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The Syrian saga

why there should be no military intervention

Middle EastWeb Exclusive

The Syrian situation is extremely complex this being the result of its history, its diverse ethnic groups, its long-lasting repressive regime, and compounded by a decade-long desire of the USA and other Western countries for regime change in that country. And because of the latter factor, much of the mainstream media for the past year or more have misrepresented the turmoil and conflict in Syria, almost in the way it was done in preparation for the war on Iraq. The attack on Iraq was an unprovoked illegal war based on lies, but it had public support because of deliberate false media reports. Similarly, the Syrian situation is currently misunderstood by most Western observers, so much so that many would approve of military intervention by NATO, with or without UN approval.

A sobering reminder is that there was no UN Security Council approval for the war on Yugoslavia in 1999, or for the war on Afghanistan in 2001, or the war on Iraq in 2003­ but the wars took place nevertheless.

The purpose of this paper is to try to provide sufficient documentation on the Syrian situation so that it could be shown that outside intervention in Syria, especially military intervention, is unwarranted and that it would lead to disastrous consequences for the Syrian people.

Kofi Annan’s attempt to broker a peace plan in Syria

Kofi Annan’s proposed peace plan obliged him to obtain an agreement to stop hostilities by both parties the Syrian government and the representatives of the thousands of armed opposition forces. Mr. Annan received a signed agreement from the Syrian government, but the opposition forces refused to sign any such proposal. When the Syrian government insisted that Mr. Annan obtain a comparable signed document from the opposition forces, i.e., the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council, Mr. Annan refused to act on this request, and the media proceeded to pillory the Syrian government for insisting on a signed document. It is because of this breach of trust that as the April 10 deadline approached it appeared the peace agreement would collapse because until the opposition forces formally agreed to a cessation of violence, the Syrian army was not going to unilaterally withdraw from areas of contention. Apparently because of Russia’s intervention, the Syrian government agreed to go along with the peace proposal despite the lack of a formal agreement from the opposition forces. Hence as of April 12, there has been a basic cessation of violence, despite continuing incidents, with both sides blaming each other.

On April 14 the UN Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of a_UN team of observers (eventually up to 300) to oversee the fragile truce.It also called on both sides to immediately “cease all armed violence in all its forms.” This provision, which was crucial to obtain Russia’s support, should make up for the lack of a signed document by the opposition forces to cease all acts of violence. However, Russia’s UN ambassador was dismayed that the provision for dialogue about the future political process “is something which unfortunately is missing.” Although US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the ceasefire was important, the US position was that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would “have to go,” a step which is not included in the UN resolution. With this being the adamant position of the US, the UN peace plan may have little hope of materializing into an actual diplomatic resolution.

If the UN peace proposal fails, this may very well become the convenient casus belli for NATO intervention.

The amount of Syrian support for the Assad government

The massive barrage of condemnation of the Assad government by the mainstream media would indicate that the bulk of the Syrian people must desperately want “regime change,” and would probably welcome Western intervention. However, on the contrary, this is not the situation. The most recent opinion poll in Syria was conducted in January 2012 by a Doha conference, funded by the Qatar Foundation; it is noteworthy that Qatar is fundamentally opposed to the Syrian government. Amazingly, the poll showed that 55% of the Syrian population were supportive of their president and did not want him to resign. One of the main reasons given by those wanting the president to stay in power was fear of civil war and the future of the country. This amount of support is actually quite remarkable it is substantially higher than the support for Mr. Harper or Mr. Obama or most other Western leaders. And yet Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton consistently maintain that “Assad has to go.”

The fact that a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favour of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president should surely be major news. However, it seems that when coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. As such the news that the majority of Syrian people support their government, despite its repressive nature, was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go. This type of reporting is reminiscent of the news given to Iraq in the period prior to the American invasion.

Also, almost totally ignored in the Western media, is the fact that on March 15, the anniversary date of the beginning of the uprisings last year, instead of any significant opposition commemoration, there were massive demonstrations throughout Syria in support of the government, carrying_placards and photos of Assad.

Millions of Syrian government supporters dashed through streets and main squares nationwide, to stage rallies in support of embattled President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday.

Casualty data of dead/wounded in Syria are unverified and suspect

Day after day, the media has featured reports of ever-rising casualty figures and atrocities committed by government forces data mostly attributed to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—a pro-opposition group that reportedly receives funding from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Even the UN has used these data, as supposedly objective, valid and accurate.

