Tomorrow in Geneva, international crisis talks are due to be held on the deteriorating situation in Syria, under the auspices of the UN-Arab League Peace Envoy Kofi Annan. In addition to Foreign Ministers from the five permanent members of the Security Council, Annan has invited ministers from Turkey, the European Union, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.
Conspicuously absent are Iran and Saudi Arabia, for reasons that Annan has not explained. Given that Iran is a key supporter of the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia is a major financial and political supporter of the armed opposition, this absence might seem surprising.
Iran’s non-participation is almost certainly due to the insistence of the US, which will not talk to the Iranians about anything, while the absence of the Saudis is probably a quid pro quo designed to please Russia.
Whatever the reasons, the absence of these two key regional players does not bode well, at a conference that is supposedly intended to seek ways of ending the violence in Syria and promote a political resolution of the conflict.
Hilary Clinton has described the conference as a potential ‘turning point’ in the crisis, which ‘ could lead to a peaceful, democratic and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people.’ These are worthy and uplifting sentiments, and guaranteed to fill anybody who hears them with a warm glowing feeling, but like so many of the statements that come from the mouths of Western politicians on Syria, they are so much vacuous and propagandist drivel.
Tomorrow’s conference takes place against a brutal escalation of the Syrian conflict that is leading inexorably towards fullscale militarisation and a Lebanon-style civil war. This week, gunmen attacked the pro-government TV station Ikhbariya TV, killing three members of staff. This was followed by a twin car bomb attack outside the main courthouse in downtown Damascus yesterday.
In the same week the latest report from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria noted that violence is spreading across the country and that ‘Gross violations of human rights are occurring in the context of increasingly militarised fighting. In some areas the fighting bears the characteristics of a non-international armed conflict.’
The Commission reported that government security forces and its militia allies, the Shabiha ‘ have perpetrated unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and detention and torture and other forms of ill-treatment’. It also noted ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that
anti-Government armed groups have extra-judicially executed captured members of the Government forces, Shabbiha, foreign fighters, supporters of the Government, suspected informers and/or collaborators. The Commission also found that anti-Government armed groups have tortured captured members of the Syrian security forces and/or their alleged supporters and abducted civilians and members of Government forces, usually to facilitate prisoner exchanges.
The Commission’s depiction of this grim scenario as a ‘non-international armed conflict’ is somewhat anomalous, given the growing evidence that Syria has become an international proxy battleground.
And while La Clinton talks of peace and democracy and her concern for ‘the Syrian people’, it has become increasingly clear that the US and its allies in the region are more interested in stoking the violence than preventing it – whatever the cost to the Syrian population.
External involvement in the emerging civil war in Syria was probably already underway last year, according to the former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, who wrote in December that
Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army.
The emails from the ‘global intelligence agency’ Stratfor leaked by Wikileaks earlier this year also suggested that Special Forces from a number of Western countries were already on the ground helping rebels in Syria last December. But in recent weeks such assistance has become more overt. Last weekend the New York Times reported that
A small number of CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
According one official quoted by the Times, the presence of the CIA is intended ‘ in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups’. The Times also reports that ‘ The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.’
The NYT also notes that contingency plans are continuing for more full-on military intervention by the US as part of an as-yet unnamed ‘coalition’:
The Pentagon continues to fine-tune a range of military options, after a request from Mr. Obama in early March for such contingency planning. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at that time that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military, and the establishment of a no-fly zone.
The military has also drawn up plans for how coalition troops would secure Syria’s sizable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if an all-out civil war threatened their security.
Meanwhile Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now paying salaries to the Free Syrian Army, according to an anonymous Arab diplomat, who told the news agency
‘The payment has been going on for months and the agreement was made on April 2 by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with logistical organization from Turkey where some Free Syrian Army factions are based. The point of this is to encourage as many factions of the Syrian army to defect and to organize the FSA, control it and prevent any extremist organizations from joining it.’
And this week Turkey began moving troops to the Syrian border, after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane that entered its airspace. Last November, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu hinted that Turkey might invade Syria and declared that ‘If the oppression continues, Turkey is ready for any scenario. We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary.’
Davutoğlu added that ‘ a regime which tortures its own people had no chance of survival.’ This commitment to human rights is touching, coming from Turkey of all countries. But such rhetoric is par for the course.
For more than a year, Western governments and their regional allies have consistently ratcheted up a one-dimensional version of a ‘dictator killing his own people’ as a rationale for ‘humanitarian’ intervention.
Now, at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that the opposition is also ‘killing its own people’ in significant, all these countries are continuing to pour petrol onto the Syrian conflict while talking the language of peace and democracy and their desire to ‘stop the bloodshed’ .
Tomorrow’s conference will not change that trajectory, and is more likely designed to reinforce it, by putting more pressure on Russia and China to abandon Assad and support his replacement by a transitional government. Sooner or later, Assad will go – and in my opinion – should go.
But even if he does, the conflict has already become so atrocious and so entrenched, and there are now so many groups vying for power and influence – many of which are beholden to their foreign backers – that the end of the regime will probably not mean the end of the conflict.
Some very dark power games are being played by the West, Turkey and the GCC in Syria, whose ultimate objective is ‘regime change’ in Iran and a new strategic reconfiguration of the Middle East.
These players may not have caused the conflict, but they have done a great deal to make it worse, and now their efforts are leading not just to the bloody implosion of yet another Arab country, but possibly to an all-out regional war.
So congratulations to all concerned. You’re really doing a great job.
No related posts.