Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad - a must read – in the LRB
….We in the Middle East have always had a strong appetite for factionalism. Some attribute it to individualism, others blame the nature of our political development or our tribalism. Some even blame the weather. We call it tasharthum and we loathe it: we hold it as the main reason for all our losses and defeats, from al-Andalus to Palestine. Yet we love it and bask in it and excel at it, and if there is one thing we appreciate it is a faction that splinters into smaller factions. Yet even by the measure of previous civil wars in the Middle East, the Syrians seem to have reached new heights. After all, the Palestinians in their heyday had only a dozen or so factions, and the Lebanese, God bless them, pretending it was ideology that divided them, never exceeded thirty different factions……
‘The Americans gave their blessing,’ Abu Abdullah said, ‘and all the players converged and formed an operations room. It had the Qataris, the Saudis, the Turks and Hariri.’ In their infinite wisdom the players decided to entrust the running of the room – known as the Armament Room or the Istanbul Room after the city where it was based – to a Lebanese politician called Okab Sakr, a member of Hariri’s party who was widely seen as divisive and autocratic. The plan was to form military councils to be led and dominated by defectors from the Syrian army – this in order to appease the Americans, who were getting worried about the rising influence of the Islamists. All the fighting groups, it was assumed, would eventually agree to answer to the military councils because they were the main source of weapons.
At first, the plan seemed to be working. As summer approached military councils sprang up in Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and Deir al-Zour and some major battalions and factions did join in. Better weapons – though not the sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft equipment the rebels wanted – started entering Syria from Turkey. Until this point, most of the weapons smuggled from Turkey had come in small shipments on horseback or carried on foot by intermediaries and the fighters themselves, but these new shipments were massive, sent by truck…..
What path now for Syria?
By David Ignatius, Tuesday, February 12, 2:52 PM
Syrian opposition fighters appear to be making significant gains on the battlefield this week, following an offer by their top political leader for negotiations with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
This military and diplomatic news may appear positive. But Syrian sources caution that the battlefield advances may accelerate movement toward a breakup of the country, as Alawite supporters of the regime retreat to their ancestral homeland in the northwestern region around Latakia. And there’s no sign that either Assad or his Russian patrons are paying any more than lip service to a political settlement.
One potential game-changer is a request for U.S. help in training elite rebel units, which has been drafted by Brig. Gen. Salim Idriss, the new commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army. In a letter dated Feb. 4, he seeks U.S. assistance in “training for:…
The al-Jarrah air base, about 30 miles east of Aleppo, which appears to have been overrun by fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, a battalion based in Idlib. Videos posted Tuesday by the rebels showed them walking past derelict Syrian warplanes and inside a fortified hangar containing what appeared to be two Czech-built ground assault planes. On camera, the rebels displayed dozens of bombs racked in a warehouse, and other ammunition and spoils of war….
…One Syrian who works closely with the Free Syrian Army explained how creating an elite commando force could help check Syria’s drift toward becoming a failed state: “We still believe FSA on the ground is still needed badly to tip the power and support other parallel solutions, including the political one. But FSA [has] become a jungle. . . . My recommendation is . . . to start working on elite [forces that can] . . . initiate key attacks plus help as a buffer from potential warlords and fights among fragmented FSA factions. Plus, this unit can handle other key tasks, like securing chemical weapons.”
At Carnegie Foundation (via Syrian Support Group Policy Blog)
The End of the Syrian Conflict – Paul Salem
Syria is not transitioning; it is dissolving. The war is bringing to an end almost a century of integration that followed the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the cohesive nationalism that was fostered in the Levant by European mandates. The rebels will not be able to defeat the regime in the near future, nor the regime the rebels, meaning that the conflict will be prolonged and hatred and suspicion will grow deeper. We will in the future be dealing with a failed state of scrambling power plays and violence in an area once known as the Syrian state.
On Arming the Opposition
Frederic Hof: The possibility of success for Brahimi’s plan or any type of political transition is almost nonexistent. The outcome of the conflict “will be determined by men with guns.” The U.S. should not seek to micromanage the Opposition in an attempt to bring about a desired conclusion to the war–it is far too late for that–but rather recognize the militarized fate of the conflict and influence its outcome by determining the best logistical systems for arming and supporting the FSA. This is now what the White House is wrestling with.
Emile Hokayem: There is a demand for U.S. leadership in the region. The Syrian conflict has exposed Gulf states’ weaknesses in that they seem unable to develop proxies on the ground in the way that Iran can. If the U.S. does not act now, it will be forced into a role of using drone strikes to target the most malevolent Islamist militias when the conflict inevitably dissolves into duels between competing religious factions. This is not ideal. The U.S. should decide who to support, or at least seek out the proper conduits for support to moderate groups.
