Saturday, December 22, 2012

Obama is right to tighten gun laws in the US - but wrong to send more weapons to Syria :US stepping up arming of Syrian rebels will only intensify civil war and chaos that lets terrorists like Al Qa'ida and Sunni extremists like Al Nusrah get more recruits and operate more freely ; and makes an Islamic state or a second civil war more likely than democracy

There can’t be anyone who doesn’t feel for the parents who lost their children in the senseless events in America; and President Obama is right to propose tightening gun ownership laws. He could save many Syrian children and adults from equally avoidable deaths if his administration stopped doing the opposite in Syria. The Obama administration has been “co-ordinating” the supply of arms to rebel groups in Syria and is also covertly supplying them with arms bought in Libya since Gadaffi’s overthrow. US and British Special forces are also active in Syria and more military “advisers” are to be sent – with advisers having been a euphemism for combatants since Vietnam at the latest. (1) – (2).

NATO governments claim this helps Syrian rebels protect civilians from Assad’s forces, but in reality some on both sides are targeting civilians – and the more intense the civil war gets the more easily terrorist groups including Al Qa’ida can operate in Syria, so arming the rebels gets civilians killed just as much as Russia arming Assad’s forces does.

Human Rights Watch have reported some armed opponents of Assad are targeting and killing civilians including employees of Syrian state television (3) – (4). Channel 4 News reporter Alex Thomson recently reported multiple consistent accounts from survivors and witnesses of Sunni Jihadists, opposed to Assad, massacring Alawite civilians in the town of Aqrab (5).

Many Syrian Christian refugees have also fled attacks by Sunni Jihadists allied to the rebels (6)

Terrorist car bombings are also common, each killing between several and dozens of civilians as collateral damage by targeting government buildings and even the family homes of member of the military or Assad supporters (7) – (9). Two such rebel attacks, one with a mortar and the other with a car bomb, each killed several schoolchildren in the last month (10) – (13).

The government, with it’s artillery, tanks and jets, kills more civilians, again many deliberately and many others by not worrying about “collateral damage” deaths when using bombings by air forces, artillery and tanks, due to it’s greater firepower and equal brutality, but though thousands of civilians have been killed by government forces, the opposition figures on this are exaggerated, with fighters killed in combat reported as civilians by many opposition groups (14) – (16).

While some FSA fighters have tortured and killed captured government soldiers and militia-men, most of the car bombing atrocities and the massacres of civilians committed by anti-Assad forces are not committed by the Free Syrian Army but more extreme groups like the Syrian Al Nusrah and international Jihadists including Al Qa’ida, many Iraqis recruited after Al Qa’ida took advantage of the chaos created in Iraq (17) – (19).

The Obama administration claims it’s “co-ordination” is to ensure that only moderates get weapons, funding and arms (20). If that’s true, it’s failing. The FSA say the Jihadist groups are the ones getting the most arms and money (21).

It’s possible this is because the Saudis and Qatari dictators favour Islamists over a democracy that might embarrass them (as some Syrian exile opposition leaders suggest), but equally possible that the US government actually favours arming Sunni extremists as they will be the most uncompromising against Assad (an Alawite) and his Iranian Shia allies – the same reason they “co-ordinated” with the Saudis and Pakistanis to arm, fund and train the Mujahedin in the 80s and the Taliban in the early 90s. Al Qa’ida and Al Nusrah, like the Taliban, consider Alawites and Shia to be “false Muslims” (22) – (24).

The peaceful part of the Syrian opposition to Assad oppose foreign interference and violence which is causing civil war and sectarianism. For instance exiled Syrian opposition leader Haytham Manna of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change Abroad issued Three No’s – to violence, to sectarianism and to foreign intervention (25).

According to Haytham the US backed political leadership of the FSA, the Syrian National Council, also refuse to denounce Al Nusrah and continue to work along with them in the civil war (26).

