What’s going on in Aleppo?

Yesterday, fighting began in Aleppo, one of Syria’s largest cities, between the rebel forces known as the Free Syria Army and the government-sponsored military in what Syrian President Bashir al-Assad called the decisive battle of the months-long civil war. This morning, reports are coming in from the New York Times that rebels are currently fleeing the city, having run out of ammunition and facing an overwhelming ground assault by government forces.

The outcome of the battle of Aleppo shows just how far the situation in Syria has deteriorated and how complicated the dynamics of the struggle are. Despite several high-profile defections from the Syrian government, including the resignation of prime minister Riyad Farid Hijab on Monday and his subsequent flight into Jordan, it is now obvious that the Assad regime is able to hold out against the rebels and is even beginning to show signs of a resurgence against the poorly armed forces. Text messages were sent out early Wednesday by the government to those Syrians that had not already fled the country urging them to denounce the rebels in order to “save yourself and your family”.

The conflict seems to straddle ethnic and sectarian lines in Syria, a common factor in many of the uprisings we have currently been seeing in the Middle East, a region where even slight ethnic and religious divisions matter in a way that most Western societies are not typically familiar with. Mr. Assad’s inner circle, like that of the government which his father headed before him, is made up mostly of members of the Alawite sect of the Shi’a branch of Islam. The majority of the population of Syria, however, belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam, a division which the rebels have claimed causes corruption in the Assad government and persecution of a large part of the Syrian nation. Assad’s elite cadre of Alawite followers have been accused of abusing their power and the power of the military at the expense of the interests of the people of Syria, sparking the violent rebellions that have been taking place for nearly a year at this point.

Syria’s civil war is complicated even further by the added international involvement in the conflict and what it represents to the interests of the various nations involved. On the one hand, you have Russia, Syria’s most prominent international sponsor, with naval bases in the country showing support for the continuity of the Assad regime. Regionally, the regime also has the support of Iran, another Shi’ite-governed nation, who has in recent years been in notable and accelerating conflict with Western powers over its nuclear enrichment programs. The United States, most of the European Union, and Turkey (the most significant liberal democracy in the region) have all voiced their support for the rebel forces in Syria and have denounced the Assad regime as despotic and inhumane. In recent months, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has begun urging the nations allied with the reble forces (known as the Friends of Syria) to begin planning for a post-Assad Syria and a recalculation of the nations place in the Middle East.

Perhaps, however, such talk is premature, given the intensity with which the struggle seems to be occurring and the absence of any sign of decline. The government’s victory in Aleppo, though certainly not a decisive one, is symbolic enough to give further credence to those in support of the Assad regime and will discourage the rebels (many of whom are young and relatively inexperienced in combat) from further aggression. Former UN Secretary-General and special peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan’s resignation and withdrawal from the diplomatic process is a concrete sign of how little progress is being made in ending the conflict. To this end, if liberal pro-democratic nations want to see the Assad regime toppled, it is imperative that they begin actively supporting the rebel forces in Syria much like those in Libya nearly two years ago. France, who holds to rotating chair to the United Nations Security Council, has already called a special meeting of the Council later this month with the express purpose of deciding a course of action in the ongoing conflict. The United States, who has a serious stake in this conflict given its very sensitive relations with Iran, must make a very clear show of support to the Free Syria Army if it wishes to influence the outcome of the civil war in a way favorable to its own needs.

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37 thoughts on “What’s going on in Aleppo?

  1. Interesting article, I happen to be in the process of writing a similar article for my own blog, which has the same purpose as yours.

    I would have liked to read a bit more about the regional aspect of the syrian crisis however. You do touch upon it by indicating the role of Iran, but one could write more about the overarching conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two spearheads of the two branches of Islam, and the implications this has for the wider picture and the decision for outside powers to interfere.

    Also, I would recommend to include proper referencing to any sources you used to build your argumentation, this also enables your audience to see beyond your post to the wider story and surrounding literature.

    In short, keep up the good work, I will follow your further posts.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I will have to do more research into the dynamics between Saudi Arabia and Iran, I’m not really familiar with that relationship but it sounds like an interesting subject to discuss.

      As for referencing my sources, thanks for pointing that out. It’s not something I had considered and it would certainly help out the audience.

  2. Good article. In all of these Middle Eastern Countries, how do we know the rebels are going to be any better than the current governments? Egypt and Libya certainly haven’t been promising experiments.

