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    Middle East
     Nov 17, 2012

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World braces for Syrian trainwreck
By Peter Lee

According to Russia's TASS news agency, a grim milestone was achieved in Syria a few days ago: several peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo were massacred. [1] The twist is that the demonstrators were calling for protection by the Syrian army to end the destruction of the city; they were shot by insurgents.

A single, thinly sourced news item is not needed to demonstrate the profound moral and strategic disarray afflicting the Syrian insurrection as the country totters toward collapse. A handier and more reliable reference point is the abrupt and forcible reorganization of the overseas Syrian opposition at the behest of the United States.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) is now just a junior partner in a broader opposition grouping, the "Syrian National Coalition for


Opposition and Revolutionary Forces" (SNCORF). Reportedly, this new group was formed at the insistence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is retiring in a few weeks and apparently wished to pull the plug on the ineffectual SNC and replace it with something less overtly Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood-esque. The SNC's major sponsor, Qatar, and the great minds at the Doha branch of the Brookings Institute responded with the marvel that is SNCORF.

SNCORF is striving for rainbow-coalition inclusiveness. The big tent includes secularists, Christians, Alawites, and women - and also 22 SNC/Muslim Brotherhood holdovers - but, for the time being, no Kurds. Also, none of the Western reporting indicated that representatives of the most inclusive and legitimate in-country opposition, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, led by Hassan Abdul Azim, attended the meeting.

In an attempt to have its communal cake and eat it too, SNCORF announced that this inclusive grouping would be headed by a Sunni cleric, an ex-imam of the Umayyad Mosque, one Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who appeared in a suit and tie to advertise, if not his secularism, his secular-friendly taste in attire.

A throwback in a suit
Judging from the comments of Asad Abu Khalil , the acerbic "Angry Arab" observer of Middle East shenanigans, the motto for SNCORF and America's Syria policy may well turn out to be "Reorganize in Haste ... Repent at Leisure".

Abu Khalil reported on several interesting items he gleaned from al-Khatib's web postings:
I spent last night reading the writings of ... Ahmad Ma'adh Al-Khatib: a clear follower of the Muslim Brotherhood and a disciple of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi [an important theological mentor to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood]. He has many views that his Western sponsors did not know about. Take his treatise on masturbation here: he maintains that this "sinister habit" causes tuberculosis and tears down the flesh.

Here, Mr Ahmad Ma'adh Al-Khatib calls for Jihad to rescue the ummah [the posting referred to now appears to be inaccessible]. Enjoy him, please, especially those in Western governments which approved him and promoted him without reading a word of his writings.

I am sure that the US Zionists who approved the appointment of Mr Al-Khatib as head of the exile Syrian opposition did not know that he referred to Zionism as a "cancerous racist movement."

Mr Ma'adh Al-Khatib says here [see above note on access to the posting] that Saddam has virtues among them: "that he terrified the Jews".

This kook (who could not have been appointed to the position of preacher in the Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus without the approval of the Syrian regime intelligence apparatus) here declares that Facebook is a US-Israeli intelligence plot. Read to believe. [2]
Good luck, Secretary Clinton, with that Syrian opposition re-boot.

There was, perhaps, a more significant element to this reorganization that was largely overlooked - the relative absence of Saudi Arabia at SNCORF's coming-out party. The meeting in Doha was orchestrated by the United States, Turkey, and Qatar. Qatar's prime minister keynoted the opening session and "presided" over the expanded meeting of the Syrian opposition. [3]
Apparently, no Saudi Arabian heavyweight attended. That is significant because the reorganization of the Syrian overseas opposition was a reaction against the inadequacies of the Qatar-backed SNC, but also a response to the crisis caused by the mushrooming influence of Saudi-funded jihadis inside Syria.

Foreign efforts to support the insurrection had largely turned into directionless dithering, thanks in large part to Western unwillingness to validate and empower the expatriate and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SNC with significant amounts of arms. Saudi Arabian Salafists displayed no such qualms about dispatching arms and jihadis to Syria, with the result that extremists have filled the revolutionary vacuum.

