Potential Hot Spots: Syria Slides Towards The Abyss

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Syria is increasingly being compared to Libya, just before foreign air power came to the aid of the rebels. The Syrian rebels are calling for foreign air power, and for the same reason; to halt the government slaughter of unarmed civilians. Such deaths are now running close to 200 a week. The demonstrations just won't stop, no matter how much the police and troops open fire on the protestors. Some of the other minorities (Christians, Druze and so on) who have long been the Alawite Assad's allies are openly questioning who they should be backing. If these groups wait until the end, they will suffer enormous retribution. But if these groups switch sides at the right time, they will suffer less, and be able to remain in Syria. The timing of such defections is critical. If you turn too soon, the government forces will hurt you badly. If you go over to the rebels too late, you will still be seen as part of the Assad dictatorship.

Syria is a test of whether the traditional means of repression will work to keep a dictator in power. The basis of any dictator's control is the loyalty of the faction of the population he "owns." In economic terms, only about ten percent of the population benefits from the Assad dictatorship. This fraction of the population supplies most of the manpower for the secret police (about 50,000 full-timers on the payroll) and the leadership of the armed forces (300,000 troops and 100,000 paramilitary, the majority of them Sunni, led by largely Alawite officers.) The Alawites are 5-15 percent of the population (depending on who you believe, the government has long refused to conduct an accurate census). Sunni Arabs are about 75 percent. Other minorities (Shia, Druze, Christian) will, up to a point, side with the Alawites (a common pattern in the Middle East, where non-Sunni minorities have long been persecuted).

The Alawites fear retribution, and for good reason. The Alawites have used terror to maintain power for decades. Most Syrians have good reason to hate the Alawites, as well as all those (mostly other minorities) who have supported the government. While some of the protestors are minorities, most of them are Sunnis. Al Qaeda, which is basically a radical Sunni group, has tried to hijack the revolution, without much success. Syrian Sunnis saw the carnage caused by al Qaeda next door in Iraq, and want no part of that. But most Syrians do want to be free of the Alawite tyranny that has oppressed and impoverished them for decades.

The revolution is spilling over into Lebanon. There, Hezbollah is rumored to be planning a coup to install a Shia dictatorship. The Shia are a large minority in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client of Iran (which has long paid the bills and supplied weapons and advisors) and such a government in Lebanon would provide sanctuary for the pro-Iranian Shia (Alawites) from Syria. Hezbollah has long been moving towards a total takeover of the Lebanese government. This is possible because Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and not timid about using assassination and terror against its opponents.

Syrian rebels also report that pro-Iranian Iraqi cleric Moqtada al Sadr has sent some of his armed supporters to fight against the rebels in Syria. Sadr has openly professed support for the Assads, while the Shia dominated Iraqi government has been more critical of the government violence in Syria. There are already Hezbollah men from Lebanon fighting for Assad, along with some advisors and technical people from Iran.

Nine months of violence in Syria has left nearly 4,000 dead so far, and the rate of daily deaths is increasing. The government apparently believes that more violence is the only answer, and that the Assad's resigning and leaving the country is not an option (not with the International Criminal Court standing ready with arrest warrants and war crime indictments.).

November 22, 2011: Turkey had demanded that Assad step down as leader of Syria and that the government there stop killing its people. Many Syrians believe that Turkey could invade and quickly overthrow Assad and his army of child killers. The Turks have refused, so far, to consider that. Syria used to be part of the large Ottoman Empire, which often used troops to brutally put down Arab revolts. While the Arabs are forgetting that now, the Turks are not and consider such old school moves as bad for the image of modern Turkey.

Saudi Arabia is complaining that Syria is killing Saudi citizens in Syria, then claiming that the victims were Islamic terrorists. Saudi Arabia has been calling for an end to the violence in Syria, and demanding that the Assad dictatorship end. So has the king of Jordan, and just about everyone else in the region.

The UN General Assembly voted 122 votes to 13 (with 41 abstentions) to condemn the government violence in Syria.

November 21, 2011: The Arab League will meet on the 24

th to discuss what to do next. Since Syria has lied to the Arab League repeatedly, and all Arab states have, to one degree or another, turned on the Assads, there are not too many options left short of lots of sanctions (which don’t work in the short term) and armed intervention. Many Arab states still oppose armed intervention, especially after seeing what happened in Libya (where a long-time dictator was overthrown and killed). Few Arab states are democracies, and the overthrow of a monarchy or dictatorship is seen as disturbing.

November 20, 2011: In the capital, rebels fired an RPG rocket at the headquarters of the Baath Party. This was very embarrassing for the government, as it indicated that the headquarters of the ruling party was not safe from attack.

November 19, 2011: The three day Arab League deadline for the Assad government to halt its violence passed, and Syria just kept on killing civilians.

November 17, 2011: The Arab League gave Syria three days to stop killing its citizens, or face Arab League sanctions, or worse (like a call for armed intervention).

November 16, 2011: The government released over a thousand political prisoners. This was partly a good will gesture, and partly an effort to free up prison space for more recently arrested, and more dangerous, political opponents.

November 23, 2011: The growing number of attacks by former army men is causing the government to be careful which army units go where. This is because most of the troops are from religious groups that benefit little from the Assad dictatorship, and are suffering most from the current violence. The deserters have organized themselves, rather loosely, into the FSA (Free Syrian Army) and are carrying out more and more guerilla attacks. These are beginning to include assassinations of pro-Assad army and political leaders. Attacks on military bases are occurring, and desertions are increasing.
 

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