Assad clings to power

Submitted by Matthew on 28 November, 2012 - 7:14

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report at least 40,000 people have died, including 28,000 civilians, since the start of the uprising against the one-party Baath dictatorship, which began in March 2012.

2.5 million of Syria’s population of 23 million people are now displaced, many internally. The number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries has nearly doubled since the beginning of September to more than 440,000.

Inflation is now officially around 40%, year-on-year, and the value of the Syrian pound has fallen by 65% against the dollar over the last 20 months.

In an effort to stabilise support, Finance Minister Mohammad Juleilati has announced a 13% rise in public sector salaries and a 25% increase in subsidies on food, fuel and power.

However, industrial production has ground to a halt and tourist revenue has ended; Western sanctions are preventing the sale of oil.

The government is being kept afloat by financial aid from Iran, and possibly Russia. They may start printing money to cover their costs, something that may drive up inflation.

Rebels have overrun the 46th Division’s base at Atarib, west of Aleppo. The base, spread over 12 sq km and the largest in northern Syria, had played a key role in the Assad regime’s defence of Aleppo. Large quantities of weapons were seized.

The regime still holds one big base near Aleppo, but most of the countryside and border crossings to Turkey are under opposition control.

The regime has to supply its outposts by air, and its military response to rebel activity is often inaccurate aerial bombardment.

Much of its 300,000-strong army is Sunni and considered unreliable, and so has been kept isolated and unused on army bases.

It is likely that soon the opposition militias will hold much of the north of the country in a single, contiguous territory.

On Thursday 22 November, the Mayadeen military base in the east, near Deir Ezzor, also fell to the opposition after a three-week long siege.

This area is the country’s main oil and gas producing region. A large area of territory running up to the Iraq border is now is rebel hands.

In the north east of Syria, where Syria’s Kurds are a majority, the regime appears to have abandoned the area to the PKK.

The PKK, a murderous Kurdish nationalist-Stalinist organisation, which has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, has been used by the Syrian government against Turkey. This has alarmed the Turkish government. The area is now effectively autonomous.

The PKK is coming into armed conflict with both the mainstream armed opposition of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and with independent Islamist militias.

The FSA are opposed to the idea that this area is neutral in the fight against Assad. And there is a general, chauvinist, opposition to Kurdish freedom amongst the Sunni Arab dominated anti-Assad opposition.

Under US pressure a new opposition coalition, the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was formed in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on 11 November.

It was immediately recognised by six key Gulf states plus Turkey and France.

The Syrian National Council – previously promoted as the main opposition grouping, and increasingly a front for the Muslim Brothers – has folded into the new formation, accepting 22 of 63 seats on the Coalition’s governing body.

More recently Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs that the UK has also decided on recognition.

The US has been more circumspect. France is pushing for arming the opposition, while Obama remains sceptical, worried that Islamist groups increasingly active in the opposition might later use sophisticated weapons against the US and its allies.

States such as Saudi Arabia are also arming and funding particular elements of the opposition — sufficiently to keep the conflict going, without leading to the complete collapse and break-up of the Syrian state. They would like Assad to go, but the entity to remain intact, rather than see a descent into chaos and warlordism, probably spreading disastrously to neighbouring countries.

Assad’s tactic seems to be to encourage ethnic strife and fragmentation — for example by arming Druze, Shia and Christian militias in Damascus, in opposition to the Sunni majority.

In this way Assad hopes to maintain some hold on power.

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