Thursday, October 03, 2013

Syrian quagmire

Syria is in a terrible mess, over 100,000 people killed, massacres, use of chemical weapons, rockets fired into neighborhoods, 5 million refugees, torture and murder of men, women and children, destruction of cities. Until now the forces on the two sides have appeared fairly monolithic, the Assad regime with the Syrian Army and the rebels with the Free Syrian Army.

But, the opposition to Pres. Assad and the regime is fragmented, mainly between Sunni mainline rebels, liberals, leftists, Kurds and Islamist extremists affiliated to al Qaeda and the Al-Nusrah Front. Although these groups are nominally fighting on the same side, the official Syrian Democratic Front and the Al-Nusrah Islamists have now been reported to be in open conflict with each other, fighting over land that has been wrested from the regime, particularly in the north and east of the country.

This is not surprising since these groups have completely different aims. The Syrian Democratic Front, supposedly intends to reunify Syria under a democratic and representative government, while the Islamists seek to retain a hold of Syrian land in order to use it to spread their Islamist revolution and to start to develop a pan-Islamic Caliphate, where the Shia and all other minorities would not be allowed. Of course, the West support the so-called Democratic opposition, but how can they supply them with arms and munitions without them also falling into the hands of the Islamists. Basically the opposition are all anti-Shia, because the Assad regime is Alawite that is identified as Shia and the main support for Assad comes from the Alawite minority mainly in north west Syria. The Assad regime is also an ally of Iran and Hizbollah from the Shia region of Lebanon. In effect Syria is the bridge between Shia Iran and Shia Lebanon.

In a timely article that appeared in the weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post by Jonathan Spyer, a well-known expert on Syria (, he points out that the Government side is also splintered. Not only has Assad lost power and control to the rebels, but also to his allies and sponsors. Spyer points out that due to losses in personnel and the fact that many Sunni soldiers are not reliable, Assad faces a growing manpower shortage. This has been made up partially by ca. 5,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) and ca. 10,000 members of Hizbollah fighting in Syria, but these groups are not directly under the control of the Government or the Syrian Army. So Assad has been forced to give up large swaths of the country and the eastern Kurdish area is already essentially an independent zone while the Syrian opposition groups are already fighting over who will control the northern and eastern parts of Syria. In addition to this there are several smaller groups, including some Islamist groups, that are fighting on Assad's side for their own reasons. It really is a mess. Meanwhile Syria is all but destroyed.


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