Syria: The World Fiddles While Syria Burns

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February 29, 2012:  About 8,000 have died in Syria so far, most of them civilians. Deaths are running at about a hundred a day, plus several hundred wounded. Most of the casualties are occurring in Homs which has been surrounded by the army and cut off from supplies or medical aid. The army is also attacking smaller towns, most of them near the Turkish or Lebanese borders. There are rebels everywhere, even in the capital. Smugglers are bringing in a lot more weapons, especially from Iraq.

The army cordon around Homs is not impenetrable. Every night, and even occasionally during the day, supplies are smuggled into the city and people (often wounded) are gotten out. The army sometimes detects these efforts and attacks the smugglers. More civilians die. In the last few days units from the 4th Armored Division have shown up around Homs. This is one of the few divisions the government can depend on, and its appearance in the area indicates that the Assads may be planning a ground assault on Homs. The 4th division is commanded by Maher Assad, the brother of president Basher Assad.

The capital, Damascus, also appears under siege but here the enemy is within, not troops surrounding the city and shelling the place. The economic sanctions and the increasing terrorist activity inside the city has driven away the tourists and greatly reduced economic activity. Electrical blackouts and fuel shortages make life uncomfortable and have created a lot more unemployment. There have been three suicide bombings in the capital in the last year, the most recent one in January. But you hear gunfire just about every night, and there are many rebel supporters around. Thus there's not much night life anymore. The government may be killing a lot of rebellious civilians but the government supporters in the capital are not just uneasy but terrified about eventual payback.

The SNC (Syrian National Council) is the main rebel political organization and it is having a hard time maintaining unity. The Kurds (ten percent of the population) are demanding more autonomy than many other SNC members are willing to approve. The Palestinians (1.7 percent of the population) are considered unreliable. Other minorities, like Turkmen (4 percent), Iraqis (4 percent), Assyrians (4 percent), and  Druze (3 percent) have traditionally been well treated by the Assads in return for loyalty. But many of the minority people are changing their minds. The main support of the government is based on religion. Some 75 percent of the population is Sunni Moslem. The Sunni have long been the main victims of the Assad dictatorship. Most of Syria's neighbors are Sunni and this has kept anti-Assad attitudes alive. Now, all this hatred is coming out. Shia Moslems, dominated by Alawites (12 percent), with the remainder of the population Druze and Christians are generally considered the enemy by most Syrians. The Shia are particularly nervous because the Sunni conservatives openly call Shia (particularly Alawites) heretics and subject to extermination. Some Shia, even some Alawites, now side with the rebels despite trust issues.

Desertions in the army continue, and most army units are considered incapable of much action. Over 20,000 of the deserters plus thousands of civilians (many with some prior military experience) have organized themselves into armed rebel units. So far, over twenty percent of the 300,000 army troops have deserted. The FSA claims to have organized over two dozen battalions all over the country. While there are some large battles, with hundreds of armed men on each side fighting it out, most of the action are FSA attacks on army supplies and patrols. The convoys carrying these supplies are vulnerable to ambush and as the FSA makes more of these attacks, more soldiers and police decide to desert or switch sides. Army and police commanders must devote more and more of their time to monitoring the loyalty of subordinates. The supply problems also consume a lot more attention as hungry troops who are short of ammo are less reliable.

Iran continues to be the source of most material support. Iran has provided billions of dollars in foreign currency over the last year to help keep the economy going. That effort has not been completely successful because of fuel and electricity shortages. Iranian security experts are helping the government expand its own terror campaign against the rebels (most of the population).

Western nations are trying to get UN approval for sending humanitarian aid to Syria to relieve the suffering of civilians under attack by army artillery and government secret police. Civilian deaths are about a thousand a week now, as the government seeks to crush the resistance with artillery and police searches for resistance leaders and weapons. Pictures and video of the violence continue to get out, embarrassing the Assad dictatorship and causing increasing hostility against Syria and their two chief supporters: China and Russia. These two countries have a veto in the UN and have used it to prevent any UN action against the Assad's. The hope is that China and Russia will not block a UN humanitarian effort. While China seems inclined to go along Russia does not. The state controlled media in Russia is full of stories about Western plots and conspiracies to destroy the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Russia takes pride in its solitary stand to keep the UN out of Syria.

February 28, 2012: Tunisia has offered the Assad family asylum, if the Assads decide to flee Syria. So far, the Assads appear determined to fight to the death.

NATO officials made it clear that the alliance had no intention of intervening in Syria, as it had in Libya. This is because there is no UN backing for military action against Syria and powerful nations in the region (mainly Iran but also Turkey) oppose such a move. Not said was the fact that all this could change. The Arab League is trying to organize some kind of intervention. Many Arabs would like the Turks to act but the Turks insist this is an Arab problem that should be solved by Arabs.

February 26, 2012: The government held a referendum on a new constitution, which keeps the Assads in power but makes a few cosmetic changes to the way the country is run. The government reported that 90 percent of those who voted approved the new constitution.

February 24, 2012: Troops around Homs held their fire for a while and allowed the Red Crescent (the Moslem branch of the Red Cross) to get some wounded people out of Homs. The Red Crescent regularly operates in Homs but in a very limited (by the surrounding troops and their artillery fire) way. Efforts to negotiate a ceasefire have failed. Neither side trusts the other.

February 22, 2012: Two Western journalists in Homs were killed by army artillery fire. Several other Western journalists have been wounded, and most of them were eventually smuggled out. These journalist casualties kept the Syrian mess in the headlines, although Western media have ordered most of their staff out of Syria because of the casualties in Homs.

 

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