The Dynamics of the Crisis in Syria. Conflict Versus Conflict Resolution. (Part 1)
(Part 2)(Part 5) – Dr. Christof Lehmann. – After 19 months of violent conflict in Syria a feasible solution seems farther removed than ever. The influx of fundamentalist Salafist or Wahabist fighters which have been streaming to Syria since the failure of two major Free Syrian Army assaults on Aleppo in June and July 2012 made it increasingly difficult to build a coherent and credible Syrian political and military opposition among the proponents of regime-change. The international anti Syrian alliance has difficulties in identifying a political or military opposition that could be used as an argument for regime change. The Turkish-Syrian conflict risks to spiral out of control with potentially catastrophic consequences for Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and the region. After the violence has begun spreading into Turkey and Lebanon, increasing the risk of a regional war with potentially global bearing, the containment of the crisis is becoming increasingly difficult. The international community is as divided as the Syrian opposition. The pressure is on all sides to resolve the crisis. Opinions about how to solve the crisis differ widely. The article offers the necessary analysis, suggests possible solutions and the potential consequences of a protracted and widening conflict.
The Political and Military Spectrum of the Syria Discourse.
The primary precondition for resolving the crisis in Syria implicit its national, international and regional dynamics is the understanding of the constituents of the political and military discourse. That is, the current Syrian government and a peaceful domestic political opposition, the predominantly foreign backed political and militant opposition, the international backers of the pro-regime-change opposition, the United Nations, the Arab League, and the dynamics of their interplay with one another.
The National Council of Syria. (NCS)
The NCS was constituted by several hundred Syrian nationals who predominantly belong to the Syrian expatriate community. Due to claims of anonymous members its actual strength could never be verified. The NCS was formed in Ankara, Turkey, with the support of the Turkish AKP government of Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan.
An investigation into the background of the known members published in an article that was written shortly after the NCS was constituted in 2011 indicated a strong foreign influence. According to this investigation the majority of the NCS´s founding members had close ties to the National Endowment for Democracy, Reagan Fascell Fellowships, and other organizations that indicated a strong influence of US American intelligence services and political lobbies with ties to Henry Kissinger and Associates and the security adviser to several US Administrations, Zbigniev Brzezinski. 1
The NCS intended to constitute itself as representative for all opposition movements, including Muslim Brothers, Kurdish factions, the secular left and right, intellectuals and dissidents. Already during the official constitution in Ankara in 2011 it was plagued by strong ideological divisions. Even though, on the day it was constituted it demanded to be recognized as the sole representative of the people of the Syrian Arab Republic and as government de jure. It is today almost exclusively representative of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. According to evaluations by the Danish Middle East Specialist Erik Mohn, the NCS has lost most of its support from Turkey´s AKP government and other western governments who began focusing their support on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) after the NCS failed to constitute itself as the political leadership of the armed opposition and as an organization that could represent a united political opposition. The influence and the activity level of the NCS are today very low. The latest blog entry on its official website dates back to 9. Maj 2012. 2.
The Revolutionary Council of Syria (RCS)
The Revolutionary Council of Syria, RCS, is an offshoot of the National Council of Syria NCS. The RCS was constituted in August 2012 in Egypt and it is led by its founder, the Syrian dissident Haitham al Maleh. Al Maleh claimed to have seventy high profile members of the opposition against the Baath Party Government of President Bashar Al-Assad behind him, but these claims have not been substantiated.
The RCS is by many perceived as a symptom of a lack of convergence between the interests of Turkey´s AKP government of P.M. R. Tayyip Erdogan and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood led government of Egypt´s President Mursi. While RCS leader al-Maleh is making claims that he is working pragmatically and on the basis, he is based in Egypt, which leads many FSA commanders to also describe him as an opportunist. The political activity level and influence of the RCS is very limited.
The Free Syrian Army. (FSA)
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) was constituted by deserted officers and troops of the Syrian military during the summer of 2011. Its official commander is Colonel Rias al-Assad, but the FSA failed to establish an actual central or general command structure. The FSA initially claimed that its function was to protect peaceful protesters from the military forces of the Syrian government. In a number of well documented cases however, members of the FSA attacked peaceful protesters, blaming the shooting on the regular Syrian military. Some of these crimes have been committed in collusion with journalists from Al-Jazeera and led to the expulsions of Al-Jazeera journalists from Syria.
