Syria: A war with no end in sight

Stuart Montgomery writes: The Syrian Civil War has been raging for two years. Countless casualties have been sustained on each side, and the humanitarian problem continues to worsen.

So how do you end a civil war?

There are three potential outcomes: regime victory, rebel victory and a negotiated settlement. Currently, the last option is the championed outcome in the international context of the Syrian Civil War. Recently, the United States and Russia, reeling on the recent success of the chemical weapons deal, announced plans to convene an international conference to negotiate peace. Turkey, France and the United Kingdom, countries once considering military action, now support a peace settlement. Political pundits point to the example of Kosovo, as they argue for a quick, clean and negotiated peace. Respected strategist Edward Luttwak argued that a negotiated settlement would best serve U.S. interests. This option has appeal, because it avoids a messy military intervention. However, a negotiated peace is not risk-free.

Historically, negotiated settlements ending civil wars, are temporary at best. Angola, Sudan and Lebanon provide unfortunate examples of civil wars that were only temporarily halted by a negotiated peace. Another example, Kosovo is now relatively stable, but has been governed by a large, expensive, U.N. force for over a decade.

Why do negotiated settlements break apart?

Conflict reignites, because the issues that are at the root of the war are never truly resolved. Monica Duffy Toft, professor at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, argues that rebel victories result in a more stable peace in her book Securing the Peace, on civil war termination. Shouldn’t the choice be clear? Unfortunately supporting Syrian rebels is unpalatable, because of their fractious nature and key groups’ affiliation with Al Qaeda. Supporting Bashar al-Assad is equally unattractive, and unrealistic. Therefore, wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, even if temporary, best protect U.S. security interests?

A negotiated peace is not without problems. First, both Assad’s regime and Al Qaeda affiliates would continue to exist and be armed in some power sharing structure in Syria. Without the presence of a large peacekeeping force, which is unlikely with the lack of support and enthusiasm in the United States and abroad, each side would have little incentive to disarm and cooperate. Instead, these factions would focus on outmaneuvering each other for survival, rather than rebuilding Syria. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month.

Al Qaeda-backed militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north.

Rami Abdul Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria — 100% — and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”

CNN conducted dozens of interviews with activists, local and international observers and residents of the towns affected by ISIS in preparing this study. Many of the Syrians CNN spoke to talked anonymously for fear of angering ISIS, saying ISIS has in some areas made it a crime punishable by flogging to even say their name.

The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.

Observers say the delay has provided a vacuum in the often chaotic rebel ranks that the organized and fearless Islamists have moved to fill.

Many observers explain that the extent of ISIS’s discipline and resources — they are said to have considerable cash at their disposal — means that the other rebel groups operating in the north do not seek to confront them.

Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, said: “Although not a numerically dominant force, ISIS is playing an increasingly pre-eminent role in the northern Syrian insurgency.

“Much of this is a result of its capability to exploit superior levels of financing and resources — essentially, to spread itself thinly enough to exert influence and/or control, but not too thin as to be overpowered by rivals.”

Most activists point to a clear strategy by ISIS — which aims to dominate a large swathe of the north from the north-western town of Idlib to the north-eastern city of Raqqa and beyond — of focusing on population centers on the edges of rebel-held territory and slowly choking off central areas. Some ISIS figures have described a broader aim of trying to link the Sunni province of Anbar in Iraq to the Mediterranean coast, near the Syrian town of Latakia.

Reuters reports: The international body tasked with eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons has raised only enough money so far to fund its mission through this month, and more cash will have to be found soon to pay for the destruction of poison gas stocks next year.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, is overseeing the destruction of Syria’s nerve agent stocks under a U.S.-Russian agreement reached in September.

It has so far raised about 10 million euros ($13.5 million) for the task.

“It is the assessment of the Secretariat that its existing personnel resources are sufficient for operations to be conducted in October and November 2013,” said an October 25 OPCW document seen by Reuters. At the time, its account held just 4 million euros.

Lally Weymouth interviews Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki:

What do you and your country think is the best outcome in Syria?

The best outcome is to stop the killing.


We had a proposal, put forth by our foreign minister, that you have to level the playing field. And that means Bashar’s military superiority has to be checked by giving the opposition the means to defend themselves. You’re not talking about sending troops on the ground. Over the past two and half years, if anti-tank, anti-aircraft defensive weapons had been distributed to the opposition—and not all the opposition, [but] the opposition that is for an inclusive Syria—then they would have been able to checkmate the military superiority of Bashar al-Assad and force him to come to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, that did not happen. While Europe and America continued to deny the opposition the means to defend against Bashar’s lethal weapons, the Russians and the Iranians continued to supply Bashar with whatever he needed.

So it’s up to the United States and the Europeans to arm the opposition?

Absolutely. The Europeans put an embargo on arms to Syria. They could see … that that embargo wasn’t affecting Assad but it was definitely denying his opponents … weapons. It took the Europeans two and a half years to change their view and finally say “OK, we can afford to sell these weapons to the opposition.” But none of these countries did. The Americans have not only not sold them, but they have declared they have no intention of providing these weapons to the opposition. So how can you level the playing ground if one side is continually supplied with what it needs by the Russians and the Iranians, and the other side is continually denied those things?

Do you think your country will sit by?

My country has been trying to push not just the United States but the Europeans as well.

Do you feel Saudi explanations fall on deaf ears with the Obama administration?

Every day there are more than 50 to 100 people killed in Syria. And the world sits back and watches.

Do you feel President Obama just doesn’t get it?

I don’t know if he gets it or not. But I think the world community is definitely at fault here. The Russians because they are supporting Bashar and allowing him to do the killing. The Chinese because they have vetoed any measures in the United Nations to prevent him from doing that. The Europeans for not supplying the opposition with weapons. The United States for continually not supplying the opposition with what they need. It’s a worldwide apathy—a criminally negligent attitude toward the Syrian people.

So what do you think will happen in Syria?

They are going to continue the killing.

And Assad will stay in power as things stand now?

As things stand now, Bashar al-Assad is under the protection of the Security Council because of the chemical weapons resolution.

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