Monday, June 24, 2013

Peace through negotiations in Syria? Or chasing the illusion of victory at any cost in lives? Which will the Syrian sides and foreign governments choose? It can’t be both

The Syrian government, the armed rebels and foreign governments involved in Syria are deceiving themselves in believing that what they want is what’s best for everyone, in believing that a complete military victory over the other side is possible, and in believing that such a victory would benefit even their own side.

The US and British governments are as fond of saying that Assad, Russia and Iran are destabilising Syria and the Middle East as Assad and the Russian and Iranian governments are of saying that NATO and its Arab allies arming the rebels is doing the same. They are each deceiving themselves in the commonest ways possible, assuming that what they want and what’s good for everyone else is the same thing; and that what they want themselves and what’s good for them is the same thing too.

This is not an unusual fault, but in this situation its one that’s killing a lot of people who would otherwise still be alive and leaving a lot of families mourning who wouldn’t be otherwise.

In fact a military victory for either side is likely to lead to more atrocities against the losers and civilians known or suspected of supporting them ; and each side stepping up training, arms and money supplies to their proxies may just result in a long bloody civil war in which civilians suffer most and the most extreme groups like Al Qa’ida grow stronger.

(“Stability” here obviously means, as Chomsky points out, not stability at all but “our influence or control there”).

In focusing on overthrowing Assad to weaken the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance NATO governments and the Sunni ruled dictatorships of the Gulf Co-operation Council are handing another country as a base to Al Qa’ida and similar extreme Islamists, just as in Iraq and Libya. This is in no-one’s real interests. Al Qa’ida is a far more dangerous and extremist enemy than Iran (1).

The Assad regime and the rebels are also deceiving themselves, believing that they can achieve peace and justice through civil war, through crushing their enemies totally and without compromise. The factions in Lebanon did the same for 15 bloody years, from 1975 to 1990, before they finally realised that none of them were ever going to win a complete victor over the others and agreed to share power instead. Will the Syrian factions spend 15 years and tens of thousands more lives before they face up to the same reality?

It’s easy also to deceive ourselves into seeing one side or the other in Syria as the villains and the other as all basically decent, and so believe that victory for one or the other will set everything right.


Rebel fanatic terrorists Vs sane secular Assad government?

Some say all the rebels are crazy religious fanatics who want to murder everyone who doesn’t share their beliefs, while Assad’s secular government is sane and defending itself against extremist terrorists. There is some truth in that. Al Qa’ida / Al Nusrah are among the rebels and the vast majority of the rebels are Sunni Islamists of varying degrees of sectarianism or non-sectarianism, extremism or moderation. There have been some massacres of Shia and Alawites and ethnic cleansing of Christians on a large scale. Al Qa’ida have even executed a 15 year old boy who for supposed blasphemy in mentioning Mohammed in an argument over the price of coffee he was selling (2).

This is not the whole truth though. Secular governments can be brutal, extremist dictatorships, like Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s, Hitler’s, Saddam’s or Assad’s. Assad’s forces have carried out a campaign of rape, torture and murder against civilians, including children (3) – (7).

Many rebels say they have become Islamists because of their revulsion at these atrocities by the secular government (8).

We only know about the 15 year old executed by Al Qa’ida only because the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad exile group, reported it as a crime. While many other rebels, including much of the FSA, have fought alongside Al Nusrah and Al Qa’ida some of them have fought against both those groups as well as against and Assad (9) – (12).

While many of the conscripts who have defected to the rebels are Sunnis, the vast majority of the Syrian professional military are Alawites, of the same religion as Assad.

Some of the most notorious rebels, like Abu Sakkar, the Sunni rebel leader who had himself filmed eating the lungs of a dead soldier and saying he and his men would kill and eat the hearts and livers of the Alawites, started out as peaceful anti-sectarian protesters, but decided after seeing other unarmed protesters killed around them by government soldiers and women in their family raped by government soldiers, that taking up arms was their only option. Such people are not necessarily monsters (13).

They may be decent people disfigured by atrocities and war. I would never mutilate anyone’s body, but who could say that if they had seen their peaceful protest met with death, rape and torture they might not have decided that fighting to the death was the only option? Who can say that if people they loved were murdered, raped or tortured by their government that they wouldn’t want revenge at all costs? Not me.

