Potential Hot Spots: Syrian Rebels Call For Foreign Intervention

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October 3, 2011: The Syrian National Council (SNC), formed in Turkey last month by a wide range of opposition groups, has asked for international support. The SNC says many Arab and Western nations are willing to recognize them, but none have come forward yet. The SNC is based in Turkey, with the tacit approval of the Turkish government. What the SNC is looking for is a "Libyan solution." The air support could be based in Turkey and Syria. There is some support for this in the Arab world, because the Assad dictatorship is seen as a traitor to the Arab opposition to Iran and Islamic radicals like al Qaeda (which has always sought to bring down corrupt and ineffective governments). But most Arab states are still run by un-democratic governments, and are uneasy about bombing a fellow autocrat. The people who have run the Arab world for so long don't like being replaced by a popularity contest and a system where you can't buy your way out of trouble. But the real reason foreign nations aren’t rushing to aid the SNC is the fact that the SNC was formed outside of Syria and does not appear to have as much support as its Libyan counterpart (the NTC) had. Moreover, organized armed opposition to the Syrian security forces is not as widespread as it was in Libya when the NTC called for, and received, foreign support last March to shut down Libyan government attacks on the Libyan people. The Syrian government appears aware of how this works, and is seeking to keep track of the line, and not cross it. Thus there are not as many civilians killed by government forces as in Libya, and more use of secret police arresting resistance leaders.  In response, resistance gunmen have been singling out secret police, especially commanders, for assassination.

In response the SNC is calling for, and getting, more unity from the many factions (democrats, nationalists, Islamic radicals, tribal groups and so on). The SNC is also trying to increase the rate of desertions from the military, and organize the deserters into a larger armed opposition. The SNC believes that there are over 10,000 deserters so far. The SNC is trying to prevent the formation and use of civilian militias. They ban the use of weapons by anyone except those (usually former soldiers) authorized to carry them. This may be difficult to enforce.

In central Syria, pro and anti-government soldiers have been fighting each other for nearly a week. Some of the deserters have declared themselves the "Free Syrian Army." There are believed to be 2,000 rebel soldiers in the town of Rastan, and the government has sent hundreds of additional armored vehicles there. The rebel soldiers are using guerilla tactics, and have the support of the civilian population. This makes it difficult for the army and police to declare the town "secured." The army has declared the town pacified several times in the last few days, only to be embarrassed by resumed resistance. As a result, the army is slowly destroying most of the structures in the town, and driving out most of the population. They shall create a desert and call it peace.

The fighting is still killing civilians, but not nearly as many as in Libya. Over a hundred civilians per week are apparently getting killed, and several hundred more wounded. Many more have been arrested, and many of these are being treated harshly in the prisons and prison camps.

Six months of unrest, and a growing list of economic sanctions, have hurt the economy. The tourist business is wrecked, and the government has banned all "non-essential" imports. But the government is having trouble buying essential stuff like vehicle fuel. All this has increased popular unhappiness with the government. The many families and individuals, who have prospered by running, or supporting, the Assad dictatorship, are not willing to quit unless they have no other choice. At this point, the Assad supporters believe they can crush the resistance, or maybe buy some of them off (the government announced a 56 percent increase in next year's budget, to buy goodies for its supporters). The rebels have united and believe they have time and history on their side. It could go either way, but the longer the unrest lasts, the more likely the Assad crowd will be defeated. Officially, the government blames the West and Israel for all the unrest.

October 2, 2011:  The popular resistance is going after religious leaders appointed by the government. The son of the Grand Mufti of the Sunni Moslem community was killed today. The Sunni Moslems are the majority in a country ruled by members of the hated (by conservative Sunnis) Shia minority (the Alawites, who are actually a minority within the Shia minority.) In the Moslem world, Sunnis outnumber Shia by about eight to one. Everyone likes to say the violence in Syria isn't about religion, but in large part, it is. Iran, the leader of the Shia world, backs the Assad family. Iran makes no secret of its desire to lead the Moslem world, and convert everyone to Shia beliefs. This attitude has united the Arab Sunnis against Iran. There's a lot more going on in Syria than calls for democratic reforms.

The SNC has reorganized into an assembly of 190 members (from as many factions as could be persuaded to join), led by a secretariat of 29 senior officials (to maintain unity in the assembly), and a seven-member executive committee to make decisions and carry them out. No supreme leader has yet been named or announced.

September 30, 2011: Leaders of the Kurdish minority are demanding autonomy, or they will join the rebellion. The Kurds expect to improve their political position no matter which way the current unrest goes.

September 28, 2011: About a hundred pro-government civilians threw eggs and tomatoes at the American ambassador, as he was seeking to visit with pro-reform leaders. The government has also enlisted some low level hackers to attack web sites of groups that favor the opposition.

September 22, 2011: Turkey told Syria that no more weapons for Syria may cross (in trucks, trains or aircraft) Turkish territory, and ships carrying arms for Syria will not be allowed to pass through Turkish waters. Turkey promptly began enforcing the embargo.

 

 

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