Sunday, December 22, 2013

Syria -- Assad May Remain

This report gives me, and I'm sure everyone else, mixed feelings.  Assad and his fellow-Alawites live in one of the world's roughest neighborhoods and are fighting for survival. The fact that he and they are in control in Syria is an accident of history.

I'm not an academic, but I have read enough to know that calling Alawites a branch of Islam is like calling Unitarian-Universalism a branch of Christianity. The statements have more to do with politics than theology. By building a formidable military and allowing a mixture of ethnic and confessional groups to co-exist, even flourish in Syria, the Assad family has prevailed by playing off super-powers both East and West against each other since the end of Colonial domination. In many ways his methods of maintaining control have not been importantly different from those of other countries in the region -- and yes, that includes Israel. So far, this is a movie with mostly bad guys.

Exclusive: West signals to Syrian opposition Assad may stay
Amman, Dec 18

(Reuters) - Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said. 
The message, delivered to senior members of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, was prompted by rise of al Qaeda and other militant groups, and their takeover of a border crossing and arms depots near Turkey belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army, the sources told Reuters. 
"Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue," said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia. 
Noting the possibility of Assad holding a presidential election when his term formally ends next year, the Coalition member added: "Some do not even seem to mind if he runs again next year, forgetting he gassed his own people." 
The shift in Western priorities, particularly the United States and Britain, from removing Assad towards combating Islamist militants is causing divisions within international powers backing the nearly three-year-old revolt, according to diplomats and senior members of the coalition. 
Like U.S. President Barack Obama's rejection of air strikes against Syria in September after he accused Assad's forces of using poison gas, such a diplomatic compromise on a transition could narrow Western differences with Russia, which has blocked United Nations action against Assad, but also widen a gap in approach with the rebels' allies in the Middle East.

The civil war pits Assad and many Alawites, backed by Iran and its Shi'ite Muslim allies, against Sunni Muslim rebels supported by Turkey, Libya and Sunni Gulf Arab states.
Unlike in Libya in 2011, the West has ruled out military intervention, leaving militant Islamists including al Qaeda affiliates to emerge as the most formidable rebel force, raising alarm among Washington and its allies that Syria, which borders Israel and Iraq, has become a center for global jihad. 
Saudi Arabia and Turkey, however, believe that tackling militants is less of a priority, with Sunni power Riyadh in particular furious at what it considers U.S. appeasement of Assad and his Iranian Shi'ite backers. Riyadh sent only a junior diplomat to the Friends of Syria meeting in London.

Also signaling differences with Washington, opposition activists in Syria have said that Turkey has let a weapons consignment cross into Syria to the Islamic Front, the rebel group that overran the Bab al-Hawa border crossing last week, seizing arms and Western equipment supplied to non-Islamists.

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