There are also claims that polls show the majority of Syrians support Assad. Apart from the virtual impossibility of carrying out a poll during a civil war, the only poll reported by any reliable source, supposedly showing 55% of Syrians supporting Assad, was an online poll of Arab countries in which only 97 of the respondents were Syrian. Even if online polls were reliable (and they’re not) 97 is far too few to judge anything from (14).


Brutal murderous Assad dictatorship Vs Rebels forced to fight to defend themselves?

Others say that Assad is a brutal sectarian, murdering, torturing dictator who responded to peaceful protests with bullets and torture, and that only overthrowing him and his regime will bring peace, justice and democracy. Again, this is part of the truth, but not the whole truth.

Assad’s regime, like his father’s, has been a dictatorship based on hereditary rule and the dominance of one religion as much as the Saudi monarchy’s. Peaceful protests were met with sniper fire, jailings, torture and rape.

However many Syrian Alawites, Shia Muslims, Druze and Christians fear sectarian Sunni Muslim rebels far, far more than they fear Assad, with good reason. Assad’s forces attack those who they know or suspect of opposing him, while Sunni religious fanatics among the rebels want to kill or expel anyone who is not a Sunni Muslim, just for not being a Sunni. Large numbers of the refugees fleeing Syria are Christians fleeing the rebels, or people who support neither side and just want to escape the fighting (15) – (19).

The practice of kidnapping and torturing people just to extract money from their families, practiced by militias on both sides of the Iraqi civil war and by the US trained Iraqi Police Commandos today too, has also been adopted by many of the Sunni rebels in Syria including some of the FSA , criminal gangs, and Assad’s Shabiha too (the Shabiha and many of the rebels, like militias in the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia are partly in the war for money and loot and as in Yugoslavia US sanctions plus civil war have made war and kidnapping into businesses) (20) – (22).

Not all Sunnis oppose Assad either. Some of his air force pilots are among the minority of Sunnis in the professional military. Two of the most senior Sunni clerics in Syria spoke out to support Assad and condemn the rebels as not true Muslims. One of them was assassinated by the rebels in a suicide bombing attack on a mosque which also killed many others praying there (23) – (24).

We can speculate on whether these Sunnis support Assad out of fear of him or out of opposition to the fanaticism and extremism of many of the rebels, but it’s as likely to be the latter as the former.

There are also many wealthy Sunni businessmen who have deals with Assad and pay Shahiba militias to attack Sunni rebel areas in order to protect their business interests (25).

While the majority of the pro-Assad Shabiha militias are made up of Alawites, there are some are Sunnis, for instance in Aleppo (26) – (27).

Some Syrian government soldiers and police have tried to stop Shabiha murders of civilians and been killed for trying (28).

Assad’s forces are not the only ones torturing people or murdering civilians. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have reported on the torture and execution of prisoners of the rebels, civilian and combatant alike. They have also carried out sectarian murders and massacres and many terrorist car bombings.

Assad also scrapped the single party state in Syria last year and held the first multi-party parliamentary elections, though some of the opposition boycotted them (29). This makes his government less undemocratic than the pro-Syrian-rebel Saudi Arabia, where the only elected officials are local councillors and they are only there for show, complaining that they have no power to do anything.

Assad and his supporters also fear that they, their communities, their supporters and their families may be massacred, tortured to death or made refugees by their opponents and Sunni extremists. This is not an irrational fear, many already have been, whether for supporting Assad or just being the wrong religion (30).

Why many Syrians say negotiations are a more realistic solution
than fighting or arming each side

Both sides believe they are protecting their communities against murdering fanatics.

The question both sides have to ask themselves is “How will more civil war protect me and my family and friends and community?”. The answer is that it won’t. Every revenge killing, every act of torture against the other side puts your side’s people at greater risk and makes it more likely the war will go on longer. You may never achieve victory either. It may all turn out be pointless, as it was for 15 years for Lebanon, as it has been for 13 years in Iraq. You may have to accept that sharing power with your enemies and making peace with them is the only way out. So why not do it now before more of the people you love are hurt or dead?

Syrian rebels may say they tried peaceful protest and it was met with bullets. True, but Assad will sooner or later have to face up to the fact that he can’t win outright given the NATO and Arab governments’ arms, training and funding for the rebels along with the Muslim Brotherhood’s. He has already had to concede an end to the one party state and parliamentary elections. In negotiations he will have to concede more.

