Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Syrians must win the revolution on their own
by Joshua Landis in Foreign Policy, Mid East Channel
A growing chorus of policy experts in Washington are calling for the United States to get serious about Syria. They want Washington to take charge of regime change, hastening the downfall of the Assad government. This is bad advice. The U.S. should not try to hit the fast-forward button on the proce…
Obama Administration to Call for Syria’s Assad to Step Down
August 09, 2011| FoxNews.comSyrian President Bashar Assad
The Obama administration is planning to explicitly call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in coming days, two administration officials told FoxNews.
The State Department signaled for the first time that American efforts to engage the Syrian government are finally over. The White House is expected to lay out the tougher line by the end of this week, possibly on Thursday.
The administration will first consult with the United Nations Security Council as the Treasury Department prepares a new set of sanctions aimed at Assad’s family and his government, the officials told FoxNews.
The unilateral U.S. sanctions being prepared within the Treasury Department will be important to pay attention to, the officials said…..
Earlier in the day a spokesman for the State Department conceded that Washington had abandoned it bid to engage Damascus.
“In the case of Syria, the message from 2009 was if you are prepared to be a reformer, if you are prepared to work with us on Middle East peace and other issues we share, we can have a new and different kind of partnership,” said Victoria Nuland. But “that is not the path that Assad chose,” she added.
Turkey, Syria discuss steps to end violence
Associated Press | August 9, 2011
Turkey’s foreign minister says he and Syrian leader Bashar Assad have discussed “concrete steps” Syria should take to stop the bloodshed there.
But Ahmet Davutoglu did not say what those steps would be and whether Assad had agreed to consider taking them.
Speaking to reporters on his return from Damascus on Tuesday, Davutoglu said Turkey would continue talking with Assad in a bid to halt the violence.
Syria’s army has defied international criticism of the regime’s deadly crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising, and the soldiers continued their raids on restive areas Tuesday.
Davutoglu said: “We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people in the most open and clear way.”
Davutoglu said the atmosphere was cordial when he met with Assad for more than six hours in Damascus on Tuesday, including a two-hour tete-a-tete.
Ali Mahmood Habib, Syria’s Defense Minister who stepped down two days ago, was on Syrian TV refuting all claims of his death and disagreements with the leadership.
Emeritus Professor Brian Stoddart, former Vice-Chancellor at La Trobe University, returned recently from an extended assignment working with universities in Syria. Below is his account of his time in a country now racked by anti-government protests and simmering sectarian tension.
Iran’s Irreversible Path in Syria
By: Dr. Ali Bigdeli, University Professor and International Affairs Analyst 08/09/11, Pevand Press
Since the Islamic revolution and especially after the Iran-Iraq war, Iran approached Iraq’s enemy Syria. Syria and Iraq had hostile relations due to their different interpretations of the Baath political philosophy. This relationship led to Iran’s generous assistance, particularly in oil sales, to Syria. During those years Parliament had passed a bill that guaranteed four million dollars of oil be sold to Syria at lower than the global price; we also gave one million tons of oil to Syria for free. The Syrian debt to us was about 5 billion dollars. Therefore, our regional policy during the 8-year war with Iraq was tied to Syria.
Nevertheless, then President Hafiz Al-Assad confronted us opportunistically. I wrote a book at that time on Iraq’s political history and I came upon a document which indicated that Hafiz Al-Assad annually received about 250 thousand dollars from the US.
In addition Al-Assad voted with the Emirates on many occasions over the ownership of the three disputed Persian Gulf islands, after the establishment of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. In an interview he had said that he could not separate Arabism from his country. This proves that Arabism had priority over Islamism in Syria.
However, since we were at war during Al-Assad’s time, we had no other choice but to expand our relations with Syria. After the Resistance movement in Lebanon this relationship became even closer. Mr. Mousavi, the former Resistance leader, had close relations with Hafiz Al-Assad. This relationship continued until Hafiz passed away and his son Bashar came to power, but the relationship did not change much even then. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s first foreign meeting after his (first) election to the Iranian presidency was with Bashar Al-Assad, who had come to Tehran to congratulate him. With the Gaza issue our relations became even closer and we invested in Syria’s infrastructures.