Although the FSA remained unsuccessful in recruiting a significant number of deserters from the Syrian military forces, it succeeded in recruiting a large number of Syrian, Turkish, Egyptian and Qatari Muslim Brothers. By early June 2012, prior to the two major campaigns to secure Aleppo, the FSA had no more than 3.000 Syrian core members, but it had been significantly reinforced by members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and major contingents of other foreign fighters. Its total strength in early June 2012 was estimated at approximately 70.000 troops plus a yet unknown number of Turkish, US American, British, Qatari and Saudi Special Forces.
Recruitment of foreign fighters was and is still organized through refugee camps in Turkey. The Workers´Party of Turkey has filed criminal charges against the AKP government of R. Tayyip Erdogan. 3. Prior to June the Military Intelligence Service of Turkey was also reported to have an intelligence room and recruitment office on Mekkha Street in the city of Amman, Jordan.4.
Failure to establish a general command structure resulted in the establishment of regional warlords who fought for the control of smaller villages or districts of major cities like Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and villages at the outskirts of Damascus. The failure to establish a general command and a high number of untrained and undisciplined volunteers are most likely the primary causes for many of the massacres, pillaging, summary executions that have been documented since the establishment of the FSA. The influx of Salafist fighters from the Al-Qaeda associated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has most likely aggravated the uncontrolled violence. Furthermore, the fact that many leading commanders of the FSA disputed the political role of the National Council of Syria, calling them opportunists, and the fact that the Free Syrian Army was struggling with local warlords political disputes weakened the political and military credibility and strength of both the NCS and the FSA.
The Defeat of the Free Syrian Army in June and July.
In June and July two major military campaigns of the FSA failed to emulate the strategy that had been successfully applied in Libya. To secure Aleppo as a military stronghold and seat of a transitional government which could quasi legitimately call on allied nations to assist with the implementation of a “No-Fly-Zone” or a military intervention.
Within this context it is noteworthy that the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Ivo H. Daalder, and NATO`s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of the U.S. European Command James G. Stavridis; published an article in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs, in which they called NATO´s Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011 a “teachable moment and a model for future interventions“.5 The article and its consequences with regards to modern NATO military doctrine, international law and Syria have been analyzed in a previous article by the author. 6 The NATO model for future interventions failed in Syria with the failure of the FSA to secure Aleppo as the seat for a transitional government.
Lack of coordination in the campaign against Aleppo has devastating consequences for the FSA who suffered significant and in fact decisive losses in Aleppo, after which the Syrian military could begin focusing on fighting down the isolated warlords in Homs, Idlib, and at the outskirts of Damascus. After the defeat and heavy casualties many Syrian as well as foreign volunteers gave up the fight. In fact many were seeking to realign themselves with the Syrian government after witnessing the massive war crimes and human rights abuses that had been committed by FSA fighters and in particular by the foreign reinforcements.
The FSA was heavily criticized by human rights organizations. Even Human Rights Watch, which is widely criticized for selective monitoring and reporting of war crimes and human rights abuses in Libya and Syria has sharply criticized the FSA.
The Salafist – Wahabist Fighters in Syria
After the defeat of the FSA in June – July 2012 the military offensive to topple the government de jure of Syria would have stagnated, and most likely a peaceful resolution to the conflict would have been achieved, had it not been for a significant influx of fighters from a cohort of predominantly Saudi Arabia and Qatar backed Salafist or Wahabist organizations. Many of these organizations have direct or indirect ties to both Al-Qaeda and the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban. Details about many of these organization’s contributions to the conflict are detailed in the report, Tentative Jihad: Syria’s Fundamentalist Opposition, which was issued by the International Crisis Group on 12. October 2012. 7
What the report of the International Crisis Group, which is funded by the self-proclaimed philanthropist, philosopher and multi billionaire George Soros fails to elicit is, that the majority of the funding, training and arming of these groups is provided by Saudi Arabia.
Already in September 2011 the article Syria NATO and the Modified Chechnyan Model revealed that Russian and Syrian intelligence services had intercepted communications that indicated that Al Qaeda´s Omar Brigade, which is financed by Saudi Arabia and under the supervision of the Saudi Ministry of the Interior had been deployed to Syria. 8
Wahabi, or Salafi organizations represent a convergence of German Word War II Fascism and a totalitarian and radical interpretation of Islam under the protectorate of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.