And if you overthrow Assad by force, what then? Al Nusrah and its allies will keep fighting against their opponents and rivals among the rebels. Many of the rebel fighters take no orders from anyone but themselves. Al Nusrah and its allies might well win such a war.

The Syrian governments’ supporters may say their enemies include fanatics and terrorists who can’t be allowed to win. That’s true. The rebels can’t be entirely defeated either though – and every attempt to crush such movements has failed, only making them stronger, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan – and not all the opposition are violent and not all the armed ones are extremists. Sharing power with the opposition will strengthen those among the opposition who are against civil war and violence ; and reduce the influence of the armed rebels and the most extreme among them, like Al Nusrah. If Al Nusrah try to fight on they will be isolated.

Many Syrians say they don’t care who the government is, so long as the fighting and killing ends and that’s been the case for a long time with much of the opposition to Assad both in Syria and in exile also opposing a civil war to overthrow his government. (31) – (34).

When will those in power listen and learn?

As one Syrian professor stuck in the middle of the fighting in Damascus said recently “Stop the killing! The more killing takes place, the more hatred is sown, and the more difficult it will be to rebuild.”  (35)

Similar warnings have been made in other wars before. After the September 11th  attacks killed her husband Craig Amundsen, Amber Amundsen said “We cannot solve violence with violence. Revenge is a self-perpetuating cycle. Gandhi said, ‘An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.’ ….I ask our nation's leaders not to take the path that leads to more widespread hatreds — that make my husband's death just one more in an unending spiral of killing. I call on our national leaders to find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence.” (36)

Her government did not listen. Twelve years, thousands of NATO troops and tens of thousands of dead Afghan civilians later, they are negotiating with the Taliban. So why not start the negotiations in Syria now instead of losing thousands more lives in another decade of pointless fighting?

After the invasion of Iraq in 2004 Adnan Pachachi of the Iraqi governing council warned the US government and military not to take revenge for the killing of 4 American Blackwater military contractors and the mutilation of their bodies by attacking the entire city of Falluja. “More violence will cause more violence and this will be an endless spiral.” he warned (37).

They did not listen, killing 600 civilians including 300 women and children in revenge, by firing indiscriminately on anyone they saw including civilians, ambulances, medics and the wounded (38) – (39). Six years later the US withdrew from Iraq with over 3,000 US troops and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead. It did not end terrorist attacks on the US or its allies. Al Qa’ida has grown strong in Iraq and set up its Syrian branch Al Nusrah.

The professor in Damascus has warned us again. Will enough people listen to him this time?

This may seem idealistic or unrealistic to some, but is a civil war in which there is no justice for anyone, only suffering and death and grieving and atrocities by both sides, and extremists gaining ground every day,  a more realistic solution? The people of Lebanon didn’t think so after 15 years of it – and many of the people of Syria don’t think so 2 years into theirs.

There are already some small scale local ceasefires
, like one organised by the head of a Sunni tribe in the city of Talakakh (40). A power sharing agreement could make them solid across the whole country.

So what will everyone involved do, Syrians and foreign governments? Is it victory at any cost in Syrian lives, including thousands of civilians and children? At any cost in strengthening Al Qa’ida? Or will they do what’s really best for Syrians and really best for other countries and persuade the factions they back to negotiate a compromise instead?

(1) = Reuters 14 Nov 2011 ‘Syria urges Arab League to reconsider suspension’,  ; ‘Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of national security studies at the University of Haifa… Ben-Dor said the decision should also be viewed within the context of Arab and Western attempts to contain an emboldened Iran.…“They’re hoping to dismantle the axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah... to isolate Iran even more by depriving it of its only major ally in the Middle East.”’