After the “Arab Spring” developments started to spread to Syria, we preferred to keep quiet and even support Syria on international levels based on our strategic relations and friendship. Our behavior with Syria differed from that of Turkey.
The interesting point is that Turkey had the most investment in Syria. Turkey has the greatest political and economic relations with Syria. But we witnessed how cleverly Mr. Erdogan reacted to Syria’s situation. He used the same policy toward Lebanon and Libya as well. The escape of the Syrian opposition to Turkey gave the upper hand to the Turks. …Turkey’s clever policy toward Syria is a sign of its leadership in the Muslim world. It seems that Turkey has snatched that leadership from Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s hands. ….
Currently, we assume that if Syria faces any insecurity leading to Bashar Al-Assad’s removal, we will lose our link to the most powerful military potential in the region, Hezbollah. Therefore, Iran is putting all its strength into stabilizing the situation in Syria.
The truth is that we have entered an irreversible path. …We will continue this path until we see what will become of our strategic friend.
Regarding the reforms Bashar has announced,… After the killing of more than two thousand people, reform does not make sense. The Syrian people had limited demands in the first days of the protests, but now they demand is that Bashar Al-Assad, his family and all the Alawis should leave power.
In a situation like this reform will not do any good, and the continuation of resistance by Asad’s opponents shows that they have learnt from the experience of other Arab countries. The resistance of people in Arab countries is very interesting. In none of the revolutions worldwide had we witnessed people resisting continuously for months. Protesters are killed every day, but they continue their uprising. We cover the resistance of people in Yemen and Libya, but we say nothing about Syria. However, the future of all three will be the same, since the time for reform has passed in Syria. Therefore we should be skeptical about the continuation of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
Iran discovers new gas field
Press TV – August 8, 2011
Managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Ahmad Qalebani says a new gas field has been discovered in eastern Asalouyeh.
“The gas field, named Madar and located 15 kilometers east of Asalouyeh, has reserves of about 495 billion cubic meters of gas,” Qalebani said on Monday.
Qalebani estimated the value of the gas field at USD 133 billion, Fars News Agency reported.
In June, Iran discovered Khayyam gas field with in-place reserves of 277 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the southeastern port city of Asalouyeh in Hormozgan Province.
The Islamic Republic discovered 13 new oil and gas fields with in-place reserves of 14 billion barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from August 2009 to August 2010, Iran’s Oil Ministry reported.
Iran has 137.6 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and 29.61 trillion cubic meters of proven gas reserves. It has the world’s third largest oil reserves and second largest gas reserves.
Former Syrian politicians condemn regime authorities
Phil Sands Aug 10, 2011
Damascus //In a sign that dissent is growing within elite Syrian circles, 41 former government ministers and former senior Baath party officials have called for the regime to stop violence against demonstrators and urgently implement sweeping political reforms.
The group of well-connected public figures, led by Mohammad Suleman, a former minister of information, condemned the authorities’ handling of a five-month-old national uprising and urged a change of course, saying the current policy of violent suppression had put Syria on the road to “catastrophe” and would result either in civil war or foreign intervention.
“Continuation of the security solution is not a choice and use of the armed forces, arresting thousands of people, is not acceptable, it puts a stick in the wheel of political change,” they said. “Military operations block the democratic opening.”
…. Criticism of the regime from inside the country escalated on Monday, in the wealthy Mezzeh Villas neighbourhood of Damascus, when the former officials launched a Democratic National Initiative, detailing a transitional programme to establish a full parliamentary democracy within a year….
“To see regime figures talking like this shows its support base is weakening even at a high level, the regime is getting smaller and smaller,” said one independent analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The crisis is getting closer to the president, each week the fire burns nearer to the palace gates.”
In their manifesto, the former regime officials said the autocratic system of government had been appropriate during the Cold War but that now a “democratic civil nation state” must be built, with a multi-party system guaranteeing media and cultural freedoms.
Mr Suleman said Syria’s “political leadership” had failed to create a fair society.
“We are seeing the farmers living around rural Damascus demonstrating against the Baath party, these are the very people who made the party and who once supported it,” he said. “The leaders of the Baath party do not deserve their positions.”
The group rejected foreign intervention of all kinds, insisting that change must be brought about by Syrians, not under international pressure. It also stressed that any future Syrian government must continue its struggle to regain the occupied Golan Heights from Israel. more….
