Let’s be clear: Syrian lives are no more or less precious than Congolese lives, but current developments in Syria have far greater implications for U.S. policies around the world than current developments in Congo. As such, the price of indecision and failure in regard to Syria is far higher. If President Obama can’t see that, then President Obama is wrong. It’s about time he realized that. Too much is at stake and too many lives have been lost that could have been saved.
Much of the commentary about Syria’s civil war suggests that the country is about to disintegrate into competing sectarian fiefdoms, each dominated by jihadists with a radical Islamist agenda. But during my own recent trip to one of Syria’s “liberated” villages, I saw little evidence that post-Assad Syria will be a failed state, nor even an Islamist one.
I can only hope that the above assertion made by my good friend Hind Aboud Kabawat is right, even though it runs contrary to the analysis I have been presenting here for the last few months. After all, being right is not as important to me as Syria being well. But, if the history of the last 15-20 years taught me anything, it’s that I am seldom wrong about things Syrian, and my good friends like Hind and so many others, are seldom right. They drown in sentimentalities and details and fail to see the big picture. Those among them who believe that they see the big picture are often watching an ideological construction emanating from their own imagination and their wishes superimposed on the reality in front of them. Syria is already a failed state, she is broken, and the future does not augur well for putting her back together again.
For the sectarianism is real, the extremism is real, and, with few exceptions, good leaders are nowhere to be found. We have to accept the reality of these realities in order to be able to manage them effectively, and help Syria emerge eventually on the scene as a viable state again.
It is here, behind the front lines of the war against Bashar al-Assad that a new struggle is emerging. It is a clash of ideologies: a competition where rebel brigades vie to determine the shape of post-Assad Syria. And in recent weeks it is Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical jihadist group blacklisted by the US as terrorists and a group that wants Syria to be an uncompromising Islamic state governed by sharia, that is holding sway. The group is well funded – probably through established global jihadist networks – in comparison to moderates. Meanwhile pro-democracy rebel group commanders say money from foreign governments has all but dried up because of fears over radical Islamists. The effect is changing the face of the Syrian revolution…
The Daily Telegraph gained rare access to Hajji Rasoul, the senior al-Nusra commander – or “emir” – who heads the civil program. “We have enough bread to help all the liberated areas,” he said. “We have put aside enough grain to last eight months in Aleppo.
“We are subsidising farmers so that they can prepare for the harvest and replenish the stores.”…
“We are not al-Qaeda. Just because some of our members share in its ideas, it doesn’t mean we are part of the group.”
Mr Rasoul would not be drawn on the Nusra Front’s exact plan for Syria’s future. But in rebel-held Aleppo a new sharia court is fast becoming a central power in the city. It is shared with the three other hardline Islamist groups operating in rebel territory: Ahrar al-Sham, Fijr al-Islam and Liwa Tawhid, though Jabhat al-Nusra takes the lead.
It refuses to employ judges who worked under the regime, choosing religious leaders to pass judgments.
Some sharia rulings, such as cutting off a hand for theft, are not operational in wartime. But locals complain of other rigid strictures being enforced.
Several men before the court said that their charges included “drinking alcohol” or “fraternising with women”. All this has angered many Aleppo residents, most of whom are moderate Muslims.
Note 1: Fear from getting sucked into another conflict in the Middle East has paved the way to the rise of extremist groups in Syria, ones who are gradually taking over and controlling the pace and nature of the revolution. Now it’s fear over having western funds and aid ending up with these radical groups that have dried funds and weapons going to moderate ones. So long as policies adopted by western leaders vis-à-vis the conflict in Syria continue to be based on fear of action the situation in Syria will keep getting worse. It’s time western leaders started betting on action as the way forward on Syria.
Note 2: To say that Jabhat Al-Nusra has no plans for being involved in the political processes in Syria after the fall of Assad is clearly misguided. The leaders of JAN have every intention of pushing for consolidating their hold on certain areas through involvement in local political processes, including provision of services. They genuinely want to push for the establishment of a caliphal system in Syria. They are open about it, they are serious about it, and they are getting more organized by the day, as western leaders continue to weigh their options, and opposition leaders continue to bicker.
Observers tend to forget in this regard that many of the top ideologues in the international Jihadi networks, especially Al-Qaeda, are Syrians. Now those Syrian Jihadi leaders have a golden opportunity to push for the establishment of their vision on the soil of their own homeland, across the border from Israel, and in the thick of the Sunni-Shiite battle-zone, does anyone seriously think that they will let it go to waste?
The only way this situation could be mitigated at this stage is by providing support to moderate and secular rebel groups so they can continue to have a stake in the outcome, and carve out their own territories in the mix of it all. Syria is fragmenting, and Emirates are being actively carved out, but not all of them have to be dominated by Islamist groups or pro-Assad militias, secular forces could still maintain a presence, even in Sunni-majority areas, and we need them to if we have to have any real chance of putting the pieces back together.
While it may not be necessary to impose a Libya-style no-fly zone (NFZ), it is imperative to keep the threat on the table and to be willing, if required, to carry it out. An obvious alternative to an NFZ is to provide man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADs). But the legal and prudential restrictions are considerable. The use of these systems would require a stronger partnership between the FSA and key regional allies than currently exists.
In addition to weaponry, the FSA needs training, resources, and intelligence support. It currently lacks a sound military strategy. Only the Americans, working together with Arab partner nations, have the requisite diplomatic and military resources to help the FSA develop this capacity.