(2) = Al Jazeera 09 Jun 2013 ‘Syrian rebels 'execute teenager' in Aleppo’,

(3) = Human Rights Watch 15 Jun 2012 ‘Syria: Sexual Assault in Detention - Security Forces Also Attacked Women and Girls in Raids on Homes’,

(4) = BBC News 25 Sep 2012 ‘Syria ex-detainees allege ordeals of rape and sex abuse’,

(5) = Human Rights Watch 17 May 2013 ‘Syria: Visit Reveals Torture Chambers’,

(6) = Human Rights Watch 10 Apr 2012 ‘In Cold Blood - Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias’,

(7) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2013 – Syria ,

(8) = CBC News 07 Dec 2012 ‘Free Syrian Army an uneasy mix of religious extremes’ (scroll down to sub-heading ‘Abandoning Secularism’)

(9) = See (2) above

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

(11) = Independent 15 May 2003 ‘Syrian civil war: The day I met the organ eating cannibal rebel Abu Sakkar's fearsome followers’, (says Sakkar led his men to kill a more extreme group who had kidnapped a British photographer)

(12) = Time 26 Mar 2013 ‘In Syria, the Rebels Have Begun to Fight Among Themselves’,

(13) = See (11) above

(14) = BBC News 25 Feb 2012 ‘Do 55% of Syrians really want President Assad to stay?’,

(15) = Independent 18 Feb 2012 'Syrians flee their homes amid fears of ethnic cleansing', ; 'Members of Syria's minority Alawite community are fleeing their homes and going into hiding, terrified that avenging rebels will hunt them down as more areas of the country come under the control of fighters trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad. '

(16) = Independent 02 Aug 2012 ‘'What will happen to us?': Loyalists fear rebel attacks’,

(17) = NYT 19 Jun 2013 ‘The Price of Loyalty in Syria’,

(18) = Los Angeles Times 07 Mar 2012 'Syria Christians fear life after Assad',

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

(20) = BBC News ‘Syrians live in fear as kidnappings increase’,

(21) = Telegraph 07 Sep 2012 ‘Epidemic of kidnappings breaks out in Syria’,

(22) = Syria Deeply 06 Jun 2013 ‘In Syria, Kidnapping Becomes a ‘Big-Money Business’, interview with Peter N. Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch,

(23) = LA Times 13 Mar 2013 ‘Syria denies mass conscription, says military remains strong’,

(24) = Wall Street Journal 21 Mar 2013 ‘Top Cleric Killed, With Dozens More, at Syrian Mosque’,

(25) = 31 May 2012 ‘Ghosts of Syria: diehard militias who kill in the name of Assad’,

(26) = Time 11 Jun 2012 ‘The Wrath of the Shabiha: The Assad Regime’s Brutal Enforcers’,

(27) = Reuters 03 Feb 2012 ‘Uprising finally hits Syria's "Silk Road" city’,

(28) = BBC News 29 May 2012 ‘Syria unrest: Who are the shabiha?’,

(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) = See (16) above

(31) = Independent 20 Jun 2013 ‘‘We don’t care who rules us, we just want to live’: After a year of fighting, most Damascans are simply weary of the battle for Syria’,

(32) = 20 Aug 2012 ‘Pursued by violence, pawns in Syrian conflict await an endgame’ ,

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

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

(35) = Independent 20 Jun 2013 ‘Letters: Let’s not fuel the flames in Syria’,

(36) = PBS Now 02 Jan 2002 ‘Amber Amundson's Letters’,

(37) = Guardian 08 Apr 2004 ‘Battles rage from North to South’,

(38) = Iraq Body Count 26 Oct 2004 ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’,

(39) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Falluja siege’,

(40) = 18 Feb 2013 ‘In a small corner of Syria, rebels attempt to reconcile’,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Obama’s caution on Syria may show he doesn’t want Sunni extremists including Al Qa’ida winning the Syrian civil war any more than he wants Assad to win it. Cameron may foolishly disagree, but the majority of British MPs will stop him

While the amusingly named and poorly informed Marko Attila Hoare has joined Tony Blair and John McCain in calling for Libyan style regime change in Syria, President Obama does not seem enthusiastic, possibly realising that,  as it turned out in Libya, a complete victory for either side would be a bad thing not only for NATO government’s interests but for Syrians too.

The Obama administration has poured cold water on David Cameron’s proposal of a no-fly zone in Syria and said its only providing arms to get Assad to negotiate. Obama may well not want total victory for Syrian rebel Sunni Jihadists who include Al Qa’ida any more than for Assad (1) – (2).

A no-fly zone might not be a bad thing, if it was actually just a no-fly zone only used to stop Assad’s air-force attacking civilians and not used, as in Libya, to let NATO air-forces bomb in support of rebel offensives – and if Syria didn’t have relatively advanced Russian MIG fighters and anti-aircraft missile systems – and if Russia wasn’t hinting at World War Three breaking out if NATO tries it(3).