    1. Who are we to judge the shifting of another’s government? What makes us the ultimate critic in how to construct a free and classless society without bloodshed? We have killed more Arabs in ten years of fighting wars and proxy conflicts throughout that region than any single regime change in Egypt or Libya ever could. Perhaps, and this is an odd notion, we should extend the hand of loving kindness and be there to provide humanitarian assistance to the wounded, the sick, and the injured instead of lecturing them on how to usurp dictators. Then, of course, we would have to first apply those lessons to our own selves and that’s an ugly truth no American wishes to face.

  3. Let’s ask who profits from this war: clearly not the Syrian people nor the government. The only group that profits are the corporations providing arms to the combatants – corporations that can now contribute to U. S. election campaigns without limits. As long as men profit from the shedding of innocent blood, wars like this will continue.

  4. I think you misjudge many of the rebel fighters. During the post-invasion occupation of, especially, the western Al Anbar province, many Sunni foreign fighters came pouring in over the border to assist and fight alongside Sunni insurgents whom were, at the time, enacting a pitched resistance to US/Coalition occupation. Many of those fighters who didn’t die at the hands of the US Marines ended up trickling back to Syria or joining up with elements in Yemen or wandering over to Lebanon and Jordan. Needless to say, they didn’t disappear. And now they’re resurgance amongst the rebel ranks adds a veteran-class to the rebel groups.

    Also, western media will obviously side with the rebels. Russian media (Russia Today, especially) will side with the Assad regime. Al Jazeera doesn’t really pick sides and that’s why I read them when it comes to this matter. The Guardian has also been a good news source, as well.

    Regardless, this is a bloody atrocity on both sides and shouldn’t be supported by any civilization, let alone the US. Western foreign policy supporting a rebel alliance composed predominantly of its former enemies is definitely ironic. I would be far less afraid of a Taliban insurgent deciding to aggressively take his agenda to western shores than a Syrian freedom fighter. That’s if we, the US, don’t collapse first and have our own fish to fry before that day arrives.

    1. “During the post-invasion occupation of” Iraq (sorry)”, Al Anbar province saw many Sunni foreign fighters pouring in over the border to assist and fight alongside Sunni insurgents whom were, at the time, enacting a pitched resistance to US/Coalition occupation.”

      I wrote all of that horribly but hopefully the point got across.

  5. OK,

    Since you seem to be deeply aware of the situation, I will ask:

    How would American involvement help free Syria? How would it be in our best interest?

    And would there be any guarantee that there would not be ethnic cleansing of Alawites, Shi’ites, and Christians? Like has been seen in parts of northern Africa?

    Would partitioning the country into two or more separate countries ruled by constitutional monarchies, or parliaments, serve the whole region better than one goernment?

    Thanks

    Wayne

    1. First, you assume America has something to provide by intervening and I would ask, precisely, what do you have to provide?

      Second, you are also assuming our aid would help Syria and I ask you: from what exactly? From an authoritarian dictator whom is not afraid to butcher his own people or a mish-mash of rebels, some of whom come from factions our own troops have already engaged with on multiple accounts?

      Syria, no matter which side “wins”, will not be “free”. The victors will divide up the spoils and place them under the auspices of their respective political parties, which will individually vy for control of a divided Syria where the Alawites, if they are on the losing side, will see some very harsh consequences. However, if Assad (and that’s a big IF) is able to adequately crush the resistance, he will have done so over the formented anguish of almost a half million Syrians and the complete ostracization from many of the Arab league members.

      The only conscientious action we could take in this matter is humanitarian aid. If we were acting at all in the actual interests of the Syrian people and their “freedom”, whatever that means (not trying to be condescending), we would focus on the noncombatants. And we would focus on the children. And we would focus on doing all the things we would wish done for us if we were in the midst of a civil war: the rendering of aid, food, nutrition, medicine, and sanitation. And that would give America the greatest advantage, no matter who wins. Will we? I dearly hope so.

    2. There is no way to guarantee that there won’t be an ethnic cleansing, but that is a hypothetical situation in any case. The reality on the ground right now is that there is a definite movement originating amongst the Syrian people themselves to rid themselves of the Assad government.

      Whatever the government looks like after Assad falls should be determined by the Syrians. I personally don’t have any sort of recommendation to them about how they should or shouldn’t govern themselves.