A recent exposé of this organization, titled “A Torrent of Disinformation” by Aisling Byrne, includes this excerpt:

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the claims of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, ³facts², and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide.” Although it claims to be based in its director’s house, the Observatory has been described as the “front office” of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers. The Observatory is not legally registered either as a company or charity in the United Kingdom, but operates informally; it has no office, no staff and its director is reportedly awash with funding. It receives its information, it says, from a network of “activists” inside Syria.

This is further corroborated by Stratfor, the private and conservative American intelligence firm with high-level connections, which reported that “most of the opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue.”

The nature of the Syrian government

At present Syria has a population of 22 million and consists of a multi-ethnic society – 74% are Sunni Muslim, 10% Alawite, 10% Christian, 3% Shia Muslim, 3% Druze, along with smaller minorities of Kurdish, Armenian, Turkmen, and Cirassian populations.

After the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, the territory of Syria became a French colony, with Syria finally getting its independence in 1946. A series of coups ensued, ending with the formation of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party in the 1960s. The party was founded by a Christian, a Sunni and an Alawite; it embraces secularism and pan-Arab unity, and has attracted supporters from all faiths. In 1965 the government nationalized most of the biggest industries and banks and totally transformed the economy. Although progressive in terms of the measures carried out, this was not a form of democratic socialism power was in the hands of a bureaucratic elite, much as in the days of the Soviet Union. Even so, the nationalised economy provided important benefits to the people in terms of employment, access to basic commodities, housing and services, and hence the regime had broad support.

Hafez Al Assad, an Alawite, became president in 1971, and his son, Bashar Al Assad, took over in 2000. Despite its initial socialist pattern, over the years Syria has acquired a mixed economy, composed of large state enterprises and many private small businesses, and has conducted redistribution of agricultural land, winning the support of peasant farmers. Despite this, immense privileges were given the bureaucratic circles around the ruling sectors of the regime, and this has led to widespread discontent and demands for reform.

Although Syria is officially a parliamentary democracy and has an elected parliament, until now it has had an authoritarian government because the major powers are in the hands of the president and the executive council. Actually there has been some movement towards political reform in the last number of years, but there has been little substantial progress. Basically the regime’s survival is due partly to a strong desire for stability and its success in giving groups such as religious minorities and peasant farmers economic and social security.

There is ample cause for social unrest and mass protest in Syria: unemployment has increased in recent years and social conditions have deteriorated, largely as a result of IMF enforced economic reforms which served to enrich the ruling economic elite. However, although the protests that broke out in Syria starting March 2011 coincided in timing with the “Arab Spring” phenomenon, they were not indigenous spontaneous events as portrayed by the mainstream media. Canadian professor Michel Chossudovsky was in Syria at that time and has written extensively on the events, including this comment:

The “protests” did not emanate from internal political cleavages as described by the mainstream media. From the very outset, they were the result of a covert US-NATO intelligence operation geared towards triggering social chaos, with a view to eventually discrediting the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad and destabilizing Syria as a Nation State.

Once the staged protests started, genuine demonstrations evolved, but these were quickly infiltrated by professional Al Qaeda mercenaries and acts of violence occurred, which resulted in a heavy-handed police and military suppression, although attempts were made to target the insurgents. The point is that only a small fraction of the public would support violent protests, since these by their very nature do not address the broader issues of social inequality, civil rights and unemployment. Moreover, the armed militants conducted terrorist acts of a sectarian nature which discredited them with the population at large. In essence, the majority of Syria’s population (including the opponents of the Al Assad government) do not support the “protest movement” which is characterised by an armed insurgency. Ironically, despite its authoritarian nature, there is considerable popular support for the government of President Bashar Al Assad, which is confirmed by the large pro-government rallies.

Despite the lack of basic support for violent demonstrations, the well armed and trained paramilitary forces have created a mini civil war, shooting at police, snipers shooting civilians, setting fire to government buildings, kidnapping and torturing people, and taking over parts of cities and regions. It soon became apparent that these armed opposition forces were headed and financed by expatriates and foreigners, and that the weapons were not of Syrian origin. Although this is largely denied in the Western media, the original demonstrations were quickly hijacked by outsiders, with a different type of agenda. An exception to the wave of media coverage is an account presented by an Australian journalist, Fiona Hill, who after being granted a visa travelled quite extensively in Syria this past winter. Here is her summary comment:

Massive reform of the political process is non-controversial in Syrians’ conversation, but I could not find any Syrian with anything positive to say about these two entities touted by the Western world as the best instruments for political reform in Syria. [Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army] “Why would any country invite expatriates to form government?” Syrians kept asking me with exasperation. “Why would any civilian population put their faith in defected fighters with no discernible political platform?” I spoke to Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, to Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Assyrians and Armenians. While many pointedly complimented the apparent good character of the president (referred to at such times as ‘Dr Bashar Al Assad’) all readily expressed in detail their disgust at poor governance for too long. “Whatever revolution there was is now destroyed by armed criminals and their masters,” sighed a Sunni man wearily.

