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Is Qatar training Egyptian fighters in Idlib, Syria?

Is Qatar training Egyptian fighters in Idlib, Syria?

Qatar’s global media outlet, Aljazeera, reported that 200 Egyptian military officers and experts are now in Syria. The report, is based on a Lebanese source, came days after the Egyptian president, Abdulfattah al-Sisi, in an interview to Portuguese media, said that he supported the Syrian national army in its war on terrorists. This seemingly new position has angered the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who back the Syrian opposition fighters and have been pushing for the removal of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Some sources, however, have also revealed that Qatar is training Egyptian Islamists in Idlib, Syria. This revelation could explain the increased collaboration between the Syrian and Egyptian governments. Egypt, like Syria, has been battling Salafi and other Islamist militants. If these elements are being trained in Syria and supported by Qatar, Egypt will be forced to collaborate with the Syrian and Libyan governments who are facing the same threats. 
Fath al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra front, which is backed by Qatar, controls Idlib, and has released multiple videos showing individuals engaged in war games, with indication that some of these fighters are not training for the war in Syria, which could support the assertion that Idlib is turning into training grounds for fighters from other countries, including Egypt, China, Tunisia, France, and Algeria.
It should be noted also that when al-Julani, the leader of al-Nusra, announced the name change of his group’s name into Jabhat Fath al-Sham, sitting next to him was a known Egyptian Salafist, another reason for Egypt to be concerned about the role of Qatar in supporting groups that might pose a security threat to Egypt.
 al-Julani, announcing the name change of al-Nusra Front

To compete globally, BRICS nations need reputation, not imitation

To compete globally, BRICS nations need reputation, not imitation

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia* 
BRICS nations
The economic, political, and social rise of the Western block of nations was founded on the single most enduring currency: reputation. Reputation, the source of credibility and trust, is the real asset that allows the U.S. to project its stature around the world. BRICS nations cannot rise to prominence by mimicking developed countries. They must build their reputation first. Wealth is only a byproduct of this more precious commodity, and countries who have it can squander it just as emerging economies can acquire it. For either of those results to happen in any country, circumstantial conditions and principled actions must converge.