Obama likely knows that as soon as a no-fly zone is established the hawks (or head-bangers) like Cameron and McCain will then try to use it the way it was used in Libya though.

The US has already been co-operating with the Saudis, Turkey, France, Jordan, Britain and Croatia to arm the rebels by proxy since 2011 and greatly stepped up flights since late 2012, but they've not sent any heavy weapons or hand held anti-aircraft missiles because they know the rebels include Al Nusrah/Al Qa'ida and pretty much all the rebels are Sunni Islamists likely to be hostile to NATO governments if they do manage to overthrow Assad (4) – (6).

Much of the arms and training provided have been conditional on the groups receiving them using them against Al Nusrah and its Iraqi Al Qa'ida allies in Syria (7). While some of the weapons provided by the NATO-Saudi-Jordanian network have got into the hands of Al Nusrah (Al Qa’ida’s Syrian branch) this still suggests Obama is at least as concerned about defeating Al Qa’ida in Syria as defeating Assad (8).

The chances of “moderate” rebels (and that’s a very relative term in Syria) being able to win such a two front war are slim though.

Obama may have looked at the results of regime change in Iraq and then Libya - chaotic sectarian/racist civil wars in which Islamist militias and Al Qa'ida are running riot.

This may be why he opposed sending any direct US military aid until after the full of Qusayr Since then he has authorised only small arms excluding hand held surface to air missiles again.

This is treated by the media as a big change – since the Saudis were already providing small arms and anti-tank weapons with CIA co-ordination, it’s merely a symbolic change.

If he was foolish enough to send hand-held anti-aircraft weapons it wouldn’t be long before Al Qa’ida brought down a US passenger plane with one and the same Republicans (and Democrats) who’d called on him to provide the rebels with them were demanding to know why he had been so irresponsible as to let them get into the hands of Al Qaeda or other Sunni extremists.

It may be that Obama hopes to arm the less extreme rebels to try to defeat both Assad and Al Qa’ida/Nusrah simultaneously. Or it may be that he would prefer a bloody stalemate to either side winning. Or maybe he wants to force Assad to go by arming the rebels and through sanctions. Or he may mean exactly what he says – that he prefers a negotiated political settlement to either side winning by force.

Here in the UK Prime Minister David Cameron first proposed arming the rebels. He successfully prevented a continuation of the EU embargo on arms to either side in Syria.

However his own backbench MPs then demanded a parliamentary vote before any decision by the British government to arm the rebels. He was forced to promise this and it soon became clear that so many of his own Conservative party MPs would vote against it (along with most of the Liberal Democrats and Labour) that he would lose such a vote heavily. That may be why he’s so focused on a no-fly zone, but getting no encouragement from Obama (9).

(1) = VOA News 18 Jun 2013 ‘Obama Skeptical About Syria No-Fly Zone Potential’,

(2) = NYT 14 Jun 2013 ‘Heavy Pressure Led to Decision by Obama on Syrian Arms’,

(3) = See (1)

(4) = NYT 25 Feb 2013 ‘Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms’,

(5) = The American Conservative 19 Dec 2011 ‘NATO Vs Syria’,

(6) = NYT 24 Mar 2013 ‘Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.’,

(7) = 08 May 2013 ‘US Asked Moderate Syrian Rebels to Fight Al-Nusra’, (provides main stream sources)

(8) = CBS News /AP 28 Mar 2013 ‘AP: "Master plan" underway to help Syria rebels take Damascus with U.S.-approved airlifts of heavy weapons’,

(9) = FT blogs – world 18 Jun 2013 ‘Why the UK is highly unlikely to arm Syrian rebels’

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A power sharing peace plan for Syria based on Lebanon - and why regime change in Syria by arming rebels, no-fly-zone or invasion would strengthen Al Qa'ida and lead to continued sectarian civil war, as it did in Iraq and Libya

Tony Blair , John McCain and other advocates of regime change by military force in Syria are ignoring the disasters it has created elsewhere, and its role, via Iraq, in creating the current crisis in Syria (1) – (2). Lebanon shows that power sharing can succeed in ending sectarian civil wars where force will fail.

Iraq’s continuing sectarian civil war is now worse than ever (3). Al Qa’ida in Iraq has become stronger than ever since the US ended their funding for Iraqi awakening militias, which had got many former Iraqi Sunni allies of Al Qa’ida to fight against it (4) – (6). Al Qa’ida In Iraq has said that it helped establish the Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Al Nusrah (7).