In an attempt to deal with the turmoil and demands for change in the country, this past winter the Syrian government redrafted the country’s constitution and put it to a vote on February 26, 2012. Although the opposition groups boycotted the vote, 57% of those eligible to vote did vote and the revised constitution was approved by a margin of 89%. The adopted constitution includes 14 new and 47 amended articles which are designed to change the authoritarian nature of the government. With these reforms, the new law should hopefully put an end to five decades of one-party rule, and pave the way for free elections in the country. Based on the new constitution, parliamentary elections to the Syrian People’s Council were due to be held on May 7, 2012.

The nature of the Syrian opposition forces

The armed anti-Syrian forces reflect a variety of conflicting political perspectives united only by their common hatred of the independent secular, nationalist regime which has governed the complex, multi-ethnic Syrian society for decades. Included in their ranks are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, fanatical Salafists from Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda, and fighters from Libya. Moreover, numerous reports indicate that infiltrated in their ranks are members of the CIA, Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, and NATO military personnel.

A highly regarded American journalist, Eric Margolis, pointed out as follows:

Syria’s conflict is confusing. It began a year ago when insurgent groups slipped in from neighboring Lebanon. They were armed, supplied and trained by the CIA, Britain’s MI6, and Israel¹s Mossad. Their finances came from the US Congress, which voted in the 1980s to fund overthrowing Syria’s Assad regime because of its antagonism to Israel and support for Palestinians, and from the Saudis.

Moreover, in December of 2011 Stratfor’s Director of Analysis, Reva Bhalla, in discussions at the Pentagon, reported that:

After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF [Special Operation Forces] teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on reconnaissance missions and training opposition forces. One Air Force intelligence guy (US) said very carefully that there isn’t much of a Free Syrian Army to train right now anyway, but all the operations being done now are being done out of ‘prudence.’… the idea ‘hypothetically’ is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within.

Further from Eric Margolis:

These armed Syrian groups of mercenaries, Assad-hating Lebanese fascists, and CIA-cultivated anti-Assad exiles lit the fuse in Syria. Their attacks, mainly along the Lebanese border, ignited resistance by long repressed Sunni Muslim conservatives, bitter foes of the Assad’s Alawi-dominated regime. Alawi ­ an offshoot of Iran’s Shia and Turkey’s Alevi ­ tend to be poor, clannish and disliked by mainstream Sunni as heretics.

As to the funding of the opposition groups this has been openly done by Saudi Arabia, but it’s also been done by the USA. Thanks to a WikiLeaks revelation to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news conference on April 18, 2011, “We are — we’re working with a variety of civil society actors in Syria with the goal here of strengthening freedom of expression.” Millions have been allocated for various purposes, including the funding of the Barada TV satellite channel, which broadcasts anti-government news into Syria, as well training for journalists and activists, between 2006 and 2010.

What is constantly being reported in the media are the atrocities being committed Syrian government forces, but what is studiously never mentioned is the killing and the atrocities that have been committed by the armed opposition forces. The omission of any such reports continues to the present day even though a few weeks ago Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on this matter and wrote an open letter to the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army revealing their extensive survey. An excerpt follows: [13]

Human Rights Watch has documented apparent crimes and other abuses committed by armed opposition elements. These crimes and abuses include the kidnapping and detention of security force members, individuals identified as members of government-supported militias (referred to locally as shabeeha), and individuals identified as government allies or supporters. They also include the use of torture and the execution of security force members and civilians. Some of the attacks targeting Shias and Alawites appear to be motivated by sectarianism. Abuses of this nature, including torture, taking of hostages, and executions by armed opposition members, have also been documented by the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry in its February 2012 report.

