Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
In Syria, the Rebels Have Begun to Fight Among Themselves
By Rania Abouzeid / Tal AbyadMarch 26, 20134 Comments
The day started like a regular Sunday for Mohammad al-Daher, better known as Abu Azzam, the commander of the rebel Farouq Brigades in the vast swathe of eastern Syria called the Jazira, a region that stretches from the Turkish border to the Iraqi frontier and encompasses the three provinces of Raqqa, Hasaka, and Deir Ezzor. He had a series of meetings in the morning in a number of locations in the bustling town of Tal Abyad on Syria’s border with Turkey as well as in the partially destroyed former police station that is the Farouq’s headquarters. And he was going to visit his mother.
By late-afternoon, however, the burly 34-year-old Raqqa native would be lying in a hospital bed – wounded by members of the ultraconservative Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra (which the U.S considers a terrorist organization with links to Al-Qaeda). Abu Azzam’s targeting has blown open a sharp rift and long-brewing conflict between the more-secular nationwide Farouq brigades and the Jabhat. The two groups are among the most effective, best organized and most well-known of the many military outfits aligned against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and the fight between them is just beginning……(read the rest – brilliant reporting)
A four-man delegation of the Syrian opposition took the nation’s seat at the summit. The delegation included interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto and Alkhatib, who, despite stepping down as president of the Syrian National Council, led the Syrian delegation in Qatar.
The SNC presented a number of demands to change the destiny of the Syrian nation.King Abdullah lashed out at the Assad regime for unleashing deadly weapons on his own people in full view on the international community….
Shaikh Hamad lamented that the Syrian regime entered into armed confrontation with its people and rejected all calls for serious political reform. The emir of Qatar reaffirmed his country’s commitment to provide humanitarian help to the people of Syria and urged all countries to do the same. “I dream of seeing Syria up on its feet and back to its former glory,” he said….
Al-Khatib said he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for US forces to help defend northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles.“I have asked Mr. Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the north of Syria and he has promised to study the subject,” Al-Khatib said.
“We are still awaiting a decision from NATO to protect the lives of innocent peopl and return Syrian immigrants to their homeland to lead a normal life,” he said.
Obama’s Syria policy in shambles as Assad opposition squabbles
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, March 26
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s Syria policy was unraveling Monday after weekend developments left the Syrian Opposition Coalition and its military command in turmoil, with the status of its leader uncertain and its newly selected prime minister rejected by the group’s military wing.
Shaam News Network via AP video In this image taken from video, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a building burns due to government forces shelling in Damascus countryside, Syria
State Department officials said they still planned to work with the coalition, to which the United States has pledged $60 million, but analysts said the developments were one more sign that the Obama administration and its European allies had no workable Syria policy.
The opposition coalition, already in its second incarnation, has proved to be as beset by factionalism as its predecessor, the Syrian National Council, exacerbated this time by the meddling of foreign donors, analysts said. But, the analysts added, the United States has no other entity to back in a war that pits the regime of President Bashar Assad against a jihadist-dominated rebel movement.
“This is it. The U.S. can’t reboot it a third time. If they can’t make this work, they’ve got nothing,” said Joshua Landis,…
Iraq is on its way to dissolution, and the United States is doing nothing to stop it. And if you ask people in Iraq, it may even be abetting it.
By Henri J. Barkey, March 26, 2013
….But at the heart of Maliki’s policies is his unease with the developments in Syria. Convinced that Syrian President Bashar Assad, who belongs to the Shiite-related Alawite sect, is on his way out, Maliki fears a tidal wave of Sunni fighters will cross the border to rekindle the civil war that has threatened to erupt in Iraq since the U.S. occupation. He thinks the Kurds have established their region and that their independence is only a matter of time. Hence, his primary concern is to solidify his control over the Shiite Muslim regions and Baghdad.
Maliki’s increasingly dictatorial tendencies are ensuring that the country will split along sectarian and ethnic lines. This is not what the United States wants, nor is it conducive to stability in the region, as Iraq would succumb to the interference of its often-rapacious neighbors.
Washington has abetted the process by playing into Maliki’s hands….
Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.