Libya is often presented as a successful regime change by force. Yet former rebel militias have tortured and killed Gadaffi’s supporters and even his former opponents, along with thousands of black Libyans, who have also been ethnically cleansed from towns like Tawergha (8) – (15). Islamist groups have also attacked British and French embassy staff and killed US embassy staff (16) – (18). Al Qa’ida has also been able to use Libya as a base for attacks on French uranium miners in Niger (19).

Regime change by force in Syria, whether just by invasion, by arming the rebels, or by a pseudo no-fly-zone actually used for regime change, as in Libya, would also strengthen Al Qa’ida ; and merely replace Sunnis and Assad opponents including civilians and children being systematically and systematically raped, tortured and killed by Assad’s forces , deliberately, on a large scale, with Alawites, Shia, Christians, Kurds and Assad supporters as victims of extremists among the rebels.

There have already been sectarian massacres of Alawites by anti-Assad Sunni jihadists in the town of Aqrab and of Shia in Hatla. Syrian refugees include huge numbers of Syrian Christians fleeing Sunni extremist groups among the rebels, just as Iraqi Christians did (20) – (23).

Even some FSA rebels say Alawites (Assad’s religion) can’t be civilians, while supposedly “moderate” Sunni clerics say anyone working for or supporting the Syrian government should be killed (24).

Increasing rebel car and suicide bombings, mostly by Al Nusrah, routinely kill as many or more civilians than combatants. (Many of the bombers are Al Qa’ida men who learnt the method in Iraq and Afghanistan, or trained by them ) (25) – (29).

Rebels also target and kill Syrian and Iranian state TV journalists and other employees as much as Assad’s forces target other journalists (30) – (32).

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that rebels have also tortured and executed not only captured soldiers or militia-men but many civilians too, some merely for being Alawites or Shia Muslims. While the majority of bodies found with torture marks and bullets in the back of their heads are killed by Assad’s forces, many of the dead, who include women and teenagers, are killed by rebels (33) – (34).

Given the vast number of groups among the rebels and the lack of any real organised command structure among many of them, any rebel victory would also likely to be followed by chaos and continuing civil war in which Al Qa’ida would continue to thrive.

Syria experts and journalists on the ground says the FSA doesn’t even exist as an organisation, backed up by the words of some FSA fighters themselves who say they don’t take orders from anyone (35) – (37).

Even if Al Nusrah/Qaeda lost a second round of civil war, all the rebel groups are Islamist, overwhelmingly Sunni, and only differing in how extreme or sectarian they are, including at least 80% FSA affiliated groups (38) – (39).

We already know from Al Nusrah youtube videos that some of the Croatian and former Yugoslav arms provided by the Saudis with CIA co-ordination via Jordan and NATO members Turkey and Croatia have got into the hands of Al Nusrah/Al Qa’ida ; and that General Idriss, the nominal commander of the FSA, can’t even get units he sends arms and money to tell him what they did with the last lot he sent them, never mind obey his orders (40) – (43).

Some FSA unit commanders say there are entire fake FSA brigades which exist only to get arms to sell on (44).

So neither arming the rebels nor ‘no-fly zone’ regime change will end the atrocities against civilians, nor defeat Al Qa’ida and other groups as extreme in Syria. Only a viable peace plan can do that.

The US arming the rebels directly does not rule out using this as a way to get Assad to negotiate with a viable peace plan as the starting point for negotiations, if it is done only on a scale that makes the military balance a bit more equal, or total victory by force for Assad unattainable.

Lessons from Lebanon

Lebanon’s example shows power sharing works to end sectarian civil wars where military force or arming one side usually fails.

Intervention in the sectarian Lebanese civil war by British, French and US forces in the 1980s failed to end it (partly because these foreign forces started taking sides).

Article 5 of the 1991 Taif agreement which ended the 15 year Lebanese civil war included sharing parliamentary seats equally between Christians and Muslims with certain proportions also guaranteed to other minorities within these two groups.  This power sharing has been retained in Lebanon’s electoral law (45).

The three most powerful political positions, President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, were already guaranteed to a Christian, Sunni and Shia respectively by the 1943 National Pact. Taif made the relative power of the three offices more equal by reducing the President’s powers and increasing the Speaker’s so that some talk of them as three Presidents (46).

