq’s Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, tried in absentia while in Turkey, has been found guilty of orchestrating death squads. Hashemi has been charged with involvement in over 150 attacks on Iraqi officials and security forces between 2005 and 2011, and is accused of directly ordering several assassinations. US occupation forces had been protecting him, but the day after US troops left Iraq, a warrant was delivered for his arrest. Afterwards, he fled to Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region. In Iraq, he was the most senior Sunni Muslim official and accused the government run by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of “pushing for” increased sectarian strife. Sunni leaders have accused Maliki and the Shiite dominated government of attempting to sideline them from a power-sharing arrangement. The verdict coincided with a wave of over 20 attacks, mainly targeting Shiite neighborhoods across Iraq, during which an estimated 100 people were killed and more than 350 wounded, in one of the deadliest days since the U.S. departure.
Juan Cole has a good post on the difference between Syrian and Iraqi violence, but the question of how and when to prosecute Syrians for war crimes, will become an important issue in post-revolution Syria. Already the State Department is funding an important effort by Syrians to catalog the war crimes carried out by regime figures and members of the Syrian military.
Philip Giraldi’s article, copied below, is particularly important as it suggests that both Turkey and the US are growing increasingly concerned with al-Qaida penetration of the Syrian opposition militias. This is causing them to get cold feet about supporting the revolution with better weapons – something that the rebels need and are calling for.
The killing of four US diplomats in Libya is unlikely to make the US public enthusiastic about the Arab Spring in general and could have a negative effect on future aid.
Two New Wars for Us
By Philip Giraldi • September 6, 2012 – The New Conservative
Normally Washington bureaucracies shut down in August, but this year the intelligence community was working flat out to develop information on two crises in the Middle East. One official describes a deep sense of foreboding, recalling NSC Counter Terrorism Security Group chairman Richard Clarke’s description of walking around the West Wing in August 2001 with his “hair on fire.”
Syria is on the front-burner as a shooting war in which the U.S. is already clandestinely involved. The attempt to come up with a consensus National Intelligence Estimate on the crisis has been put on hold, both because the situation is too volatile and because new intelligence paints an increasingly dark picture of the insurgency. A number of atrocities against civilians previously attributed to the Assad government are now known to be the work of the rebels, who are becoming less reticent about their plans to eliminate all regime supporters, which would include most Alawites as well as many in the Christian community. U.S. intelligence has also come to the conclusion that rebel militias are heavily infiltrated and frequently commanded by jihadis linked to al-Qaeda. Attempts by CIA officers to discuss the issue with the rebels’ political representatives in Lebanon and Turkey have been blown off or deferred, suggesting that the movement’s leadership might be fully complicit. There is also increasing concern about a domino effect spreading unrest to Lebanon. Even the Turks are backing away from more direct involvement, worried that major refugee and Kurdish-based terrorism problems are developing…….
In an exclusive look inside Syria’s rebel military operations, French journalist Mani has been on the frontline with the elite Farouk brigade as they try to break President Assad’s stranglehold. [Good footage - Discussion of Salafism, sectarianism, and shows high-quality aerial photos supplied presumably by the CIA to the Farouk brigade.]
Samar Yazbek, Syrian journalist and author will speak at the National Press Club in DC on Monday, September 17, at 3:00 PM.
Keeping the Lid on Lebanon: Europe must not respond to Hezbollah’s newfound restraint by imposing sanctions. Excellent piece by Julian Barnes-Dacey on why Europe should resist US & Israeli pressure to place Hezbollah on its terrorism list.
Armed Opposition Groups Attempt Reform: Elements of the Free Syrian Army are being re-branded and reorganized as the Syrian National Army. The SNA currently includes a coalition of military councils, defected officers and brigades within Syria under the direction of Maj. Gen. Muhammed Hussein al-Haj Ali, but the head of the FSA has thus far rejected pressure to merge all forces with the SNA.
Dissent Among the Alawites: Syria’s Ruling Sect Does Not Speak with One Voice
Considered heretics by many mainstream Sunnis, the Alawites have long been perceived as a solid bloc of support for their co-religionists in the Assad dynasty. Not so now
By Steven Sotloff / Antakya, Turkey | September 10, 2012 – Time
….Sect members are increasingly breaking rank, as defections swell along with mounting uneasiness about the government’s crackdown against what started as a peaceful protest movement.
Captain Umar in Syria is a rebel fighter and an Alawite, and he considers Assad a “butcher.” The officer no longer believes the regime’s propaganda and says he abandoned his unit after the government began shelling civilian neighborhoods in his hometown. But Umar says it is Assad who is injecting the conflict with a sectarian hue. “Bashar is telling us the Sunnis will slaughter us,” he says via Skype from Syria. “He is scaring Alawis and pushing them to the edge. This is why the army is killing the people in the street. They are scared the Sunnis will massacre us.”
Umar says that it was the military’s daily shelling of civilian areas that pushed him to defect. “I just couldn’t see Syrians dying anymore.” He refuses to reveal how many Alawite officers have defected, but he does say the “number is significant.”
