Thursday, February 7, 2013

Boy Soldiers!

I often get asked what advice I would give to President Obama should I ever have an occasion to meet him. Naturally, at different points I would have recommended different things. At this point, though, I would tell him to take a page out of opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib’s book and show some moral gumption by going against the accepted wisdom in his circles. Indeed, the U.S. options regarding Syria are not about avoiding getting dragged into another regional conflict, but about managing a bad situation in order to prevent a worse outcome. We should bear in mind here as well that the bad situation itself is, in part, the product of this avoidance mindset. Yes, America does need to look before she jumps, but with regard to Syria, President Obama has been navel-gazing for far too long. This is not leading from behind: this is not leading at all.

Wednesday February 6, 2013

Today’s Death Toll: 162 martyrs including 5 women, 7 children and one martyr who died under torture. 77 in Damascus and suburbs; 30 in Aleppo; 15 in Daraa; 13 in Homs; 8 in Hama; 7 in Deir Ezzor; 3 in Idlib; 1 in Lattakia; 1 in Raqqa and 1 in Sweidaa (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 276 locations. The most intense shelling was reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, among the points targeted by shells 120 were shelled using mortar, 103 with heavy caliber artillery and 53 with rockets (LCCs).

Clashes: 116 locations. Successful rebel operations included downing a regime’s warplane in Adra, destroying a regime’s checkpoint in Quneitrah, attacking the Military Intelligence checkpoint in Palmyra, and attacking and destroying a loyalist checkpoint in Zamalka Neighborhood, in Damascus City, and another in Jobar Neighborhood, among many others (LCCs).

News
Clashes Erupt in Damascus, Shattering Lull, as Prospects for Talks Dim Some antigovernment activists described the resumption of fighting, which had lapsed for the past few weeks, as part of a renewed effort by rebels to seize control of central Damascus, the Syrian capital, although that depiction seemed highly exaggerated. Witness accounts said many people were going about their business, while others noted that previous rebel claims of territorial gains in Damascus had almost always turned out to be embellished or unfounded.
Nearly 800,000 refugees flee fighting in Syria, US officials say Anne C. Richard, assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration, and Nancy Lindborg, USAID's assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait -- three of the countries that have absorbed the greatest numbers of refugees. They recounted "emotionally raw" scenes of children huddling in frigid temperatures at night, and parents desperately searching for missing children whose images are emblazoned on cell phone screens.
Image indicates Syria building unscathed by Israel strike Diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources said Israeli jets had bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border last week, apparently hitting weapons destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
Aid flows to rebel-held parts of Syria previously inaccessible The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. refugee agency, said on Friday it had reached an opposition-held area of north Syria for the first time and found about 45,000 displaced people in appalling conditions. The Syrian government agreed to give the United Nations access to the zone of Azaz, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, enabling a convoy to deliver tents and blankets to needy people living in the open in freezing temperatures.
The conflict in Syria has been deeply divisive in the Middle East, pitting a largely Sunni opposition against a regime dominated by Assad's Alawite minority – a heterodox offshoot of Shiite Islam. Sunni nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have thrown their weight behind the rebels, while Shiite heavyweight Iran is Damascus' closest regional ally.
Syria opposition demands all women prisoners freed by Sunday On its website, BBC Arabic quoted Alkhatib as saying in an interview that "the initiative would be broken" if the detainees were not released. "Women must be released by the coming Sunday," he said. "If any woman stays in prison, I consider the regime not responding." Alkhatib also said the Damascus government was letting Iran makes it decisions and his proposal for dialogue with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara was rejected. "They refused my suggestion to enlist the name of Vice President Farouk al-Shara as a party of dialogue," he said. "I insist on dialogue with Farouk al-Shara."

Special Reports
Syria rebels train 'killing machine' teenagers "When they arrive here, they are children. By the time they leave, they are killing machines," said Abdel Razzaq, a 38-year-old former army sergeant who trains the boys. "I train them not to be scared of war and not to hesitate when the time comes to kill," he said, speaking of his latest group of 20 volunteers, aged 14 to 18. "There are no more adult men in the villages. Now it's the children who come for military training," said Abdel Razzaq.
The P.Y.D.’s militant Kurdish nationalism, which puts ethnic identity before allegiance to Syria, and their goal of some form of autonomy has put them at odds with Syria’s rebels. After decades of discriminatory policies against the Kurds under the Baath Party, the P.Y.D. is opposed to anybody but Kurds ruling their areas.
Nesma and her eight family members fled Homs for Syria's Bab al-Salam refugee camp near the Syria-Turkey border in December. They share a thin, tarp-covered tent designed for six that floods with torrential winter rains. Temperatures dip below zero at night, and without heat, blankets donated by wealthy Gulf States are not an adequate barrier against the cold. Two toddlers have died of hypothermia-related causes this winter.
Obama has evidently tired of waiting for others to do the self-evident “right thing.” Washington remains as committed as ever to a democratic transition that results in Assad's departure, but it has now opened the door in support of negotiations with all parties to achieve it. In the past, the suggestion that Assad was prepared to lose an election in 2014 could not be made in polite company. No longer. This change does not insure success, but at the very least it helps to establish a formidable and broad-based diplomatic counterweight to the killing.
With international humanitarian access and staff limited by the Assad government, liberated areas see not only deteriorating conditions but also new roles for Syrians outside and inside the country confronting the consequences.
For Syria to reach end-game, either one side must win, or they must reach a clear stalemate, with the country split in two (or, more likely, three or more) parts. Until then, no diplomatic solution is possible. Seeking one before the war is resolved isn’t a sign of America’s renewed leadership — but just an exercise in avoiding the real tough choices.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