News coverage of the uprising now often includes reporting on gruesome atrocities perpetrated by insurgents, the occasional raising of the al-Qaeda flag, and the profound weariness and disgust Syrian citizens are expressing against the insurrectionists as well as the government. With blowback into Lebanon and Turkey, and Israel now firing on Syrian armor, the situation is generally acknowledged to be getting out of hand - and the SNC, never much more than a stalking horse for the Muslim Brotherhood and a convenient propaganda front for the foreign powers seeking to unseat Bashar al-Assad, is definitely not the group needed to bring order out of the chaos.

SNCORF, with its Muslim Brotherhood component sufficiently diluted (or, if you prefer, with its internal politics now satisfactorily factionalized so that the US and Europe can expect to exert a controlling influence on its policies and actions), is being positioned as a suitable and properly vetted vehicle for formal recognition of the Syrian opposition as a government-in-exile and conduit for foreign military aid.

SNCORF might best be regarded not so much as an attempt to level the playing field with al-Assad as an initiative to level the playing field with the Salafist jihadis who have been filling the power vacuum created by the civil war in Syria.

Can the reach of the Salafist jihadis on the battlefield be rolled back so Syria can enter the liberal democratic nirvana promised by the West? The Syrian toothpaste is pretty much out of the tube, Syria appears headed for national collapse, and it is open to question whether SNCORF, even with the superpowers bestowed upon it by its inclusiveness, democratic aspirations, loving coverage in the Guardian, and Western and Gulf Cooperation Council diplomatic and military support, can bring peace and unity back to the torn and bloody nation.

Death squads missing from action
SNCORF has its work cut out for it, and it's worth wondering if Syria's emigres and dissidents - characterized as "reliable technocrats", not "insurrectionists with fists of iron" - can tear the leading role on the Syrian battlefield away from the jihadis and the local bandits, bullies, and heroes who make up the Free Syrian Army and the multitudes of local anti-government militias.

There is one remedy for Islamic extremist insurgencies that is perceived as extremely effective by its US practitioners but is unfortunately out of reach of SNCORF, at least for the time being: death squads. Syria is now at a point similar to that of Iraq in 2006 - a Sunni insurrection has fought the central authority to a standstill, but at the cost of Salafist extremists hijacking local power.

In Iraq, the Sunni opposition to the US occupation eventually fractured as Sunni tribal leaders, threatened by the bloody-minded ambition of their jihadi allies and incentivized by US money, arms and protection, set aside their anti-American, anti-Shi'ite, and anti-Iran sentiments, at least for the time being, turned on the jihadis and cleansed Iraq's Sunni heartland - Anbar Province - of al-Qaeda militants.

The BBC provides some context of this event, the "Anbar Awakening", describing a situation that looks a lot like today's Syria:
But by 2006, in one of the many unintended consequences of the invasion, foreign fighters such as the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had pledged themselves to al-Qaeda and received funding directly from Osama Bin Laden, had come to dominate the insurgency. Their control extended over vast swathes of Iraq.

Their ruthless exercise of power threatened to rip the country apart. ...

For Sheikh Jabbar, desperate times required desperate measures and this was the moment he triggered what would become the Awakening, a military counter-offensive in which he and his supporters joined forces with their former enemies, the Americans, to confront al-Qaeda.

Sheikh Jabbar sought help from the Americans to break al-Qaeda's hold on Anbar province. In late 2006, he arranged a meeting with Colonel John Tien of the US Army in which he asked for weapons and ammunition for his men to take on al-Qaeda. The Awakening had begun, marking a key turning point in the fortunes of Iraq. Although at the time they numbered in the dozens, the forces who would later be known as the Sons of Iraq swelled to a 100,000 or so. [4]
The leaders of the Sunni Awakening in Anbar Province were the leading figures of their communities, tribal big shots with extensive local familial and patronage relationships. They were also working hand in hand with the US military occupation, a rather capable killing machine. This tag-team arrangement helped make the Iraq al-Qaeda hunt a success.

In a study of the Awakening published in the Washington Quarterly, John McCrary quoted the son of one of the Anbar sheiks:
The Coalition Forces has the very strong military ability. The civilians and the tribes, they have a difference that the Coalition Forces doesn't have. It's that they're local - they found and know who comes from outside. They know who are the insurgents and who are al-Qaeda in general, such that there is no more al-Qaeda or anything else. You wouldn't believe me. I'm not exaggerating that in two months, in two months everything was finished. [5]

Continued 1 2  

Last call for Syria (Nov 15, '12)

UN warns Syria heading to destruction (Nov 8, '12)



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