Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The cost of inaction in Syria will be greater

It has been almost a year since the Syrian people began their uprising, following the arrest of over a dozen children for painting anti-regime graffiti on the walls of a local school in Daraa.

It wasn’t the first time the Syrian regime’s forces had mistreated its citizens, on the contrary, the regime had been rough on its citizens, especially the Sunni Arab population, for decades. What was different this time, what sparked the year-long uprising, was the wave of revolutions, the Great Arab Awakening, which mesmerized the Syrian people.

On Monday, Senator John McCain, by calling for a joint coalition of countries, led by the U.S., to intervene in Syria in order to help create safe havens, renewed the debate on the pros and cons of such a move into Syria. Many experts argue that the spread of retribution and minority killings would be increased by the use of international force. There is indeed a minority problem in Syria that needs to be recognized and cannot be simply wished away. Whether there is an intervention or not, the post-Assad Syria will have to deal with this problem. Turkey, which has accomplished more than Syria has in the last century in terms of democratic progress, is also still dealing with its own Kurdish minority problems socially, politically, and militarily, of which the latter has cost about 40 thousand lives in the last three decades.

One thing is for sure: The longer al-Assad and his criminal clan stay in power, the deeper the sectarianism goes, consequently increasing the chance of a civil war. That is why the rapid removal of the al-Assad regime should be the ultimate goal, if one of the main concerns is to prevent a civil war.

On the other hand, it is not the international community’s mission to end the sectarian problem in Syria, because that would probably require a nation-building effort, and we have all witnessed how successful the Western allies have been at doing that in the last decade. It will be the Syrians who will have to deal with this problem head on.

Inaction on the part of the West would also likely cause some parts of the Syrian opposition to be further militarized by the various Islamic jihadist groups. More radicalized Sunni Arabs, who are expected to grab power after the Assad regime falls, are likely to harbor more anger toward minorities. The more disenchanted the Syrian opposition becomes with the West, as Western “help” drags on, the more likely it is to be open to the idea of collaborating with al-Qaeda, since al-Qaeda seems to be offering them help with hastening al-Assad’s downfall, in their time of need.

While the preparations for an intervention in Syria are in the making, a second track designed to unify the opposition, convincing them to reassure the minorities by guaranteeing their rights in the post-Assad period, also ought to be advanced.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Syria is currently a totalitarian police state in which all the top jobs, including intelligence, security, defense and diplomacy go to Alawites. Seeing their survival as tied to the regime, members of this sect have led the way, going out to kill or order to kill. However, when these security forces are in Druze, Ismaili or Kurdish areas, they tend to avoid killing, in order that the coalition of the minorities, one of the main pillars supporting the regime, can remain in existence.

The force of a credible threat would also very likely help to shift dynamics on the ground in Syria, by encouraging the many to join the opposition who have thus far stayed away. During my 12 hours under arrest in Syria at the end of January, I met two members of the security forces who were willing to use derogatory language about al-Assad and his loyal thugs, the Shabihas, when no one was listening. If a credible threat is brought to bear against the al-Assad regime, it would also likely accelerate defections to the opposition at an unpredictable pace.

The U.S., the West in general, and finally Turkey have to come to realize that in order to have leverage in the post-Assad period, they have to help now. By not intervening, the West is losing the goodwill of the Syrian people, who have been brutalized for almost a year now.


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mara mcglothin

3/22/2012 3:16:50 PM

Exactly KEVIN There is a civil war going on that needs to come to its own conclusion. Hopefully the USA has learned its lesson about getting involved in other peoples' fights. Time for us to pray for the Syrian people and stay out of the way.

Eric Martin

3/10/2012 10:13:27 AM

Forget the USA. The wont help because of fear of getting intangled in another war or fear of AlQueda. Turkey should join Qatar and Saudis and Libyans by donating 'real' firepower that can neutralize Assads forces. They need phones,medical help too

Kevin Snapp

3/10/2012 4:55:25 AM

When will people stop talking about "preventing civil war"? Is it "civil war" only when the regime's opponents shoot back, rather than submit to organized murder? If so, that line was crossed months ago.