Henri Barkey: The Opposition should not be armed; arms will proliferate to extremists. The Opposition is too fractured, and the U.S. will not make any friends on the ground at this point. Regional actors should become more heavily involved, but the U.S. should maintain a minimal role of humanitarian support and, perhaps, provision of intelligence.
Syria’s Battle Royale
The struggle for Damascus looks poised to transform this bloody conflict.
BY EMILE HOKAYEM | FEBRUARY 11, 2013
….There is an old adage that both Assad and his opponents no doubt know well: Whoever controls Damascus controls Syria. For that reason, the battle for the capital will be long and costly. Assad could check his opponents there, or exit the stage altogether. Given the ongoing fragmentation of the country, however, a rebel victory won’t be the end of this struggle. At the end of this battle for Damascus, it just may be that nobody controls Syria.
Bombing on Syria Border May Have Targeted Opposition Leader
By Raja Abdulrahim and Patrick J. McDonnell | Los Angeles Times
Syria’s government is under growing financial pressure but is surviving through a mixture of help from allies, severe spending cuts, money from wealthy businessmen and the country’s remaining…
Syrian minister offers to meet opposition leader overseas
Ali Haidar raises prospect of free elections in response to surprise change of line by Syrian National Coalition leader
Jonathan Steele in Damascus, guardian.co.uk,
The Syrian government is ready to send a minister abroad for talks with Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who recently threw rebel politics into turmoil by coming out in favour of dialogue with the regime.
“I am willing to meet Mr Khatib in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue”, Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, told the Guardian….
Syria’s Floundering Rebel Alliance
Daniel R. DePetris | February 5, 2013 | National Interest
The Syrian National Coalition has eclipsed the Syrian National Council as the opposition’s political bloc, but it is difficult to see where they are different.
In a new setback to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, the rebel coalition tasked with providing Syrians with a political alternative failed for the second time to form a transitional government that would administer parts of Syria free from the army’s control. Delegates who participated in the meeting, which was conducted in Turkey, were forced to cut the deliberations short after the coalition was unable to agree on who would lead the newly-formed body and what role the group would play after Assad is defeated.
For those who have been seeking Bashar al-Assad’s ouster for nearly two years, putting pressure on the Syrian army has only been one half of the strategy. The other half, and one in which outside powers have tried to jump start for well over a year, has been to formulate a united bloc that could mold into an internationally-endorsed transitional government for Syrians. The rationale is simple: only through a confident and assertive opposition leadership will all Syrians feel comfortable to enough to switch sides.
Unfortunately, trying to create a body that would draw more Syrians away from the Assad regime has proved to be an immeasurably difficult task. In fact, it is primarily Assad’s actions—not the opposition—that have hurt the Syrian strongman the most.
The Syrian National Council—an organization created and endorsed by prominent Syrian dissidents earlier in the conflict—was designed to put a transition plan into action. But after months of arguing about what needed to be done and on how strongly they would push for outside intervention, members of the council found its credibility fatally weakened. The perception increased when rebels fighting in the name of the Free Syrian Army openly expressed their frustration about the exiles to anyone who would listen. The United States and its Western and Arab allies quickly lost faith in the council to do anything but bicker amongst themselves as the people they were supposed to represent continued dying in massacres and air strikes.
Realizing that Syrians would need better political representation if they had any chance of forging a post-Assad future, Western powers, Turkey, and Qatar managed to get the activists to reorganize. At first, the reorganization appeared to work; elements who stayed inside Syria were now given a say in what the country would look like after Assad was overthrown. The United States, Britain, France, and the Gulf Cooperation Council followed up with formal diplomatic recognition, bestowing upon the coalition the title of “legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”.. The Free Syrian Army is not even sure that the SNC can deliver, and the jihadists that are becoming more vocal and aggressive on the ground have dismissed them entirely.
All of this dysfunction has left Syrians who are in the middle in a terrible situation—stuck, with nowhere to go. Do they stick with a regime that is killing civilians in an unprecedented scale, or risk throwing their support to a rebel leadership that is still fighting about the very basics of democracy? The United States as well as its Western and Arab partners are rooting the opposition on. But all should be asking the same questions.
Saddam and the U.S. failed, so why should Maliki think he can control Iraq by force?
via War in Context on February 11, 2013
Patrick Cockburn writes: The civil war in Syria is destabilising Iraq as it changes the balance of power between the country’s communities. The Sunni minority in Iraq, which two years ago appeared defeated, has long been embittered and angry at discrimination against it by a hostile state. Today, it is emboldened by the uprising of the Syrian Sunni, as well as a growing sense that the political tide in the Middle East is turning against the Shia and in favour of the Sunni.
