Potential Hot Spots: Shadow Boxing In Syria

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Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War 

September 11, 2011: Arab League officials finally arrived and quickly got the government to agree to unspecified reforms. The government had stalled the Arab League visit for a few days. Unlike in Libya, the Arab League is not calling for foreign military help in Syria. But some of the protestors now are. The violence has been going on for six months now, and the government tactics (of violently attacking protestors in a few towns or villages at a time, then leaving police behind to keep it quiet) are not working. Even though these attacks, and brutal police behavior, are killing over a hundred people a week (and injuring or imprisoning several times that), the demonstrations keep happening. They will quiet down in areas hit by the troops, but then start up again after the troops leave. The Assad family apparently believes that it can wear the rebellious population down. Even though the Assads can only depend on fewer than 100,000 soldiers and police, they believe that if they can avoid Libya-like foreign military interference (and wide scale desertion in their own armed forces), that they will kill, imprison or chase out of the country most of the people organizing the demonstrations. But with most of the population angry at the decades-old Assad tyranny, that is not a sure thing.

In the past, the Assads could hit unrest fast and hard and stop it from spreading. But cell phone cameras and Internet have made it impossible to prevent pictures and videos of the violence from getting out of the country and into wide distribution. The Assads are reviled worldwide, and the Syrian demonstrators are not being hidden from view. The demonstrators know this, which keeps them going. This is a relatively new situation, and dictatorships have not yet figured out a solution that works. Maybe there isn’t one. It is striking that the deaths in the streets get lots of attention, but the nearly one hundred deaths in prisons (where arrested demonstrators are brutally interrogated) is only rumor (despite eyewitness accounts from former prisoners and defecting guards).

One thing the Assads have to monitor carefully are the desertions from the army. Since most of the troops are conscripts, and Sunnis, they are likely to feel compassion for the demonstrators (who are largely Sunni, as Sunnis are over 80 percent of the population). There have been an increasing number of desertions, but not so many that units have had to be disbanded. Deserters have been hunted down and killed, or executed after capture. The Shia minority has always kept the Sunni majority in line with this threat. To make it happen, most officers and NCOs are Shia or other minorities. But despite all these precautions, troops are increasingly getting fired on, or even ambushed. If enough of these armed protestors appear, and get organized, then it becomes civil war.

The government is preventing protestors from establishing bases in neighboring Lebanon by calling on the powerful Shia Hezbollah militia there to watch out for such Syrian groups, and stop them from operating (using threats, kidnappings or worse.)

Even the Assads' closest ally, Iran, is calling for some reforms to be made. Something like a parliament with limited, but real, power. Loosen up the economic restrictions and cut back on the corruption of Assad family cronies. But the Assads have to be careful about taking anything away from their closest allies. Some of them are deserting the Assads over the violence, and others would bolt if their economic benefits were tampered with.

Most Arab League member nations are dictatorships or monarchies. Thus the League does not care much for popular revolutions. But Syria apparently has other allies. The many Islamic radical groups (and older secular Arab radical outfits) are, for the most part, siding with the government and providing muscle to hunt down and capture or kill demonstration organizers. These terror organizations have had sanctuary in Syria for decades, and many feel that a reform government would likely end that. Islamic terrorism has become unpopular in the Arab world since al Qaeda’s large scale attacks against Moslems after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Syria is the last decent place where a terror group can operate, openly and effectively. Somalia and Yemen are very distant second choices. Thus a lot fewer Islamic terrorists are sneaking into Iraq from Syria these days, as they are needed to fight the revolution.

September 9, 2011: For the first time, protestors called for “international protection” via chants and signs.

September 5, 2011: Army units returned to towns and villages near the Turkish border, for the first time in ten weeks. This area had been quiet, but eventually the demonstrations returned. Thus the trigger-happy troops and brutal secret police are back.

September 3, 2011: The EU (European Union) has banned importation of Syrian oil. The EU is the main market for this oil, and the ban forces Syria to find other customers. This hurts the Assads financially, at least in the short run.

September 1, 2011: Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general for the Hama province, has resigned and joined the reformers. Bakkour said he left the government because of all the violence against the Syrian people. The next day, a video appeared in which Bakkour announced his resignation, and why. Bakkour is now being sought by the secret police. Bakkour is the first senior government official to publicly resign because of the violence.

August 30, 2011: The U.S. froze the assets of the Syrian foreign minister, and two other senior officials, as part of increasing sanctions against the Syrian government.

 

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