SYRIA PM DEFECTS, JOINS OPPOSITION
Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected on Monday to Jordan and is now said to be heading to Qatar: “I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution,” Hijab said in a statement read in his name by the spokesman, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera television. (Ynet News, Jerusalem Post, New York Times Aug. 6, 2012)
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY ABOUT THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR
PJMedia, Aug. 5, 2012
Ammar Abdulhamid may know more about Syria’s civil war than anyone else in the world. That’s no exaggeration. A pro-democratic oppositionist living abroad, Abdulhamid has functioned on a virtual 24/7 basis as the source of news and analysis about events within Syria, always trying to be honest and accurate in his assessments regardless of his own preferences. Barry Rubin, PJMedia Middle East editor, interviewed Abdulhamid on the latest developments and trends.
It now seems that the tide in Syria’s civil war is turning toward the opposition. Why is that happening?
I wouldn’t say the tide is turning, I’d say that the armed opposition is getting more organized and bold, and its tenacity, growing popularity, coupled with President Bashar al-Assad’s cruelty, are inspiring more defections and despair inside the ranks of the regime.
Also, by continuing to play on sectarian sentiments, Assad continues to find success in ensuring the loyalty of the Alawites, the majority of whom keep seeing an existential threat in having regime change take place. However, by going down the route of ethnic cleansing in the coastal and central parts, Assad and his militias managed to create an existential threat for the Sunnis as well.
Of the two million Syrians who have been forcibly displaced inside Syria by Assad’s crackdown, the overwhelming majority is Sunni. These people are angry, bitter, and radicalized, and their very lot in life at this stage is inspiring anger and hate in the minds and souls of Sunnis with whom they come in contact. Both sides now view the situation in sectarian and existential terms. So no one can back down.
How do you assess the balance in the opposition between Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, professional military officers, and moderate democrats?
By having greater access to funds, hence weapons, the Salafists have managed to curry favor with the armed groups, and they are now a dominant force. But that does not necessarily translate into political support or sympathies. The political councils that are emerging to manage the day-to-day affairs of liberated towns and villages have not endorsed an Islamist agenda, or any of the traditional political groups, be they secular or Islamist. The revolutionary scene remains pretty much an open field as far as political ideology is concerned.
With the Syrian National Council (SNC) being dominated by the Brotherhood, what are the key alternative leadership groups? Are you concerned that the United States and other countries might impose the SNC on the country?
By now, and considering the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made by the revolutionaries, it is highly unlikely at this stage to expect that a group dominated by traditional opposition groups and expatriates can actually be considered legitimate enough to lead. Indeed, SNC’s credibility has long evaporated due to its inability to deliver, and, by association, the Brotherhood’s own credibility, shaky to begin with, was marred. It’s clear to all by now that SNC is not the answer for leading the challenges of governance during the transitional period.
It’s for this reason that some experts are postulating a role for the recent defector Brigadier General Manaf Tlas. But Manaf is too much of a regime insider to be popularly accepted as a legitimate leader, even for a transitional period. The best he could do is play a supporting role. The main actors have to be derived from the ranks of the revolutionary movement inside Syria. Only when such actors become in charge can the Syrian people be assured that their revolution has succeeded.…
What is the Kurdish attitude toward the opposition and the regime?
It’s clear, considering recent developments, that Syria’s Kurds have decided to reject both: the regime and the traditional opposition. Both have only offered raw deals all through the years. Their attitude could change though the moment the Arab-dominated traditional opposition groups learn that Kurdish demands for autonomy are legitimate. and that the right thing to do at this stage is agree to the best formula for that within the context of a new decentralized Syria.
What do you see emerging in a post-Assad Syria?
The activist in me wants to see a democratic decentralized entity emerge that is capable of responding to the developmental needs and aspirations of the people, irrespective of their religious, national, or political background, in each province, region, and district. The analyst in me has to grapple with the possibility of inheriting a failed state composed of warring fiefdoms, and of the need to find ways to put the pieces back together again, a process that would take years. It was from the beginning clear to me that the transformation of Syria will prove a much longer process than most of us have expected or wanted. But our dream for a democratic state will guide us through the thin and thick of it all.
How can the opposition deal with an Alawite fortress region in the northwest where the regime would try to hold out?
No one has any plans to “invade” Alawite-majority areas. What is needed right now is to stop the ethnic cleaning and to ensure the safe return of displaced population to their homes. Peacekeepers could and should be introduced to ensure a separation of forces for a certain agreed period. Meanwhile, we should all begin a serious conversation on the future administrative structure of Syria.
Are you pleased or concerned about Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish influence on the situation?