Despite scientific advances, including ease of communication and physical mobility, many countries around the world remained untouched.. Many nations around the world mimicked the Western block of nations’ institutional structures in order to improve social and economic conditions. Consequently, regional cooperatives that grouped some countries together to increase capital and expand markets sprung up all over the world. One such cooperative is the consortium of nations dubbed BRICS. It is a curious association that warrants close examination in order to understand the forces that bind them together and the forces that push them apart.
Observers of international affairs have been intrigued by the outcome of the BRICS summit in Durban. Notably, the leaders of the five countries that constitute this group have agreed to build institutions that will foster cooperation and coordination. Specifically, they agreed to found a New Development Bank (NDB) that would invest in member states’ infrastructure as well as in that of Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs).
The leaders agreed that each country would contribute an investment of $10 billion, bringing the initial capital of the NDB to $50 billion. The leaders also agreed to supplement this capital with an additional $100 billion in emergency reserves, establishing a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), to help member states during unforeseen crises. China will provide $41 billion of the supplemental fund and each of the other four countries will contribute $18 billion, except South Africa, which will allocate only $5 billion. The bank will start by investing in one major project: a high speed Intranet that will connect all five countries. The project is estimated to cost about $1 billion. 
The potential and challenges facing this emerging economic group are enormous, given the human, geographic, economic, and political realities that unite and separate them. What is evident, however, is that challenging the West in the name of multilateralismis not enough to create a solid block that will survive the various challenges.
First, let’s look at the potential for success. More than 45% of the world’s population lives in the countries making up the block: 1.347 billion people in China, more than 1 billion in India, nearly 194 million in Brazil, about 140 million in Russia, and almost 50 million in South Africa. Together, the five countries control 30% of the land on earth. Each of the five countries is an economic powerhouse in its own right: China’s economic input (according to data from two years ago) equaled $5.5 trillion, Brazil’s was $1 trillion, India’s and Russia’s were both $1.6 trillion, and South Africa’s equaled $285 billion. Together, the five nations are the source of about 15% of global trade. More recent data show that the economy of BRICS grew by an average of 4%, compared to 0.7% for the top seven industrial nations. Economic projections suggest that BRICS countries will contribute nearly 50% of global economic growth by the year 2020.
But unlike other economic blocks around the world, BRICS consists of five countries from four different continents with five different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The geographic, cultural, and ethnic differences among BRICS nations are significant, but the political differences are even more pronounced. For instance, Brazil’s political culture is rooted in leadership that is derived from the authority of the Church and the power of the institution of the military. In contrast, China’s political system combines Confucius’ values with communism and the veneration of elders. India’s democracy, shaped by religious and class casts, is nothing like Russia’s authoritarianism or South Africa’s emerging representative governance. These differences are significant because political stability is also crucial in building reputation domestically and globally. Nations become stable and reputable when citizens (and businesses) know that life, property, and dignity are safeguarded under all circumstances. If these nations cannot provide political stability and smooth transfers of power at home, they certainly cannot be called upon to adjudicate political disputes abroad. For that to happen, all five nations need to do more to build robust civil society institutions.
In addition to the challenges that are dictated by difference, BRICS nations face serious conflicts of interests. China is perceived to be interested in flooding the markets of the other countries with its own goods. India is worried about China’s plans to build more dams on rivers on which India depends. Brazil, South Africa, and India have campaigned hard to have their status upgraded in the UNSC, but Russia and China did not support their efforts—which exacerbated the lack of trust amongst the veto-wielding countries and the non-permanent members.
One could argue that differences—especially cultural, political, and linguistic ones—ought to be seen as an asset, not a liability, since leaders of all five nations have emphasized the virtues of diversity and multiculturalism. That would be a sound argument if the composition of BRICS was actually built on diversity instead of economic potential. In the end, this cooperative is an intergovernmental organization. Governments are not in the business of promoting philosophical and ethical norms; they are in the business of increasing value to the power holders. 
Ultimately, the fact that BRICS are focusing on creating an investment bank instead of dealing with all the outstanding and potential issues suggests that they are relying on their shared interest in challenging Western dominance. Their first political statement on Syria and Afghanistan shows that BRICS nations need more than potential and resources to be effective on the global stage. Importantly, given the number of crises within the Islamic world, and given the potential and status of the Islamic world, BRICS could benefit from adding at least one emerging Muslim country to their exclusive club of nations.
The lingering financial crisis with which the U.S. and the EU are struggling provided other strong economies with an opportunity to break free from a unipolar world dominated by the United States and its allies. China and Russia are seen as the most likely candidates for re-establishing parity on the global stage. While Russia might be interested in reinventing itself as one of two superpowers in the post-Soviet Union era, China seems more interested in improving and preserving its economic rise. The association of BRICS was built on an idea—not on a principle—an idea that is rooted in the hope that countries with many resources and much potential can compete against the West. Competing against the Western block is unifying, purpose-wise. But competing against the Western block requires a principled approach and disciplined drive to build a reputation that these countries singularly or collectively can project around the world with confidence.
Reputation is not built in a day, by promises, or by wealth. Reputation is the outcome of a historical trend that builds trust. It cannot be bought, coerced, or manufactured. Reputation takes time to build and arrogance to destroy. BRICS nations’ leaders will be fatally mistaken if they think that the crisis of credibility of the West resulting from their recent illegal wars and violations of human rights will create an opening for them to as an alternative. BRICS countries must be consistently better in all those areas for which they fault the West for a long time for them to have a chance to compete for reputation, the most valued prize in human civilizations.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Delimiting a New World Order: Religion, Globalism, and the Syrian Crisis