Quick Responses

·         AFP reports that rebels are now training boy soldiers to take part in the fight against Assad. This is horrendous. But pro-Assad militias have been relying on teen soldiers for months now, and the trend is bound to continue in both camps.  Albeit, the rebels are clearly one-upped when to comes to the recruitment of women into the fighting force: pro-Assad militias have created all-female militias including women from all age groups and professional backgrounds,  but in confessional terms, the overwhelming majority of these women are Alawite, with sprinkling of Christian recruits.
·         President Obama’s purported “pivot” on Syria is said to be intended to produce a “broad-based diplomatic counterweight to the killing” there. But, unless military realities on the ground have shifted drastically in favor of rebels, this alleged pivot would prove completely useless and will be nothing more than another way for staying Missing in Action. President Obama has committed himself to the goal of regime change in Syria, but so far he has failed to produce a policy that can help achieve that goal. That needs to change.


Today, Amer Matar feels betrayed by the "international community" - twice over. First, for not defending the peaceful movement that sought freedom; second, for not helping it when the conflict turned violent.

When I asked Yassin al-Haj Saleh what he now expected from the international community, he answered: “If you do not want to help (the revolution) then fine. But do not stop others helping us. The pretext initially was that the opposition is disunited, then that there are jihadis. How can you say you want such groups not to emerge when tens of peoples are being killed every day for two years, and over a hundred people every day for the past six months?”

When Syria's people revolted, they wanted freedom, to make their claim to be part of the modern world. The regime refused, and the rest of the world did not rush to help them. Now, the Syrians are doing it their own way, with whatever help they can get.

The growing mood among Syrian opposition activists is that it suits the great powers for internal destruction and division among Syrians to continue. Michel Kilo, a leading dissident figure now exiled in Paris, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in August 2012 that the west had created many pretexts not to intervene in Syria: from saying the opposition is not unified to arguing the regime's air defences are too powerful. A "new lie" is "the penetration of the Free Syrian Army by al-Qaida, as if [the west] did not pave the way between Benghazi and Tripoli with their planes to enable al-Qaida fighters to attack from eastern Libya. And those who were leading the fight against Gaddafi were formerly in Guant√°namo.”

The position of western countries vis-à-vis the Syrian events is a complex one. But the idea that the west will accept a protracted conflict in order to weaken Syria as a state, exhaust it as a society, and reduce its ability to play a role in the region, is now widespread among the opposition. It is another bleak signal in a conflict without end.

That the sense of abandonment produced such an anti-western reaction on the elite and grassroots level, as described above is not surprising. After all, our culture has always been steeped in anti-Westernism, and more specifically, anti-Americanism. There was a limited window of opportunity for changing this state of affairs. It came at the beginning of this revolution, and ended after the Obama Administration watched on as Assad troops swept across Hama, then, started pounding the hell out of protest neighborhoods in Homs. But a change in policy might still enable America to find few friends in Syria, but the real challenge at this stage is to avoid complete state failure, a prolonged civil war and a regional meltdown that seems increasingly likely.


Moaz al-Khatib, the Damascene preacher elevated to lead Syria’s rebel coalition last November, is the most astute tactician the opposition has fielded so far... The Khatib initiative is pragmatic, hard-nosed and devious. “It is proving to the international community that Assad is not willing to compromise one millimetre and we need to take advantage of that”, one opposition leader told Reuters. It would be a shame if a gambit designed to sow dissent within regime ranks ended up by splitting the opposition.

Video Highlights

A rally in Boustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo City: a little girl signing and is “rudely” interrupted by a mortar round that well-nigh claimed her life http://youtu.be/--L0-KfiNtE Today, rebels and loyalist militias clashed http://youtu.be/C03PYMc7c_c , http://youtu.be/yPLTz5U2mdo , http://youtu.be/qcSL_0kofHo

Rebels in Damascus City document their battle in Jobar neighborhood and their takeover of a loyalist checkpoint there http://youtu.be/NPv7wTiQt9k , http://youtu.be/8_qeW7JwNac Loyalist militias responded with mortar attacks http://youtu.be/--v9BhomsNI Checkpoint liberated http://youtu.be/n7zOUBMUqcI , http://youtu.be/52qUB2VIDvw The scene from a distance http://youtu.be/RBC-lHwwfIQ Clashes took place in nearby Dafalshawk as well http://youtu.be/1gCX-zV8xN0 The sounds of clashes could be heard all the way in central parts of the Damascus City http://youtu.be/YXFbjurWeT4 At night, a huge explosion takes in the southern parts of the city on account of the continuous pounding http://youtu.be/depM93_mZiI Intense clashes took place in Al-Qadam neighborhood as well http://youtu.be/uQovnbva2d4 A car bomb explodes in Al-Zahirah Neighborhood http://youtu.be/DlRY5U-xdzI To the north, Al-Qaboun Neighborhood was pounded http://youtu.be/HaMEVHKbEQ8 A fire break out in Abdassid Square http://youtu.be/K5URlhczQTE The Yarmouk Camp was pounded as well http://youtu.be/abAA5V-Q2c4

The nearby town of Arbeen, Eastern Ghoutah, Damascus Suburbs, was pounded as well http://youtu.be/2ddx-jVscag , http://youtu.be/5oiq6y3C0sk

On February 4, an entire neighborhood in the suburb of Tadamon was leveled by regime forces as a form of collective punishment for the restive locals http://youtu.be/v6QQq3Z98uw

In Hama, aerial raids against the town of Kafrenboudeh continue http://youtu.be/YEcTq_xhUAQ