Syria: High Stakes Poker.

Two and a half years of turmoil with little hope of an end soon. The deal being negotiated concerning Syria’s chemical weapon stores only prolongs the agony for the ordinary people. An estimate of over 100,000 dead and millions displaced in refugee camps in neighbouring countries and within Syria will be compounded by the length of the civil war.

thCA96RI9GWhich side will be victorious? None! Syria will be torn apart; the citizens will know pain for years to come. How many will have to die before the political aspirations of all the combatants are satiated? Assad is holding tight but for how long can he bluff? He has the support of Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah. Assad is stuck with the hand he has been dealt, therefore he has no options but to carry on or fold. Can Syria be as it was before 2011; that is an emphatic no! Even if democratic change had been introduced and a boost given to a more secular society, that would have brought about Assad’s eventual downfall.

There was a period when political compromise may have split the opposition. The National Coalition (NC) which met in Doha in 2011, declared itself for a “…democratic and pluralistic state.” (BBC September 15th) However, in July 2013 the NC was taken over by candidates with Saudi Arabian support. Thus the door to compromise is closed. Qatar who helps fund the opposition lost out to Saudi Arabia in the elections to control the NC. Clearly both these players are looking to advance their influence in the area.

Turkey would also have liked to play a leading role in the region, and were firmly behind Obama’s threat to use missiles. An opinion poll showed 72% of the electorate were against intervention. The Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan was deeply disappointed when the Americans failed to follow through with the missile attack. It seems that Mr Erdogan favoured the Syrian National Council (SNC) which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the principal allies of the Turkish leadership was Mohamed Morsi, the deposed Egyptian leader and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood of that country.

The opposition has many organisations each shifting to get a better seat at the table. It has been reported from several sources that there is considerable in-fighting among the opposition. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jihadist groups, especially the Nusra Front, believed to be an affiliate of al-Qaeda, have clashed. As they grow in number, so they grow in importance; there may be 40,000 jihadists fighting in Syria, 10,000 of whom are foreign.

It is speculated that al-Qaeda has assassinated several FSA commanders in recent weeks. (Telegraph) Such incidents have prompted the BBC to suggest: “… a civil war within a civil war is building on the opposition side.”

With such a fragmented opposition, who does the West arm? Can we be sure that missile strikes would benefit the opposition that the West supports? At the moment it would seem that the Jihadist groups, and there are several, stand to gain the upper hand. The danger must be that al-Qaeda the best organised of the Jihadist rebels are likely to benefit the most. There is a real possibility that hastening the fall of Assad will bring a powerful Islamic fundamentalist front to Syria, with the Sunni’s holding the winning hand.

Al-Qaeda has already introduced Sharia law in areas under their control, e.g. in parts of Aleppo and elsewhere. Pictures have emerged of prisoners being murdered in the streets in front of the local community. Some have been beheaded while others have been made to kneel and had their throats cut. Such barbarism could become common place if al-Qaeda were to trump the other Jihadist s.

I understand those against the Assad regime, and their desire for a democratic and secular society. However, I find it odd that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding the opposition, when they are monarchical dictatorships. They are described as Wahhabi Islamist states. (Wikipedia) This is an ultra-conservative outlook with a rigid adherence to the original text of the Quran, and the Sunni way. Many Jihadist groups follow the same or similar line.

When Assad falls, will there be another bloodbath between the Sunni and the Shiite, asthCAMF86AU in Iraq, 10 years from the invasion of 2003. It may have already started; August 2013, car bombs exploded near Sunni mosques killing dozens of people. This, one week after a bomb attack took place on the Shiite, Hezbollah. The Iraqi Shiite government are worried that Sunni jihadists might destabilize their fragile democracy.

Other incidents seem to connect the dots. There is evidence of a clash between jihadists and the Allaha Akbar brigade, which is under the command of the Supreme Military Council.  In the An bur province close to the Iraqi border 40 Syrian soldiers and 9 Iraqis were ambushed and killed by Sunni insurgents. Might there be conflict between moderates and jihadists? Meanwhile, death knocks on many doors and the women and children, if spared, are left to ululate at numerous funerals.

Was Obama out manoeuvred by the Russians on the sarin chemical or did Kerry throw a spanner in the works because the US was aware the game was changing? The emergence of the jihadist and their growing strength surely changes the complexion of America’s approach. Has the old deck been compromised significantly enough for the game to change to diplomatic discourse, while a new hand is dealt? Allowing the ‘sarin’ debate to drag on gives Assad at least another year to counter his enemy.

thCAJI1XY0Who are the enemy now? Those organisations that are in opposition to Assad and demanding democratic change must now be looking over their shoulder at the strength of the jihadist. The opposition are deeply divided. It would seem places at the players table are more important than the death toll. Isn’t it always the case, whatever the disaster, the poor pay the highest price!

The prospect of a caliphate, unity of Muslims, in a theocracy, i.e. the rule of Allah, with sharia law would force millions to adhere to the diktat of the Supreme Leader or face dire consequences. The only tolerance in that situation is to obey. The effects of such an Islamic state would send reverberations of deep concern throughout the world. Fear fuels its own speculation.

Solutions in such a complex environment are extremely difficult to find. This is especially so when we consider the number of groups that seek accommodation. I do not believe that Assad can survive no matter the outcome of the war. If the jihadists are the greatest threat to our society then blocking them becomes a prerequisite. Assad and his entourage must leave the country, and a new military commander take control, with an open door policy to recognised opposition armies.

Unfortunately there is little hope of a secular society emerging in Syria; both Saudi Arabia and Qatar would find such a culture abhorrent. Secularism is to Saudi Arabia as theocracy is to an open mind. This is indeed a game of high stakes poker!

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