Delimiting a New World Order: Religion, Globalism, and the Syrian Crisis

Sovereignty, Legitimacy and the Responsibility to Protect: 
Who is responsible and who is legitimate in Syria?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Syria and the New Middle East
Western leaders’ conflicting statements underscore the unease about change in the Arab world. Unless one believes that diplomats speak unscripted, an earlier statementby U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry becomes extremely significant. He contended that the ultimate goal is to “see Assad and the Syrian opposition sitting at the same table to establish a transitional government as laid out in the Geneva Accords.” Perhaps, partly because of such conflicted statements that leaders from UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey have scheduled one-on-one meetings with President Obama. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is talking about Syria to key world leaders, including the presidents of France, Egypt, Iran, and BRICS countries. Most observers are predicting that the expected Obama-Putin meetings over summer will culminate in a unified stance on Syria. If that is the expectation, it might be too late for world leaders to predetermine the outcome of the Syrian crisis by September. The dynamics on the ground and the entrenched disparate interests of regional and global powers will make it extremely difficult to press the reset button. A simple review of the events of the last 60 days will show the complexity and centrality of the Syrian crisis. Simply put, the management of the war in Syria is no longer in the hands of the Syrians. It is now a global affair.

1. In early March, the Syrian regime accused the opposition forces of attacking its troops and civilians with chemical weapons near Aleppo. The regime, supported by Russia, requested a UN investigation of this incident. After first agreeing to investigate, the UN’s efforts fell apart when some members of the UNSC wanted to broaden the scope of the investigation to include other suspected instances of use of chemical weapons. France and Britain accused the regime of using chemical weapons against opposition fighters in Homs. Russia accused the UN of politicizing the investigation. Until the writing of this article, no agreement on the constitution of an investigating committee has been reached.
2. With the rotating presidency of the Arab League transferred to Qatar, the host country of this year’s Arab League summit, the rulers of this tiny emirate did not waste time taking the lead. The Qatari Emir, in an unprecedented move, forced the rest of the Arab rulers (except those of Iraq and Algeria) to agree to give the seat of Syria to one of the opposition factions—the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (aka the Coalition), which angered at least two other major opposition groupings not represented in the Coalition. This development came just days after the Qatari rulers succeeded in getting the Coalition to establish a temporary government headed by a Syrian-American businessman. His appointment was immediately rejected by the Free Syrian Army and resisted by the then president of the Coalition, Moez al-Khatib. Consequently, an attempted assassination of the leader of the FSA, Riad al-As`ad, was carried out when he was touring northern Syria (he survived but lost his leg). Al-Khatib announced that he will resign.
3. In early April, al-Qaeda satellite organizations in Iraq and Syria announced a merger and the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra publicly declared his allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaeda. These developments confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria and put Western countries and its Arab allies in an awkward position. The U.S. cannot be seen using taxpayers’ money to pay groups affiliated with the organization that attacked it on September 11, 2001. The new priority, then, became more than distancing other opposition forces from al-Nusra. Western leaders wanted the “moderate” opposition forces to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Meeting with the Coalition leaders in Turkey, the new directives were made clear: Unless al-Qaeda groups are dealt with, the U.S. and some EU countries would not indiscriminately supply the opposition with the sophisticated weapons they had sought. That brought about the resignation of the president of the Coalition, Moez al-Khatib, again. The Coalition appointed an interim president, George Sabra. 
4. Since returning to the presidency, Vladimir Putin has been building his legacy as the leader who would reinstate parity to Russia-U.S.  relations. On April 12, the Obama’s administration issued a list of 18 people subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under the Magnitsky Act, a legislation that was passed by Congress late last year. Without delay, the Russian Foreign Ministry listed 18 Americans subject to visa bans and asset freezes under a retaliatory law that Putin signed in December. The law targeted Americans accused of violating the human rights of Russians abroad. More significantly, the list included some of the top Bush-era officials whom Russia accused of the “legalization and application of torture.” The list included David Addington (a former chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney), John Yoo (a former Justice Department lawyer), and two former commanders of the U.S. military detention centers at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. Evidently, Syria is another area where Putin is determined to make a firm stand. Putin is deliberately building a block of countries that will counter any action taken by the U.S. administration and its Arab and European allies. With China firmly with him on the Syrian issue, he is now building a broader coalition that may include former U.S. allies like Egypt.
