Tag Archives: Syrian National Council

A new Syria in a new Middle East

As the West remains idle, Syrians continue to suffer at large

The international community continues to tip-toe around the Syrian crisis, while almost two years into the bloody conflict, the death toll rapidly increases and thousands more refugees are forced to flee across the borders.

Syria may have much greater socio-political, sectarian and strategic connotations than Libya, but the ironies cannot be overlooked. Just when will the United States, the E.U. or the U.N. deem enough is enough?

60,000 deaths, 700,000 refugees and masses amounts of destruction and suffering later and yet the current conflict in Syria is intensifying and worsening by the day.

Failings of the West

The Western powers have greatly encouraged the Syrian revolution and the overthrow of Bashar Assad but have failed to take practical steps that would lead to the ultimate end-goal – the end of the regime.

The current predicament in Syria has echoes of the 1991 uprising in Iraq, which was encouraged and promoted by the US led coalition at the time, but as the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal sliced through Kurdish and Shiite ranks, killing thousands and sending hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees into desperate situations in the process, the West stood largely idle.

The images of bodies of over a hundred executed men, recovered from a river in Aleppo, is a disturbing summary of where Syria finds itself today or in the words of UN special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, the “unprecedented levels of horror” that Syria has reached.

Ironically, as the Syrian conflict rumbles on, Western powers have hailed the impact of the intervention, unity and coordination between NATO, EU, UN and regional African forces in Mali. Such was the deemed urgency that the intervention in Mali was relatively swift and without contention.

Such urgency is needed in Syria, if not for the sake of the rebels, then to alleviate the humanitarian crisis of millions of innocent civilians. It is the duty of all those who believe in democracy and human rights.

International divide

The regional and international divide over Syrian remains great. The Syrian opposition and the Western powers have long insisted that Assad’s days are numbered and any little legitimacy he had left has long evaporated. The current stalemate is owed to those who staunchly support Damascus – Iran, Iraq, China and in particular Russia.

Russia is the key denominator to finding an end to the Syrian struggle and the party that has already vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions.

The West, having recognised the newly formed Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, remain wary of direct military intervention, the setup of a humanitarian corridor or even the arming of the rebels.

The current vicious cycle in Syria is not about to break. There is no way back for Assad now. Syria will never be the same again and outgunned rebels will eventually topple Assad one way or another. The end game is clear, the only thing not clear is when and how many thousands more lives will be sacrificed and how much more suffering the population will endure in the process.

Positive signs

At the recent Munich Security Conference, US Vice-President Joe Biden reiterated that Assad “is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go.” The gulf between US and Russia is one of the reasons for the protracted nature of the struggle.

Russia has been insistent that a transitional plan or negotiations should not have the removal of Assad as a prerequisite. This negates the whole purpose and motive of the Syrian opposition. How Russia can continue to believe that Assad can be part of any future democratic framework or Syrian transition smacks of delusion.

In a symbolic step for the first time, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, held talks with leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib. Al-Khatib’s remarks that he is prepared for dialogue with the Damascus regime, created furry among the Syrian opposition. Khatib later back-pedaled and insisted any talks would merely be on the proviso of a peaceful exit of Assad’s regime.

Either way, there is no doubt that the key to the toppling of Assad lies in building positive ties between Russia and the Syrian National Coalition.

As the Syrian conflict rages on, even Russian ranks are increasingly divided, with a stark reality that Moscow does not want to risk burning bridges with a future Syria, in spite of its rhetoric. Just recently, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev hit out at Assad’s lack of reach-out to the opposition and deemed his chances of staying in power as “shrinking day by day”.

A new Syria in a new Middle East

With the Syrian Kurds finally free from the chains of dictatorship and enjoying symbolic autonomy that they are unlikely to relinquish after decades of suffering, Alawites likely to regroup in their strongholds and Sunnis ascending to power, the new fragmented Syria will be a far cry from that of yesteryears.

