October 2, 2015

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War

    Friday, October 02, 2015   No comments

The peaceful protest movement that started in Syria in 2011 was transformed by foreign governments’ involvement into a civil war fueled by sectarian and ethnic dreams. Now, we can see that Syria is no longer ground for a civil or proxy war, it is scene of a world war. There are two sides in this conflict. Although each side prefers to frame its identify in appealing descriptors like Friends Of Syria, Anti-Terror Coalition, Preservers Of Legitimacy, and Pro-International Law and Order Nations, the two sides are fixated on one man: Bashar al-Assad. From the moment some Syrians began protesting, the US-Saudi coalition jumped on the opportunity and planned to oust Assad no matter the cost. The Russian-Iranian coalition did not want that to happen no matter the cost. Every other claim about Assad's regime abuse of human rights, forcing a wave of refugees, denying his people democracy, committing war crimes, being authoritarian, and  lacking legitimacy are nice sounding slogans needed to disguise the real agenda. After all, any one of these nations that is directly involved in this crisis is guilty of the same offenses: they all have a record of human rights abuses, ill treatment of refugees, subversion of democracy, war crimes, and authoritarian behavior. Some of these governments never held even sham elections to test their actual legitimacy. Now, each side is undertaking military action to support its side achieve the one goal: remove/strengthen Bashar al-Assad. 

Russia's direct military involvement should not surprise anyone: Russia's leaders have been preparing for it for years. Now, parties of this international conflict are well known. On one side, we have the so-called Friends-Of-Syria or Anti-ISIL nations that supported, trained, and equipped the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which metamorphosed after 2012 into ISIL, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Fath, thuwar Suria, and other smaller armed groups. On the other side, we have nations that declared their support for nations' sovereignty, Preservers-Of-Legitimacy (POL), as they want to be called. 

Over time, the coalition of FOS shrunk from nearly 100 nations in 2011, to merely seven nations today: UK, US, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. On Friday Oct. 2, these countries released a joint statement, saying that Russian strikes would “only fuel more extremism.”  But they did not explain why Russian strikes would fuel extremism but strikes carried out by FOS would not. 

In my estimation, Russia’s direct military involvement only escalated the proxy war into an open world war, which has emerged when the FOS began their strikes without UNSC authorization. Russia is now activating its own coalition, POL, which consists of Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. This coalition of nations that are willing to take military action in Syria and Iraq are politically backed by BRICS nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. While only three out of the seven FOS coalition are actually dropping bombs in Syria, four out of the eight POL nations are indeed in the battle fields. The BRICKS nations provide the political cover for POL’s military intervention in Syria (and soon Iraq).

Who will have the upper hand in Syria? The coalition with more reliable military presence on the ground is likely to achieve more of its goals. Given the difficulties faced by FOS in identifying appropriate “moderate” rebel groups who would fight both the Syrian government's forces and ISIL, POL appears to have an advantage since the Syrian government and its allies actually have a formidable presence on the ground that can clear and hold territory.

The idea that there is a strong “moderate” FSA group that can defeat ISIL and/or the government forces is not supported by facts. Training and equipping rebel groups, whose loyalty cannot be ascertained will only prologue the war. The only paths we can see for FOS to match POL's potential for success are: (1) send their own ground troops into Syria or (2) re-brand some terror groups, like al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Islam as moderate rebels, and use them on the ground. These two options, however, have significant security and political costs for FOS. Can FOS nations continue to ask Russia to restrict its strikes to ISIL without legitimizing other groups that are just as genocidal in their ideology and practices as ISIL? Are the leaders of FOS nations prepared to say that al-Nusra, the actual affiliate of al-Qaeda, is a good terror group while ISIL, which had created al-Nusra in the first place, is a bad terror group?

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


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