5. After meeting with President Putin on April 20, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi stated that Egypt “was committed to finding a peaceful and legal solution to the crisis in Syria.” On April 21, the official Egyptian State Information Service announced that Egypt had turned down a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Before leaving Russia, Morsi asked for Russian investment in Egypt and restated Egypt’s desire (which he first mentioned when he had visited India earlier this year) to join BRICS. The meeting in Russia was followed by a visit to Iran (on April 28) by an Egyptian presidential delegation. Ostensibly related to all these developments, Qatar announced that the bonds it had offered to buy from Egypt (about $3 billion) would carry a 5% interest and must be paid within 18 months. Putin, it is thought, might have reminded Morsi that joining BRICS comes with the expectation of embracing the Durban declaration about Syria—which is contrary to the wishes of Qatar. A shift in Egypt’s position on Syria would weaken the Qatari-Turkish one. Moreover, if Russia decides to invest in Egypt, as Morsi requested, that, too, would weaken Qatar’s influence over Egypt.
6. The bad news for the Qatari ruling family did not stop there. Last week (April 23), after meeting with the Emir, President Obama said: “We’re going to be continuing to work in the coming months to try to further support the Syrian opposition, and we’ll be closely coordinating our strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.” The “more peaceful resolution” comment appears to be a diplomatic reprimand to the Qatari ambitious ruler. After all, Qatar did not contribute to any semblance of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. Instead, it contributed weapons and a blow to the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi when the Emir created a government for Syria out of a single unrepresentative opposition group and gave it the seat of the Syrian state in the Arab League. The rash move further complicated things for the Russian and American diplomats. In fact, it might have pushed Russia to take a more aggressive stance on Syria, as evidenced by the increased activities by Russian diplomats.
7. After meeting Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov over the weekend (April 27), a confident Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah) made an unusually detailed speech on April 30. Nasrallah stressed one key point: “The true friends of Syria will not allow Damascus to fall in the hands of America, Israel, or the takfiri groups.”  For those familiar with his rhetoric, this statement is extraordinarily specific and it could not be borne out of simple predictions. It must be a declaration of a political decision the Syrian state’s supporters, like Russia and Iran, have taken. After all, Russia has sent many signals, explicitly and implicitly, about its unwavering support to the Syrian state. The Qatari move may have pushed the Russian leaders even further in their support for Assad’s regime. 
Evidently, Russia was not pleased with the Arab Leagues’ decision to bypass the Geneva Statement on Syria. The U.S. apparently was not thrilled either–hence Obama’s statement that he and Qatari ruler will “be closely coordinatingour strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.” This statement confirms that the U.S. is not happy with unilateral, aggressive moves that Qatar has made thus far. The President appears to stress the new direction towards a “more peaceful resolution.” 
The U.S. administration cannot overlook or downplay the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria and its return to Iraq. It took the United States’ military, the most sophisticated fighting institution in the world, more than ten years to bring down the level of violence in Iraq–just down enough–to extricate itself from the mess the Bush administration had created. The invasion of Iraq is still fresh in the memory of Americans, most of whom now oppose any U.S. military intervention in Syria. The Syrian military and security agencies will need at least just as much time to bring the level of violence under control even with a political settlement that the regime might reach with mostof the political and armed oppositions. Without doubt, al-Qaeda affiliates will not stop fighting in Syria because their fight is not against Assad. It is about re-establishing the caliphate as they understand it and imposing Salafi dominion over all other religious and sectarian communities.
If the Syrian regime were to fall, the entire region will be destabilized. The first sign of this inevitable outcome is the increasingly violent confrontations in Iraq and Lebanon. Should the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Salafi allies) rise to power in Syria, Jordan, too, will be further destabilized. Syria, today, represents political and security challenges that will take generations to bring under control. Notwithstanding the repositioning of allies and foes, the outcome of the Syrian crisis, no matter what that might be, will certainly delimit the new Middle East in a way that will affect the entire world—not just Syria and the region.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other or ganization with which he is affiliated.