By C. J. CHIVERS and ERIC SCHMITT
click to view full graphic With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them.
The shipments also highlight the competition for Syria’s future between Sunni Muslim states and Iran, the Shiite theocracy that remains Mr. Assad’s main ally. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to do more to halt Iranian arms shipments through its airspace; he did so even as the most recent military cargo flight from Qatar for the rebels landed at Esenboga early Sunday night……
“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.
“The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said.
Simultaneously, arms and equipment were being purchased by Saudi Arabia in Croatia and flown to Jordan on Jordanian cargo planes for rebels working in southern Syria and for retransfer to Turkey for rebels groups operating from there, several officials said.
These multiple logistics streams throughout the winter formed what one former American official who was briefed on the program called “a cataract of weaponry.”……
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.
American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.”
Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.
Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. These complaints continue.
“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.
Soon, other players joined the airlift: In November, three Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130s landed in Esenboga, in a hint at what would become a stepped-up Jordanian and Saudi role…..
Officials: U.S. Training Syrian Forces in Jordan
By AP / Bradley Klapper, March 25, 2013 – Time
(WASHINGTON) — The United States is training secular Syrian fighters in Jordan in a bid to bolster forces battling President Bashar Assad‘s regime and stem the influence of Islamist radicals among the country’s persistently splintered opposition, American and foreign officials said.
The training has been conducted for several months now in an unspecified location, concentrating largely on Sunnis and tribal Bedouins who formerly served as members of the Syrian army, officials told The Associated Press. The forces aren’t members of the leading rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, which Washington and others fear may be increasingly coming under the sway of extremist militia groups, including some linked to al-Qaeda, they said.
The operation is being run by U.S. intelligence and is ongoing, officials said, but those in Washington stressed that the U.S. is providing only nonlethal aid at this point. Others such as Britain and France are involved, they said, though it’s unclear whether any Western governments are providing materiel or other direct military support after two years of civil war that according to the United Nations already has killed more than 70,000 people.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the program.
Officially, the Obama administration has been vague on the subject of what type of military training it may be providing, while insisting that it is doing all it can — short of providing weapons to the rebels or engaging in its own military intervention — to hasten the demise of the Assad family’s four-decade dictatorship…..Despite months of U.S. and international support to build a cohesive political movement, however, Syria’s fractured opposition is still struggling to rally Syrians behind a common post-Assad vision. And the opposition coalition appears as much hampered by its political infighting as its military deficiencies against an Assad regime arsenal of tanks, fighter jets and scud missiles….
Al-Khatib’s resignation comes only days after the opposition chose Ghassan Hitto, a long-time Texas resident, to head its interim government after intense wrangling over posts and influence that U.S. officials say has strained the opposition’s unity and caused friction among its primary benefactors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
It’s also unclear how al-Khatib’s departure will affect the U.S. goal of political negotiations with amenable members of the Assad regime to end the civil war, given the moderate preacher’s support for talks. Much of the Syrian opposition, including Hitto, rejects such talks.
“He’s been a courageous leader,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said of al-Khatib.
“But the bottom line is what we’re looking for is unity,” Ventrell said. “We continue to support the coalition’s vision for a tolerant, inclusive Syria. We want them to continue to work together to implement that vision.”
In blow to Assad, opposition takes Syria’s Arab summit seat
The Syrian opposition flag is seen in front of the seat of the Syrian delegation at the opening the Arab League summit in Doha March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
By Sami Aboudi and Yara Bayoumy
DOHA | Tue Mar 26, 2013 9:12am EDT
(Reuters) – To applause from Arab heads of state, a foe of Bashar al-Assad took Syria’s vacant seat at an Arab summit on Tuesday, deepening the Syrian president’s diplomatic isolation and diverting attention from opposition rifts.
Speaking at an annual gathering of Arab heads of state in the Gulf state of Qatar, Moaz Alkhatib said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for U.S. forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles. NATO swiftly rebuffed the idea.
The insurgents have few weapons to counter Assad’s helicopter gunships and warplanes.
“It was a historic meeting. You could feel the grandiose nature of the meeting,” said opposition spokesman Yaser Tabbara.
“It’s a first step towards acquiring full legal legitimacy.”
