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Tony KARON
tkaron@stargazete.com
Yazarın Sayfası

Syria breaking up

24 Temmuz 2012 Salı
"This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control," U.S.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday, following the Damascus bombing that killed four key figures in the inner circle of Syria's
President Bashar Assad. "And for that reason it's extremely important
that the international community [...has] to bring maximum pressure on
Assad to do what's right — to step down and to allow for that peaceful
transition." Panetta's concern is understandable, because not only is
Syria no longer under the effective control of the Assad regime, but
the outcome of its civil war is increasingly beyond the control of
outside powers. Russia and China's veto of the latest Western UN
Security Council resolution calling for Assad's ouster made clear that
there will be no international cooperation on securing a soft landing
for Assad regime. Indeed, this week's fighting in Damascus, and the
likelihood of a ferocious response by the regime, has rendered ever
more remote the prospect for a political settlement to Syria's power
struggle. The denouement of the Assad regime is likely to be nasty,
brutish and not especially short.

No amount of violence mustered by the regime now is likely to restore
the status quo ante — indeed, having seen the writing on the wall,
much of the Sunni elite that had backed the regime has begun to peel
away from Assad. And the loss of Sunni support underscores the limit
on the ability of a regime dominated by the Alawite minority–with
support from Syria's Christians and other even smaller minorities–to
rule over all of a country with a Sunni majority of more than two
thirds.

Losing the Sunnis also negates the regime's Baathist ideological
narrative of Arab unity – styling itself as guardian of a pan-Arab
nationalism willing to stand up to Israel had always served the
domestic political function of legitimizing Alawite minority rule in a
majority Sunni country. Still, the regime's sectarian core interests
(and fears among Alawites, Christians and other minorities of a
gruesome fate should Assad fall) has kept the core of the regime
intact until now. With his back to the wall, Assad will likely strike
out more brutally than ever. And even if he's forced out, there may be
many more months of sectarian violence.

Opposition activists and some analysts have long suggested that the
Assad loyalists, once they accept their inability to control all of
Syria, may instead circle the wagons in their own strongholds — north
Damascus, for example, as opposed to the southern, mostly Sunni
suburbs of the capital where fighting has raged this week — or even
more dramatically, into an Alawite rump state along the coast,
supported by Russia whose naval facility at Tartous it would likely
include. In other words, they predict either a Yugoslavia-style
breakup of Syria into separate mini-states, or else an
institutionalized civil war such as the one that continued for 17
years in neighboring Lebanon, with different neighborhoods of the
capital, Beirut, held by rival armed formations.

Some see a pattern of ethnic cleansing emerging in attacks on Sunni
neighborhoods aimed at securing the territory of the Alawite statelet.
And moves orchestrated by Iraq's Kurdish leadership to forge a unity
agreement among rival Kurdish factions to protect an autonomous zone
in the north portend a Kurdish mini-state similar to the one in
northern Iraq.

University of Oklahoma Syria specialist Joshua Landis finds the
'Alawite state' scenario unconvincing. "Once the regime loses
Damascus, it's finished," he answers. "The Alawite mountains are not
sufficient basis for a nation state. It has no separate economy of its
own, and the regime hasn't planned for this. Such an entity wouldn't
have an external backer — Iran wouldn't be in any position to provide
the necessary support. Once the Sunnis own the capital and the income
from the oil fields, they'd make short work of any remaining Alawite
resistance."

Once the regime departs the capital, it effectively vacates the
structure of its power, Landis argues. There's no system for
organizing Alawite power once that happens. And that raises the danger
of even more vicious fighting ahead, spearheaded by the Shabiha units
of pro-regime thugs often led by men no older than 21.

Even if it's not the final outcome, it's quite conceivable that
Syria's civil war passes through a potentially protracted and bloody
phase in which rival power centers control different pieces of
territory.

Like Yugoslavia, the Syrian nation state was an invention of the
victorious Western powers in the wake of World War I. Those same
Western powers saw no reason to stop the unraveling of their handiwork
in the Balkans seven decades later, but in Syria — where the
geopolitical and security stakes are much higher — they're desperate
to preserve a strong central authority in the Syria they created in
the 1920s. Whether such an outcome is still possible, however, remains
to be seen — and will be decided among the Syrians themselves.