As in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan, the chaos created by foreign powers each arming their own proxies is providing an environment that terrorist and sectarian groups can thrive in. The phony threat that Assad might use WMD is also brought up. In fact as the BBC’s Defence correspondent reported, the evidence suggests Assad’s government is trying to secure WMD so there’s no risk of it being captured by terrorist groups like Al Qa’ida, as it’s done before in the past (27) – (28).

We’re given the impression that Assad has refused to make any significant democratic reforms. Despite the atrocities committed by his forces as much as the Jihadists, this is not true.

Assad changed the constitution last year to end the one party state in Syria, legalising opposition parties and held multi-party elections in which over 51% of Syrians voted (29).

That is a much more major reform – and supported by more of the population – than the fig leaves for reform, like powerless elected local councillors in Saudi, and powerless parliaments in Bahrain, Yemen and Kuwait, which the US and British governments welcome (30) – (33).

The Free Syrian Army rebels say they will get rid of the Jihadists once they’ve overthrown Assad, but if the Jihadists are the best armed and funded and trained rebel groups, how would they manage to? NATO governments will argue this is why they need to arm the FSA better – but the FSA is torturing and killing POWs – and the more the civil war intensifies the stronger the sectarian militias and Jihadist terrorist groups on both sides get.

Negotiation and opposing Assad’s regime through elections, rather than calling for it’s overthrow by force, would be a much more effective way to get real democracy in Syria, in the long run, than intensifying a civil war in which more people die each day and in which the only real winners are Al Qa’ida and their allies.


(1) = Washington Post 06 May 2012 ‘Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination’,

(2) = Sunday Times 09 Dec 2012 ‘Covert US plan to arm rebels’, ; 1st to 3rd , 5th and 9th paragraphs ‘THE United States is launching a covert operation to send weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time as it ramps up military efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles will be sent through friendly Middle Eastern countries already supplying the rebels, according to well-placed diplomatic sources. The Americans have bought some of the weapons from the stockpiles of Muammar Gadaffi, the Libyan dictator killed last year. They include SA-7 missiles, which can be used to shoot down aircraft…President Barack Obama authorised clandestine CIA support earlier this year and both the US and Britain have had special forces and intelligence officers on the ground for some time…The US will send in more advisers to help with tactics and manage weapons supplies. British advisers are also expected to be sent. America and Britain are already training Jordanian and Turkish advisers to support the rebels.’

(3) = Human Rights Watch 20 Mar 2012 'Syria: Armed Opposition Groups Committing Abuses', opposition elements have carried out serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a public letter to the Syrian National Council (SNC) and other leading Syrian opposition groups. Abuses include kidnapping, detention, and torture of security force members, government supporters, and people identified as members of pro-government militias, called shabeeha." as well as "executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians."’

(4) = BBC News 27 Jun 2012 ‘Gunmen 'kill seven' at Syrian pro-Assad Ikhbariya TV’,

(5) = Channel 4 News 14 Dec 2012 ‘Was there a massacre in the Syrian town of Aqaba’,

(6) = Independent 02 Nov 2012 ‘The plight of Syria's Christians: 'We left Homs because they were trying to kill us'’,

(7) = Reuters 23 Dec 2011 'Analysis: Syria bombings signal deadlier phase of revolt', , 'Beirut-based commentator Rami Khouri said he doubted the government would have hit its own security targets, suggesting that the bombings could have been the work of armed rebels, who he said include hardline Salafi Islamists in their ranks....Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut, also said he did not believe that the Syrian government was behind the bombings.'

(8) = New York Times 10 May 2012 'Dozens Killed in Large Explosions in Syrian Capital', ; 'Twin suicide car bombs that targeted a notorious military intelligence compound shook the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Thursday, killing and wounding hundreds of people ...It was the largest such terrorist attack since the uprising began 14 months ago, with the Health Ministry putting the toll at 55 dead and nearly 400 wounded — civilians and soldiers. '