Syrian Kurds welcome Turkish humanitarian corridor to Syria


The international community finally got together in Tunis on Feb. 24 to begin the end of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

One of the most important pieces of the Syrian opposition puzzle is undoubtedly the Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish National Council (KNC) has combined with 11 different Syrian Kurdish parties after suspending their membership in the Syrian National Council (SNC) in recent months, hurting representation in the latter greatly.

In Tunis, even though it wasn’t on the agenda, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the head of the KNC, Abdulhakim Bashar, along with the head of the SNC, Burhan Ghalioun, as well as a member, Basma Kodamani, to advance the calls for unification.

It appears that the unification project hasn’t worked out well so far. According to sources who have knowledge of the meetings, Bashar expressed his council’s wish that the new Syria be a secular state. He also insisted that the solution to the Kurdish issue would be through constitutional recognition based on international conventions and agreements that would also secure the rights of other minorities. Finally, Bashar emphasized the fact that the United States should put pressure on Syrian Islamic groups to change their political programs. Clinton, on the other hand, urged the KNC to reach an agreement with the SNC as soon as possible and affirmed the US’ support for the rights of Kurds through protection mechanisms in the new constitution.

Heyam Aqil, an adviser to Bashar, relayed Ghalioun’s promises to the Kurdish minority on Feb. 24, saying “decentralization” and the “recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people” are not new. “The SNC agreed to a decentralized government which is different from politically decentralized governance” – which the KNC has asked for – Aqil said. “In fact, Syria is based on decentralized governance currently. Each governorate or province is managing local affairs. So in terms of this particular point, the SNC is not offering anything new.”

The KNC says the SNC’s efforts are “progressive” but insufficient and instead has four main demands.

1) The constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people and their Kurdish national identity. 2) Consideration of the Kurdish issue as a main part of the general national issue of Syria. 3) The lifting of all chauvinistic policies and discriminatory laws applied against the Kurdish people and compensation for those who have been affected by such policies. 4) Recognition of the national rights of the Kurdish people according to international conventions and agreements in a decentralized government within a united Syria.

Welcoming the humanitarian corridor

A French-led proposal for a humanitarian corridor from the Turkish border would almost certainly pass through Aleppo, a largely Sunni and Kurdish city. Aqil, for the first time, said “any kind of humanitarian aid to the cities under shelling is welcomed by Kurds and the Syrian opposition as a whole.” Such a scheme, however, would need Syria’s agreement. “The victims of the killing machine are increasing and the international community must take an action in order to protect the people of Homs and Idlib,” Aqil said.

PYD attacks anti-Assad Kurdish protestors

One high-level source from the Syrian Kurdish groups confirmed recent reports of attacks by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. State Department and the European Union.

“We, Kurds, have to be aware of this game and prevent a Kurdish-Kurdish conflict which is in the regime’s interests,” the source said. “The KNC must take responsibility and play that role of keeping the Kurdish areas safe. If those reports were true, then I think the PYD’s military branch is doing [these attacks]. Their military branch doesn’t take commands from the PYD’s political branch. It takes commands from the Qandil mountains and al-Assad’s regime has given them the green light to [move into action].”


US, Turkey and the Syrian opposition

US, Turkey and the Syrian opposition



One of the biggest obstacles preventing the international community from giving a decisive outside push to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is its inability to see a viable, unified alternative for the post-Assad period.

That there are real barriers towards the Syrian opposition unifying is extremely troubling for Syria’s stability in the long term, even though it is clear that the success of expanding the revolution to minority groups and the Sunni middle class, especially in cities like Aleppo, is very important.

According to Randa Slim, a fellow at the New American Foundation, there are some signs that the Syrian regime, through Lebanon and Iraq, has been working to get around the economic sanctions to create an immune system.

The civil war in Syria

The prevention of sectarian civil war in Syria, and the establishment of a real and inclusive democracy after al-Assad, depends almost entirely on unifying the opposition and, more specifically, compromise. The Syrian National Council or SNC, (formed in Istanbul, based in Paris, and already recognized as the official representative of the people’s opposition in Syria by France, the U.S. and others), has made some progress in this regard. It has expanded its membership and made statements with regard to minority groups – however, it has done too little.