Alkhatib said the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria, blaming Assad’s government for what he called its refusal to solve the crisis.
“I have asked Mr Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject,” Alkhatib said, referring to NATO Patriot missile batteries sent to Turkey last year to protect Turkish airspace.
“We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives,” he said.
Responding to Alkhatib’s remarks, an official of the Western military alliance at its headquarters in Brussels said: “NATO has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria.
“NATO calls for an end to violence in Syria, which represents a serious threat to stability and security in the region. We fully support the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution,” the official said.
Michael Stephens, a researcher based in Qatar for Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, said acceding to Alkhatib’s request would effectively put NATO at war with Damascus…..
Syria insurgents refuse to recognize new rebel PM – Daily Star
Syria’s mainstream insurgent Free Syrian Army does not recognise Ghassan Hitto, a rebel prime minister chosen by dissidents after hours of heated debate last week, a rebel official told AFP on Sunday.
“We in the Free Syrian Army do not recognise Ghassan Hitto as prime minister because the (main opposition) National Coalition did not reach a consensus,” at the March 18 vote, said FSA political and media coordinator Louay Muqdad.
“I speak on behalf of the (rebel) Military Councils and the Chief of Staff when I say that we cannot recognise a prime minister who was forced on the National Coalition, rather than chosen by consensus,” Muqdad said.
“We call on Coalition members to make right what was wrong,” he added, without elaborating.
Hitto won an election in Istanbul after 35 out of 49 Coalition members voted for him following some 14 hours of discussion in a closed meeting bringing together prominent opponents based both inside and out of Syria.
But several key Coalition members, including official spokesman Walid al-Bunni, walked out of the meeting and boycotted the vote.
And later at least 12 top Coalition members announced they had suspended their membership in the opposition body in protest against an election result they viewed as illegitimate.
Some dissidents in Istanbul said the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful opposition bloc that is part of the Coalition, had imposed Hitto as its candidate of choice in the election.
The moderate political and military command structure the U.S. has been trying to foster within the Syrian opposition appears to be fracturing, a victim of bitter Arab regional rivalries.
The regional tension splitting the Syrian rebel movement is between Qatar and Turkey, on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Emirates on the other. The former group would like to see an Islamist government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. The latter group opposes any expansion of Muslim Brotherhood influence into Syria, fearing that the movement could spread from there to endanger Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
Syrian regime, rebels trade accusations of chemical attack: State-run Syrian news agency claims 25 killed in rebel chemical attack in northern Syria, but rebels denied the report and accused regime forces of firing chemical weapons.
The Obama administration, to the consternation of some of its Arab allies, has been somewhere in the middle, resisting the efforts of Qatar and Turkey to impose their proxies, but not doing so very effectively. The lack of U.S. influence is one more sign of the price that Washington has paid in coming to the Syria problem so late, and so feebly.
The battle for political influence has centered around the opposition’s appointment of Ghassan Hitto as interim prime minister on March 19, under political pressure from Qatar and Turkey.
Though Hitto is a U.S. citizen who until recently lived in Texas, some Arab critics argue that he is sympathetic to the Islamist line pushed by Doha and Ankara. Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria and an informal coordinator of U.S. policy, told a House panel last Thursday that Hitto is “more Texan than Muslim Brotherhood.” This comment seemed to imply U.S. support, but one key U.S. official is said to have told colleagues that Hitto’s appointment as interim prime minister caught the U.S. by surprise.
Hitto’s appointment was sharply rejected by the Syrian opposition leadership the U.S. has been cultivating. First came the resignation Sunday of Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition coalition and seemingly a U.S. favorite when he met in Munich early last month with Vice President Joe Biden. Then Gen. Salim Idriss, who claimed the title of commander of the Free Syrian Army last December, told colleagues that he and his commanders couldn’t support Hitto until a broader array of the opposition had agreed to back him.
These dissents against Hitto could, of course, be withdrawn when the Arab League meets in Doha Tuesday — in the sort of patched-together compromise that so often characterizes inter-Arab diplomacy. There’s talk, for example, that Hitto could be replaced as interim prime minister by Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian opposition leader who has good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But the underlying tensions will continue.