Another international conference on Syria and the crisis goes on

Another international conference on Syria and the crisis goes on

Nearly 300 opposition leaders from inside and outside Syria will be attending the Syrian Conference for Democratic and Civilian State to be held Monday and Tuesday, 28th and 29th January, 2013 in the Starling Hotel Geneva. Organizers of the conference complained that many activists and opposition leaders from inside Syria were denied visas. They accused France of working to undermine the efforts of many opposition groups who are not represented in the so-called Syrian Coalition, which France recognized as the “sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

According to organizers, the “Conference aims to promote and encourage a real dialogue between the Syrian democratic opposition structures in an open dialogue about the violence consequences, the sectarian risks and the future of the democratic project. It will encourage cooperation, coordination and synergies between political parties, civil society and social movement inside Syria, and advance work towards a realistic transitional program, for a civil and democratic State in Syria.”

In addition to political pressure to keep opposition leaders out of the Geneva meeting, France hastily organized a meeting for the so-called Friends of Syria in Paris during the same period. This time however, the Friends of Syria meeting will take place amid disagreements among the supporters of the Syrian Coalition. France, who just intervened militarily in Mali, has accused Qatar of supporting the Salafi militants there.
Moreover, France is now re-assessing its old position concerning Syria. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared that things are not going as expected. “Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the (opposition) coalition to power, has not happened,” he said in his annual New Year’s address to the press. In March 2011, Fabius himself told RFI radio in December that “the end is nearing” for Assad. On Thursday, he said that “there are no recent positive signs… France continues, like others, to try [to] find a solution so that Bashar is replaced and that a united Syria that respects all communities is achieved. However, we are far from it.”
With new leadership in the Defense and State departments in the United States, the only consistent factors in the Syrian crisis remain to be Russia, China, and Iran. Recently, Russia declared that without a political solution, Syria’s civil war is likely to continue for another two years at least. Iran, where a new president will be elected this year, Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to the supreme leader and a potential presidential candidate, declared that an outside attack on Syria will be considered an attack on Iran. All these developments would mean that the bloodshed and suffering will continue for at least months if not years.

Who is the Syrian Opposition?

Who is the Syrian Opposition?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Since the start of the uprising in Syria, countries supporting the opposition groups wanted to unify them. They organized a series of the so-called “Friends of Syria” conferences one after another only to adjourn without realizing their objective. In most cases, the meetings created more discord than opportunities for unity.

The unrealized Eid Ceasefire (hudna; quiet) proposed by the new UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, exposed the level of disunion among the armed groups as well. Although the government, the Syrian National Council (SNC), and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) all agreed to the four-day quiet, violence during the religious holiday continued unabated and it may have gotten worse. The FSA attacks on Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo during the same period, for example, added another dimension to the conflict and offered a preview of what may happen in the future.

The failure to honor the ceasefire and the attacks on Kurdish neighborhoods add credibility to Brahimi’s pessimistic assessment of the crisis in Syria. He has been reminding leaders of every country he’s visited of the gravity of the situation and warning them that it will get worse unless the world community act in a constructive way. That is not lowering expectations; it is statement of facts. While defections of high ranking officers stopped, signaling the purging of the Syrian military from unreliable elements, the opposition forces are outgrowing there leadership frame. Instead of coalescing into a single block with a single agenda, the political and military oppositions continued to splinter into disparate organizations each of which claims that it represents the Syrian people.

The SNC that was hastily established in Turkey lacks unity, vision, will, and popular support inside Syria. But it enjoys the widest support from Western and some Arab and Islamic countries, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. It is dominated by exiled dissidents including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The NSC has links to the Free Syrian Army and is believed to channel financial and military support to select groups from among the Free Syrian Army. But the SNC inability to reign in extremist groups caused some western leaders tosecond guess their earlier decisions.