For instance, in the past month, the SNC attempted to make an agreement with the Kurdish opposition, the largest minority group in Syria, which is mostly unified in the Kurdish Syrian National Council (KNC). Basma Kodmani and Burhan Ghalioun of the SNC visited the head of the KNC, Abdal Hakim Bashar, in Erbil, Iraq. The Kurds, backed and united by Iraqi Kurdistan, demanded federalism, which Bashar said was essential to prevent civil war in Syria. Kodmani said the SNC viewed federalism as a radical proposal, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman Zuhair Salim rejected it outright. The talks faltered and the SNC has since lost the membership of all Kurdish parties and has thus become less representative.

One major factor preventing the SNC coming to a compromise with the Kurdish opposition might have been Turkey. Turkey’s support for the SNC and a wide variety of Syrian opposition groups has been recognized by all informed parties. However Ankara, even though Turkish officials deny it, appears to be supporting the Islamist elements within SNC, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, more than others. One of the major shared interests of both Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, for many Kurds, is that they are against Kurdish parties who demand greater autonomy in their regions.

Turkey’s appearance in support of more Islamist elements within the Syrian opposition might not only alienate the Kurds, who do not have a single Islamist party in Syria, but also other minorities, some nationalist and secular elements as well.

The U.S. in particular has played a significant role in attempting to unify the Syrian opposition, by conditioning their recognition of the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria on providing more assurances towards minority groups. The U.S. has been engaged in facilitating talks to unify the Syrian opposition since before the SNC’s formation, and it was the main organizer of the talks between the SNC and KNC last month. The U.S. appears to be the only power with interest in pulling this off in a non-sectarian manner, as especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in one way or another, have interests in supporting Sunni Islamist groups.

Only a unified opposition can reflect all of Syria’s diverse communities and through compromise provide the stability that will allow all parts of Syrian society to feel stable and free after the fall of al-Assad. A unified opposition with a vision for all of Syria’s communities will decrease the risk of sectarian civil war and broaden the base of the uprising.

The friends of Syria conference in Tunisia, taking place next week, will be a great platform to start urgently doing just that.

*Omar Hossino is a Syria expert, currently based in Washington, DC

The al-Assad regime deserves to be demolished


It is 9 a.m. in the morning in Harasta, one of the suburbs of Damascus, and there is loud banging at the door. It is only a few seconds until the door opens up and I face the dreaded Syrian security forces, whose atrocities I have been listening to, documenting and reporting on while I have been in Syria.

Harasta is only a 15-minute drive from Damascus’ city center and was in the hands of the Free Syrian Army militias in previous days. During the night of Jan. 25, heavy clashes between the Syrian regime and the free army lasted the whole night until the dawn when the sound of the muezzin’s voice calling the faithful for morning prayers blended with the continuing sound of Kalashnikovs shooting. Only when we saw the regime soldiers at the doorstep did we realize who had won the fight.

Mohammad Abood, 23, whom I met over the Internet and asked to stay at his house for a couple of days for reasons that have nothing to do with my undercover journalism, is now at the door, getting a heavy beating from the soldiers who trade turns insulting him. One shabiha, who appears to be the leader of the four-to-five squad of soldiers, is directing them to search the house, while giving other orders and questioning me at the same time.

The two-bedroom apartment is turned upside down by the soldiers, but for the time being, they seem undecided what to do with me, though they dutifully confiscated all my personal belongings, including my computer, camera, phone and whatever they deemed necessary into plastic bags. The belongings were never returned.

Now we are in the narrow streets of Harasta but not alone. Every corner has a few soldiers guarding the city as if they are an occupying army in a foreign land. A few other groups of arrested Harasta residents coming from the muddy, steep streets appear to share the same faith as we do. After a couple-minute walk to a larger road, I see a few other arrested groups joining us to be taken to one of the security complexes in the city, knowing that the worst yet to come.

In only 14 days, in a half-dozen suburbs of Damascus, I have seen the viciousness of the security forces every single day in different forms and shapes. I have witnessed unarmed protesters being attacked twice, one of which was a funeral crowd who were joyfully praising their “martyr” on Jan. 21 in the city of Douma. After I arrived in this city on Jan. 19 to leave the next night, my plans had to change because the Syrian Army would be laying siege in eastern Ghouta for the next four days.

In central Damascus, I saw individuals getting arrested in broad daylight for no apparent reason.

And finally I was arrested, along with over a thousand people in a single morning in Harasta, in which I witnessed scores of old and young locals receiving their first heavy whippings in the front yard of the Harasta Police Hospital. Surely what awaited them in the coming days and weeks will be the most horrifying.

