White House Cautions Syrian Rebels Not to Repeat Mistakes of Iraq
The Obama administration is warning Syrian opposition forces not to completely disband President Bashar al-Assad’s hated security and government apparatus if he is killed or forced from power, according to U.S. officials, who want them to avoid the chaos and power vacuum of Iraq in 2003.
Momentum has shifted rapidly against Assad, but the Syrian army fought back this weekend by launching an attack on Aleppo, the country’s largest city. After massing outside the city over the past few days, tanks backed by attack helicopters bombarded rebel-held neighborhoods on Saturday.
In increasingly detailed strategy sessions over recent weeks, U.S. officials have urged rebels and Syrian political opposition leaders to resist sectarian reprisals if Assad’s government falls. Officials said they are endeavoring to help the rebels learn from U.S. mistakes in Iraq, where the dissolution of the army and other institutions unleashed further turmoil.
“You can’t have a complete dissolution of that [system] because those institutions will be needed in a political transition,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions with Syria’s fragmented opposition are sensitive.
“What you need to prevent is the de-Baathification of the country,” the official said, referring to Assad’s ruling Arab nationalist movement. A Baath offshoot also ruled in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.