Memo on Syria and the Syrian Conflict
Introduction. At the end of 2010 there was a demonstration in Tunisia to protest police corruption and more generally, dissatisfaction of the Tunisian government. There were a number of protests throughout the Arab world, commonly referred to the Arab Spring. These protests also arose in Syria, at the beginning of 2011. During the Day of Rage protests, the Ba’ath Party government ordered by President Bashar al-Assad arrested a number of protesters. The protesters called for the resignation of President al-Assad and the end of the Ba’ath Party rule. The reactions of the government to these protesters continued to escalate leading to an armed conflict. Some members of the Syrian army defected to the Free Syrian Army which is the army of the National Syrian Coalition, often referred to as rebels or the opposition. Many countries have tried to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, for both sides. The United States, under President Obama, has tried to stay out of this conflict until evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons. There have been multiple attempts to bring about an end to the conflict in a peaceful manner.
Ba’ath party: also known as the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, founded in Syria, its ideology mixes Arab nationalist, pan-Arabism, Arab socialist, and anti-imperialist interests. It calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. The Ba’ath party has been in power in Syria since 1963 and re-established its power over the government in 1970.
Bashar al-Assad: President of Syria, succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. Hafez al-Assad had served as President for 30 years. Bashar al-Assad was elected in 2000 and 2007, running unopposed each time. He is a critic of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and has been criticized for human rights violations, economic lapses, and corruption. He has cracked down on political activists since the Damascus Spring in 2001.
Free Syrian Army: started with defectors of the Syrian army who refused to shoot civilians, led by Colonel Riad al-Assad. The Free Syrian Army announced its formation on July 29, 2011 in an online video. They have stated no political goals except the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. On September 23, 2011, they merged with the Free Officers Movement and became the main opposition army group. There are an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 defectors from the armed services. Their actions support bringing down the government, protecting civilian protestors, encouraging army defections, and carrying out armed action. They have been supported by the Libyan National Transitional Council (2011), Britain (2012), and Kuwait (2012). There has been talk from other Gulf States to arm the Free Syrian Army. A non-governmental organization (NGO) in Washington DC, called the Syrian Support Group also helps fund the FSA. The FSA has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations sponsored Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic for carrying out war crimes. Although, they are not as bad as the state forces.
National Syrian Coalition: also known as the Syrian National Coalition or National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Made up of a coalition of opposition groups to the Syrian government. The main goals of the National Syrian Coaltion is to replace the Bashar al-Assad government, dismantling the security services, unifying and supporting the Free Syrian Army, refusing dialogue and negotiations with the al-Assad government, and holding accountable those responsible for killing Syrians. They have been recognized by Libya (2011), the members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf , Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman, in 2012. The Arab League (except Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon) in 2013 recognized the National Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Britain, France, Turkey, and the United States all recognize the National Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representatives. Over 100 countries have formally recognized them as such.
History/Background/Timeline of events
· Syria gained its independence from France in 1946
· Democracy in 1954
· Members of the Ba’ath party wanted an Arab state with Egypt
· Became a unified Arab state with Egypt from 1958-1961
· Military coup led by Abd al-Karim al-Nahlawi in 1961 seceded from union with Egypt became Syrian Arab Republic
· Coup led by Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party ends March 8, 1963 and members of the Ba’ath Party dominate new cabinet
· Intra-Ba’ath coup in 1966 and installs a civilian government on March 1
· Bloodless coup led by Hafez al-Assad in 1970 that brings Ba’ath leadership back together and establishes power of the Ba’ath Party until now
· 2000, Constitution of Syria is amended lowering minimum age of the President, Bashar al-Assad runs for President, unopposed
· 2001- Damascus Spring from July 2000-August 2001, arrest of leading activists
· January 26, 2011, Hasan Ali Akleh set himself on fire, inspired by Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide protest