      As for America, the biggest benefit of overthrowing the Assad regime would be to deprive Iran of one of their few remaining allies. I say this from a purely strategic point of view and make no moral distinctions one way or the other, that is certainly not my prerogative to decide.

      1. It’s not really an issue how many allies the Iranians have if we don’t go to war with them.

      2. The party that brought the Vietnam war was the American people and their complicit involvement in shoveling their sons and daughters off to a pointless power struggle. War is a given unless catastrophic debt or famine or disease strikes us first. And even then, I suspect.

  6. Russia, China is very transparent in supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime which is actually their only remaining ally in Middle East except Iran. The 1982 Hama massacre will likely to happen again and again. Another genocide! UN and NATO should do something on this..we don’t want to see another Qaddafi falling again but we should better prevent the slaughter.

    1. China and Russia will capitalize on any available opportunity to oppose the West, especially on issues of national sovereignty, which is almost certainly how they will paint the situation in Syria. That severely hampers the ability of the UN to do anything about the situation. NATO, on the other hand, has the ability to act independently from China and Russia and could be a valuable strategic resource.

  7. A Great and well-summarized article about the situation in Syria. The main issue is that world’s super powers are competing among each other to control over the world’s most important region(The Middle east). Russia wants to keep its strategic benefits in Syria specially the “Tartus” military port on the Mediterranean sea, which is considered as the last military port&airbase for the Russians around the Mediterranean since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S from the other side wants to protect Israel from any threat especially from Iran, and its important for them to get rid of the Syrian regime , adding on top of that they want to boost their existence in the Middle east just in case a war with Iran will occur.I think Its really sad to see many Syrian people dying because of the political interests of other nations.

    1. The United States values two things about anything else in the Middle East: oil and Israel. The Arab Spring represents a disturbance in both right now, but also a valuable opportunity for the West to isolate Iran. However, I think it would be hasty to say that the Syrian people are merely passive participants or victims of an international conflict between superpowers. The Syrians certainly have a very real stake in overthrowing the Assad government beyond just great power considerations.

  8. There is more going on in this civil war than meets the eye.
    On top of Rebels vs Government you have USA & The West vs China & Russia.

    There are actually very good reasons why Russia and China have vetoed previous attempts to forcibly remove Assad from power, one just has to look at events from their perspective. The biggest easily being that the west has burned (rather than used) all of the ‘Regime Change’ cards in it’s hand and Russia especially is putting it’s foot down.
    It is a seriously complicated and controversial issue that I feel requires it’s own post, a comment section answer would be inadequate.

    1. You are absolutely right. My focus of study is actually specifically related to China and Chinese foreign policy. China opposes Western-driven regime change in the Middle East precisely because it fears that the West will attempt to subvert their own authoritarian, one-party government. Thank you for your very intelligent comment, I will certainly be posting more about China and its relationship with the West as time goes on.

  9. While I don’t agree that we can or should assume the conflict will result in sectarian violence (as suggested above), I do agree that humanitarian aid is the right course of action – and perhaps affords us some input in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it seems the Syrian military has taken the upper hand in Aleppo and the opposition needs to reassess their options. Meanwhile, I pray for miracles every night to resolve this conflict in favor of the people; without further bloodshed on either side.

    1. Peace is certainly the most desirable outcome, but it should be a CONSTRUCTIVE peace rather than simply a ceasefire. Even if the killing stops, there will never be true peace in Syria as long as Assad remains in power.

      1. Although I agree with you that constructive peace is desirable, I do not share your optimism regarding the potential for peace upon Assad’s ousting. If anything, the power vacuum that emerges upon Assad’s removal will provoke great inter-religious violence between Shiites and Sunni. If anything, this is what the aftermath of Saddam’s ousting in Iraq taught us. In Iraq, similar to Syria, there was inter-religious violence and a country in which the religious minority dominated the majority.

      2. @GlobalPoliticsBlog, you are very right in your post, inter-sectarian violence is going to be a huge issue in post-Assad Syria and there is no guarantee that there will be peace in Syria if he is ousted. However, there will be NO peace for certain if Assad remains in power. The underlying social issues are still going to be there after the revolution ends, but with the help of the international community Syria can begin reconstruction and reconciliation once they are no longer under an authoritarian government. Even if the violence doesn’t necessarily stop after the revolution ends, at least the root causes of the violence can be brought to light and dealt with instead of being swept under the rug by a tyrannical government.

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