The National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC short for National Coordinating Committees) consists of representatives of left-leaning and Kurdish opposition parties inside and outside Syria. It called for regime change through peaceful means. Most leaders of the NCC oppose “the militarization of the uprising” and support armed struggle only for self-defense. They lack international support (compared to the SNC), although China and Russia have shown interest in talking with them. If there is going to be a political settlement, the position of the NCC might end up being the basis for an agreement.

In August 2011, another group of Syrian political parties announced the creation of another coalition, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC). Leading figures of some thirty groups met in Istanbul on August 9, 2011 to form this entity. The coalition has no political platform and no known mechanism for influencing events inside Syria.

Most recently, the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution (SCSR) was created to provide a voice for the youth inside Syria. Leaders of the SCSR argue for a dual-track plan of action, civil and military, to overthrow the regime. Until the writing of this article, the SCSR is believed to have some representatives in the Syrian National Council but it did not formally join it.

The earliest political and advocacy entity established to organize the movement against the Syrian regime is the loosely connected Local Coordination Committees of Syria (Lijan al-Tansiq; LCC). The LCC consists of a network of local groups that organize and report about protests, arrests, kidnappings, and killings. The LCC is committed to civil disobedience and opposed to armed resistance and international military intervention.

The armed factions are just as fragmented as the political groups. They only share the goal of overthrowing the Assad regime. But they have radically different agendas for post-Assad Syria and they have different international backers, too.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is generally referenced as the main armed entity. It was founded by some Sunni military officers who defected in the early months of the uprising. The head of this organization is Riad al-As`ad (Riad Mousa al-Asaad) who defected in the summer of 2011 and settled in Turkey. He announced in August that he was moving his command center to inside Syria but, according to news reports, he returned to Turkey few days later. The absolute majority of armed groups portray themselves as affiliates of the FSA and they display the latter’s logo and colors. Even many of the Islamist groups operate under the banner of the FSA. Islamists’ affiliation with the FSA is less about operational, command and control matters and more about “mainstreaming” themselves. Since Turkey, Qatar, and some Western nations are willing to support the FSA, armed groups sought its cover in order to avoid the label of “terrorism.” The fact that the FSA leadership accepted the ceasefire but most armed groups affiliated with it continued to fight indicates that the membership is nominal and symbolic. This reality bolsters some observers’ conclusion that the FSA has no actual influence over armed groups inside Syria—at least not over all of them.
The Military Council for the Syrian Revolution (MCSR) is another self-declared military leadership organization believed to have local command and control centers in most Syrian provinces. It is headed by another defecting officer, Mustafa Sheikh. Unlike the FSA, this organization is believed to operate from within Syria.

The National Syrian Army (NSA) is a third entity founded by Mohamed Haj Ali, another officer who defected in the fall of 2011. Officers of this organization are criticized by fighters affiliated with the FSA for waiting too long before defecting. They are also accused of being created and co-opted by some Western nations in preparation for post-Assad era. Some observers contend that the NSA was created by France after succeeding in helping Manaf Tlas, a long time insider and personal friend of Assad, defect.

The fourth organization is the Joint Military Leadership for the Syrian Revolution (JMLSR) headed by Adnan Sillu, a Major-General who defected from the Syrian army in July 2012. The board of the JMLSR consists of about twenty officers said to represent armed groups that are active in the northern and central provinces.

In addition to these military leadership organizations, many other armed groups operate independently or under the leadership of the so-called Consultative Council of Jihad (CCJ). Some armed groups have multiple affiliations, others switch affiliation often. Some groups label themselves as “special ops” and have no affiliation. They specialize in kidnappings, executions, and assassinations of Syrian army soldiers and persons accused of being shabbiha (regime supporters).

In all cases however, the large umbrella leadership organizations serve as liaison offices to coordinate action among the various armed formations, provide financial support, and distribute arms and ammunition. They depend on foreign sponsors to maintain influence and control and operate sophisticated media campaigns to promote their activities and attract foreign sponsors.

