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Syria’s Divided Opposition

Syria’s Divided Opposition


Violent and nonviolent elements comprise Syria’s opposition. Peaceful ones want differences resolved diplomatically and politically.


Violent ones are responsible for ravaging Syria since March 2011. No end of conflict looks imminent.


From October 1969 - October 1976, and from October 1982 until his February 1986 assassination, Olof Palme served as Sweden’s prime minister. He led the Swedish Social Democratic Party.


He supported decolonization and nonalignment. He was for Palestinian rights. He compared the Vietnam war to the holocaust. He opposed apartheid and other authoritarian regimes. He strongly opposed US and Western imperialism. At the same time, he maintained ties with NATO.


In 1992, the Olof Palme International Center was established. It works “in (his) spirit….for democracy, human rights, and peace.” In May 2012, it published a report titled “Divided They Stand: An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions.”


It lists nine opposition groups. They include:


(1) The Syrian National Council (SNC). It’s Syria’s largest. It gets substantial Western and regional support. It’s dominated by extremist elements. It favors violently ousting Assad. It’s allied with US proxy Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants.


They’re heavily armed, well funded, trained, and directed Washington proxies. They’re fighting Obama’s war against independent Syria. They want a pro-Western puppet regime replacing it. Thousands of casualties mount. Assad is wrongfully blamed for death squad crimes.


(2) National Coordination Bureau for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCB). It wants democratic governance replacing Assad. Its principles are “no violence, no sectarianism, no intervention.”


(3) Syrian Democratic Platform. Ideologically it replicates NCB goals.


(4) Building the Syrian State (BSS). Its members include dissidents, apolitical elements, and pro-reform independents. It rejects armed struggle and seeks peaceful transformation.


(5) National Change Current (NCC). It supported the SNC, but wouldn’t initially join it. It’s allied with SNC fringe groups.


(6) The “loyal opposition.” Since violence erupted last year, eight new political parties were formed. Some are allied with Assad. They comprise no real opposition.


(7) Syrian Sunni Islamism. It’s the Syrian opposition’s “single strongest force.” Its members include the Muslim Brotherhood. Its Syrian branch was created in 1944. It lacks a significant internal organized base.


In March 2012, it issued a political declaration. It announced support for religious equality. It said “every citizen has the right to reach the highest of positions.”


MB factions throughout the region united in supporting Syria’s opposition.


Since the 1990s, Syrian Salafism made substantial inroads. It’s a Sunni Islamic ultra-orthodox school. It’s connected with Saudi Wahhabi extremists. It’s militant, strict and intolerant. Salafists also tend to be loosely organized.


Salafi-Jihadi elements consider themselves at war with secular Islam and Western governments. They replicate other like-minded groups.


(8) The Kurdish opposition. They comprise up to 10% of Syria’s population. They’ve long been marginalized and play a minor role. Its opposition largely lacks effectiveness. It’s comprised of about 15 competing parties.


Throughout 2011, Kurdish areas remained largely calm and orderly. In October 2011, its parties created the Kurdish National Council (KNC). Its members remained free to ally with other groups as they saw fit. They oppose Assad, but want democratic change.


(9) Independent dissidents. They include around 30 individuals.


A Brief Snapshot of Syria


Post-WW I, Syria became a French colony. It remained so until April 1946. Eight military coups followed. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad gained control. Until his death, he led Syria’s Ba’ath Party. In July 2000, his son, Bashar, became Syria’s president. He’s a London-trained ophthalmologist turned politician.


The nation’s agricultural sector generates around 25% of its national income. Wheat and cotton are principle crops. Oil is also produced and exported. In 2010, GDP growth was 3.2%. Per capita income was $4,800.


Russia and Syria have longstanding economic and strategic ties. Russian expertise and technology helped build Syrian infrastructure.


It’s also responsible for dozens of industrial facilities. It includes about one-third of its electrical power capacity, another third of its oil-related operations, and help building the Euphrates dam.


Maritime interests are important. Linking Latakia, Syria with Novorossiysk, Russia on the Black Sea facilitates cargo shipments. Gazprom has oil and gas development operations.