Could a variant of the Syrian revolt spread to the western Anbar Province and Sunni areas of Iraq north of Baghdad? The answer, crucial to the future of Iraq, depends on how the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, responds to the seven-week-long protests in Anbar and the Sunni heartlands. His problem is similar to that which, two years ago faced rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. They had to choose between ceding some power and relying on repression.
Damascus on Edge as War Seeps Into Syrian Capital Damascus on Edge as War Seeps Into Syrian Capital
By an employee of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria and ANNE BARNARD, February 10, 2013
…“I didn’t see my family for more than a year,” a government soldier from a distant province said in a rare outpouring of candor. He was checking drivers’ identifications near the railway station at a checkpoint where hundreds of soldiers arrived last week with tanks and other armored vehicles.
“I am tired and haven’t slept well for a week,” he said, confiding in a traveler who happened to be from his hometown. “I have one wish — to see my family and have a long, long sleep. Then I don’t care if I die.”….
But even stationed here in Damascus, the heart of the government’s power, the soldier at the checkpoint — who was steady on his feet — said he felt vulnerable.
“It is very scary to spend a night and you expect to be shot or slaughtered at any moment,” he said. “We spend our nights counting the minutes until daytime.”…
Wash Post…By Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
Iran and Hezbollah build militia networks in Syria in event that Assad falls, officials say Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The fragmentation of Syria along religious and tribal lines is a growing concern for neighboring governments and the administration, as the civil war approaches its third year with little sign of a political solution or military victory for either Assad’s forces or the rebels….
KURDWATCH, February 9, 2013—On January 28, 2013, members of several Arab tribes attacked the homes of Armenian and Assyrian Christians in ad‑Dalawiyah (twenty-five kilometers south of al‑Qamishli) and tried to steal the harvest from their fields. The Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) demanded an end to these »foreign deeds«. In addition, twelve Syrian human-rights organizations protested against the attack on a Christian church near Aleppo and the kidnapping of Christians in al‑Hasakah province. The kidnappings are typically connected to ransom demands. Moreover, armed Islamic groups have repeatedly called upon Christian families living in al‑Hasakah to leave their villages.
Syria’s Druze minority is shifting its support to the opposition
By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Published: February 8
BEIRUT — Members of Syria’s Druze community, a small but significant religious minority, are joining the opposition in bigger numbers, ramping up pressure on the beleaguered government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to opposition activists and rebel military commanders….n the past couple of months, according to opposition activists, there have been more than a half-dozen anti-government protests in Sweida province, the ancestral homeland of the Druze in the southeast that had remained relatively quiet since the uprising began nearly two years ago. And in mid-December, rebel fighters announced the formation of the first revolutionary military council for Sweida province. The council coordinated the most significant battle in the Druze region since the conflict began.
In that mid-January clash, dozens of Druze fighters joined a rebel assault on a radar base on a mountaintop in Sweida province. The fighters killed several government soldiers but were ultimately routed by troops that outgunned them; the fighters retreated down the mountainside, suffering many casualties as they pulled back, according to rebel fighters who participated in the battle.
Still, some of the rebels considered the operation to be a victory. “The symbolic meaning of the Druze participating in this operation was just as important as destroying the radar tower,” said a 36-year-old Druze fighter …
Syria Rebel Leader Says ‘Beautiful Revolution Confiscated by Thieves’
إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
by Naharnet Newsdesk
“The real revolution in Syria is over, we have been betrayed,” laments a bitter Abu Mahmoud, a respected rebel leader, accusing fellow commanders of marring a “beautiful” revolt through corruption.
“Our beautiful revolution has been confiscated by thieves and corruptors,” Abu Mahmoud tells Agence France Presse as he struggles to hide his bitterness at the way the revolt against President Bashar Assad’s regime is being fought these days.
Some rebel leaders have “enriched (themselves) shamefully at the cost of true revolutionaries who die on the front line,” he says.
Abu Mahmoud’s remarks confirm growing reports of looting and corruption by leading insurgents in rebel-controlled areas of strife-torn Syria.
Speaking from his home in the town of Atme — a key rebel rear base on the border with Turkey — Abu Mahmoud says he now watches his back, taking his Kalashnikov with him when he heads out “chopping wood or grazing goats in the mountains”.
Rebel fighters who took up arms against Assad’s forces in the initial days of the rebellion are increasingly abandoning their fight, frustrated at the level of corruption in their leadership, he says.
“These so-called commanders send us to die and they themselves stay behind to make money. They don’t come to the front line to fight and yet they are the ones who are heading the rebellion,” complains Abu Mahmoud.
“Wherever they go, they rob, they steal whatever they can carry and sell it illegally in Turkey — be it cars, electronic goods, machines, fuel, antiques, anything you can imagine!”
Abu Mahmoud cites the names of a dozen commanders from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) — the main group fighting Assad’s forces — who he says are engaging in such practices in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.