The conflict in Syria has taken on many shapes as it mutated from a popular mass movement for political change into a proxy civil war with sectarian undertones. Each region of this land, a diverse tapestry with intricately interwoven social, ethnic and religious ties bound together with the strings of a shared history, has experienced the conflict in distinct ways.
Aleppo is perhaps unique in this respect, deviating from the standard Syrian model in that the conflict here follows the stratification of society along class and clan lines, rather than the general sectarian rift that delineates the conflict elsewhere. A large number of Sunnis from all backgrounds, including the working and rural classes, fight alongside the regime in militias or as willing conscripts. In other provinces, however, the split could be more or less described as halves of a once coherent social order split along purely confessional lines.
In Aleppo, the splits are more blurred. Needless to say, the entirety of the rebel forces — except for the foreigners fighting with the al-Qaeda affiliates — fighting under Islamist or mainstream groups are composed of poorer Sunnis from the countryside.
It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Putin overlooked…
There is not a single mention in Putin’s article, addressed to the American people, of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government and extensively documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry, local and international human rights groups, and numerous journalists: deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. His op-ed also makes no mention of Russia’s ongoing transfer of arms to Assad throughout the past two and a half years.
The Russian president strategically emphasizes the role of Islamic extremists in the Syrian conflict. Yes, many rebel groups have committed abuses and atrocities. Yet Putin fails to mention that it is the Syrian government that is responsible for shooting peaceful protesters (before the conflict even started) and detaining and torturing their leaders - many of whom remain detained - and that the continued failure of the international community to respond to atrocities in Syria allows crimes on all sides to continue unaddressed.
Putin’s plea to use the United Nations Security Council to resolve the conflict sounds great, until you remember that, from the very start of this conflict, Russia has vetoed or blocked any Security Council action that may bring relief to Syria’s civilians or bring perpetrators of abuses in Syria to account.
Assad has used chemical weapons against the rebels (and civilians) in his civil war.
Chemical weapons are an international no-no.
What is America to do, without deeply involving itself in yet another Mid-East War?
The answer is tragically simple:
1. Destroy the chem-weapon supplies.
2. Destroy the chem-weapon factories.
3. Murder the units who deployed chem-weapons in the recent attacks.
4. Provide aid and safety for refugees and the injured.
5. Possibly, provide training for non-terrorist refugees. (This is a big if for me.)
The whole point of this exercise is:
We don’t care about your civil war, Syria — work it out amongst yourselves; what we care about is Assad using WMDs against civilians. And that’s a bad precedent.
I really hope the President makes that sort of case on Tuesday.
I am not in favor of bombing random sites in Syria; I am furious at the people who make and deploy chemical weapons. Bomb the shit out of them (or some other operation that would not release dangerous chemicals into the locality).
In My Arrogant Opinion (IMAO).
Just a few reason why this is an extraordinarily bad idea:
The resolution authorizes the president to use force not only for the purposes of deterring and degrading Assad’s ability to launch future chemical attacks, but also to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorists, to non-state actors within Syria or to another state. While the transfer of chemical weapons is a legitimate concern, that language broadens the scope of the authorization well beyond what the administration claims to be the intention of the strikes.
The resolution appears to prohibit “boots on the ground,” a priority for lawmakers wary of deeper entanglement. But at closer inspection, that limitation is hollow. The resolution states that it “does not authorize the use the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.” It says nothing about the use of Special Forces, which may already be engaged in Syria, and it would permit the deployment of ground troops for purposes other than “combat operations.”
Here’s the biggest problem with the resolution, and the whole idea of attacking Syria:
The ultimate problem with the limitation on boots on the ground is that no language can control how the Syrian government or its allies will respond to American airstrikes. Initiating military action in Syria, however limited, invites a response that could escalate the conflict to an extent that effectively forces the United States to introduce ground troops. If US allies or American personnel were directly targeted, it would be nearly impossible to limit the scale of US involvement.
This is almost the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
If you haven’t already, please contact your Congressional representative and Senators and urge them to vote no on this thing. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
t the outset of his term, the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, will confront a thicket of national and international challenges.
Rouhani’s presidential term starts at a particularly challenging time; the Islamic Republic of Iran is facing an unprecedented level of regional and international isolation. One of the most crucial foreign policy objectives which will take precedence in Rouhani’s agenda is the Syrian conflict, which has now entered its third year.
The election result raises vital questions regarding whether Iran’s foreign policy towards Assad’s sect-based and police regime will be altered or whether Iranian-Syrian alliance will evolve into a new phase. Will the presidency of the centrist Rouhani influence Iran’s diplomatic ties with Damascus and its unconditional support for Assad? Will Tehran change its political, military, intelligence and advisory assistance to Syria’s state apparatuses, army, security forces, and Mukhabart?
(Reuters) - The Syrian opposition leader met Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday and a diplomatic source said he would also see Iran’s foreign minister, opening a window to a possible breakthrough in efforts to broker an end to Syria’s civil war.