(9) = Guardian 26 Oct 2012 ‘Syrian car bomb breaks Eid al-Adha ceasefire’,

(10) = A.P 04 Dec 2012 ‘Syria says 30 killed in mortar attack on school’,

(11) = AP 13 Dec 2012 ‘Syria State Media: Blast near Damascus Kills 16’,

(12) = Al Jazeera 13 Dec 2012 ‘Dozens killed in Syria bomb attacks’,

(13) = BBC News 13 Dec 2012 ‘Syria crisis: Bombs 'kill 24' in Damascus suburbs’,

(14) = Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 ,

(15) = BBC News 14 Oct 2012 ‘Human Rights Watch says Syria using cluster bombs’,

(16) Al Jazeera 13 Feb 2012 ‘Q&A: Nir Rosen on Syria's armed opposition’, (13th Question and answer ‘AJ: Who is being killed? NR: Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation of the cause of the deaths. Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters, but the cause of their death is hidden and they are described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces, as if they were all merely protesting or sitting in their homes. Of course, those deaths still happen regularly as well.

(17) = HRW 17 Sep 2012 ‘Syria: End Opposition Use of Torture, Executions’,

(18) = Guardian 30 Jul 2012 ‘Al-Qaida turns tide for rebels in battle for eastern Syria’,

(19) = BBC News 02 Aug 2012 ‘Syria conflict: Jihadists' role growing’,

(20) = Washington Post 16 May 2012 ‘Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination’,

(21) = Observer 03 Nov 2012 ‘Execution of Assad troops widens split among rebel fighter factions in Syria’, ; paragraphs 5 to 8 , 15 to 16 and final paragraph ; ‘Syrian Islamist groups…are not able to match the better-armed and funded global jihadist units, who are increasingly taking centre stage in the war for the north of the country…"This will soon mean that Jabhat al-Nusraf (an al-Qaida-aligned group) will be the only group capable of mounting the lethal operations on bases and security headquarters," said a leader of Liwat al-Tawheed, which has been a key player in the fighting in Aleppo. "It already means that we can't win without them."…Islamist groups in Aleppo say that they aim to do no more than oust the Assad regime. Most of their clerics and leaders reject the ideology of the jihadists, who openly view the battle in Syria as a vital phase of a global sectarian war….Another Liwat al-Tawheed commander said…"Compare what we have to what al-Nusraf are getting. They are not getting weapons from outside, but they are buying them in Syria with large amounts of cash. They are very well supplied and they are not saying where they are getting the money from."

(22) = Guardian 18 Dec 2012 ‘Syria: after Assad falls, what then?’,

(23) = Steve Coll (2004) , 'Ghost Wars : The secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden' , Penguin , London , Chapters 16 to 18

(24) = Ahmed Rashid (2000) 'Taliban', Pan MacMillan, London, 2011, Chapters 10 to 12

(25) = Guardian 22 Jun 2012 ‘Syria's opposition has been led astray by violence’,

(26) = Guardian 18 Dec 2012 ‘Syria: after Assad falls, what then?’,

(27) = Media Lens 12 Dec 2012 ‘Won't Get Fooled Again? Hyping Syria's WMD 'Threat'’,

(28) = BBC News 05 Dec 2012 ‘Fears grow for fate of Syria's chemical weapons’,

(29) = BBC News 16 May 2012 ‘Syria election results show support for reforms, says Assad’,  3rd paragraph ‘The election commission said on Tuesday that turnout was 51% for the polls, which the opposition said were a farce.’ 18th paragraph…The polls were the first held under a new constitution adopted in February, which dropped an article giving the Baath Party unique status as the "leader of the state and society" in Syria. It also allowed new parties to be formed, albeit those not based on religious, tribal, regional, denominational or professional affiliation, nor those based abroad.

(30) = City Mayors Feb 2005 ‘First local election underway in Saudi Arabia but women voters will have to wait until 2009’,

(31) = Gulf News (UAE) 31 Mar 2008 ‘Frustrated council members prepared to quit’,

(32) = BBC News 23 Nov 2012 ‘Bahrain reconciliation distant amid slow reform pace’,

(33) = See the blog post on this link and sources 25 to 30 at the bottom of it on the lack of democracy and powerlessness of parliament in Kuwait

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