Others with ties to the security forces have also turned their back on the Alawite leadership. Luban Mrai’s father is a senior leader in the paramilitary organization known as the shabiha that targets civilians. She recently left the country after experiencing “serious moral and ethical dilemmas” stemming from the targeting of civilians. Today she resides in Istanbul, trying to mobilize support for the rebels. “The regime is using our religion for political ends,” she explains in a phone conversation. “Alawis are killing Syrians for no reason. This is wrong.
Leading Alawite intellectuals have abandoned the regime as well. Rasha Omran is one of Syria’s better-known poets and has been invited to read her poetry at literature festivals throughout Europe. Since the beginning of the uprising, she has lent her voice and pen to the cause. Omran announced her support of the revolution within days of its eruption on her Facebook page. She marched in protests and spoke out against Assad. “This is a dictatorial regime,” she said in a phone call from Egypt. “How can I support a government that kills its citizens?”
Omran sees herself as a Syrian rather than as an Alawite. She emphasizes that the country is composed of a number of minorities whose identity is shaped by the larger Syrian state. She believes Assad and his inner circle are destroying this delicate mosaic by stirring up ethnic hatreds. “We are all Syrians. But Assad is working to demolish our country.”
Omran wanted to support the revolution by remaining in Syria. But her vocal protests embarrassed a regime trying to project sectarian unity. Because she belongs to a respected Alawite family, the government risked an Alawite backlash if it arrested her. Instead, she says, intelligence agents pressured her to leave the country in a series of visits to her house. She finally left Syria at the beginning of the year.
This FAO WFP report on Syrian crops rotting in the fields and families who will starve in the villages deserves wider publicity. The Drought in US and Russia will restrict the amount of grain for sale on international markets. Sanctions are already making bank transactions in pursuit of grain purchaes by Syrian government fraught. (Thanks to Frank Domoney)
Ankara in a prisoner’s dilemma over Syria by Mehmet Kalyoncu*
The Syrian Rebellion
by Fouad Ajami
Hoover Institution Press, 240 pp., $19.95
Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad
by David W. Lesch
Yale University Press, 262 pp., $28.00
A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution
by Samar Yazbek, translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss
Haus, 269 pp., $18.95 (paper)
Postcolonial governments have often seemed condemned to repeat the sins of the imperialists they replaced, a sad irony that has been especially pronounced in the Middle East. The British in 1920, for instance, pioneered the use of poison gas against civilians in order to subdue a tribal revolt in Iraq. The last known deployment of chemical weapons for mass murder was again in Iraq, in 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed his fellow citizens during the notorious Anfal campaign against the Kurds.
Syria, too, has experienced sinister symmetries. Soon after France grabbed the territory as a share of its spoils from World War I, an insurrection among the proud Druze of the Houran region in the south quickly spread elsewhere. The colonial government countered this challenge with a mix of sweet propaganda and extreme violence. Depicting their foes as sectarian fanatics, the French posed as patrons of progress and as the noble guarantors of peace between Syria’s diverse sects. Yet they also worked hard to sharpen the schism they warned of. Arming and empowering favored groups, they brutalized others with summary executions, the burning of crops, and the razing of villages.
The counterinsurgency culminated with a brazen demonstration of destructive power that effectively terrorized Syria’s propertied class into submission. In October 1925 French artillery and aircraft bombarded Damascus for two days, leaving 1,500 dead and much of the Syrian capital in ruins; the large, incongruously grid-patterned section of the Old City known simply as al-Hariqa—The Fire—today serves as a memorial to that conflagration. In May 1945, French forces again shelled Damascus indiscriminately, killing more than six hundred people in what proved a vain attempt to reassert control following the end of World War II.
The regime built under the Assad clan, whose godfather, Hafez Assad, Syria’s then minister of defense, seized power in 1970 and held it for three decades until his son Bashar’s succession, has followed these unfortunate examples. Like France’s colonial governors the Assads have posed as defenders of a modern secular state. They have called their opponents sectarian extremists, even as their favoritism toward some parts of Syria’s complex ethnic and religious mosaic—particularly their own minority Alawite sect—and punishment of others, such as the 10 percent Kurdish minority, have enflamed communal resentment. The striking viciousness and scale of state repression, enforced by seventeen competing intelligence agencies whose upper ranks are dominated by Alawites, have been excused as a necessary bulwark against threats to national unity.
Just like the French, too, the Assads have made a practice of training heavy artillery on densely populated areas. In 1982, responding to a budding Sunni Muslim insurgency that included terror attacks against Alawite soldiers, an army brigade commanded by Hafez Assad’s brother sealed off Syria’s then fourth-largest city, Hama. The two-week barrage of mortar and rocket fire that followed killed tens of thousands, erasing Hama’s large and well-preserved historic center….
“The Silent Strike: How Israel Bombed a Syrian Nuclear Installation and Kept It Secret” , David Makovsky speaks with some two dozen Israeli and American officials who knew about the 2007 Israeli operation and explores what the strike could mean for an Israeli attack on Iran. – In the New Yorker