While Salafist extremists have been present and active since the onset of the conflict, the significant influx after July 2012 has also significantly changed the military and political landscape. The fact that the FSA never had established a coherent command structure into which the influx of Jihadis could be integrated worsened the incoherence of the armed opposition. The fact of the matter is that the armed opposition has degenerated into a cohort of small units, many of which claim their particular turf as liberated Caliphate. Many of them are laying claim on political power in their micro enclaves or in post-subversion Syria.
The subsequent and drastic increase in summary executions, beheadings, and anarchy under the banner of a perverted form of Sharia has in fact been extremely counter productive for the opposition at large.
Fearing that their country is being overrun by Salafist extremists, imported from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as France, the UK, and other European countries, many Syrians are giving up the armed struggle. Others are realigning themselves with the Syrian military and the government de jure of the Syrian Arab Republic. On 28 September the prominent FSA commander Captain Khaled Abdel Rahman al-Zamel, accompanied by ten other FSA officers, took part in a conference of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, NCC, which is seeking a Syrian solution to the crisis and which is tolerant of the Baath Party and President al-Assad.
The article Washington´s Salafist Quagmire in Syria describes how the development is not only weakening the military opposition and making it increasingly difficult to unite a credible, functional and presentable political opposition, it is also developing into a public relations problem for the the US Administration and other proponents of regime change. 9
The Kurdish Minorities in Syria.
Both the Turkish Kurds represented by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the PKK affiliated Syrian Democratic Union Party, which has a strong political influence in the predominantly ethnic Kurdish regions of Syria are determined to prevent the spreading of the bloodshed and massacres committed by the FSA and Salafist extremists to the Kurdish areas. The Democratic Union Party and the PKK yield a sufficiently strong influence to resist the FSA and the affiliated Salafist militia. As in other parts of Syria there are small pockets of FSA and Salafist fighters in the Kurdish regions, and there are incidents related to arms and troops trafficking via the Syrian border. However, the Kurdish Fractions and the Syrian military are keeping the region relatively calm.
Some western media, first and foremost the government controlled TV stations, are making unsubstantiated claims that the Kurdish populations and the parties are eager to cooperate with the subversion and that they are looking forward to Kurdish liberation after the fall of the Damascus government. These reports have to be assessed as predominantly based on propaganda rather than actuality. Both appeals by the Turkish government and the FSA, most prominently by FSA Commander Mustafa al-Sheikh to Kurdish Parties and Fractions to join the insurgency have failed.
In June 2011, at the onset of the FSA campaign for Aleppo, a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, Nuri Brimo, expressed that the Kurdish National Council, KNC, has decided not to get involved in the insurgency against the Syrian government and military and that the council has decided to keep the Kurdish areas peaceful.
Nuri Brimo said, that the KNC does not want events like the massacres in Daraa and Homs to be repeated in predominantly ethnically Kurdish cities. Brimo added that one day things may get out of control, but so far security and calm have prevailed.
At the beginning of June 2011 the Kurdish areas witnessed some violence between the Kurdish National Council and the PYD. The clashes ceased after an agreement between the KNC and PYD was signed on 11 June. The clashes between the PYD and the KNC occurred due to insecurity about a possible security gap that could arise if the attempted subversion should succeed in defeating the Syrian Military.
Both the KNC and the PYD have recognized that their primary strategic partner for security is the Syrian government, the Syrian military and thereafter other Kurdish factions. 10
Contrary to the Kurdish population of Turkey which is suffering from considerable oppression, the Syrian Kurdish minority enjoys considerable rights and privileges. The constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic enshrines considerable rights and privileges for ethnic and religious minorities. It also guarantees equal rights an opportunity to women. The Kurds of Syria are acutely aware of the fact that it is very unlikely that any new Syrian government that has come to power with the political and military support of a Turkish government, and in particular the AKP led government of P.M. Erdogan is likely not to improve the situation.
Beside that, neither the NCS, the FSA, or the Salafist mercenaries have any political program that would guarantee the Kurdish minority of Syria the same rights and privileges as they already have, and even if any of these opposition groups had a program that guaranteed the rights of the Kurdish minority, none of them have either the military nor the political credibility to make them a suitable and reliable partner for the Kurds of Syria.
