A little bird just whispered in my ear that the Syrian Government is in the final stages of securing a Reconciliation plan for East Aleppo. The buses are waiting, my friend said. According to Al Masdar, a Syrian news outlet, the SAA are holding the high ground in Aleppo.
There are a few details to be resolved, but it appears that Syrian national fighters who wish to continue fighting will be bused out of town, and those who wish to lay their arms down will be given amnesty and returned to the civilian population. Civilians will then be escorted to safety so that the field will be clear for a final battle with foreigners and those determined to stand to the end.
Apparently there is also a deal on the table in the UN Security Council to rescue the foreign fighters of Al Nusra/Al Qaeda/Fatah Al Sham. I was wondering why the UN would be discussing evacuation of the Al Qaeda terrorists from Aleppo, but as a follow-on to an internal Syrian Reconciliation, it would make a measure of sense. Personally, my first instinct was to hope that the Syrian government and their allies would demand the foreign fighters be expelled from Syria, but the Russians have already signed on. As we have seen with Guantanamo, even when there are strong incentives and assurances involved, there would be little hope of any nation taking in an army of Al Qaeda fighters fresh from the battlefield. So, they are given their choice of destination. At least, that is the UN plan.
Perhaps the UN arrangement to secure foreign (Al Nusra) fighters is slowing down the final settlement. In the past, it would seem that those who didn’t want to fight to the death have found ways to avoid doing so. Formalizing this arrangement for the foreign fighters would seem a risky business, though perhaps necessary in the eye of a global storm, to move forward with the Syrian national reconciliation.
The Syrian government has successfully implemented Reconciliation programs in areas in and around the cities of Homs and Damascus, as well as in a few other locations. Syrian fighters who wished to lay down their arms were restored to the civilian population while those who wish to continue fighting were bused out of the area. Meanwhile, the Syrian government provided various forms of relief to civilians including food, medical care and housing for those whose homes had been destroyed. In most, if not all, of these areas a majority of the civilian population had been held hostage by armed gangs for extended periods of time.
The program works, according to Syrian Minister of Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, because Syrians are tired of war. Most of those who joined anti-government militias did so for reasons other than a commitment to a life or death stand against the government. Some joined, he told us, because they were given a life or death threat – join or die. Some joined because their families had been threatened by the armed gangs who now governed their neighborhood or village. Others joined to become part of the governing force in the neighborhood. Few imagined that the war would still be going on five years later. Some found that their idealism and their trust in the leadership they had adopted had been misplaced. For most, the reasons they began to fight are no longer relevant..
Aleppo in the Eye of the Storm: Reconciliation and the War in Aleppo
You probably thought, when you read my last post about imminent reconciliation in Aleppo, that I was bonkers. Indeed the war rages on in Aleppo. Not only is the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) moving to retake the Eastern side of the city, but the fighters in East Aleppo, with Al Nusra and ISIS flags at the forefront, are persistently bombing areas of West Aleppo that their weapons can reach. Numerous civilians have been killed and wounded in these attacks on strictly civilian areas including many children (RT News, October 14 – 17). There is no doubt that there are also civilian casualties in Eastern Aleppo where the fighting is actually occurring as reported in the Western media. Update: I wrote this yesterday. Today, the Syrians & Russians held a brief cessation of hostilities to evacuate the sick and wounded from East Aleppo, and also Evacuated 150 Ahrar al Shams fighters to Idlib.
The latest from the Syrian war reporters is that the SAA now holds a number of critical hills around East Aleppo, and they are feeling confident of an imminent victory. The reconciliation message is popular in Syria and so the government is promoting it, just as the US style reconciliation imposed by international agreements among competing states is popular in the west, and the absence of that possibility is the source of endless one sided propaganda in our news. In fact, it is a very aggressive schedule to expect the reconciliation plan to work so quickly. However, the cards are on the table. Amnesty for fighters who lay down their arms, a bus trip to Idlib for those who do not wish to continue a hopeless battle but do wish to fight for independence, and a rout for the foreign mercenaries and extremists leading too relief for civilians and ongoing support from the government.
When we met with Ali Haidar, he told us that whenever the reconciliation is imminent the intensity of resistance rises. He also said that building the reconciliation is a slow process. This is surely a problem in Aleppo where they are under a great deal of pressure from the international forces that are vying for power in Syria. The Syrians and their Russian allies have once again called a unilateral halt to fighting so that civilians and the wounded can be evacuated to West Aleppo. I hope this time they will be allowed to leave, but it is certainly not guaranteed. Al Nusra leadership has rejected the offer to leave Aleppo under international protection. The issue of sorting FSA moderates from Al Qaeda is once again on the table, though that too has been repeatedly rejected.