What’s happening here, in part, is that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are conducting a decades-old battle for influence, using their contacts in the Syrian opposition as proxies. The two wealthy Gulf nations use their media outlets — al-Arabiya for Saudi Arabia and al-Jazeera for Qatar — to promote their different agendas. It’s a ruinous rivalry, reminiscent of the way Arab regimes once sponsored feuding warlords in Lebanon.
The biggest surprise is how little the U.S. has been willing or able to influence the Syrian political maneuvers in recent months. U.S. frustration with the old Islamist-dominated opposition led to the creation last fall of a new umbrella organization, headed by Khatib. But it’s mostly been downhill since then.
Washington tried two weeks ago to head off appointment of a prime minister. The U.S. proposed that instead of asking the Arab League to recognize an interim government, led by a prime minister, the League should grant recognition to a small “executive authority” headed by Khatib. That approach was endorsed by Britain, France and Germany; but under Qatari and Turkish pressure, this moderate plan was swept aside.
Frederic Hof, who until recently was the U.S. special adviser for transition in Syria, said in a telephone interview from Europe Monday that internecine opposition politics were a sign that the U.S. should support a serious transitional government on the ground inside Syria and “get away from the pushing and shoving of an opposition movement.” Without such a substantial goal, he said, “the trivial will trump the important every time” in opposition debates.
Critics of President Obama’s low-key approach to Syria would argue that the opposition wrangling illustrates what happens when the U.S. leaves policy to headstrong allies, such as Turkey and Qatar. The White House could counter that opposition fracas shows what a mess Syria is—and why the U.S. is wise to keep its distance.
The dangerous aspect of the ascendency of Qatar and Turkey is that they are driving the Arab revolutions further toward Islamist governance. “Do you want to hand post-Bashar Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood?” asks one prominent Arab diplomat. Like many in the Arab world, he fears that the Brotherhood is now inexorably on the march toward regional hegemony.
Saudi Official Warns Against Fighting in Syria
By Associated PressMarch 25, 2013
(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — The Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman has warned Saudis fighting in Syria they will be arrested when they return home. Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki says “involvement in the Syrian crisis is against Saudi laws.” Al-Turki said Monday authorities will also crack down on those planning to travel to Syria to….
ISW’s latest report, The Free Syrian Army, analyzes how rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources. This cooperation has facilitated many important offensives and rebels have taken control of the majority of the northern and eastern portions of the country. However, rebels have been unable to capitalize on these successes, and fighting has largely stalemated along current battle fronts particularly in the key areas of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
In her report, ISW Senior Syria Analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy explores how rebels have attempted to overcome the fragmentation and disorganization that have plagued Syria’s armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms in December 2011. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difficult on the battlefield and has limited the effectiveness of rebel operations.
On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member unified command structure called the Supreme Joint Military Command Council, known as the Supreme Military Command (SMC). The Supreme Military Command improves upon previous attempts at armed opposition unification through higher integration of disparate rebel groups and enhanced communication, which suggest that it could prove to be an enduring security institution. The SMC has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority in Syria. If the SMC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize the most radical elements within its structure.
There remain a number of critical obstacles ahead for the SMC. They include the incorporation of existing command networks, which will have an impact on command and control and resource allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist groups; and managing disparate sources of financing. As the SMC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities. Overcoming these obstacles will be difficult, especially as the nature of the conflict transforms and the sectarian polarization makes it more challenging to create a strong military institution and professional armed force.
How Islamist Rebels in Syria Are Ruling a Fallen Provincial Capital
By Rania Abouzeid / Raqqa City – Time (this is an important story by an excellent reporting from within the city)
Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), lost a leg in an explosion in Syria overnight and is in Turkey for treatment, a Turkish official said on Monday. Asaad, who established the FSA in 2011 to fight for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, was one of the first senior officers to defect from the Syrian military. The Turkish official, who asked not to be identified, said Asaad’s wounds were not life-threatening.Syrian opposition sources said Asaad had been hit by a car bomb in the city of al-Mayadin, south of Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. These accounts could not immediately be confirmed.