A power sharing peace plan for Syria

In Syria power sharing could be between opponents and supporters of Assad, or between Sunni Arabs on the one hand and Alawites and other minorities on the other (again providing agreed shares to the other minorities), including a referendum on replacing the Presidency with a multi-member ruling council, indirectly elected by parliament, to give every faction a share of power. The ruling council's decisions could require unanimity, parliamentary approval by a two-thirds majority and in some cases a referendum too.

Guaranteed equal power sharing no matter what the election results may seem strange when most countries have winner-takes-all elections in which one side is winner and one loser in each election. Yet many of these elections are decided by a few per cent of the vote and provide big majorities to parties which got a minority of the vote, while excluding those who got almost as many votes from government entirely. Is that really more democratic? And why would either side in a life or death conflict agree to accept election results if they excluded it from power entirely and so put its leaders and their supporters at risk of torture and death?

Rebel groups which signed up to power sharing could become Syrian army units under their existing commanders, or else all militias could agree to disband and hand over their weapons, with an agreement that within a fixed time half of all professional soldiers and officers would be Sunnis, with each non-Sunni religion and the Kurds getting an agreed proportion of the other half, along with similar changes in the composition of the police and judiciary.

Any armed group which rejected the agreement or continued hostilities (most likely including Al Qaida / Nusrah) could be attacked as an enemy by all who had, until it was defeated, disarmed and disbanded, or accepted the agreement.

Isolating or weakening Al Qa’ida is a common interest for the NATO and Gulf Co-Operation Council governments (Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni monarchies) as well as Russia’s and Iran’s.

In the unlikely event that Al Nusrah did sign up to the peace agreement, it would have to end violence and become more moderate to keep any share of power. The peace process in Northern Ireland showed that even when extremists were elected on both sides (Martin McGuiness of Sinn Feinn and Dr Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party) they worked together amicably and helped isolate any groups which refused to end violence (e.g ‘the Real IRA’).

This plan would be an addition to Kofi Annan’s 6 point peace plan rather than an alternative to it.

The biggest problem will be the anarchic nature of the rebels, making it difficult to find representatives who most of them will accept as negotiators.

Why power sharing agreements are needed in Iraq and maybe elsewhere too

Similar power sharing proposals in Iraq, between Shias, on the one hand, and Sunnis and Kurds, on the other, could go a long way towards ending the sectarian violence there and stopping it spilling over into Syria again and from Syria to Lebanon, though the triple division makes this more difficult as the Kurds might side with the Shia on some issues.

Power sharing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Emirates would also allow democratisation without Sunnis fearing losing power to Shia entirely. Jordan and Egypt could also benefit from power sharing between secular and Muslim groups.

(1) = 15 Jun 2013 ‘Tony Blair calls for west to intervene in Syria conflict’,

(2) = CNN 15 Jun 2013 ‘Sources: U.S. to send small arms, ammo to Syrian rebels’, , (scroll down to bolded sub-heading ‘McCain: Rebels losing fight’)

(3) = 11 Jun 2013 ‘Deadly attacks deepen Iraq's sectarian divide’,

(4) = USA Today 09 Oct 2012 ‘Al-Qaeda making comeback in Iraq, officials say’, , ‘But now, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.

(5) Reuters / 20 Mar 2013 ‘Al-Qaida claims responsibility for Iraq anniversary bombings’,

(6) = BBC World Service 13 May 2009
‘Awakening Councils face uncertain future’,

(7) = Reuters 09 Apr 2013 ‘Iraqi al Qaeda wing merges with Syrian counterpart’,

(8) = Amnesty International 04 Jul 2012 'Libya: Militia stranglehold corrosive for rule of law ',

(9) = Medicines Sans Frontieres 26 Jan 2012 'Libya: detainees tortured and denied medical care',

(10) = Times 12 July 2012 'Hate and fear: the legacy of Gaddafi',

(11) = Amnesty International UK 07 Sep 2011 'Libya: Tawarghas being targeted in reprisal beatings and arrests',

(12) = Human Rights Watch 30 Oct 2011 'Libya: Militias Terrorizing Residents of ‘Loyalist’ Town',

(13) = New York Times 02 Mar 2012 'U.N. Faults NATO and Libyan Authorities in Report', ; 'Certain revenge attacks have continued unabated, particularly the campaign by the militiamen of Misurata to wipe a neighboring town, Tawergha, off the map; the fighters accuse its residents of collaborating with a government siege.

