Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Everyone is taking pot shots at the UN for their ambiguous stand on Syria. It is unfair. The international community has placed the UN in a classic catch 22. They are damned if they stay in Syria and damned if they leave. If they stay, they are accused of accomplishing nothing. They haven’t stopped the fighting. They haven’t gotten the two sides to sit down at the negotiating table. The death rate is creeping back up. Even it it initially dropped when they first entered, the good of their presence has stopped. What is more, the massacres at Houla and Qubair took place while the observers were present. They are risking their men by placing them in jeopardy. They have been both shot at and mobbed by government supporters, The dangers are not worth the diminishing good that they do. This is the argument for withdrawal. What is more, those who want to pursue regime-change in Syria criticize the peace keepers for carrying out a “Russian Plan” which only helps Assad to buy time and justify continued Russian support for the “sovereign government,” etc.
But if the observers withdraw, the entire world will scream that the UN has abandoned the Syrian people. What if there is a bigger scale massacre when they leave? The Syrian opposition will rightly criticize the UN for abandoning them to the tender mercies of the government suppression. The observers were never given powers as soldiers to stop the violence, they were merely tasked to observe. They are the only officials who can bear witness, which is supremely important. They were able to give us an account of the massacres and suggest who was responsible. They act as a restraint on both sides.
This is why the UN is keeping its observers on the ground even as it suspends the mission. It seems like cowardice or confusion to some, but it is an expression of the terrible catch 22 that the international community has created for the UN. The UN is doing the best it can given that the Security Council is divided over which side to support and how to proceed in Syria.
News Round Up
Fred Lawson,” History of the Islamist Movement in Syria,” in Origins, July issue.
The events of the “Arab Spring” took the world by surprise. Yet, the roots of those rebellions run deep and nowhere more so than in Syria, where the fighting continues to be fierce and deadly. This month, Fred H. Lawson traces the history of one leading force in the ongoing Syrian uprising: the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers led a violent campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime in the 1970s, but more recently have advanced a platform that calls for liberal reform and constitutional government. Whatever the outcome of the current struggle, the Muslim Brotherhood is certain to play a central role in Syria’s future. The whole article can be found at go.osu.edu/syria
Ohio State University’s monthly history magazine, Origins, publishes scholars’ original interpretations of important contemporary issues as a free public service.
Obama: Russia, China Aren’t on Board With Ousting Assad
By: Dave Boyer | The Washington Times
The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria said the monitors would stay in the country even though the operation has been suspended because of increasing violence.
Alawite fortress and Sunni wasteland in Syria’s Homs (This is the best article to appear on Syria for some time)
by Erika Solomon, Tue Jun 19, Reuters (This story is based on the observations of a visitor to Syria, known to Reuters. His identity has been withheld for safety reasons)
(Reuters) – The view from the rooftops makes the balance of power clear. In some neighborhoods, cars and people scurry about. In others, only the scarred shells of empty homes remain. After months of fierce military assaults and rebel ambushes in Homs, the centre of Syria’s 15-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad has effectively become two cities.
Along the scorched and crumbling skyline is a well-preserved archipelago of districts, home to Syria’s minority Alawite sect, the offshoot of Shi’ite Islam to which Assad belongs. Alawites have mostly sided with Assad and have barricaded themselves in Homs – protected by the Syrian army that has now made their neighborhoods a second home.
“We’re always nervous, but we will stay and survive,” says Abu Ali, a 60-year old sitting in his mini market in the Alawite neighborhood of Zahra. “It is the Sunni areas that are empty – at least the ones that asked for ‘freedom’,” he said, referring to districts that backed the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad.
The rebellious districts that once belonged to Sunni Muslims are ghost towns. Only about three of the 16 Sunni districts have not been pummeled by military assaults. Many Alawites say they feel they have no choice but to back Assad, fearing retaliatory slaughter for religious affiliation with the president as the revolt becomes increasingly sectarian.
“The Sunnis have been oppressed,” said one Alawite man. “But Alawites will be the victims.” Abu Ali settles in his chair as cans and jars lined up in his store rattle from the daily bursts of gunfire and rockets. Behind him, an Assad portrait adorns the back wall. “Those other people are the terrorists,” he says, pointing to several cases of Alawites being kidnapped or killed by rebels. ” I can tell you what is happening: War.”
SLEEPING IN BUTCHER SHOPS
More people are starting to agree. The United Nations’ peacekeeping chief recently said Syria’s conflict looked like a civil war. While many areas have still escaped sectarian brutality, the heart of Syria’s conflict is a chilling glimpse of what the worst case scenario may be: a bloody struggle that tears the country into a jigsaw of warring statelets.
The Syrian government describes rebels fighting Assad as foreign-backed terrorists and accuses international media of misrepresenting the situation as a popular uprising against the president. But it allows little access to the country for foreign correspondents.