With the new Syria and the Arab Spring, strategic and sectarian alliances of the Middle East are undertaking a drastic shift. Syrian Kurds will move closer to the Kurdistan Region, Turkey’s Kurdish policy both internally and externally will need a major rethink with the reality of Kurdish autonomy on its southern border, Sunnis in Iraq will naturally move closer to the new Damascus regime just as Baghdad will move increasingly closer to Tehran.

Then there are the ramifications for the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Israel. The shifts in the Middle East are unavoidable. The Western powers and regional forces most move quickly, to harness such inevitabilities in the most constructive way, or risk more turmoil and destruction in a future Syria and the new Middle East.

A continual policy of sticking to the side-lines in the current conflict will greatly encourage extremists in the Syrian struggle and risk the possibilities of war within a war, as dangerously witnessed with al-Qaeda backed elements fighting Kurdish forces in Kurdish populated areas, seemingly on a drive to escalate the Syrian war and pour fuel on Arab, Kurdish hostilities.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

PKK enjoys new lease on Ankara-Damascus conflict

The Kurdish question is manipulated by Syria as it turns to their old PKK allies to undermine an increasingly hostile Turkey and simultaneously divide the potentially decisive Kurds back home. 

The Arab Spring may have stormed through a number of countries but for Syria it has not been such a straightforward transition.

Syria is not a clear-cut arithmetic as the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or even Libya. Syria finds itself at the crux of the complicated and intertwined web that is the Middle East and has a hand in a number of historic tensions that continue to plague the region.

It finds itself inhabited by a disenfranchised Sunni majority under the iron fist of minority-Alawite rule for successive decades. It has a powerful hand in the socio-political equation in Palestine and Lebanon and is a major ally of Tehran. To put the icing on the cake, it houses a significant Kurdish minority that has borne the brunt of government brutality and that makes the unfolding of a post-Assad era all the more sensitive.

Over a year since the uprisings first began and Bashar al-Assad continues to cling on to power. Even though the revolt against Assad enjoys popular support from Sunni Arab countries, most Western powers, the UN and particularly Turkey, the fall of the regime is not yet a forgone conclusion.

The Syrian opposition may receive funding and overlying diplomatic support but the Syrian rebels continue to lack real firepower, cohesion and a long-term ability to capitalise on any gains.

It is easy to forget that it was not Libyan rebels that overcame the rule of Muammar Gaddafi but the sheer might of NATO air power.

The prospect of foreign intervention remains the only real game changer in Syria. This looked unlikely with the stern opposition of both veto-wielding Russia and China at the UN table but this could all change as Turkish-Syrian relations take a nosedive with Turkey becoming increasingly engulfed in the Syrian hostilities.

Turkey already plays host to the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and thousands of Syrian refugees and is embroiled in a bitter conflict with Syria’s new friends, the PKK.

The Kurdish card

Aside from regional proximity and Sunni majorities, both Turkey and Syria share a historic Kurdish problem that has been long been a thorn in the sides of the respective countries. Turkish Syrian relations greatly improved after a deal in 1998 whereby Syria withdrew its key support of the PKK and signed the Adana Agreement to preserve cross-border peace. Now with an ever increasing hard-line rhetoric and opposition from Ankara towards Assad’s ongoing rule, Syria has once again turned to the Kurds as a way of hitting back at Turkey, knowing fully well that this is one of the most emotive and sensitive bullets that Damascus can fire at Ankara.

By providing renewed support and rekindling ties with the PKK, Assad gains a key leverage against Turkey whilst simultaneously weakening the Kurdish voice back home.

One of Assad’s and Baathists key strengths has been the manipulation of sectarian sentiments in Syria to consolidate power both in the midst of the current uprisings and over the past decades. Along the same lines, Assad quickly reached out to the Kurds while the uprising was still in its infancy, knowing fully well that a united Kurdish opposition to his rule and active Kurdish participation in the revolt could easily break the back of the regime.

