Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Syria's Battle Lines Are Drawn As Assad Consolidates His Northwestern Redoubt
The Assad regime sent fresh troops and armor advancing on Aleppo today counterattacking rebels in an effort to assume complete control over Syria's second largest city.
Just north of Aleppo, the formerly rebel controlled town of Azaz has literally become a ghost town. The few residents left who haven't fled are hiding indoors in what's left of their homes. Most of the Sunnis have fled across the Turkish border as refugees, and an increased flow is expected as Assad's troops move in to try to consolidate their hold on Aleppo.
Aleppo, a city of two million people is Syria’s commercial capital. If the rebels can mange to take the city, it would give them a key base in the northwest, and they could then have a free hand to send troops and armaments to Damascus along the main north-south highway between the two main Syrian cities.
Regime counterattacks also continued in Damascus and have apparently been successful in restoring calm to the ancient capitol, but Aleppo is an important part of Assad's strategy, to carve out a redoubt in northwest Syria, the main Alawite area of the country and home to many Christians who support the regime because they understand what Muslim Brotherhood rule of Syria would mean for them.
Also in the mix are armed Kurdish factions like the PKK along the Turkish border who distrust the Muslim Brotherhood. The Assad regime has gone to some trouble to cultivate them as possible allies.
If Assad can carve out a fiefdom in Syria, holding on to the area west of the Orantes River and perhaps a strip of territory encompassing Idlib and Aleppo,he's going to be very difficult to dislodge for some time without direct western intervention.. The Russians, of course, would keep him supplied via their naval base at Tartus and the port of Latakia, and Assad undoubtedly has enough troops to hang on to that much territory, especially with an assist from Hezbollah, who are already assisting him.
The Obama Administration is already supplying the Muslim Brotherhood rebels in the Syrian Free Army with weapons and some training via Turkey and Jordan, and they might actually be able to hold Damascus and southern Syria. Whether they have enough juice to take on Assad in the northwest is questionable, especially since the early strength the Sunni rebels got from defectors in Assad's forces has pretty much slowed to a trickle. Most of the Syrian military who were going to go over to the rebels have already done so.
As we saw in Iraq, ethnic cleansing along sectarian lines is beginning, with Sunnis migrating to the rebel controlled areas and Shi'ites, Alawites and the majority of Christians starting to move towards the regime controlled areas.
The Kurds are consolidating their strength in Syria's northeast, and area adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan. Unless the rebels make an arrangement with Syria's Kurds for autonomy, which is doubtful, they will likely seek to make a de facto merger with their fellow Kurds just over the border.
Syria's situation is likely to remain fluid for months.
The normally clueless Tom Friedman makes the cogent point that Syria is 'like Iraq, in that it is an ethnic melange, and a minority-ruled dictatorship that was held together by a iron fisted dictator.
Of course, he goes off the rails when he suggests that Iraq is a 'successful democracy' because the US mid-wifed the transition. What America really 'mid-wifed, thanks to the way the clueless Bush Administration approached it was merely a transition from a Sunni-ruled dictatorship to a Shi'ite one that is essentially becoming an Iranian colony.
The results in Syria if we continue to intervene will be exactly the same - a shift from an Alawite Shi'ite dictatorship to a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood one.That's undoubtedly exactly what the Obama Administration wants.
There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that if this wasn't election season in America, the Obama Administration would be actively engaged in another war on the Muslim Brotherhood's behalf. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks today about how the rebels have "taken enough territory" to provide a safe haven and " provide a base for further actions" signified that pretty clearly. She's obviously hoping for them to take Aleppo, where they can be supplied easily from the Turkish border.
We may yet see a direct US intervention if this president is re-elected.