Meanwhile, the US is currently engaged in a battle to retake Mosul, Iraq from ISIS. Along with the Iraqi Army, Shia militias from the south and local Sunni militias, the Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkish forces, there are 1500 Americans in this battle as ‘advisors’. Shades of Vietnam. The coalition is not stable. Unlike the Syrian coalition, which is composed of allied forces, this is an ad hoc coalition of opportunity. The Sunni and Shia militias don’t trust one another. The Peshmerga expect to be repaid in villages given over to Kurdish governance, and Turkey has coveted Mosul since they lost it in the negotiations that ended the Ottoman Empire.
There is also talk that the many forces in Iraq positioned to retake the city of Mosul may allow ISIS to escape, and head back to retake Deir Ezzor, an SAA outpost in the far western region of Syria. This would be a sad story. But from it you can discern a hint of the hypocrisy that differentiates Western coverage of the two battles. There are expectations of half a million refugees from Mosul. Many civilians will be killed. But these realities are framed as operational problems, not as the result of barbarity. Mosul, like Eastern Aleppo, is held hostage by terrorists. The Right to Protect (R2P) folks are all in for liberating the city despite the fact that they claim that they don’t know how they will find the resources to support the civilian population. :
Update: I just saw video footage in a twitter post by Haidar Sumeri of the Iraqi Air Force bombing to extinction a Daesh convoy heading for Syria from Mosul. The oft maligned Iraqi Defense Force appears to be on the job today.
In Aleppo on the other hand, the R2P people are, like the histrionic Samantha Power, so incensed about the human cost of liberating the civilian population of Aleppo that they cannot have a civil discussion about the course of the war so as to negotiate a resolution. Nor do they acknowledge the ongoing human cost of the presence of the Al Qaeda led groups of (moderate) fighters in East Aleppo.
On October 12, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece by a member of the Qatari royal family (who was not identified as such) saying that the UN had failed in not protecting the Syrian opposition whom he referred to as victims of a genocide. To commit ‘genocide’ one must target a particular race or religious group. This is patently untrue as the Syrian government and the Syrian army are secular organizations with a majority Sunni membership. The Syrian war has seen far too many victims on both sides, but the government is fighting to protect the majority of the population and the state as a whole from armed forces who terrorize the real minorities the in the population and anyone who disagrees with them, and who threaten to tear the country apart. These forces represent a very small minority of the Syrian population augmented by a large contingent of foreign fighters, both in many cases trained and paid salaries by guess who, the royal family of Qatar.
Who Are Syria’s Allies?
The New York Times, in another recent article, describes the Syrian coalition liberating Aleppo as similar to the opposition forces, as a ‘fragmented’ ‘panoply’ of forces with competing interests and methods.
It is true that the Syrian Arab Army has a number of allies fighting with them. There are local militias, some Sunni and some Alawite, and Kurdish and Palestinian brigades, along with the Iranians, the Russians and Hezbollah. Although this is a diverse coalition, it cannot be compared to the coalition forces holding East Aleppo because the Syrian Army is an actual organized national force exerting significant leadership, and it’s allies see a Syrian victory in this war as an existential necessity as well as a regional victory for independence. The Hezbollah, Iranian and Russian forces are divisions of larger well organized forces, not unembedded fragments in need of outside leadership. They are not competing for the territory.
The militias who fight with the SAA are mostly local forces under their direction with the possible exception of the Kurds who depended on the Syrian government for resources, and who fought on the same side as the Syrian government for several years before US advisers showed up and offered them ‘a better deal’. Even so, recent US actions supporting the Turkish army against them may change their calculation. Syria’s allies aren’t extremists looking to recreate Syrian society in their own image or mercenaries fighting for wages from Qatar or Saudi Arabia. The Syrians are playing the long game with their reconciliation initiatives. Furthermore, despite many losses and the disinclination of some to join the army, particularly among those who can afford to leave, the Syrian Arab Army continues to be a committed force with a large grass roots contingent.
One thing I noticed looking at a map of the war is that the only area of Syria’s border that is not overrun with ‘opposition’ fighters of some group or other is the Lebanese border. It hasn’t been easy because Lebanon itself is divided, but the Hezbollah fighters in Syria have created and maintained a firewall of sorts between the mercenaries and extremists fighting in Syria and those in their own country who might join them. In the spring of 2014, Hassan Nasrallah, Director General of Hezbollah, said that we have to join this fight because if we lose, we will all be lost, and if we win, we will all abide. This is not a precise quote except that I remember he used the word ‘abide’.
