Syria: Desperate Men Take Desperate Measures

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August 7, 2012: In Aleppo the government has brought in over 10,000 additional troops and hundreds of armored vehicles. Artillery, aircraft, and helicopter gunships continue daily attacks on actual or suspected rebel targets in the city. Several thousand troops are already in the city but all they do is chase rebel groups from one area to another. The additional troops are apparently there for an attempt to keep rebels out of all the city neighborhoods. That will be difficult because the city of 2.5 million is mostly pro-rebel and desertions from the security forces are increasing.

President Assad's whereabouts has been kept secret since the July 18th bombing that killed four of his close associates. Assad has not been seen in public but has made several announcements. The July 18th bombing was the work of a low ranking employee at the facility bombed. The bomb was planted in advance of the meeting.

In the last week over a thousand people have died, most of them civilians. The security forces are losing more people than the rebels because the rebels rarely stand and fight. The rebels ambush the soldiers and police and then flee. The rebels don't have to kill all the soldiers and police, just demoralize them until they surrender or desert. Non-Sunni troops are deserting, although few of these join the rebels, they just want out. While Alawites are only five percent of the population, an even smaller number of Alawites (five clans, comprising a few thousand people, depending on which distant cousins get counted) control most of the power and much of the wealth in the country. Few of these Alawites are deserting their government or military posts. But these Alawites are moving assets to foreign countries and making arrangements to send their families. Actually, a larger-than-usual number of Alawites have gone abroad for their vacations this year and few have returned.

The government has lost control of most rural areas that are predominately Sunni and some that are not Sunni or Alawite. While not all Alawites oppose the revolution, all fear retribution for decades of Assad misrule. Many Alawites are forming armed militias, often with government assistance. These are largely defensive organizations but some have gone on the offensive in cooperation with soldiers or police.  This has caused more violence between Alawites and Sunnis, and this stuff often gets very nasty.

The security forces (army, police, and secret police units) can control any area they occupy in force but that does not even cover the major cities (especially Damascus and Aleppo) where most Assad supporters live. These pro-Assad families have armed themselves and formed neighborhood militias to protect themselves from rebel raids. The rebels are so numerous that police and soldiers have to travel in armed and alert convoys because ambush is always a possibility. The government has to guard its remaining supplies of fuel and food, which are not being completely replenished. The major border crossings (that is, the main roads) are increasingly under rebel control or subject to rebel ambush. That keeps the government from getting needed supplies. The Assad government is running out of everything and the inner circle has to decide if they should flee, surrender, or fight to the death (possibly using their stock of chemical weapons). Israel fears that the Assads may launch some of their ballistic missiles, armed with chemical weapons, at Israel, to trigger an Israeli invasion and distract the rebels. That's a long shot but desperate men take desperate measures.

Four senior diplomats have defected while at their overseas posts. Over 30 senior army officers and thousands of troops have become refugees in neighboring countries. Many more troops have deserted and remained in Syria. Most have gone back home, especially if that was a rural town or village in a Sunni area where the government has lost control.

Food and other supplies are running short and at least ten percent of the population is going hungry. The rebels are working to establish food aid in rural areas. But in the larger cities, like Damascus and Aleppo, the government is trying to keep food out of neighborhoods it considers pro-rebel. This is easier to do in Damascus, where much of the rural areas around the city are non-Sunni. In Aleppo, there are a lot more Sunnis in, and outside, the city and Turkey (the main source of rebel supplies) is close by.

August 6, 2012: The Syrian prime minister, Riyad Hijab, fled to Jordan with his family and announced that he had joined the revolution. Hijab is a Sunni Arab who had long worked for the ruling Baath Party and had become prime minister last June. As a Sunni, Hijab was not a member of the Assad inner circle (members of the Assad family or an Alawite). The government responded by assigning additional bodyguards to senior officials (especially non-Alawites) with orders to prevent defection. The rebels are glad to have these high-level defectors but don't really trust them or allow them to assume any important role. It is understood that the senior officials that defect are probably motivated, in part, by wanting to avoid punishment for the many crimes committed by the Assad government.

In the capital a bomb went off in the headquarters of the state controlled TV network, wounding two people.

August 4, 2012: The government announced that it had captured the last rebel held neighborhood in the capital. But the rebels are still around and will take control of another neighborhood as soon as there are fewer troops. That will happen eventually because the government only has a limited supply of non-Sunni troops it can rely on.

Rebels captured 48 Iranians, who were travelling by bus in Damascus. The rebels accused the Iranians of being military personnel in civilian clothes on a reconnaissance mission and demanded that the government stop its attacks in Damascus if they wanted the Iranians released. Iran said the 48 were pilgrims were on their way to the airport and a flight home. Three of the pilgrims were killed a few days later when a Syrian air strike destroyed the house they were held in.

August 3, 2012: The government openly called on Russia for financial aid and shipments of fuel. Iran can fly in some supplies but Russia is closer by sea and is not as restricted (as Iran is by many sanctions) when it comes to arranging sea shipments. Russia did not publicly respond to this request. Russia has been backing away from its support for Assad as the fighting gets more violent and it becomes more obvious that the rebels will prevail.

August 2, 2012: In Damascus the army turned its artillery on a Palestinian neighborhood (such places are often described as "refugee camps" in the Middle East because Palestinians are generally not allowed to settle permanently). While Palestinian refugees in Syria have long been pro-Assad (because of Syrian support of Palestinian terrorism) a growing number are joining the rebels. But the Palestinian leadership in Syria is still pro-government and insists that the Palestinians are neutral in this revolution.

July 30, 2012: Turkish officials insisted that they would not allow Syria to become "another Lebanon" (which during its 1975-90 civil war turned into a collection of separate, armed enclaves based on religious and political differences). There is fear that the Alawites and other minorities in the south, especially around Damascus, may try to survive as an autonomous entity, while the remainder of the country breaks up into various Sunni tribal factions. Turkey is particularly opposed to the Syrian northeast turning into an autonomous Kurdish area.

 

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