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC)
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, NCC, is a pro-reform organization that is based in Damascus. It is a broad popular coalition of Pan-Arabists, Nationalists, Kurdish Parties and Organizations, Syrian Socialists, Internationalist Socialists, Marxist Organizations, Peace Movements, Human Rights Organizations, Religious NGOs and other organizations. It is by far the largest and most inclusive pro-reform organization. Although it is by far the largest and most representative pro-reform organization, its initiatives have been largely ignored by Western and Gulf Arab mainstream politicians and media.
Opposite to all of the foreign-backed opposition the NCC and all of its constituent parties and organizations reject unsolicited foreign interference into the internal affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic. The NCC opposes any foreign military intervention and vehemently opposes the foreign backed insurgency on the grounds of international law and on the grounds that it is counterproductive to the ongoing reform process in Syria. The NCC perceives the militant, foreign backed insurgency in Syria as the main obstacle to genuine and comprehensive reforms in Syria.
The NCC criticizes the economic sanctions against Syria as misguided. Economic sanctions, so the NCC, are predominantly inflicting suffering and harm on the general population. The NCC perceives the diplomatic sanctions against Syria as counterproductive to genuine dialog and conflict resolution. The NCC recognizes the Syrian Arab Baath Party as partner toward genuine and comprehensive national reforms as well as a political competition and partner within a democratic discourse.
The NCC is regularly organizing conferences which rather than focusing on the discourse of a particular party organize the necessary systemic, institutional and cultural instruments that are necessary for a genuine democratic discourse.
Members of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change are being systematically targeted by the Free Syrian Army and Salafist terrorist organizations in an attempt to disrupt the political dialog and reform process.
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SNP).
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party , SNP, was constituted in 1932 in Beirut as a party for national independence from French colonialism and for social justice. It is working on a socialist democratic platform comparable to that of the Social Democratic Parties in Germany and Denmark, or the British Labour Party. The program of the SNP endorses Syrian national sovereignty and independence within the framework of a political and economic Pan-Arabic union.
The SNP opposes unsolicited foreign intervention into the domestic political affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic. It sharply criticizes foreign political and material support of insurgents on the grounds of international law, and on the grounds that the foreign backed subversion and the wave of terrorism it has brought to Syria is counter-productive to genuine political, economic and social reforms.
The SNP has taken part in the 2012 elections and it is represented in the Syrian Parliament and part of the current coalition government that is constituted by The Syrian Socialist Arab Baath Party, The Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and The Peoples Will Party. After the 2012 elections the prominent SNP member Dr. Ali Haidar became Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs of the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
As well as members of all other reformist movements and parties who reject foreign intervention and and armed subversion, members of the SNP are being systematically targeted and assassinated by the FSA and Salafist terrorist organizations.
The Peoples Will Party (PWP).
The Peoples Will Party has a social and liberal democratic platform. It has taken part in the 2012 elections and is represented in the Syrian Parliament. After the elections the prominent PWP member Dr. Qadri Jamil became the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and the Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection. Dr. Jamil is also the chairman of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, which is part of the largest pro-reform organization, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, NCC.
Also the PWP rejects unsolicited foreign political and military interference into the internal affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic on the ground of international law and because of their adverse effect on the ongoing political, legal and social reforms in Syria.
The Syrian Socialist Arab Baath Party ( Baath Party).
The Syrian Socialist Arab Baath Party constitutes iteself on the basis of Pan-Arabic Socialism, that is, governance based on secular, socialist principles, with the endorsement of religious freedom and protection of religious and ethnic minorities. The Baath Party is the greatest Syrian Party. Although it has been criticized for holding on to governance under emergency laws too long, thus stalling a much wanted and much needed development of political competition and reforms, both the Party and President Al-Assad enjoy very high approval ratings.
In early 2012 the Baath Party succeeded in spite of the ongoing subversion to implement comprehensive political reforms. Four political parties have been approved, registered. Elections have been held. The elections were free, open, fair and in spite of the threat of terrorism peaceful.