Both countries have nuclear energy ties. They also cooperate on other commercial, scientific, military, and environmental issues.


Syria is secular. Its population numbers around 22.5 million. About 90% are Muslims. Most others are Christians. Significant investment goes for education. It’s prioritized. It’s largely free. Most schools are state-run. Private college charge modest fees.


Free healthcare and subsidized housing are provided. In 2006, IMF structural adjustment mandates compromised them. Conflict conditions since March 2011 affects all government services.


Most Syrian banks are public. They’re state owned and operated, including its central bank. They’re anathema to Wall Street-style debt finance. They’re run like Gaddafi ran Libya’s. They create their own money. They’re not controlled by Western bankers.


Syria, Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine are the last remaining independent governments free from Washington’s control. Replacing them with puppet regimes is planned.


Since March 2011, Western generated violence ravaged Syria. Many thousands died. No end in sight looks imminent. Full-scale war appears likely.


Syrian forces are formidable. A well-armed defense force numbers around 400,000. It has state-of-the-art weapons. Defeating it won’t be easy.


Western proxies alone are no match for its military superiority. Expect Washington-led NATO involvement. Doing so will constitute Libya 2.0. With or without Security Council approval, it’s coming.


Expect it post-November or perhaps sooner. The road to Tehran runs through Damascus. It’s been planned that way for some time. Imperialism isn’t pretty. Millions of corpses explain why. America’s permanent war policy assures many more. Where it ends who knows.


On September 17, Reuters headlined “West’s rebel worries leave Syria strategy struggling.” It’s beset by internal divisions. Each acts in its own behalf. They can’t get their act together.


They formed a new body called the Syrian National Army (SNA). It hopes to unite fractious groups. It looks more like old wine in new bottles. General Mohammed Hussein al-Haj Ali heads it. Disunity in the ranks perhaps makes his mission impossible.


Washington, NATO partners, and regional allies support the Syrian National Council (SNC). Originally formed in 2005, it was revived in August 2011. It was established on lines similar to Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC).


It’s considered a government in waiting. At the same time, it’s chaotic, sectarian, and hard to control. Some of its meetings dissolved into fisticuffs.


Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters may be unified in little more than name. SNA elements may fare no better. They’re heavily supported with heavy weapons, funding, training and direction.


Assad is wrongly blamed for its violence. The so-called UN Human Rights Council (HRC) lost all credibility. It backed Western generated violence since conflict erupted in winter 2011.


On September 10, Navi Pillay, its high commissioner, said the following:


“I am gravely concerned by the on-going conflict in Syria, which continues to have devastating consequences on civilians. The use of heavy weapons by the Government and the shelling of populated areas have resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, mass displacement of civilians inside and outside the country and a devastating humanitarian crisis.”


“I am concerned that they may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”


In September 2011, Paulo Pinheiro was appointed UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) chairman. He’s a pro-Western stooge. He’s paid to lie. Pro-imperial reliability defines him.


On September 17, he displayed his credentials. He railed against Assad. He’s done it several times before disgracefully. He wrongfully accused him of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. He’s bombing and shelling residential neighborhoods, he claimed.


He’s committing “war crimes, gross violations of human rights, and crimes against humanity.”


“Government forces continue to commit numerous human rights violations, and victims include women and children.”


Syria’s Permanent (HRC) Representative, Fayssal al-Hamwi, responded. He denounced Pinheiro’s report. He ignores facts. He lacks accuracy and objectivity, he said.


He points fingers the wrong way. He suppresses evidence about what’s really going on. He relies on “testimonies by outlaws.” He ignores Syria’s cooperation with the HRC and other humanitarian organizations.


He pays little or no attention to evidence showing terrorist groups “committed war crimes, including the killing, executing, and torturing acts….”


“Syria has showed support and cooperation with all positive initiatives to solve the crisis, starting from the Arab observers’ team and then the international observers whose missions ended because their reports were positive and objective in a way that did not satisfy the US and its tools in the Arab League which sought to internationalize the crisis and invite foreign interference.”