It is Iranian influence, not the killing of civilians, that Saudi Arabia is concerned about as it recalls its ambassador in Syria
Turkey presses Syrian President Assad to end crackdown on protests in 6 hours of talks
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY and SUZAN FRASER
9 August 2011
BEIRUT (AP) – President Bashar Assad discussed “concrete steps” to end the violent crackdown on protesters during six hours of talks Tuesday with Turkey’s foreign minister, even as the Syrian military unleashed a fresh assault on dissent that activists said killed more than 20 people.
Speaking to reporters on his return to Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the talks were cordial but did not say what specific steps they had discussed or whether Assad had agreed to consider them.
“We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people and tensions like those in Hama in the most open and clear way,” Davutoglu said, referring to the Syrian city that has become a flashpoint in the 5-month-old uprising against Assad’s autocratic rule.
“The coming days will be important to see if the expectations are being met. We hope that internal peace and calm is achieved and steps for reform are taken,” Davutoglu added.
Our ambassador’s visit to the city of Hama was a gutsy move. He should be confirmed to continue his mission.
This can only end with the Assads’ fall
By David Gardner for Financial Times
The debris of destruction Bashar al-Assad’s armour and artillery have left across the insurgent cities of Hama and Deir Ezzor in recent days now mixes with the smoke and splinters of the bridges towards his few remaining putative allies – all burnt by a regime whose narrow foundations are crumbling.
It may not look like it, especially to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians confronting the Assads’ “killing machine” with little more than their raw courage, but this regime is entering its twilight. The phrase was used by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in which he said Riyadh “demands a stop to the killing machine … and calls for an act of wisdom before it is too late”.
But it is – as the king and rulers across the Middle East surely know – already too late. The Assad clan embarked on a road of no return in April, when it first sent the tanks into Deraa in the south, where the rebellion ignited in mid-March.
The clamour for change first heard in Deraa has now been thundering across Syria for five blood-drenched months. Neither tanks nor snipers, shelling or sieges, the vilest torture, mass round-ups and thousands of disappearances have silenced it.
The very savagery of the regime’s response means the rebels cannot stop – better to carry on and brave repression than to risk certain reprisals: death or the dungeon.
The youth-led, plural and, as in other Arab revolutions, initially peaceful movement can now only settle for real change: an end to the police state and the power monopoly of the Ba’ath party; free elections and an independent judiciary under the rule of law; and an end to corruption and the impunity of the business clique clustered around the ruling family….
A shareholders’ meeting last month of Cham Holding, his company and Syria’s largest, was, according to an investor present, unable to elect a new board after Nabil al-Kuzbari, the outgoing chairman, was put on the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control blacklist. The business elites are starting to peel away from a toxic regime. Some are now funding its opponents.
The regime’s repressive capacity is looking finite too. Its two praetorian units, the Fourth Armoured Division and Republican Guard, staffed with loyalists from the Assads’ minority Alawite community and led by Maher al-Assad, the president’s volatile younger brother, are overstretched, unable to go in hard at more than three or four locations at once, as dozens of others erupt.
The struggle will still be prolonged and bloody. There will be no Libya-style deus ex machina to help the opposition; nor does it want one. That would enable what the world now recognises is a gangster regime to posture once again as the beating heart of Arabism. Arguably though, international action in Libya has already helped. Had Muammer Gaddafi triumphed there, that would have broken the wave of revolution that days later roared into Syria.
CFR.org: Breakdown in Damascus?
Posted on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 by Elliott Abrams The use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators has been the hallmark of the Assad reaction to protests, and yesterday the King of Saudi Arabia referred to this practice as Assad’s …
Turkey should stay out of military action in Syria, says CHP chief
Monday, August 8, 2011
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to not push Turkey into a possible military operation against Syria.
“We should take lessons from history. It [Turkey] shouldn’t repeat its mistakes. Let’s take democracy, freedoms to Syria and contribute to Syria to make it a more contemporary country. But we shouldn’t be the pawn of Western sovereign powers,” Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told the daily Hürriyet in an interview published Monday.
“We shouldn’t get involved in possible military action in Syria,“ he said.