I talked with a much respected local doctor who had been jailed twice and tortured since the Syrian revolution began just because he insisted on treating wounded protestors who came to his hospital.

Doctors are prohibited from carrying any kind of first-aid kit under this evil regime, and if found, even mere pain killers in their cars constitute a crime warranting arrest because it shows their intention of helping injured people in some other place.

The horror stories I have heard from scores of local people were beyond any imagination.

When Col. Moammar Gadhafi said he would do house-to-house raids to hunt down the rebels like rats, the international community moved immediately to stop the pending slaughter, invoking the much-discussed “right to protect” civilians in Libya.

The Syrian regime’s regular and irregular forces search houses every single day for months, one of which I was also victim of. The regime sends dozens of its tanks into the streets, hits the cities with mortar shells and terrifies its people day in, day out.

This regime deserves to be demolished.



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Blue Dotterel

2/4/2012 11:00:10 AM

The people of Syria should decide the fate of the Assad regime, not Turks, Americans or Israelis. So far the majority of the people support the regime, as the Arab observers noted in their report. Keep your hands off Syria!

I have seen the evil regime


I have spent the last two weeks in Damascus and its suburbs, and I have seen the Syrian regime’s brutality and oppression with my own eyes.

Central Damascus is strictly controlled by the regime’s security forces. The city’s central roads and squares are filled with police, and there is a heavy security presence. There are a lot of armed security vehicles, blocked roads and heavily protected military complexes throughout the city.

The biggest hotel in Damascus, the Four Seasons, was also one of the emptiest places I saw.

Throughout our long conversations with the managers there, I learned that the hotel has had to fire more than two thirds of its 650 workers and close two of its three high-end restaurants since the revolution began 10 months ago.

Police at the security checkpoints are looking for suspicious-looking people to arrest, both entering and leaving Damascus. On my third day, I was able to get out of the city by taking extreme care to avoid the security’s watchful eyes. Outside Damascus is a completely different story. Only a 20-minute drive brings one to places that are filled with rebels’ revolutionary flags, placards insulting Bashar al-Assad, and graffiti everywhere.

Most, if not all suburbs, are holding “mudahara” protests every night. When I first witnessed a mudahara on Jan. 14, in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, the regime’s irregular forces, the “shabihas,” attacked unarmed protestors in front of my eyes. Two or three minutes into the demonstrations, when people began chanting “hurriyet,” or “freedom,” Kalashnikovs began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd.

My friends tried to protect me by hurrying me into a car, but it was too late for us to speed away from the scene. I saw shabihas dragging one protestor, shot seconds before, into their car. I saw several others arrested and given heavy beatings. A shabiha in his mid-40s, with white hear and a clean-shaven face, let us go after our driver calmly explained that we were just passing through and had been stopped by the protestors.

This was a lifetime’s experience for me, but something protestors in Syria are going through every day.

During my stay I visited countless families who had lost their sons; saw orphaned little children who still didn’t know what happened to their fathers, uncles and relatives. The regime’s security forces sometimes randomly kill people simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But the misery doesn’t end there.

The regime’s security forces systematically arrest all the relatives of a person they just killed in order to silence them. I have heard of many arrested and tortured just because their last names are the same as somebody killed by the security forces. The al-Assad regime clearly demonstrated to me its skills in terrorizing its people.

I visited more than half a dozen different Free Syrian Army (FSA) branches in various cities and the FSA appeared much stronger than anyone described before. Except for central Damascus, every city has its own FSA organization. Some of them were recently formed and are growing fast, others are already taking over the streets during the evenings. They establish their own checkpoints in these ghettos to protect the protesters. I heard over and over again from people on the ground that their only hope is for the FSA to succeed.

Judging from the many FSA leaders and soldiers I talked to, it is clear how determined they are against the Assad regime. Despite all odds, Syrians I talked to, especially in the Rif Dimashq province, are determined more than ever to overthrow this regime. It is up to other governments to be part of this revolution.



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Chris Green

1/30/2012 12:45:37 AM

I worked in Syria, at Damascus International Airport, in fact, in 1999 under Hafez Assad: At the time, I was the only western engineer to have done so. I never had a moments problem there but I knew of the history. I had high hopes of Bashar: Tragic!