This policy does entail the risk of unintended consequences. Some arms may flow to al Qaeda. Some groups may take American aid and then turn against the United States. But inaction also carries risks. The current hands-off policy has hardly succeeded in preventing extremists from acquiring arms. It has simply given them time and incentive to develop their own independent sources of external support.
By establishing itself as the most important international player shaping the conflict inside Syria, the United States will lay the groundwork for helping the Syrian people forge a genuine national dialogue on the nature of their transition. This should include the creation of a national platform that brings together Syria's diverse ethnic and religious communities -- including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawis, Christians, and Kurds, as well as tribal and religious figures -- to discuss the future of the country. In particular, it should include Alawis who enjoy wide legitimacy within their community, but who are also willing to talk about a post-Assad Syrian regime.
At the same time, the United States should bring together key international and regional powers to create an international steering group. This group -- including China, Russia, Turkey, and key Arab and European states -- should agree on a number of basic goals for the transition and set benchmarks for their effective implementation. The immediate focus should be on protecting civilians, minorities, and vulnerable groups through the creation of an international stabilization force; addressing humanitarian issues; safeguarding chemical and other unauthorized weapons; and supporting Syrian-led transitional governance and transitional justice efforts.
For this to succeed, Obama must first persuade Russia to abandon its demand that Assad play a role in the transition. If Moscow remains defiant, however, the president must be willing to pursue an independent policy -- while still keeping the door open for Russian President Vladimir Putin to eventually join the international consensus.
Syrian Emergency Task Force launches its Adopt A Village Project http://youtu.be/4xJaUaBi1Xw
Lt. Gen. Abdel-Jabbar Al-Oqaidi addresses a rally in Qatirji Neighborhood, Aleppo City: he reminds people that the revolution started as a nonviolent protest movement, and that it was only the violent crackdown by the regime that compelled people like him to defect and take up arms. He also admits that there are small groups out there that have committed violations, and that FSA leadership has been slow to punish them because they were trying to avoid getting into side-battles. But he promises that this will change soon and that violators will be held accountable http://youtu.be/4xJaUaBi1Xw
Meanwhile, in the majority-Kurdish neighborhood of Al-Ashrafiyeh, Kurdish rebels affiliated with PYD, a Syrian Kurdish group inspired by PKK ideology, clashed with pro-regime militias http://youtu.be/5nGiVKi__DE The clashes from the point of view of regime supporters http://youtu.be/LbcE6RvApko
A missile falls on Massaken Hanano, destroying a passing vehicle and killing her occupants as well as passersby http://youtu.be/q8yLSaduEfo
The pounding of Al-Shaar kills many http://youtu.be/CfqMxWyJod4 The pounding targeted this rally http://youtu.be/GqenGnqy_K0 which at one point was led by the known comedian Houmam Hout http://youtu.be/SmKoLjtyW5E
An interview with Amira Ar’our, one of few women playing a leading role with rebel groups in Aleppo City http://youtu.be/APcCH-d1hKo
In Damascus City, battles for the control of the Jobar District intensifies, as regime forces mercilessly pound the neighborhood http://youtu.be/VZeebxDG49Y The building being pounded is known as the teachers tower, a housing project that has been reserved for teachers when it was first launched, it’s one of the newer structures in the District http://youtu.be/2IrD-vf0Y60 , http://youtu.be/fMEgwesdPPs Rebels close off section of the ring road passing through the District http://youtu.be/uysxhcdDJ8M While clashes continue along the road connecting the District with the famous Abbasid Square http://youtu.be/Nvwzu3qYW3A , http://youtu.be/c7ofgoEjFbk MiGs took part of the pounding as well http://youtu.be/nstKhrepEgE Children are among the dozens of locals who were killed so far http://youtu.be/07DAXYLaBCA
To the west, the town of Moadamiyeh came under heavy bombardment by regime forces http://youtu.be/H8YZJnUxmX0 , http://youtu.be/C3LHbarW_n8
In Saraqib, Idlib Province, the rivalry between Islamist and secular-leaning units is growing by the day. In today’s rally Islamist groups interrupted a rally chanting “God, Syria, Freedom,” and began chanting “Our leader forever is our Master Muhammad [the Prophet].” Secular demonstrators carried the striped green independence flags adopted by most revolutionaries, but Islamists carried black and white flags carrying the basic Islamic testament of faith: “there is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Eventually, a brief scuffle broke out between some Islamists and secular demonstrators which ended with few Islamists tearing down and stomping on one of the green flags. At this point, secular demonstrators began chanting “Unity, liberty, civil state.” The rally continued without any further incident http://youtu.be/R_1xdQX33pM
In nearby Ma’arat Al-Nouman, the battle for control of the city continues, this clip shows a tank operated by rebels pounding tanks operated by regime loyalists http://youtu.be/hGN_vq2g5Kw
Clashes between rebels and loyalists take place on the outskirt of Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/zwIYq-OCVd4 , http://youtu.be/QxI3nxRxpFw
Some of the rallies that took place today: Aleppo Road, Hama City http://youtu.be/ed9O8zt4yPM Yabroud, Damascus http://youtu.be/t5SboBgQhOc Douma, Damascus http://youtu.be/D5gi76VGAuo Arbeen, Damascus http://youtu.be/zeAWWP0y3f4 Boustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo City http://youtu.be/Vpwr2SlYAbg Salqeen, Idlib http://youtu.be/NVzKsYLKl_M Sarmada, idlib http://youtu.be/wpoj_CeOPmg