He was saying that it was an existential battle for the people of the region. This was, for him, the lesson of the Lebanese civil war, also fueled and exacerbated by foreign intervention. And if that doesn’t convince you, Libya and Yemen are further examples of the destruction wrought by those who consider themselves the vanguard of civilization and glibly talk about a Right to Protect and the barbarism of those who defy their governance while unleashing a firestorm of barbarism against them. Most of Syria’s allies have this sense of events. They are a regional defense force.
Is an Armed Insurrection a Normal Response to Social Stress?
Somehow, our government and the mainstream media (MSM) want us to believe that armed conflict is a natural response to bad times in a country, or to strong arm policing. When people blame the drought or the incremental lessening of state subsidies that Bashar Assad implemented in hopes of creating a better relationship with the global economy for a 2011 rebellion, I have to wonder. The EU has created an overwhelming economic disaster in Greece, ignored not only the demands of the people but the welfare of the people and the integrity of the state. Social safety nets were degraded and Greek national treasures sold off to northern European bondholders. They had a referendum where the people of Greece voted to leave the EU rather than submit to further abuse. Yet within 24 hours their government took the Austerity package instead. Did the Greeks take up arms against their government?
On top of that Turkey, an old adversary of Greece, unleashed a massive flood of refugees into Greece as a message to let the EU know the Turks had better not be ignored by their Western cohorts. Turkey then negotiated settlements with Germany, the primary economic oppressor of Greece, that they have not bothered to uphold. But where do those migrants and refugees land? They land in the Greek Isles, and the Greeks are the first line of support for them. Have the Greeks got out their shotguns to drive these people into the sea? Has an armed insurgency risen up to attack the EU government which has treated them so unfairly, or their own government which has betrayed them? No. They protest in the streets and call strikes. They do their best to survive. They show more compassion to the refugees than the northern Europeans who gutted their economy.
In the United States where black Americans of African descent have been an underclass since they ceased to be enslaved in the late 1800s, have they risen up in an armed insurrection anywhere in the country? To this day, Black men are routinely shot in the back by police, murdered in cold blood for crimes like shoplifting, having a tail light on their car malfunction, looking like somebody else, getting caught up in a brawl – oh – and selling individual cigarettes on the street. Mostly Black men populate the prison industrial complex and there have been well known atrocities committed against these prisoners over the years and to this day. Recently, a secret torture prison came to light in Chicago. Automatic weapons and concealed weapons are legal and readily available in the US. Still they haven’t risen up in an armed insurrection.
Blacks are about 15% of the population here. The oppressed are the 99% in Greece. But even so they haven’t risen up in an armed insurrection like the original 5% or less of the Syrian population that formed the nucleus of the ‘Free Syrian Army’. Since arms, and especially automatic weapons were not readily available in Syria, someone had to provide them. And someone had to convince such a small percentage of the population that if they did begin an armed insurrection against a government with an army and police in every region that they could actually win. And someone sent the foreign mercenaries and extremists to lead them.
The war in Syria did not begin accidentally or due to any natural circumstance. It was manipulated from without and fueled from without from the very beginning. In Syria the war is not a sectarian war because the vast majority of people are Sunni and they permeate every part of the government and every social class. Every attempt to define this war as a sectarian war has failed because most Sunnis like most Syrians are in the government controlled areas where they support the only government that is likely to keep the country whole and restore it to a measure of peace and prosperity. Yes. Refugees have left the country, but they ran to the nearest border, and Syria assumes that they would return to a peaceful and restored country.
Pray for Syria; Pray for Reconciliation
Meanwhile, back in Mosul and Aleppo, the civilian populations will benefit from the routing of the barbaric mercenary forces that hold them hostage and their desperate allies. In a recent article in Moon of Alabama, Bernhard points out that in every case where the Syrian reconciliation has succeeded, there have been far fewer people, both fighters and civilians in the area than previously imagined, and those civilians welcomed the arrival of the SAA as a liberating force. We can pray that the latest ceasefire, however temporary, brings relief to the civilians of Aleppo, and that both cities will be restored to peace and prosperity.
Judith Bello is on the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and a founding member of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. In the previous decade she has traveled with Peace Delegations to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. She has just returned from a fact finding mission in Syria with a Delegation from the US Peace Council. She believes that by reaching out to those farthest from us we can heal the divisions in ourselves and build a just and peaceful global society.
Upstate Drone Action
The Deconstructed Globe
STARI:Unity and Solidarity