There is also the report of the Arab League Observer Mission in Syria from December 24, 2011 to January 18, 2012, which cites “terrorist” activities by the opposition forces:

Immediately on arriving in Homs, the Head of the Mission met with the Governor of the city, who explained that there had been an escalation in violence perpetrated by armed groups in the city. There had been instances of kidnapping and sabotage of Government and civilian facilities. Food was in short supply owing to the blockade imposed by armed groups, which were believed to include some 3000 individuals…In Homs and Dera’a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. The observers noted that some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles…Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and bridges were also bombed…Some of those attacks have been carried out by the Free Syrian Army and some by other armed opposition groups…However, the citizens believe the crisis should be resolved peacefully through Arab mediation alone, without international intervention. Doing so would allow them to live in peace and complete the reform process and bring about the change they desire.

The Australian journalist, Fiona Hill, referred to above, describes the_kidnapping of an 18-year old conscript to the Syrian army:

Ultimately the young Sunni Muslim had been given four choices­ fight with his captors against the government and kill as many police, soldiers, security agents, and non-Muslims (i.e. non-Sunnis) as possible; take ammunition supplied by them to destroy key infrastructure and wreak havoc; pay a substantial ransom; or be killed on the spot.

Fortunately, the young man was released but only after his family managed to pay the abductors $8,000, a truly large sum of money in Syria.

Admittedly, the Syrian government forces have done their share of killing, but on the basis of authentic reports there is reasonable justification for the Syrian government to refer to the armed opposition forces as “terrorists.” However, there will not be a word of this in our mainstream media.

Many of the activists who began the uprising in Syria more than a year ago feel their peaceful push for change has been hijacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army. Because these activists oppose violence, they have been beaten up and threatened with death if the refuse to join the rebel army, so many have fled to Lebanon. A report in the Christian Science Monitor states:

They feel sidelined by the violent turn the conflict in Syria has taken since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed last summer. “They have ruined everything,” Ashamy says of the FSA. “In the beginning we were all Syrians. Now many people see this as a purely Sunni Muslim insurgency. Our revolution has been stolen from us by people who have their own agenda,” says a singer who uses the pseudonym ‘Safinas’…”We are not violent people. We want to get back to the real thing. It was a clean thing when it started, but it has become something else now. I am against the regime, but I am also against the armed rebels…cooperating with Sunni jihadis from abroad…I know these people, and I know that many of them want to turn Syria into an Islamic republic if they get the chance.”

Background to the Russian-Chinese veto of a Security Council Resolution

Russia and China have been much vilified for vetoing a UN resolution on Syria, but the media was totally silent on how the veto could have been avoided. An excerpt from an article by Diana Johnstone explains this:

The cause of the veto was the determination of the West to push through a resolution that would have demanded withdrawal of Syrian government forces from contested areas without taking into consideration the presence of armed rebel groups poised to take over. Where the Western resolution called on the Assad regime to “withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks,” the Russians wished to add: “in conjunction with the end of attacks by armed groups against State institutions and quarters and towns.” The purpose was to prevent armed groups from taking advantage of the vacuum to occupy evacuated areas…Western refusal to rein in armed rebels was followed by the Russian and Chinese veto on February 4.

Ironically, although on February 4 the West refused to accept Russia’s amendment to the UN resolution which would have required both the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups to end attacks on one another, this is exactly what had to be enacted by the UN in mid-March in order to come forth with the 6-point peace plan, that was headed by the UN envoy, Kofi Annan.

Prospects for the future

Hopefully this may not be the case, but there is every indication that the UN brokered peace negotiations in Syria will fail. In fact it appears that the entire US initiative in this regard may have been a ploy with the intent to derail the process by purposefully encouraging continuing opposition violence, but blame it on Syria, and thereby create a pretext to launch a full-scale civil war in Syria, backed up by NATO air assaults, with the purpose of overthrowing the Syrian government.

Regime change in Syria has been on the American agenda since the 1980s and openly so since 2002 when John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for George W. Bush, came up with a project to simultaneously break up Libya and Syria. Some of the reasons for this are cited by Eric Margolis, a longtime observer of this area:

Syria is a long-time ally of Iran. The Western powers and Israel are avid to tear apart Syria, thus dealing a severe blow to not only Iran, but Syria’s other allies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas. Equally important, if Syria collapses, its highly strategic Golan Heights, annexed by Israel since 1967, will remain unchallenged in Israel’s hands. Golan is Israel’s primary source of ground water.

Based on his extensive study of the Syrian situation, Professor Chossudovsky concludes:

The objective of the US-NATO alliance is to ultimately displace and destroy the Syrian secular State, displace or co-opt the national economic elites and eventually replace the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad with an Arab sheikdom, a pro-US Islamic republic or a compliant pro-US “democracy.”