On the ground, armed groups form at the level of brigades (sing. katibah) consisting of five to several dozen fighters. Some brigades may unite to form larger contingents (sing. liwa’), which then operate under the banner and nominal command of one of the aforementioned military leadership councils.

Recent reports from inside Syria indicate that most of the arms and ammunition are being stored, not distributed to fighters. Such a strategy of hoarding and stockpiling weapons signals the level of distrust among the various fighting groups and their desire to prepare for the battles for power and control in the future. That means that even with Assad out, infighting will most likely persist. Even if peace were to be attained in Syria, these weapons can be used later to destabilize neighboring countries and carry out attacks inside or outside Syria.

Given the multitudes of political organizations and military councils, it is impossible for any one country at this time to exert a significant level of control over the armed opposition. Regional and world powers have different reasons for supporting opposition groups the same way countries that are supporting the Syrian government do so for different purposes. Their initial support of the opposition groups and the supplying of arms created a fiend that cannot be easily controlled. Consequently, even a political settlement will most likely further fracture the opposition and may lead to factional infighting. If that were to happen, it will inflict even more devastation on a population that is on the brink of catastrophe.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The crisis in Syria is driving a wedge between Turkey and Iran

The crisis in Syria is driving a wedge between Turkey and Iran

Despite Turkish politicians’ efforts to downplay the diplomatic rift with Iran, more evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. The main reason is Turkey’s increased role in supporting the groups that want to topple the regime in Syria. Iran considers that to be a red line and they seem to have communicated that to the Turkish prime minister who visited Tehran last week.

Signs of the cooling off of the Turkish-Iranian relations can also be seen in the lukewarm reception Recep Tayyip Erdogan received. Unlike  previous visits, he was greeted at the airport by the Iranian VP instead of the president. His meeting with the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not conformed until the last minute. When the two finally met, according to Persian media, Khamenei had only one thing to tell the prime minister: Iran will not support the overthrow of Assad.

Nine days before the nuclear talk with the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany), top Iranian officials announced that they are interested in changing the venue of the meeting from Istanbul to Iraq or China. Some of the Iranian officials were explicit about the reason behind the change in venue.

On Wednesday, influential lawmaker Seyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi called on Ahmadinejad’s government to choose another place, other than Istanbul, for the upcoming talks with the world power. Abtahi went on to argue that the “Friends of Syria” conference held in Istanbul last week is evidence that Turkey is implementing the West’s policies in the region.

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezayee, too, called on Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policy officials to change the venue of the upcoming talks.

Reacting to these developments, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and coordinator of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group told the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, during a phone conversation late April 3, that Baghdad was out of question.

Even if the meeting eventually takes place in Turkey, the diplomatic rift between the two countries would have happened and Syria was the cause of it. Iran, as expected, supported Assad because he was its only reliable Arab ally. Turkey on the other hand, seems to struggle in its reactions to the Arab Spring. Although it took a muted stand toward the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Turkey first opposed NATO’s involvement in Libya and wanted a political solution, not a military one, to the crisis there. When Qaddafi’s regime fell however, Turkey tried to repair its image by supporting the rebels. Apparently, they did not want to make the same mistake in Syria. As soon as demonstrations started, Turkish leaders gave Assad one ultimatum after another leading to the full break of diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that the regime will fall fast, too. That did not happen so far and they have many reasons to worry should Assad’s regime survive.

It seems that Turkey picked the wrong time and the wrong side to make a stand against authoritarianism in the Middle East. By supporting armed rebels against the Syrian regime, The Turkish leaders found themselves in the company of only Saudi Arabia and Qatar–even the U.S. is opposed to arming the opposition. These two countries claim that they are interested in democracy in Syria while denying it to their own peoples. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the contradiction cannot be more pronounced: the Saudi rulers mistreat women and minorities. They even sent the military to suppress a peaceful uprising in Bahrain. In Qatar,  14% of the population deny political and civil rights to the 86%. It is the right decision to support genuine political reform in Syria, but Saudi and Qatari rulers are not the company Turkey wants to keep if they want credibility in the Arab street. 
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