American intelligence has become too dependent on data analytics and super computers, which are as good as useless in Aleppo
The head of Syria’s main opposition group resigned on Sunday, in a blow to a diminishing moderate wing of the two-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Moaz Alkhatib, a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus who had offered Assad a negotiated exit, was picked to head the Western and Gulf-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in November after leaving Syria following persecution and several stays in jail.
Al-Khatib’s resignation came after the coalition berated him for offering Assad a deal and after the group went ahead, despite his objections, with steps to form a provisional government that would have further diminished his authority.
Last week, the coalition chose Islamist leaning technocrat Ghassan Hitto as a provisional prime minister to form a government to fill a power vacuum in Syria arising from the two-year-old revolt that has killed more than 70,000 people.
Alkhatib, who had argued insufficient groundwork had been done to start forming a government, was weakened considerably, along with a moderate wing of the revolution as Jihadist salafists play a bigger role on the battlefield.
Hitto, whose cabinet is supposed to govern rebel-held areas currently ruled by hundreds of brigades and emerging warlords, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh, who has strong links with Qatar.
“Basically Qatar and the Brotherhood forced Alkhatib out. In Alkhatib they had a figure who was gaining popularity inside Syria but he acted too independently for their taste,” said Fawaz Tello, an independent opposition campaigner.
“They brought in Hitto. The position of Alkhatib as leader became untenable.”
The appointment of Hitto prompted nine people to suspend their membership in the 62 member body, saying that promises to reform the coalition and respect consensus have been discarded.
A former Syrian army cargo pilot has revealed how he flew secret missions for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to carry cash and weapons into the country in the face of international sanctions.
The pilot, who asked to be identified only as Nazim, revealed that he or fellow pilots flew a cargo plane two or three times a month to collect bank notes from Russia – including large quantities of euros and dollars needed to prop up the regime.
He also recounted at least 20 missions to Tehran, two of which he flew himself, to collect Iranian arms and explosives for use by the regime in its effort to crush the rebellion that began two years ago.
…The pilot’s account appears to confirm Western intelligence officials’ belief that the Assad government is being propped up by Russia and supplied with weapons by Iran.
Whatever happened last week in the town of Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, it achieved something extraordinary in the Syrian civil war: unity among Washington, Moscow and Damascus.
All welcomed the rapid decision by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to investigate an alleged chemical attack that reportedly killed 26, including Syrian soldiers.
Unusually, the request for that investigation came from the Syrian regime, which claimed that Islamic jihadist rebels launched a chemical weapons attack. Since then, precious little evidence in any way has come from the area despite an awful lot of diplomatic noise around the world.
However a senior source close to the Syrian Army has given Channel 4 News the first clear account of what he claims is believed to have occurred on Tuesday. He is a trusted and hitherto reliable source who does not wish to be identified.
The Syrian military is said to believe that a home-made locally-manufactured rocket was fired, containing a form of chlorine known as CL17, easily available as a swimming pool cleaner. They claim that the warhead contained a quantity of the gas, dissolved in saline solution.
The Hostage – The saga of Richard Engel’s kidnapping by a pro-regime militia
A Glimpse Of Post-Assad Syria? Inside Aleppo’s New Islamic Justice Committees
A Glimpse Of Post-Assad Syria? Inside Aleppo’s New Islamic Justice Committees In Aleppo, a glimpse of the future?
By Florence Aubenas, LE MONDE/Worldcrunch
ALEPPO – For nearly three months, a rumor has been spreading through Aleppo: whoever faces hardship, however small, can go to a hearing of the “Committee for the promotion of good deeds and support of the oppressed.”
There, in this northern neighborhood of the country’s largest city, members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are “enforcing justice” and “asserting the rights” of the ever growing number of people who are deeply distressed or simply disgruntled.
“It has become one of the town’s most popular areas, everyone wants to be a part of it,” says Abu Mustapha. It’s not quite a courthouse, but almost. It’s not quite social services either. It’s not even a political space – the only thing it is is religious. It’s an unprecedented glimpse, the people hope, of what an Assad-free Syria would look like…..