It was clear from the very beginning that all sorts of regional and international players have a stake in the outcome of the revolution in Syria, and that many will try to influence it. What concerns me is that the United States and the European Union are not doing nearly enough to exert their own moderating influence on the process, despite their repeated appeals to the Syrian people from the early days of the revolution. The absence of this influence is as telling and influential as any.
We haven’t heard much about the attitudes and activities of the Druze minority. Can you discuss this point?
The Druze of Syria constitutes 2-3% of the population in the country, and that makes them risk averse. Developments in Lebanon after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the changing positions of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had already exerted their toll on the Druze community of Syria long before the revolution and gave both Assad and Druze elders enough time to reconsider their relations.
In fact, and over the last few years, and away from public scrutiny, Druze elders and other agents of influence in the Druze community seems to have negotiated a form of communal autonomy for themselves, or at least a local power-sharing arrangement of sorts between local figures and regime-appointed figures. This gives them little reason to join a revolution that could jeopardize that.
Clearly there is the threat of ethnic massacres and we have already seen some examples of this problem. Is there hope of minimizing or avoiding such bloodshed?
An active international involvement drawing on previous lessons from the Balkans, the failures and the few successes, can help us avoid these scenarios. But since prospects for such involvement remain dim, we could only put our faith in the hands of the on-the-ground activists and their ability to produce a miracle and keep ethnic massacres to a minimum.
KURDISTAN: NEXT FLASHPOINT BETWEEN IRAQ,TURKEY, SYRIA
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques NeriahJerusalem Centre for Public Affairs,August 5, 2012
In the wake of the steady disintegration of the Assad regime, Syrian opposition activists reported that several towns, such as Amouda and Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeast, had passed in mid-July 2012 without a fight into the local hands of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Thus emerged for the first time in modern Kurdish history the nucleus of an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave bordering the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of the Kurdish-populated towns.
The Free Kurdish Army was formed from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group with historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The PKK, it should be remembered, is regarded by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds are reportedly concentrating their efforts on wresting control of Qamishli, the largest of the Kurdish cities, from the Syrian government. Kurdish forces have already captured the city of Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Governorate, where they are flying the Kurdish flag.
The Turks, who have been at war with the PKK for decades, have been monitoring developments in Syria with increasing concern. Thus a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet wrote in late July: “Only a week ago we had a 400-kilometer ‘Kurdish border.’ Now, 800 kilometers have been added to this.” The Turkish government has bluntly warned: “We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that Turkey would take any step that is necessary against a terrorist presence in northern Syria.
Turkish observers have commented that the geopolitics of the Middle East are now being reshaped as the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility, posing enormous challenges for all the states hosting large Kurdish populations: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts erupting in this part of the region. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus.
But its use will depend on which power dominates the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. This area could equally provide Iran with a corridor for moving supplies to its Syrian surrogates and even to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Perhaps this is why some commentators see Kurdistan as the new regional flashpoint in the Middle East.…[To continue please see Link in On Topics below. Includes regional map]
DEALING WITH THE DEVIL IN SYRIA
Front Page Mag, Aug 3rd, 2012
A video circulating this week of Syrian rebels shouting “Allahu akbar” and executing four Assad partisans has horrified many in the West, but there have been numerous indications before this that the resistance to the Assad regime is not made up of the democratic pluralists of mainstream media myth.
Not surprisingly, that hasn’t stopped Barack Obama. According to Reuters Wednesday, he “has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.”
This will meet with bipartisan support. Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly wondered last week in the mainstream Republican Weekly Standard: “Why hasn’t President Obama intervened militarily in Syria? After all, this is a president who issued a directive last year stating that a ‘core’ national security interest of the United States would be to prevent mass atrocities of precisely the kind Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is now unleashing on his own people. And this is a president who, to his credit, helped remove Muammar Qaddafi from power.”
Schmitt and Donnelly appear untroubled by the fact that the new leadership of Libya is made up of Muslim Brotherhood Sharia supremacists who, as they impose the fullness of Islamic law upon Libya, will impose all of Sharia’s legal oppression of women, non-Muslims, ex-Muslims, and others, and are certain to be no friend of the United States. And now they want Barack Obama to enable a similar regime to come to power in Syria. Their call for him to do so didn’t mention the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaeda, of course. Instead, they give the impression that they accept the prevailing mainstream media myth, that the anti-Assad forces in Syria are Western-style pluralist democrats, as they were advertised as being in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
They aren’t any such thing in Syria, any more than they were in those other “Arab Spring” countries. John Cantlie, a British photographer, and his Dutch colleague, Jeroen Oerlemans, were recently kidnapped by Islamic supremacist rebels in Syria who threatened to murder them unless they converted to Islam. Significantly, they noted that where they were held, the rebel fighters were Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Chechens, with nary a Syrian in sight – a clear indication that jihadis from all over the world had traveled to Syria to participate in what they considered to be a jihad there: the uprising against the Assad regime. “As soon as Assad has fallen,” Oerlemans declared, “these fighters want to introduce Islamic law, Sharia, in Syria.”
