Monday, August 06, 2012

Syria's Sunni Prime Minister Defects

In another sign that the Syrian civil war is settling down into a sectarian conflict, Syria's Sunni Prime Minister Riad Hijab, from the Deir al-Zour area in North eastern Syria, fled with his family and announced he had defected to the rebels today.

The Assad regime's story is that he was 'fired', but th etruth is probably somewhere in between. Hijab was appointed Prime Minister in order to bolster Sunni support for the regime, but a man in his position in these times needs to make calculations on a knife edge.

Am I still trusted by Assad? Is Basher Assad likely to make an example of me? Do the rebels have a chance to win? If they do, they'll consider me a traitor. If I side with the rebels now, as a high ranking politician, what are my chances of being part of the poltical leadership if they do win? And if they don't, do I have an avenue of escape?

These and similar considerations are going through the mind of every prominent Sunni in Basher Assad's regime.

Hijab's spokesman Mohammed el-Etri told al-Jazeera that he was in "a safe location".

"I address you today at this grave hour where the country is living under the brunt of genocide and barbarian brutal killing against unarmed people who are simply demanding freedom and a dignified life," ran Mr Hijab's statement read by his spokesman.

"Today I declare... that I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and [am] joining the holy revolution. And I declare that from today I am a soldier of this holy revolution."

The main focus of the civil war remains Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub and second largest city.

Some rebel spokesmen are telling gullible reporters they control 40% of the city, but my sources tell me that in most of Aleppo it's business as usual, with the fighting confined to some neighborhoods on the outskirts.

Given that Hezbollah is now actively engaged in helping the regime and that Basher Assad just received an new intake of weaponry from the Russians, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Muslim Brotherhood rebels puhed out of Aleppo, at least for now.

And if push comes to shove, I wouldn't even rule out the Russians sending a few 'advisers' back by air cover and armor to back up a valuable client state. It'll be even easier if Assad concentrates on holding a redoubt in northwest Syria.

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