The city of Homs was once the country’s industrial centre, sitting on Syria’s main north-south highway, 30 km (20 miles) east of the border with Lebanon. It became the stronghold of the armed insurgency that began several months ago and overtook the peaceful protests against 42 years of Assad family rule.
With Sunni areas pounded into a shambles, refugees too poor to leave Homs have few options. Most end up in the Waar district, a jungle of concrete apartment blocks that housed the Sunni elite. Waar’s affluent residents fled the city’s chaos. Soon refugees broke in and took over their abandoned apartments.
All down the streets, shops have been seized by refugees. At a butcher shop, a family has hung blankets across the meat hooks outside to cover the glass storefront. Refugees have even moved into shopping malls, and the former stores are now crammed with blankets and stoves
Outside, Abu Omar looks for handouts for his six children, who have been given shelter in a local mosque. “We’re living off the charity of others. And we are lucky, some people are on the streets,” he says.
Homs used to be home to around 1 million people. Now, residents casually estimate that at least half have fled.
Meanwhile, Alawite areas like Farzat’s Zahra district look more like army bases than residential neighborhoods. Artillery is no longer stored in army barracks on Homs’s outskirts but in the middle of Alawite districts, and troops are at the ready to roll them out and fire at nearby rebel areas.
The army has secured the streets connecting Alawite neighborhoods. But its control of Homs is tentuous. Soldiers dare not go into most Sunni areas, where somewhere unseen in rocket- and bullet-riddled buildings, hundreds of rebels hide, sporadically firing rocket propelled grenades.
“If we wanted to end the Homs problem, we’d have to grind the whole place to the ground. Hundreds of soldiers would die,” said an army officer. He said he was part of the siege of Homs’s Baba Amr neighborhood, when an onslaught by tanks and troops drove rebels out of their main stronghold.
“We’re worried houses will be mined, like they were in Baba Amr. That struggle cost us many more men than was reported. So now instead, we just shell the rebel areas from here.” In addition to troops, hundreds of pro-Assad militia men have been cultivated in Alawite areas, proudly accepting the tag “shabbiha”, from the Arabic word “ghost.” They strut down the streets in army camouflage. They speak disdainfully of soldiers they view as treading too cautiously in confronting the enemy.
One shabbiha youth points to the tower overlooking an opposition area, where soldiers used to snipe at rebels. “Now the shabbiha use it. You can’t see people over there, there’s no point sniping. We just take a machine gun and spray.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
Despite the overt militarization, Alawite residents try to maintain a normal way of life. Most schools are open. Vendors hawk fruit and vegetables on street corners. Nearby, women browse shops that have become a “Sunni market”, where shabbiha bring in stolen furniture and clothes from Sunni areas after the army has raided them.
“These are the spoils of war,” one woman shrugs. “It’s our right to take them.” But the mood is always tense, and like many other days, the calm shatters along with the glass of a shopfront as an RPG launched by rebels smashes into the street. A bloodied passerby is quickly given first aid and whisked away by ambulance.
The government has pushed for the appearance of normality in the midst of chaos. Homs’ Baath University reopened last week after a long closure. For the first time in months, Sunni and Alawite classmates were placed under the same roof. But the division is as palpable here as in their fractured city. Sunni and Alawite students stick to their own sides, sitting on opposite ends of cafeterias and a campus yard overshadowed by a massive stone statue of former president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father who ruled for nearly 30 years.
“I used to have a lot of Alawite friends, but now we don’t greet each other. There is nothing more to say,” says Ahmad, a 22-year old Sunni engineering student. “But I’m not afraid, it can’t get any uglier than this.”
Across the yard, fellow engineering student Hassan, an Alawite, fears the worst is yet to come. “Even my cousins are shabbiha now. I hate that. Neither side deserves power here,” he sighs.
Hassan never says he thinks Assad may be toppled, but he believes the future will not be kind to Alawites. “The slaughter is coming to us.”
Among Syrian rebels, a shared sense of commitment – Wash Post – By Austin Tice
Khan Sheikhoun, Syria — On a Sunday late last month, Syrian army forces attacked this town. By early afternoon, two children had been killed by a mortar shell, and doctors and nurses were struggling to save an elderly woman shot in the chest with a Kalashnikov. An attack helicopter circled overhead. The local rebel commander phoned his compatriots in the nearby town of Madaya for help.