Another sign of the jihadist character of the Syrian rebels is the rampant persecution of Christians. The Christians in Syrian generally tend to favor the Alawite Assad regime, which despite its repressive character is still a Ba’athist, generally secular regime that accords Christians more rights than they would enjoy in a Sharia state.…
Thousands of Christians have been displaced from their homes, and others have left Syria altogether. Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Philip Tournyol Clos lamented: “The picture for us is utter desolation. The church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything.”
They have done so in the face of increasing jihadist assertiveness. In mid-July, a group calling itself the Brigade of Islam claimed responsibility for a bombing that murdered several key Syrian officials, including the nation’s defense minister and Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, has said that he believes that al-Qaeda was responsible for this bombing – and certainly it is active among the Syrian rebel forces.
The main beneficiary, however, of the toppling of Assad could be the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria Brotherhood chief Mohammad Riad Shakfa has said that after “long years of repression by the regime,” the movement has its best-ever chance to seize power there. The ANSAmed news agency explains: “The biggest force on the Syrian National Council, which is the West’s main opposition interlocutor, and very influential in the Syrian Free Army, the Muslim Brotherhood is supported by Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also a Sunnite, and whom Assad accuses of fomenting a religious war in his country. If Syria were to follow the Egyptian model post-Assad, the country’s next leader might well be from the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Of course, Barack Obama enabled the new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt to take power, and has warmly supported it despite increasing signs that it intends to impose Sharia, continue the repression of Christians that has been rampant in Egypt since the beginning of the “Arab Spring,” and even go to war with Israel. So why should Syria be any different? And indeed, it is not: in both cases, the United States is applauding and abetting the installation of regimes that will not show any gratitude toward its patrons in Washington, but which will instead pursue a jihadist course that is almost certainly to mean decades of strife and bloodshed to come.…
AS SYRIA WAR ROILS, UNREST AMONG SECTS HITS TURKEY
The New York Times, August 4, 2012
At 1 a.m. last Sunday, in the farming town of Surgu [Turkey]…a mob formed at the Evli family’s door.
The ill will had been brewing for days, ever since the Evli family chased away a drummer who had been trying to rouse people to a predawn Ramadan feast. The Evlis are Alawite, a historically persecuted minority sect of Islam, and also the sect of Syria’s embattled leaders, and many Alawites do not follow Islamic traditions like fasting for Ramadan.
The mob began to hurl insults. Then rocks. “Death to Alawites!” they shouted. “We’re going to burn you all down!” Then someone fired a gun. “They were there to kill us,” said Servet Evli, who was hiding in his bedroom with his pregnant wife and terrified daughter, both so afraid that they urinated through their clothes.
As Syria’s civil war degenerates into a bloody sectarian showdown between the government’s Alawite-dominated troops and the Sunni Muslim majority, tensions are increasing across the border between Turkey’s Alawite minority and the Sunni Muslim majority here. Many Turkish Alawites, estimated at 15 million to 20 million strong and one of the biggest minorities in this country, seem to be solidly behind Syria’s embattled strongman, Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey’s government, and many Sunnis, supports the Syrian rebels.
The Alawites fear the sectarian violence spilling across the border. Already, the sweltering, teeming refugee camps along the frontier are fast becoming caldrons of anti-Alawite feelings. “If any come here, we’re going to kill them,” said Mehmed Aziz, 28, a Syrian refugee at a camp in Ceylanpinar, who drew a finger across his throat. He and his friends are Sunnis, and they all howled in delight at the thought of exacting revenge against Alawites.
Many Alawites in Turkey, especially in eastern Turkey where Alawites tend to speak Arabic and are closely connected to Alawites in Syria, are suspicious of the bigger geopolitics, and foreign policy analysts say they may have a point. The Turkish government is led by an Islamist-rooted party that is slowly but clearly trying to bring more religion, particularly Sunni Islam, into the public sphere, eschewing decades of purposefully secular rule.…
The Alawites point to the surge of foreign jihadists streaming into Turkey, en route to fight a holy war on Syria’s battlefields. Many jihadists are fixated on turning Syria, which under the Assad family’s rule has been one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, into a pure Islamist state.
“Do you really believe these guys are going to build a democracy?” asked Refik Eryilmaz, an Alawite member of the Turkish Parliament. “The Americans are making a huge mistake. They’re helping Turkey fight Assad, but they’re creating another Taliban.”…