Such attacks have been documented before, but the report stressed that despite previous criticism, the militiamen were continuing to hunt down the residents of the neighboring town no matter where they had fled across Libya. As recently as Feb. 6, militiamen from Misurata attacked a camp in Tripoli where residents of Tawergha had fled, killing an elderly man, a woman and three children, the report said. '

(14) = Independent on Sunday 08 July 2012 'Patrick Cockburn: Libyans have voted, but will the new rulers be able to curb violent militias?',

(15) = AP/Guardian 09 Jun 2013 ‘Army chief quits after militia kills dozens in Benghazi’,

(16) = BBC News 11 Jun 2012 ‘Libya unrest: UK envoy's convoy attacked in Benghazi’,

(17) = BBC News 23 Apr 2012 ‘Tripoli: French embassy in Libya hit by car bomb’,

(18) = 12 Sep 2012 ‘Chris Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, killed in Benghazi attack’,

(19) = Reuters 25 May 2013 ‘Niger attacks launched from southern Libya - Niger's president’,

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

(21) = Independent 12 Jun 2013 ‘Syria: 60 Shia Muslims massacred in rebel ‘cleansing’ of Hatla’,

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

(23) = New York Times 08 May 2007 'The assault on Assyrian Christians',

(24) = UNoCHA IRIN news 13 May 2013 ‘"Sometimes you cannot apply the rules" - Syrian rebels and IHL’,

(25) = 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,....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.'

(26) = 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… with the Health Ministry putting the toll at 55 dead and nearly 400 wounded — civilians and soldiers. '

(27) = Voice of America 22 Feb 2013 ‘Death Toll Rises in Damascus Blasts’,
‘A Syrian expatriate rights group says a series of bombings in Damascus has killed at least 83 people …Most of the victims are said to be civilians, including many children from a nearby school, with 17 of the dead reported to be members of the security forces.’

(28) = BBC News 11 Jun 2013 ‘Syria crisis: Damascus hit by double 'suicide bombing'’,

(29) = USA Today 09 Jun 2013 ‘Large car bombs increasing in Syria’,

(30) = AP 27 May 2013 ‘Pro-government Syrian journalist Yara Abbas killed in action’,

(31) = Atlantic Wire 26 May 2012 ‘Pro-Regime Iranian Journalist Killed by Syrian Rebels’,

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

(33) = Human Rights Watch 20 Mar 2012 ‘Syria: Armed Opposition Groups Committing Abuses - End Kidnappings, Forced Confessions, and Executions’, (esp 1st para, 2nd sentence ‘Abuses include kidnapping, detention, and torture of security force members, government supporters, and people identified as members of pro-government militias, called shabeeha…. executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.’ – also see under sub-heading ‘Torture’)

(34) = Amnesty International 14 Mar 2013 ‘Syria: Summary killings and other abuses by armed opposition groups’,

(35) = ‘The FSA Doesn’t Exist’ by Professor Aron Lund of the Swedish Institute for International Affairs,

(36) = BBC News 09 May 2013 ‘Syria's protracted conflict shows no sign of abating’,

(37) = CBC News 07 Dec 2012 ‘Free Syrian Army an uneasy mix of religious extremes’ (scroll down to sub-heading ‘Abandoning Secularism’)

(38) = Syria Comment 03 Apr 2013 ‘Sorting out David Ignatius’, by Around Lund,

(39) = Swedish Institute of International Affairs UIBrief No.13 , Sep 2012, ‘Syrian Jihadism’, by Aron Lund, , pages 10 to 17

(40) = CBS News /AP 28 Mar 2013 ‘AP: "Master plan" underway to help Syria rebels take Damascus with U.S.-approved airlifts of heavy weapons’,

(41) = NYT 24 Mar 2013 ‘Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.’,

(42) = NYT 25 Feb 2013 ‘Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms’,

(43) =

(44) = NYT 01 Mar 2013 ‘Syrian Rebel Leader Deals With Ties to Other Side’,

(45) = ‘The Lebanese Civil War and The Taif Agreement’ by Hassem Kraim of the American University of Beirut,

(46) = Independent Foundation for Electoral Systems Mar 2009 ‘The Lebanese Electoral System’,