Assad Foreign Policy (I): A History of Consistence
By: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, June 19, 2012
Chief among Third-Wayers’ denunciations against the Assad regime’s foreign policy record are accusations that relate to its alleged history of defeat, and later quietism, vis-à-vis Israel, as well as its persecution and cynical use of Lebanese and Palestine groups resisting the Zionist state. For these detractors, the Assad leadership’s anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist stances amount to little more than public posturing intended to preserve its popular legitimacy and is therefore of negligible strategic value to the resistance axis. While many of those making this argument are merely engaging in ex-post facto rationalization – that is, formulating retrospective explanations to justify their current position – this depiction of the Syrian regime as having “colluded” with imperialism in the past, warrants a comprehensive response, if only to underline the centrality of Assad’s Syria to the resistance project and the Palestinian cause generally.
Resistance Belongs to People not Regimes
By: Antoun Issa, June 18, 2012
Truly adhering to the Arab concept of resistance is to remain committed to its purpose. The current map of the Middle East – authoritarianism divided by 21 artificial Arab states plus Israel – was specifically designed by Western powers to keep the Arabs subordinate, weak, divided and voiceless. If Arab resistance is a rejection of this order, and a bid to reclaim Arab sovereignty for the people, then the removal of all Arab dictatorships, including Assad’s regime, is the resistance’s natural course.
Why Iran Should Get the Bomb
Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability
By Kenneth N. Waltz
Leaders’ body language betrays lack of progress over Syria, National Post, 2012-06-20
“Assad and his people lie openly – even when it is obvious that what they are saying cannot be true,” says a former diplomat who has dealt with Assad. People who were involved in foreign policy say deceit was one of the main tactics used by Assad to deflect pressures. Samir al-Taqi, for example, recalls that in talks with the European Union on an association agreement, he was instructed to “always say yes.” “We were told that it was important for the other side to feel everything is going well… and that it should take them six months to find out that it was not.” Compiled by Araminta Wordswort
Syria-bound Russian cargo ship turning back, British diplomat says
By the CNN Wire Staff
June 19, 2012
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says the ship appears to be headed toward Russia
He said Britain is discouraging anyone from supplying arms to Syria
Chemical weapons in Syria are a concern, Hague said
He says focus is on peaceful transition, but “we cannot take any options off the table”
(CNN) — A Russian cargo ship reported to be carrying arms to Syria is turning back, Britain’s top diplomat said Tuesday.
“I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons.
U.S. officials have said that the Russian operator Femco’s cargo ship, MV Alaed, was headed for Syria with attack helicopters and munitions for the al-Assad regime from the port of Kaliningrad. The vessel had been off the north coast of Scotland, according to ship tracking data.
KURDWATCH, June 15, 2012—Zahida Rashkilo (b. 1966) is a member of the Office of General Communications for the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria. She spoke with KurdWatch about the assassination of Mishʿal at‑Tammu, during which she too was seriously injured.This is the first interview in which the Kurdish politician, who is currently in Germany for medical treatment, has spoken about the exact circumstances of the assassination.
Syria Spirals down into Sectarian War (Juan Cole at Truthdig) – Juan Cole writes: My column is out at Truthdig, “Sectarian Violence Undermines Syrian Regime”
“The Syrian government’s resort to Alawite death squads in recent weeks, however, has threatened the big-city alliance that has allowed the Baath to survive. The sight of Sunni women and children massacred by the Shabiha in Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair drove Sunni shopkeepers in the capital to instigate a general strike. Protests and small insurgencies are now taking place even in Damascus.”
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NEW SNC HEAD ABDULBASET SIEDA
Fikra Forum – WINEP
June 20, 2012
On June 15, 2012, the newly elected head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Abdulbaset Sieda, gave Fikra Forum his first extended Western media interview since assuming the post on June 10. The interview was conducted by Skype, in Arabic, by Fikra Forum editor Lauren Emerson and contributors Maya Gebeily and Jehad Saleh. Key points include:
1. Sieda asserts that the SNC does not lead the FSA, and that this could lead to the “disorganized and haphazard use of weapons” and an “uncontrollable … security coup,” as he says has occurred in Libya.
2. He says it would be fine to “coordinate” with the Kurdish opposition and others, rather than try and bring them back into the SNC.
3. He says there could be dialogue with regime elements “with no blood on their hands,” but only concerning “the timing and process of the fall of the regime.”
4. He denies that the SNC should do anything to demonstrate its independence from the MB, which is “an essential faction of the Syrian opposition.”
Following is a translated transcript of this interview; the original Arabic can be found here:http://fikraforum.org/?p=2318&lang=ar
“Assad and his people lie openly – even when it is obvious
that what they are saying cannot be true,” says a former
diplomat who has dealt with Assad. People who were involved in
foreign policy say deceit was one of the main tactics used by
Assad to deflect pressures. Samir al-Taqi, for example, recalls
that in talks with the European Union on an association
agreement, he was instructed to “always say yes.” “We were told
that it was important for the other side to feel everything is
going well… and that it should take them six months to find
out that it was not.”
compiled by Araminta Wordsworth