There are mounting reports that the U.S. is getting more deeply involved in supporting the Syrian rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad. There is a strong argument for everyone doing more to end the Syrian civil war before the Syrian state totally collapses and before its sectarian venom and refugees further destabilize Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. But I hope that before President Obama gets more deeply involved in Syria, he gets satisfactory answers to the following questions:
The uprising against Assad began on March 15, 2011. His downfall has been predicted every month since. Why has he been able to hold on so long? Russian and Iranian military aid certainly help, but so does the support he still enjoys in key communities. Assad’s Alawite minority sect, which has been ruling since 1970 and constitutes 12 percent of Syria’s 22 million population, believes that either they rule or they die at the hands of the country’s Sunni Muslim majority (74 percent). The Syrian Christians, who are 10 percent, and some secular Sunni Muslims, particularly merchants, have also thrown in their lot with Assad, because they believe that either he rules or chaos does. None of them believe the rebels can or will build a stable, secular, multisectarian democracy in Assad’s wake. Why do we think they are wrong?
What are Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s goals? Are we to believe that these two archrival Wahhabi fundamentalist monarchies, the two main funders and arms suppliers of the Syrian uprising, are really both interested in creating a multisectarian, multiparty democracy in Syria, which they would not tolerate in their own countries?
Syria’s rebels fall into three groups: those democrats who want to be free to be citizens in a country where everyone has the same rights; those who want to be free to be more Islamic; and those who want to be free to be more sectarian — to see Syria’s Sunni majority oust the ruling Alawite minority. Last week, Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the main Syrian opposition coalition, resigned. Khatib had pushed for talks with the Syrian regime, which many rebels reject. Who can reassure the Syrian Alawites or Christians that they will have a place in a post-Assad Syria, if the rebels can’t get along with one another?….
I’m dubious that just arming “nice” rebels will produce the Syria we want; it could, though, drag us in in ways we might not want. …
This is the problem from hell. Sometimes the necessary and desirable are impossible, which is why I commend the president on his caution, up to now.
The Somaliazation of Syria
By Giorgio Cafiero, March 26, 2013
…If Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Muslim Brotherhood’s ambitions include seizing control of the entire country by force, the regime will not be their only stumbling block. For nearly six months, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate branch – the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – have maintained control over most of Syrian Kurdistan. Recent months have shown that a Turkish-PKK proxy war is being waged inside northeastern Syria as Jabhat Al-Nusra has targeted the PKK in the Kurdish-majority areas.
“Even moderate Kurds who harshly criticize the PYD/PKK — some of whom have been tortured by them — have stated they would back the group as a lesser evil to the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda,” writes Denise Natali, Minerva Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. “The PYD/PKK’s influence has been further encouraged by the Jihadist push into Aleppo, where the PKK/PYD power base is strongest. Although the approximately 10,000 Kurdish Alawites concentrated in the mountainous areas outside Aleppo are small in number, they are influential in the region and back the PYD/PKK, alongside fellow Syrian Alawites who are equally committed to a secular Syrian state.”
Considering that the Turkish military’s three-decade campaign to eradicate the PKK in southeastern Turkey has been a total failure, it does not appear likely that Jabhat Al-Nusra and other militant Islamist organizations will defeat the PKK in Syria anytime soon. Ankara’s strategy of arming the jihadists with the intention of unleashing them against the PKK has backfired, as Jabhat Al-Nusra’s behavior in northern Syria has only earned the PKK greater legitimacy within Kurdish and Arab circles alike….
the Ba’athist order will only be damaged—not destroyed—by further rebel gains. Unless a tactical shift in the balance of power occurs, it is unlikely that either the regime or the rebels will gain control of Syria’s entire territory, leaving open the possibility that the state will fragment along sectarian lines….
…It is urgent that this reckless regime be terminated and replaced with something dedicated to the rule of law, citizenship, civil society and minority protection. Syria’s mainstream opposition, already recognized by the United States and others as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, is debating whether to set up a functioning government on Syrian soil — one that could serve as a credible, attractive and reassuring alternative to the Assad regime; one that could appeal to minorities as a coherent, decent government instead of a disjointed opposition; one that could form the core of an eventual government of national unity. Its members hesitate because they are unsure of U.S. support. Indeed, this uncertainty may have caused or contributed to Sunday’s announcement by the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s president that he is stepping down.