The Baath Party is currently forming a coalition government with the participation of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Peoples Will Party. In early 2012 the pre-2012 elections government has drafted a new Syrian constitution that has been approved by 89 % in a referendum. In spite of the ongoing violence and threats against polling stations, over 69 % of the electorate voted in the referendum,
The Syrian Arab Baath Party has practiced considerable self-critique, most prominently from the side of President Al-Assad. Primarily this self-critique is based on having been too slow to implement political reforms and for holding on to governance under emergency laws for too long.
The Baath Party encourages all peaceful and constructive political opposition and national reconciliation. It rejects any unsolicited political and military intervention on the grounds of international law and on the grounds that they are counter-productive to genuine political, legal and social reforms.
Other Parties and Organizations.
Since the onset of the Arab Spring in Syria in March 2011, the Syrian government has implemented the dual policy of maintaining security and fighting the armed subversion, while embracing and promoting an inclusive, peaceful political discourse. Several amnesties for citizens who had taken up arms and who had not been directly involved in outright murder and crimes against humanity, while encouraging the establishment of new political parties and organizations have contributed to the success of this policy.
Other organizations which are not explicitly accounted for in this analysis include a Youth Party, The Communist Party of Syria, and a cohort of smaller parties and grassroots organizations which have sprung up in Syria since 2011. Many of these parties and organizations are taking part in the work and conferences of the National Coordinating Committe for Democratic Change, NCC. Provided that the armed subversion can be contained, there is today a solid potential for genuine reform and a genuine democratic discourse in Syria.
The Apologetic Discourse.
Dr. Christof Lehmann is a psychologist, independent political adviser and consultant with 30 years experience on highest levels of international politics, geo-politics, conflict and conflict resolution. He is a lifelong advocate for human rights, peace and international justice. Christof Lehmann is a frequent contributor of articles to printed and online media and is the owner of the blog nsnbc – no spin news. He can be contacted at Dr.Christof.Lehmann@Gmail.Com .
1) Christof Lehmann, (2011) The National Council of Syria and US Unconventional Warfare , accessed on 22.10.2012 at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/the-national-counsel-of-syria-and-u-s-unconventional-warfare/
2) Official Website of the NCS, accessed on 21.10.2012. http://www.syriancouncil.org/en/latest-blog-posts.html
3 WORKERS’ PARTY (TURKEY) FILED A CRIMINAL COMPLAINT ABOUT THE TERROR CAMPS IN HATAY! Workers Party – Turkey, article accessed on nsnbc on 22.10.2012 at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/workers-party-turkey-filed-a-criminal-complaint-about-the-terror-camps-in-hatay/
4) Christof Lehmann (2012) Attack on Syria likely before March ? Accessed on nsnbc 22.10.2012 at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/attack-on-syria-likely-before-march/
5) Ivo H. Daalder, James G. Stavridis (2012). NATO`s Victory in Libya. The Right Way to Run an Intervention. Foreign Affairs. March/April 2012. Pp.2 – 7.
6) Christof Lehmann (2012) NATO`s 25th Summit in Chicago in Preparation of Global Full Spectrum Dominance, Interventionism, Possible Preparations for A Regional War Directed against Russia and China, and Developments in Global Security. Accessed on nsnbc on 22.10.2012 http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/natos-25th-summit-in-chicago-in-preparation-of-global-full-spectrum-dominance-interventionism-possible-preparations-for-a-regional-war-directed-against-russia-and-china-and-developments-in-global/
7) International Crisis Group.(2012) Tentative Jihad: Syria´s Fundamentalist Opposition. Accessed on the website of the International Crisis Group on 22.10.2012 at http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2012/mena/syria-tentative-jihad-syria-s-fundamentalist-opposition.aspx
8) Christof Lehmann (2011) Syria, NATO and the Modified Chechnyan Model, accessed at nsnbc on 22.10.2012 at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/syria-nato-and-the-modified-chechnyan-model/
9) Christof Lehmann (2012) Washington’s Salafist Quagmire in Syria, accessed at nsnbc on 22.10.2012 at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/washingtons-salafist-quagmire-in-syria/
10) Christof Lehmann (2012. Kurdish Fractions Fight NATO-led Free Syrian Army. Accessed on nsnbc on 22.10.2012, at http://nsnbc.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/kurdish-fractions-fights-nato-led-free-syrian-army/
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