What the Syrian Kurds have been striving for decades, Assad promised in days as he vowed to resolve the case of stateless Kurds and increase freedoms.

The Kurds in Syria now find themselves at crossroads. The ill-fated treatment of the Kurds under the hands of the Baathists is something that the Kurds will hardly forget. However, at the same time, the Kurds are not convinced on their destiny in what will still be an Arab dominated post-Assad era.

Many Kurds feel that the Syrian National Council (SNC), with strong ties and backing from Ankara, is under pressure from Turkey to curtail Kurdish demands, particularly that of autonomy. The SNC has so far resisted key clauses demanded by the Kurds much to the dismay of Kurdish parties.

At the same time, the Kurds are mindful that they may suffer in the hands of Sunni Arab hardliners in a post-Assad era for a lack of direct support to the opposition.

It appears that under the new Syrian-PKK lease of life, the Democratic Union party (PYD), the PKK offshoot in Syria, has been given a platform by Damascus to operate and enhance its influence.

Meanwhile, a swathe of Kurdish parties united under the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) umbrella which is backed by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but in spite of their agenda to promote their demands and support the overthrow of Assad, action has not gained significant motion on the ground.

A more sincere reach out to the Kurds by Western powers, Arab League members and SNC could easily tip Kurdish scales in the battle to overthrow Assad.

The UN peace plan

The six-point plan that was brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy, Koffi Annan that should have led to a withdrawal of Syrian troops and firepower and a subsequent ceasefire, has been tentative at best.

Even if the UN plan, which has already been violated, was to work in the short-term it is always at risk of collapsing. Regardless of any such peace plans, the respective end goals of Assad or the opposition doesn’t change. The opposition and international powers will not rest until Assad leaves, while Assad will not go down without a fight or succumb to Western pressure.

Furthermore, both sides can easily manipulate the current peace plan and breach the peace. Assad forces will use the smallest of provocations to justify the notion of self-defence, while rebels will hardly want to see their hard work undone and return unarmed to their homes. The opposition know that large-scale demonstrations are the easiest and most sensitive way of testing government appetite for peace.

In truth, this is just the beginning of the conflict in Syria and UN peace plans are nothing more than preludes to justify stronger action in the future.

The current situation that awaits Assad is not too dissimilar to that of Saddam Hussein in 1991. In spite of strong opposition within Iraq and fierce diplomatic pressure at the time, a lack of real practical steps by foreign powers meant that the opposition petered out and Saddam lasted another 12 years. This is a scenario that the West is unlikely to want to repeat and the end-game is the quick downfall of Assad one way or another.

While the UN aims for peace, paradoxically there are attempts to arm the rebels and provide significant funding.

Prospects of a buffer zone

The likely scenario that would tip the scales and shatter the current picture in Syria is direct Turkish intervention. Ankara has threated to take action a number of times but hawkish voices grew as Syrian forces killed a number of civilians in Turkey in a cross-border fire exchange, including Turkish nationals.

The idea of a buffer zone has been touted for a while but owed to regional sensitivities and a number of risks were put on hold. However, it is becoming a more realistic possibility with a current spate of events that have angered Turkey and with Ankara’s lack of conviction that Assad will abide by the current peace-plan.

The creation of a buffer zone inevitably involves military deployment on Syrian soil and thus the possibility of direct confrontation with Syrian forces. Such moves may appear unilateral on paper, but will have the full backing of most neighbouring governments and Western powers with Russia likely to remain neutral.

The purpose of creating a buffer zone may appear humanitarian in nature but is intended to achieve nothing but the overthrow of Assad.  How Assad or their PKK allies will react in such an event may lead to intensified hostilities.

Either way, Ankara has go to come to terms with a post-Assad era that invariably means that the Kurds will be granted new freedoms in Syria in one form or another.

With the PKK or Kurdish nationalist question unlikely to disappear in either an Assad or post-Assad era, Turkey may find itself forced to adopt a new long-term hand in Syria.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.