In an irony that evaded the media, while Kofi Annan was in Syria trying to get President Assad to sign a UN peace proposal, the Orwellian named “Friends of Syria” met in Ankara to sign accords to provide almost unlimited financial and military assistance to the rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army to better enable them to launch further violence in Syria.

As reported in the New York Times:

The United States and dozens of other countries moved closer on Sunday to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria, with Arab nations pledging $100 million to pay opposition fighters and the Obama administration agreeing to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria’s military…the offer to provide salaries and communications equipment to rebel fighters known as the Free Syrian Army — with the hopes that the money might encourage government soldiers to defect, officials said — is bringing the loose Friends of Syria coalition to the edge of a proxy war against Mr. Assad’s government and its international supporters, principally Iran and Russia.

In effect, this formalizes the status of the Free Syrian Army as a mercenary force in the pay of the right-wing Gulf sheikdoms allied with US and Western powers. The USA’s posing, alongside the Saudi and Bahraini kings and the Qatari emir, as the liberator of the Syrian masses and champion of democracy is preposterous. These regimes, with US backing, deny elementary political freedoms to their own peoples and, in the case of Bahrain, the home of the US 5th Fleet, carried out the bloody suppression of a mass movement demanding democracy and equal rights. What hypocrisy!

As for the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” Professor Chossudovsky puts it in_perspective:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a creation of the US and NATO. The objective of this armed insurrection is to trigger the response of the police and armed forces, including the deployment of tanks and armored vehicles with a view to eventually justifying a military intervention, under NATO’s “responsibility to protect” mandate.

The Syrian National Council is also a construct of the US and NATO a clandestine organization consisting largely of the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, with the primary intention of overthrowing the Syrian secular government. For good reason the large community of Christians and other minority groups are very fearful of their intentions.

With the USA’s long-standing commitment and the current supportive developments for the overthrow of the Syrian government, the UN’s proposed peace process may get derailed. As put forward by a commentator on the_Syrian scene:

The last thing Hillary Clinton and her NATO co-conspirators want is to see a legitimate election take place in Syria in the next few weeks. It would make it nearly impossible for them afterward to claim the government of the country is illegitimate. So the endgame here is to make sure that election doesn’t take place and if it does, they need to make sure that it is as flawed as possible.

In support of this position, the armed opposition groups have almost ignored the UN-backed ceasefire – kidnappings and assassinations have been rampant these past few days mainly targeting government officials, prominent figures, and candidates for the upcoming elections. Kind of an odd thing for these so-called “democracy activists” to do, trying to keep candidates from participating in a forthcoming open election! Syrian media have reported that so-called “battalions of Mohammed,” a rebel group, have recently threatened to kill anyone who is listed as a candidate for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The group said in a video uploaded onto YouTube that they would force the candidates to withdraw from the parliamentary elections. As of April 27 there have been 1300 acts of violence since_the April 12 ceasefire deadline, including suicide bombings, by armed opposition forces to which Syrian forces have tried to respond, but the Western media keep placing the total blame on “Assad’s murderous regime.”

These actions are intended to provoke a military response from the Syrian government, which the Western powers and the Arab League will use to press their case for further military intervention. Hence it appears that the “peace plan” may have been designed as a thinly disguised manoeuvre to justify external intervention to overthrow Assad and install a pro-Western regime in Syria.

A small group of UN observers arrived in Damascus on April 15, and a protocol was later signed with the Syrian government for a total of about 300 members. On the arrival of the first group, a government spokeswoman and presidential adviser stated that Syria welcomes the monitors. “They will see acts of kidnapping, killing and destruction carried out by terrorists. Spreading these monitors in Syria benefits the country,” she said. She also stated that Syria would not uphold the ceasefire if armed elements of the opposition kept up their attacks. “It is Syria’s right to respond to any acts of aggression against Syrian forces, civilians or private property,” she said. On April 21 the UN Security Council approved the formation of a Supervision Mission in Syria, with plans to send 300 unarmed military_observers and a team of civilian specialists to join the advance group already on the ground.

The Machiavellian plan for regime change in Syria may become unhinged if the UN observers are installed quickly and if they act in an impartial principled manner. It is only this that could save this area from premeditated war and disaster.

John Ryan, Ph.D., is a Retired Professor of Geography and Senior Scholar from the University of Winnipeg.


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