“[Western powers] will force Turkey to actively participate in action toward Syria. If a prime minister [Erdoğan] says that our patience with the situation is running out, the next step is a military operation,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Mr. Qandil argues: (a pro-Syrian politician in Lebanon. In Arabic)
“The orchestrated warnings to Damascus from all US allies in the region is ” just bluff to cover their failure. it has become evident that The Syrian army is swiftly and successfully neutralising the chaos and terror hotspots setup by armed gangs supported and financed by king abdullah himself and other US allies .
The Turkish leaders have to calculate well the costs of their involvement in any military adventures. The Syrian army and people will stand up under the leadership of president Assad and and protect their sovereignty against any Nato /turkish military adventures .
Saudi Arabia is still weighing its options, but it knows that this opportunity to turn back Iran’s growing power in the heart of the Arab world may not come again soon. Should the Saudis decide to actively seek the fall of the Syrian regime, they too will throw a massive amount of resources at the goal, turning Syria into a key geopolitical and sectarian battleground.”
Syria conflict descends into ‘war of attrition’
AP By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY – Associated Press | AP – 8 Aug 2011
BEIRUT (AP) — Despite five months of blistering attacks on dissent, the Syrian regime has yet to score a decisive victory against a pro-democracy uprising determined to bring down the country’s brutal dictatorship.
President Bashar Assad still has the military muscle to level pockets of resistance, but the conflict has robbed him of almost all international support.
Even Saudi Arabia this week called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, the first of several Arab nations to join the growing chorus against Assad.
The Syrian leader is being watched carefully at home and abroad to see how long his iron regime — which is still strong but wobbling — will continue to use tanks, snipers and security forces on hundreds of thousands of fervent, overwhelmingly young protesters who keep coming back for more.
“Syria is not burying the revolution,” said Nabil Bou Monsef, a senior analyst at the Arabic-language An-Nahar newspaper. “Protests are resuming everywhere, even in areas that were subject to crackdowns.”
He added: “It is difficult for one of the sides to win. Syria has entered a war of attrition between the regime and the opposition.”
India, SAfrica, Brazil envoys head to Syria
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa are heading to Syria to appeal for an end to the violent crackdown against civilians and to promote democratic reforms.
India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said his country’s representative is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday and will join representatives from Brazil and South Africa for a meeting with Syria’s foreign minister to deliver the appeal.
Puri told reporters Monday the three countries will be “calling for restraint, abjuring violence, (and) promoting reform, taking into account the democratic aspirations of the people.”
Syrian troops start withdrawing from Hama
By FT reporter in Damascus and agencies
The Syrian army has begun to withdraw from Hama after more than a week of military operations in the city as Turkey’s foreign minister ratcheted up the diplomatic pressure on the regime by pressing it to end its violent crackdown on protests. … Hama activist Abo Ghazi, who is now outside the city, confirmed that tanks had started to leave, but said they had been seen moving on other villages around Hama where anti-regime protests are continuing. Communications to the city were partially restored on Tuesday morning. They had been down for much of last week, making it difficult to confirm details of events in the city…..
WSJ [Reg]: Isolation of Syria Gains Momentum, 2011-08-08
Gulf Arab nations joined in a reprimand of violence by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, sharpening the international consensus against the regime, though the military continued its crackdown to stifle antigovernment protests. …
The pressure is mounting and the scholars of Aleppo have finally spoken and placed the blame where it belongs.
It’s also interesting that “Shaykh Yaqoubi of the Ummayad Mosque” is coming in support of the revolution. This is very significant. My understanding is that he is a Sufi master and a highly regarded scholar. ‘arour won’t be happy.
Syrian troops gradually withdraw from Hama, as normalcy restored: official
Source: XINHUA | 2011-8-8
DAMASCUS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — An official military source said Monday army troops are withdrawing from the central city of Hama after accomplishing their mission in restoring normalcy to the city.
Quoted by the official SANA news agency, the source said the army had conducted a “qualitative” operation in Hama, which helped confront the armed groups that terrorizing people and cut off city streets as well as sabotaging public and private properties.
Army unites arrested a number of the armed men and life is gradually returning to normalcy, the source concluded as saying.
Meanwhile, army troops exhumed the bodies of 14 police personnel and three civilians killed by armed groups, and dumped in Hama’s Orontes River, according to a Xinhua reporter who accompanied Sunday a government-organized trip to the scene.
