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The Syrian Flashpoint

06 August, 2012

By Saeed Qureshi


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It is evident that the Syrian president Bashar-al-Assad has not learnt any lesson from the ignominious and tragic end of the former ruler of Libya, Col. Muhammar Al Qaddafi. Patently, he refuses to acknowledge that the authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen have disappeared. He knows he is fighting a desperate and losing battle. He is relentlessly busy in suppressing and killing the Syrians as to be bereft of the least concern about the fast approaching doomsday descending on him.

The insurgents and the fighting opposition forces want an end of nearly five decades of Ba'ath Party's rule in Libya. They also demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. President Bashar Al-Assad belongs to the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shia sect in Islam. Alawites' population in Syria is 12 per cent against the rival sect of Sunnis that are 74 per cent.

His several military generals and high ranking military officials have abandoned him and gone into exile or joined the Syrian Free Army. His close loyalists, the Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, former defense minister Hasan Turkmani and the president's brother-in-law General Assef Shawkat were killed by a bomb attack in the city.

The Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhityar who was injured in the same explosion later succumbed to his wound. The ferocious fighting is raging in Syrian towns and cities, including the three main cities Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus. The government forces are retreating on many fronts and there could be a reverse situation of slaughter soon to emerge.

The Syrian civil war or war of liberation has divided the Arab world broadly into two parts. Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinians are siding with the incumbent regime of Bashar al-Assad. Besides the Syrian regular armies that are fighting for the regime, armed bands are also fighting against the Syrian liberation groups. These pro-regime bands are the Palestinians staying as refugees in Syria, the Iraqis, the Hezbollah and some Iranians that sneak into Syria to lend support to the tottering Alawite regime.

In the opposition group, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the leading countries that want a regime change in Syria now in the grip of deadly and horrendous civil war for 17 months (since March 15, 2011). They support the Syrian Free Army (SFA) and those factions that are fighting against a brutal and unyielding regime and its strong military. Bashar's regime is staunchly allied to Iran and Lebanon's armed Shiite Hezbollah movement. However it is not on good terms with Turkey, most of the Arab world and particularly the states like Saudi Arabia and her Sunni-ruled Gulf partners that are friendly to the United States.

Interestingly while otherwise, Saudi and Turkish government are regional rivals, on the question of Syria they are united and supporting the anti Bashar insurgency. Saudi Arabia wants the regime change in Syrian because she wants the end of the Shia minority population government there. The Saudis are diehard Wahabi Sunni Muslims. There is centuries old spillover of religio-regional discord between Iran and Arab Sunni regimes. While Turkey is friendly towards Iran, on the question of Syrian upheaval these two Muslims countries are poles apart. There have some skirmishes between the Kurd rebels and that of Turkish army in the wake of the Syrian fighting.

Tehran is the staunchest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey bordering both on Syria and Iran is maintaining a discreet posture focused on diplomatic efforts to find out a peaceful resolution of the bloody conflict. Nonetheless, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan while urging international response to this terrible crisis, has declared that it was not possible for Turkey "to remain a spectator" to the government offensive on Aleppo. Turkey has reportedly set up a base in the city of Adana with allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the purpose of directing military and communications aid to the Free Syrian Army.

There have been some brighter chances for Bashar-al-Assad to honorably wriggle out of this bloody quagmire in which he is persisting only by slaughtering his people with all those heavy weapons that are used in fierce battles against the regular enemy armies. The number of dead and injured on both sides in this terrible war runs into thousands and the casualties are soaring by the hour and the day.

Kofi Annan the former UN Secretary General and the international peace envoy for Syria demanded that Assad should step down. He urged Syria's allies Russia, China and Iran to persuade Bashar to embrace political transition. But it appears that the Syrian president wants to fight to the last and go down like Qaddafi with the same tragic and degrading end.

The Russian and the Chinese' vetoes in Security Council in support of Bahar Al Assad regime have blocked attempts for a peaceful transition and to hammer out a negotiated solution of the ongoing fratricide. In the meantime as a show of solidarity for its close ally Bahar, Russia is sending 3 warships to the Syrian port of Tartus.

The U.N. member states last Friday overwhelming voted (133 in favor And 12 against) to condemn the Syrian government at a special session of the 193-nation General Assembly that "Western diplomats said, highlighted the isolation of Assad supporters Russia and China".

There are reports that Turkey has supplied the armed groups in Syria with surface-to-air missiles. The USA and Turkey are also coordinating their efforts to speed up a political transition in Syria. The United States government while clearly in favor of ousting Bashar al Assad has allocated $ 25 million for non lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. At the same time 48 Iranian pilgrims have been abducted by anti regime gunmen in Syria last Saturday. Previously on many occasion the Iranian pilgrims to Syria and Iraq have been abducted.

The Iranian immediate and stern response to the abduction of her citizens cannot be predicted as that country is already under heavy pressure for USA and Israel for her nuclear development program. If the Iranian forces enter Syria and fight in support of the Bashar government, the other countries braced against Syria might also join the fray. That might engulf this volatile region into a bigger conflagration giving the most coveted chance for Israel to launch a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

The raging civil war allover Syrian has led to a horrendous humanitarian and refugees' crisis that is swelling with the time passage. Thousands of Syrians refugees are living in makeshift tents in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Kurdish territory. The displaced Syrian families continue to pour into neighboring countries.

Of late, the main faction of rebels, the Syrian Free Army are closing in on Damascus where bloody clashes have already started. If this war shapes-up as a replay of what happened in Libya when Col. Qaddafi was killed, Bashar could meet the same hair-raising end. In that ghastly eventuality the minority Shia community mostly Alawites would be put to a terrible slaughter in reprisal to what they have been doing to Sunnis ever since the start of Syrian Spring and even earlier.

It would be prudent for President Bashar- al- Assad to comprehend the sensitivity and urgency of the fast deteriorating situation against him. Without further loss of time he should solicit the goodwill of his international allies namely China and Russia to initiate renewed drive and efforts for a dialogue with the leaders of the Syrian Free Army, the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution (SCSR), the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs)) and Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC)) and other opposition leaders and hand-over power in a peaceful manner as was done in Tunis and Egypt and also in Yemen.

Iran should also join these efforts for halting this grisly war that might finally come to end but at the cost of countless more lives and disaster of that beautiful country. If Russia, China and Iran oppose the global efforts to halt massacres in Syria and keep abetting a brutal inhuman regime, they would be isolated and even slated. It is highly probable that Bashar if captured would be dealt in the same savage manner as Col Qaddafi. If captured alive he would face a merciless trial like Saddam Hussain.



The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

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