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Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Jun 4, 2012

The Syrian Tragedy

The Arab Spring Revolution in Syria has turned into a civil war, drawing several national and international powers into the conflict.

More than a year ago, in 2011, I wrote that the only way for the spring revolution to succeed in Syria is if a military coup takes place to remove Bashar al-Assad from power.  Such a possibility is a remote one.  Since Hafez al-Assad assumed the presidency as a result of a military coup more than 30 years ago, he followed a security strategy by appointing relatives, friends, and mainly members from his Alawaii minority group into high and important positions in the army and other security institutions to prevent the possibility of a military coup against his regime.  For example, Bashar’s brother Maher is the commander of the national presidential guard.  It is known to be the most powerful and biggest regiment in the Syrian army.  No other regiment is permitted to come close to Damascus.  In 1981, an attempt of rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood took place in Hama City, which led the Syrian army, under Rifaat al-Assad to attack the rebels.  It was reported that between 20,000 and 30,000 people were killed as a result of the heavy bombardment of the city.  Nevertheless, during the past year, a few hundred soldiers and officers have split from the regular army in protest of the brutality of the security forces against the Syrian protestors all over the country.  Those who deserted the army have created a freedom fighter force against the ruling regime.  They have created the “Free army” and its members are from the Muslim Sunni majority in Syria who constitute among 75% of the total population.  The Alawites, who control the government, constitute only 10-15% of the total population.  The Alawites are an offshoot of the Shiaa Muslim population, who constitute a minority group in Arab Islamic countries in the Middle East.  Only in Iraq and Iran do the Shiaa constitute a majority of the population.  The conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiaa has been going on for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, the civil war in Syria is now turning into a conflict between the Sunni majority, who are calling for freedom and democracy from the ruling minority, who are in full control of the country.

Countries in the region with a dominant Shiaa majority, such as Iraq and Iran, are supporting the Syrian regime with armaments and even security forces sent by Iran to Syria.  Also, it was reported that the borders between Iraq and Syria are wide open for all sorts of help in support of the regime.  On the other hand, Arab Sunni regimes, especially in Gulf region, have been supporting the Sunni Muslim uprising in Syria.  The Saudi government has been the leading force in their support, by arming and financing the rebels in Syria.  They have also pulled their diplomatic missions from Syria.  The Syrian uprising has already created a political conflict between Sunnis and Shiaa in the Middle East region.

The impact of the Syrian conflict is turning into an international one, drawing more countries into the conflict and forcing them to take a stand, especially after the Houla Village massacre committed against unarmed civilians by the Syrian army.  It has been reported that more than 100 people, including many children, were shot to death.  The killing was condemned by the U.N.  However, Russia, China, and Iran have been defending the Syrian regime and are against foreign intervention in Syria.  The U.S. and most western European countries are supportive of the Syrian uprising.  The U.S. government in particular has been working with the Saudi government in providing armaments to the Syrian rebels, in additional to financial support.

Also, the Russian government has been sending armaments to Syria and is playing a role as a supporter of the Syrian regime.  It seems to me that the Russian government, which has a naval base in Syria, is now playing a new role, especially since the collapse of the previous communist regime.  The Syrian conflict is now providing a new arena for both super powers, the U.S. and Russia, to use the Syrian conflict as an excuse to flex their muscles on the international political stage.  However, I doubt very much that foreign military interference like the one that took place in Libya will take place in Syria.  It will be a destructive war for Syria and its people as a whole.

The Russian and Chinese governments who are permanent members of the U.N. Security council have rejected many attempts to impose sanctions on Syria by using the veto power.  The Arab League has attempted to play a role in bringing a peaceful settlement to the conflict, but has failed so far.  Also, the U.N. has attempted a similar approach by asking the previous U.N. Security General, Mr. Kofi Annan, to lead a mission in Syria that lead nowhere.

The Syria situation is getting worse and innocent civilians have paid a heavy price.  It has been estimated that more than 12,000 people have been killed so far.  There is no possible solution in sight to this conflict.

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