Syria’s state-run television aired last week an amateur video footage, showing armed men in Hama shooting at government forces and dumping their bodies in the Orontes River.
bloggingheads with Michael Young and Elias Muhanna about Syria
Monday, August 08, 2011 11:09 AM
Syrian refugees in Turkey drop to 7,292
Why Turkey’s Alawite Community Thinks Assad Is the Victim
The New Republic
In a bustling park in the Turkish city of Antakya, Metin, a local merchant, is having a picnic with his family. His hazel eyes fixated on a large, turquoise pool by a grove of pines, he takes a sip from his raki and whispers as if he’s revealing a secret. “It breaks my heart to hear about it in the news,” he says, referring to the brutal government crackdown taking place across the border in Syria’s predominantly Sunni districts. “But, how can an Alawite be cruel like that?”
Like the ruling Assad family in Damascus, Metin is an Alawite of Arab origin. He holds a Turkish passport, yet he has relatives who live in Syria. Torn between devotion to his sect and disgust over what he calls the “alleged reports of violence,” he has a hard time making up his mind about the Assad regime. Indeed, having maintained a strong bond with the Syrian Alawite heartland of Latakia ever since Antakya’s annexation to Turkey in 1939, most Arab Alawites living in Turkey are distrustful of the news coming out of Syria, and they believe that President Assad is falling victim to an international smear campaign.
A sect with ties to Shia Islam, Alawites constitute about 12 percent of Syria’s 22 million people but hold a vastly outsized portion of the high-ranking positions in the government and the military. Due to their syncretic religion that blends Islam with other local traditions, the Alawites have long been considered heretics and were historically persecuted as such by Sunni Muslims. When Syria fell under French rule in the early 20th century, the Alawites were granted their own state, based in the port city of Latakia, and enjoyed relative autonomy until Syria gained its independence in 1946. Many religious minorities, including the Alawites, were split over the issue of union with the newly-established Sunni-dominated country. In the 1930s, a group of activists including Sulayman Al Assad, one of the prominent patriarchs of the country’s ruling clan, appealed the union with Syria to French officials. But the French rejected the Alawites’ demand to maintain their autonomy and, since then, the Assad family has been involved in the Alawite political movement in Syria, gradually assuming a guardianship role for the group and securing their loyal support in return. When Hafez Al Assad seized power in an intra-party coup in 1970, most of the Alawite community lined up behind him.
Since the outbreak of protests earlier this year, Syria’s burgeoning opposition has been striving to win the loyalties of the Alawite community, which constitutes the backbone of the regime in Damascus. Sondos Soleiman, one of the few Alawite opposition members, told me that her people have “also suffered from the suppression of the regime,” and, likewise, also aspire for a “democratic state and freedom of expression.” Last month, anti-regime protestors dedicated a Friday demonstration to Saleh Al Ali, a prominent Syrian Alawite who rose up against the French occupation in Syria in 1918. And the Change in Syria conference, which brought together a diverse group of Syrian dissidents in the Turkish city of Antalya in June, also emphasized that the opposition aimed to embrace all of Syria’s ethnic and religious groups. Molham Al Drobi, a member of the Islamic Brotherhood and an executive committee member at the conference, told me that Alawites “will lose a historic opportunity” if they don’t side with the Syrian revolution.
But in Antakya’s Alawite neighborhoods, I found that most residents were still more likely to take their cues from Syria’s embattled dictator Bashar Al Assad, who in a June televised address blamed the unrest on “saboteurs” and urged his nation to ruminate on the motivations driving the protests. “What is happening to our country, and why?” he asked. “It doesn’t require much analysis, based on what we heard from others and witnessed in the media, to prove that there is indeed a conspiracy.”…
With the gap between Syria’s two critical religious groups widening, it seems unlikely in the near future for President Assad to lose support of his fellow Alawite clansmen in the region. Despite his stained record, many continue to see him as the most reliable anchor for their safety, and they ascribe symbolic importance to his leadership. So far, at least, the Alawites in Antakya appear unwilling to think otherwise, even it if means suspending their disbelief.
Afsin Yurdakul writes about Turkish politics. Her work has appeared in Foreign Policy and The Daily Beast, among others.