Potential Hot Spots: Creating A Desert And Calling It Peace

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August 9, 2011: In the last few days, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (the wealthiest Arab oil states) and Turkey have all called on Syria to stop the violence against its own people. Ambassadors have been withdrawn and sanctions threatened. But military intervention has been ruled out, even just supplying the rebels with weapons or equipment. This may change, as Syria seems determined to crush the demonstrators no matter what. In this the government is aided by its long-time patron; Iran. But it’s the Iran connection that may spur other Arab nations into action. Iran is increasingly at war with the Sunni Arab states, Even Iraq, which has (like Iran) a Shia majority, would like to see a new government in Syria. That current one, despite being run by a Shia (a minority in Syria) dictatorship, supported Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq, and that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Shia civilians. While Iran is pulling all its strings to keep Iraq from aiding the Syrian reformers, Iraqi popular opinion is decidedly behind the protestors. Syria shares a long border with Jordan and Iraq, and this could provide a conduit for some kind of aid. For the moment, the protestors have kept coming out, despite the growing number of them getting killed (over 2,000) or arrested (over 20,000). If the protestors show signs of faltering, the Arab world will be faced with the choice of getting more involved or suffering yet another defeat at the hands of the increasingly aggressive Iranians.

The last week has been the bloodiest yet since the widespread pro-reform demonstrations began five months ago. In an effort to defeat the reformers once and for all, the government security forces were ordered to shoot-on-sight any anti-government activity. This included funerals of those killed by government forces, as these gatherings often led to anti-government chants and further demonstrations. As a result, the past week has seen over a thousand civilian casualties (and dozens among the security forces, as an increasing number of demonstrators shoot back). There have been at least 300 dead in the last week, and cities like Hama have been under siege (electricity, telephones and Internet shut off) for ten days now. Troops, using tank guns, constantly fire on neighborhoods considered disloyal. This has left large parts of Hama in ruins. The government has created a desert and called it peace, but the demonstrations continue despite that.

Even as state controlled media show pictures of devastated Hama, and declare unrest suppressed, demonstrations continue throughout the country. The Syrian government has lost the trust of other Arab governments, who are now openly criticizing the violence in Syria. Until recently, the Assad government had assured the other Arab states that the unrest in Syria would be handled peacefully and soon. Neither has happened, and the Arab states, Turkey and the West have all turned on the Assads. Economic sanctions are being imposed. Wealthy Syrians are moving their money out of the country and the economy is shutting down, causing more misery and anti-government anger. The other Arab states are urging the Assads to immediately implement serious reforms (real democracy). This means that the Assads would have to flee the country, along with many of their closest (and wealthiest) allies. Exile is now becoming a more attractive option for the Assads, but the prospect of prosecution for “crimes against humanity” may limit the “reform and run” option. The cure for that is a negotiated amnesty. But the Assads have not accepted that option, yet.

The Assads have another option. If Syria cut all ties with Iran, many other Arab nations would quickly move to help keep the Assad dictatorship in power. Since the 1980s, Syria has been an ally of Iran, mainly to counter the threat from Iraq. There is no longer a need for the Iranian protection from Iraq, because the cause of the Syrian-Iraq animosity is gone. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi Baath Party was banned. The Syrian and Iraqi branches of the Baath Party underwent a bitter split in the 1960s, and the two countries were hostile to each other after that. The Syrian Baath party is no longer a secular socialist political movement, but rather the political front for the Assad dictatorship. The Assads now have a choice of who they prefer as their main ally, Iran or the rest of the Arab world. This is complicated by religion. The Assads are part of the Shia minority in Syria, and Iran is the largest Shia nation in the world. But most (over 80 percent) of Moslems are Sunni, and Saudi Arabia leads that faction. The Assads could always flee to exile in Iran, but that would be difficult now that flying into Iran is restricted. The Assad’s could flee by ship, but for the moment the Assads aren’t thinking of flight, but rather continued fight.  

Assad’s security forces are being accused to extending their operations overseas. Syrians living in the West complain of getting threats from Syrian security officials, in an effort to stop Syrian expatriates from openly supporting (usually via the Internet) the demonstrators in Syria.

So far, over 2,000 civilians have died in five months of violence. The government claims 400 soldiers and police have also died, but that probably includes many killed for deserting or joining the demonstrators. The pro-reform groups now admit that there are some armed Islamic radical groups attacking troops and police, and are responsible for most of those 400 dead. But now there are more demonstrators who are getting weapons and becoming armed rebels.

August 7, 2011: Troops attacked Sunni tribal militias on the Iraqi border area. There was no open warfare, as the army rolls in with tanks and other armored vehicles, while all the Sunni tribesmen have are rifles and pistols. But these tribes have kinsmen just across the border in Iraq, where more destructive arms (especially RPG anti-tank rocket launchers) are easily available. These weapons are believed to be already moving across the border.

August 5, 2011: State television showed video of the destruction in Hama, and declared the anti-government activity there at an end. But it wasn’t, and word got out (despite the cut telephone and Internet access). The government cannot just declare the rebellion over, not while the protests spread and grow stronger.

The United States government urged all American citizens in Syria to get out, now.

August 4, 2011: The government made a major effort to suppress anti-government activity in Hama. Troops were ordered to fire on any demonstrations, and by the end of the day there were nearly 500 dead and wounded civilians. But the demonstrations continued.

All members of the UN Security Council (including long-time Assad ally Russia) have joined to condemn Syria for the anti-protestor violence.

August 3, 2011:  The EU (European Union) has expanded travel bans and asset freezes for Syrian officials. Those believed most responsible for the current violence in Syrian are having these individual sanctions applied to them.

Syrian troops are rampaging through the city of Hama for the third day. Tanks fire their main guns into suspect neighborhoods, and machine-guns are fired at groups of civilians who might be anti-government demonstrators.

August 2, 2011: Turkey has blocked the shipment of weapons from Iran to Syria. Flying this stuff, via Turkey, has long been the quickest way to move Iranian weapons into Syria. This won’t stop Iran, even though Arab nations will impose similar restrictions, but it will restrict the volume of shipments and cause delays as other routes are put together. 

 

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