Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Syrians Bracing For All-Out Conflict

The UN is warning that the situation in Syria is reaching the point that we can call it a civil war. Syrians are bracing for an all-out war. I'd say we'd reached that point earlier this year and that Bashar al-Assad is doing all he can to crush an insurrection caused by his ongoing crackdown against protesters.

The crackdown has resulted in a splintering of his military forces and an increasing number of defections has meant that the level of violence will only increase as those defectors are now fighting back against Assad's loyalists.

Assad's forces are attempting to crush the centers of resistance, including an ongoing pummeling of the city of Homs. Once again, the UN says that crimes against humanity are evident across Syria - carried out at the behest of Assad and his loyalists.

Reuters is reporting that fighters from Iraq are slipping into Syria to bolster the fight against Assad. Whereas the arms shipments were being delivered from Syria to insurgents in Iraq, the flow of weapons and fighters is moving the other way as Sunni tribes are looking to help their fellow Sunni tribesmen across the border. There are also indications that al Qaeda may be exploiting the security situation along the border and there have been calls by al Qaeda to rise up to fight and defeat Assad. Al Qaeda has been on the losing end of the Arab Spring and this is an attempt to get back to the forefront of the movement to establish Islamist states according to its doctrine. Most Arabs across the region aren't amenable to that - and their economic concerns outweigh any desire to become a strict Islamic state. To me, al Qaeda is trying to reassert its presence and is using the instability for maintaining its relevance in the Arab World. It's a losing cause, but al Qaeda has shown that it has no problem spilling blood of fellow Muslims when they deem it necessary. It's a sign of desperation:
For all the rhetorical bravado, the message was as much a sign of weakness as of strength. Syrians have defied their leader's fury without any help from al-Qaeda. Since the revolt began almost a year ago, perhaps 6000 people have been killed without a whisper of support from him or his late predecessor. Similarly, Zawahiri's speech had nothing but a passing reference to the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, each of which succeeded in destroying an authoritarian regime while leaving al-Qaeda an impotent spectator.

All of this matters greatly, because the terrorist movement's founding purpose was not simply to strike America and the West. On the contrary, when Zawahiri and bin Laden created it back in 1988, they chose to divide the globe into ''near'' and ''far'' enemies. The former included all the regimes of the Middle East that had to be deposed to make way for an Islamic caliphate, governed by sharia, which would embrace the entire Muslim world.

Al-Qaeda's problem is that its enemies have been falling like dominoes - but their demise has had nothing to do with Zawahiri or his followers.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was a particularly bitter enemy, especially for Zawahiri: he spent four years in the dictator's jails in Cairo and was tortured. Being unable to claim credit for Mubarak's downfall last year must have been deeply humiliating for the old jihadist. And while missing one revolution might be considered a misfortune, to be caught napping through four would look careless. Or, rather, it would show that popular support for al-Qaeda was minimal and falling.

Having sat out the successful revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Zawahiri is jumping aboard the Syrian bandwagon. ''Al-Qaeda is definitely on the ropes. The tide is going out, so this is an obvious gambit,'' says Sir David Omand, formerly head of intelligence and security at Britain's Cabinet Office. ''Zawahiri would be only too well aware that Libya demonstrated that a revolution can come about with the support of the West, and not through his route,'' he said.

Meanwhile, China, which has thwarted UN Security Council action with its veto, is taking flack for its position.

The Arab League is signaling that if Assad doesn't stop the bloodletting, they're preparing to arm the resistance.

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