Potential Hot Spots: Syria Slides Towards Civil War

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September 21, 2011: While the government increases its use of violence against pro-reform demonstrators, the UN has come out and accused that effort of including a growing number of atrocities. Russia is still blocking the UN Security Council from imposing sanctions on Syria, but world opinion is turning against the Assad dictatorship. Not only that, but two of its three most powerful neighbors (Iraq and Turkey) have come out against the Assad dictatorship. Israel nervously awaits the outcome. Iraq’s change of direction is surprising, because Iran had been the influential patron of Syria for decades and the current Shia dominated government of Iraq has been chummy with Shia Iran. But Syria has been the enemy of Iraq for even longer. More to the point, Syria provided sanctuary for most of the Sunni terrorist groups that killed so many Shia Iraqis between 2003 and 2008. Assad let the terrorists hide out in Syria, and Iraqis want payback for that. Meanwhile, even Iran is calling on the Assads to negotiate, rather than try to kill their way out of this mess.

Even though over 3,000 Syrians have died protesting so far, no neighbors are willing to do much more than complain about the violence. The number of casualties is increasing, with more than a hundred dead and wounded per day in the last week.  That’s twice the rate for the last six months. The resistance shows no signs of weakening, apparently because the population knows what is happening in Libya (where the reformers won) and Yemen (where the reformers are winning). That news encourages the Syrian reformers, and is bad news for the government. But the Assads still believe they can outlast the reformers and regain control without any reforms. The Assads believe that reforms would just delay the end of the dictatorship, as the reformers are too angry at the decades of tyranny to tolerate more of it, or those who tried to defend it and failed.

The nature of the violence is changing. More frequently, the police are under fire. There is a growing armed resistance, with the police being ambushed with increasing frequency, and raids have to use more policemen, because armed resistance is more common. This is believed because of the growing number of troops deserting the army, and taking skills and weapons with them. While the deserters operate as guerillas, they often use their military skills in skirmishes with loyal troops.

The government is working its small force of loyal troops hard, and that raises growing concerns about the continued loyalty of the army. With at least half the Syrian 400,000 security forces (police and army) of uncertain reliability, the government is using the 100,000 or so reliable killers (mainly Republican Guard and secret police, plus Hezbollah gunmen from Lebanon) to terrorize (and, increasingly,  slaughter) those civilians who continue to oppose the government. This is a risky strategy, because as more of the less reliable troops and police shoot back, it's a sign that the end of the dictatorship is looming. But the government hard-liners, led by the president's brother (Maher Assad), have won the argument over how to handle the unrest. There's no going back from this, even though Iran is no longer backing the hardline approach. Hezbollah gunmen continue to arrive from Lebanon. The Assad clan apparently is ready for a fight to the death, but so are the Syrian people. The Assads can rely on the army officers and most of the intelligence agencies and secret police. These men are tainted by their association with the government, and are usually non-Sunni. So if the reformers win, and the Assads fall, all these guys are out of a job, or worse. The Assads are taking good care of these men, and assuring them that the government has the resources, and determination, to see this crisis through to a successful conclusion. But so are the reformers, who vastly outnumber the better armed minority supporting the Assads.

September 20, 2011: The IMF believes the Syrian economy, because of the continuing violence, will shrink at least two percent this year, versus 3.2 percent growth last year.

September 17, 2011: Some 200 pro-reform leaders met inside Syria to discuss a new government and how to keep the opposition going. This is the first such meeting inside Syria.

September 16, 2011: As the pro-reform demonstrations entered its 27th week, government use of violence was increased. The security forces now enter areas they believe controlled by reformers, and simply open fire on anyone they see. This is purely punitive, as the army has not got enough troops to occupy areas that are largely anti-government. The reformers are driving police from a growing number of areas, or intimidating the cops into inactivity.

September 15, 2011:  In Turkey, a Syrian National Council announced the names of 140 pro-reform Syrians who have agreed to form the council leadership, and attempt to lead the reformers towards their goal of democratic rule in Syria.

September 13, 2011: After months of stalling, the Arab League has finally come out and demanded that the Assads stop killing Syrians. For the moment, the Arab League won’t do anything else. In the case of Libya, the Arab League called for foreign intervention last March, something they later regretted. Most Arab League members are still dictators or monarchies. This democracy and reform stuff is looked upon with suspicion by most League members.

 

 

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