Russia and Iran have been the staunchest allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout an armed uprising against his rule, and any understandings they might reach with Assad’s foes could help overcome the two sides’ refusal to negotiate.
At an annual international security conference in Munich, Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib had talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov that may have been made possible by Alkhatib signaling readiness to talk to Damascus.
He also met separately with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
“Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed,” Alkhatib said after the meeting.
A diplomatic source said the Alkhatib would also meet Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who was attending the Munich security conference on Saturday, but this could not be independently confirmed.
Russia has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing out Assad out or pressuring him to end the civil war, in which more than 60,000 people have died. But Moscow has also tried to distance itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.
For the first two months after fleeing Aleppo, Yaser Mohammad slept outside in an olive grove. When it rained, he crawled under a lorry.
Home is now a leaking plastic tent on the Syrian side of the Turkish border. “We don’t have bread. Fuel is very expensive. There is no electricity, no water,” Mohammad said.
Another 6,500 Syrians are living in similarly dismal conditions, most having fled the war just down the road in Aleppo. Freezing temperatures and relentless rain over the past week have turned the Bab al-Salam refugee camp into a muddy swimming pool. “See for yourself: our tent contains centimetres of water. We can’t sleep at night. We’re exhausted. Everybody is exhausted. Our kids have lice.”
Mohammad, his wife and six children are a tiny part of a much larger catastrophe now enveloping Syria. After 21 months of war, at least two million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. Hundreds of thousands have fled abroad, where they live in dire conditions. But most are displaced inside Syria - camping in tents, sharing overcrowded rooms with relatives, renting private flats, or squatting in shivering school buildings.
This largely invisible exodus has pushed Syria’s already strained infrastructure close to collapse. The cardinal problem is bread - Syria’s most important food staple. There is not enough to go round; bread is disappearing. In the 21st century, and under the nose of the international community, a nation is sliding into starvation and medieval hunger.
In the northern town of Azaz, queues form outside bakeries in the dull sepia hours of early morning; by mid-afternoon hundreds of men, teenaged boys and women are still waiting in the cold outside. Over the past month the situation has got dramatically worse. “I’ve been waiting here since 4am. I’m still waiting,” said Ahmed Yusuf, a nurse with the relief charity Doctors Without Borders. “I’ve skipped work to find bread. My son queued up yesterday. He spent so long outside he’s now sick.”
Syrian rebels are starting to choke off the government’s access to its own country, bringing hope that the war may be slipping away from Bashar al-Assad. But the gains have also come with disturbing new signs — video decapitations, al Qaeda links, and more — that the rebels may end up nearly as brutal in victory as the regime they’re hoping to replace.
NBC News reports that ever larger patches of the country have fallen under the control of the rebels, with only the military strongholds like bases and presidential compounds in Damascus still belonging to the regime. In the Northern part of the country, near the city of Aleppo, “the rebels control the countryside and open roads, and the Syrian army only controls the bases and the skies.” Of course, controlling the skies is an incredibly powerful advantage in any war, so the government is still able to inflict heavy damage on the rebels, even if moral among the troops is lower than ever.
Meanwhile in Damascus, fighting has come with one mile of Assad’s office. One Mideast professor tells Reuters that Assad “is no longer the president of Syria, he is the governor of Damascus.” No matter strong his ability to fight back remains, there seems to be no question that his influence over the nation is shrinking and there’s no telling how long he can successfully hold out.
Syrian War Reaches Damascus: ‘The reality of war has crept into daily life, and there is a sense of inevitability.’
Rifa was growing frantic. Her husband had called to say that he and her brother were stuck on their way home from work outside the Syrian capital, normally a 25-minute drive. There was fighting in a northern suburb, he said, and traffic was frozen.
Tensions rose as the hours passed. It is never good to be out after dark in Damascus now, especially trapped in a traffic jam, unable to flee. Finally, Rifa’s husband called again. They had escaped and returned to their workplace to pass the night, another concession to their changing world.
War has come to Damascus. Not on the scale of Aleppo or Homs, at least not yet. But the difference from just a few months ago is unmistakable. With sandbagged checkpoints every half-mile and soldiers methodically searching vehicles for weapons, simple movement is becoming impossible.
“Where is Damascus headed? Are we the next Aleppo?” Rifa asked a few days later. “How soon before our city, our markets, are destroyed?”
This is the center of Bashar al-Assad’s power, the stronghold he tried for months to shield from a popular uprising that has inexorably been transformed into a bloody civil war. As his troops battled insurgents all around the country, Mr. Assad was determined that here, at least, he would preserve an air of normalcy, of routine, of certainty that life would go on, as it had before.
Such illusions are no longer possible. The reality of war has crept into daily life, and there is a sense of inevitability. Even supporters of the government talk about what comes next, and rebels speak of tightening the noose around this city, their ultimate goal.