He blamed America for crisis conditions. “The whole world now realizes,” he added, that “this destructive scheme is not aimed to achieve reforms and democracy, but rather to turn the ME countries into fragmented, warring entities ruled by chaos and governed by criminal gangs and dominated by the takfiri thought which seeks to set up salafi emirates so as Israel can achieve its goals until Palestine becomes a peripheral cause.”


“No country in the world would tolerate terrorist groups infiltrating it from more than 17 countries, driven by instigative fatwas as that calling for Jihad in Syria issued a couple of days ago by al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.”


Syria’s trying to contain violence. It wants lives saved, not lost. It wants peace, not war. Washington bears full responsibility for unleashing death squad dogs on civilians and security forces. It’s done it throughout the region and beyond.


Amnesty International (AI) largely serves pro-Western imperial interests. So does Human Rights Watch (HRC). At the same time, occasional accurate reports are issued.


On September 17, HRW headlined “Syria: End Opposition Use of Torture, Executions,” saying:


“Armed opposition groups have subjected detainees to ill-treatment and torture and committed extrajudicial or summary executions in Aleppo, Latakia, and Idlib, Human Rights Watch said today following a visit to Aleppo governorate.”


“Torture and extrajudicial or summary executions of detainees in the context of an armed conflict are war crimes, and may constitute crimes against humanity if they are widespread and systematic.”


Opposition leaders tell HRC they’re acting to curb abuses. HRC “expressed serious concern about” promises made and broken.


“When confronted with evidence of extrajudicial executions, three opposition leaders told Human Rights Watch that those who killed deserved to be killed, and that only the worst criminals were being executed.”


“Human Rights Watch documented more than a dozen extrajudicial and summary executions by opposition forces.”


Victims interviewed said they were tortured and abused. Video footage showed opposition fighters hurling bodies off high buildings. They gloated over security force corpses. They were found hands bound behind their backs. Their bodies revealed abuse.


In Aleppo and elsewhere, their so-called judicial council staged show trials. They wrongly convicted victims, ordered them executed, and murdered them.


A man called “Sameer” told HRW:


“The FSA fighters who caught me first brought me to their base. I spent a night there, together with one other prisoner. They beat me a lot, with a wooden stick, on the soles of my feet. It lasted for about two hours. First, I refused to confess, but then I had to. Once I confessed, they stopped beating me.”


HRW said Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and other countries “are actively assisting….armed groups.” America and other Western countries provide generous support.


HRW’s report also wrongly accused Assad of “crimes against humanity,” including “extrajudicial executions,” “unlawful killings of civilians,” “enforced disappearances,” “use of torture,” and “arbitrary detentions.”


It urges referring all responsible parties to the International Criminal Court.


None of its reports explained Syria was invaded. It’s victimized by external aggression. It’s responsible for the safety of its people. It requires repelling foreign forces.


Throughout the conflict, Assad acted responsibly. He’s been wrongfully blamed for death squad crimes. HRW, AI, and similar pro-Western groups largely point fingers the wrong way.


They serve power for benefits they derive. They’re imperial tools. Their stock and trade is deception. They never apologize. They’re on the wrong side of history and complicit in crimes they denounce.


Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]


His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”


Visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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About The Author

Stephen Lendman was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. In 1956, he received a BA from Harvard University. Two years of US Army service followed, then an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960.   After working seven years as a marketing research analyst, he joined the Lendman Group family business in 1967, remaining there until retiring at year end 1999.   Supporting progressive causes and organizations, he began writing in summer 2005 on a broad range of issues. Topics regularly addressed include war and peace; social, economic and political equity; and justice for long-suffering peoples globally - notably, victims of America's imperial wars, Occupied Palestinians and Haitians. In early 2007, he began hosting his own radio program. Currently he hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network. Airing three times weekly, it features distinguished guests discussing vital world and national issues in depth. Today perhaps more than ever, vital social, political and economic change is needed. What better way to spend retirement years than working for it. We owe at least that much to our loved ones, friends and humanity.

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