· February 4-5, 2011, Day of Rage, hundreds of Syrians march in Al-Hasakah, Hasan Ali Akleh’s hometown, Syrian security forces arrest dozens
· March 15, 2011, protests take place in major cities, Daraa is the main city
· March 25, 2011, 20 protesters reported killed in Daraa; protests spread to other cities and the death toll climbs to 70
· March 27, 2011, 200 political prisoners are released by the Syrian government
· April 2011, U.S. imposes sanctions on Syria
· April 22, 2011, 112 demonstrators killed during anti-government protests; activists call it the Good Friday Massacre
· May 2011, Syrian army enters Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Katakia, and Al-Midan and Douma districts of Damascus
· June 6, 2011, 120 Syrian security force members are killed in Jisr al-Shughour
· June 20, 2011 Bashar al-Assad promises reforms and new parliamentary elections
· June 30, 2011, protests in Aleppo
· Mid-July, 2011, pro-government protesters attack U.S. and French embassies in Damascus
· July 31, 2011 security forces kill 136 in Hama; Arab League and several Gulf Cooperation Council members condemn the Syrian government
· August 30, 2011, security forces kill 9 people during the Eid ul-Fitr celebration
· November 3, 2011, Arab League peace plan is accepted by Syrian government
· December 19, 2011, security forces kill 70 army defectors
· December 23, 2011, suicide bombs hit security facilities in Damascus killing 40
· February 4, 2012, Syrian government forces launches attack in Homs killing 200
· April 12, 2012, Syrian government and the Free Syrian Army agree to U.N. backed ceasefire
· April 15, 2012, reports of ceasefire violations emerge
· April 21, 2012, UN Security Council adopts resolution 2043 for United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria
· April 25, 2012, 71 deaths in Hama after rocket strikes
· May 1, 2012, UN places blame on both sides for ceasefire violations
· May 30, 2012 Free Syrian Army sets a 48 hour deadline for Bashar al-Assad to agree to an international peace plan; 57 soldiers die in Syria
· June 6, 2012, 78 civilians die in al-Qubair after government shelling
· June 22, 2012, Syria shoots down a Turkish fighter jet; Turkey vows retaliation and NATO condemns act
· June 27, 2012, Syrian opposition fighters attack a military facility and pro-regime television station
· July 3, 2012, Human Rights Watch reports Syria has torture as a state policy against civilians
· July 19, 2012, Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have placed new sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime
· August 5, 2012 Syria’s Premier defects citing genocide
· September 4, 2012, U.N. reports 100,000 people fled Syria in August of 2012
· September 15, 2012, U.N. envoy warns Syria conflict is threat to world peace
· September 7, 2012, France announces they will fund Syrian opposition
· November 13, 2012, France recognizes National Syrian Coalition
· November 20, 2012 Britain recognizes Syrian opposition
· December 11, 2012, U.S. recognizes Syrian opposition
· January 6, 2013, Assad announces new peace plan
· May 17, 2013 Obama rules out unilateral action on Syria; Moscow confirms weapons supply to Syria; Human Rights Watch says it found government torture rooms
· Human Rights Watch reports 4,300 civilians killed in Syrian airstrikes
· United Nations reports that 93,000 have been killed in Syria
United States reactions
· May 18, 2011 Imposed sanctions on Bashar al-Assad and six other senior Syrian officials; additional sanctions were imposed by the Treasury Department against Syrian intelligence services
· Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated al-Assad had lost legitimacy
· July 31, 2011, President Barack Obama stated that the United States will stand with the Syrian people
· August 10, 2011, new sanctions were imposed on Syrian telecom companies and banks
· August 18, 2011, President Obama issued a written statement asking al-Assad to resign; an executive order was issued blocking property of the Syrian government, banning new investments or exporting services to Syria, and bas imports of Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products
· August 20, 2012, President Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a red line
· June 13, 2013, the Obama administration announced it would be shipping small arms to Syrian rebels citing clear evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons
Arab League peace plan: the goal was to halt the crackdown on protesters, allow observers in the country, and issue a ceasefire. The ceasefire broke down. On December 19, 2011, the Syrian government allowed observers into the country. As part of the plan, the Syrian government also released 3,500 prisoners.
UN resolution proposal: The Arab League asked the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution, based on the Arab League’s plan, including a call for al-Assad to step down. Russia and China vetoed the resolution. A non-binding resolution was later agreed to, but Russia and China voted against it.
Russian proposal: Russia announced its own peace plan that calls for al-Assad to cede power. There were informal talks in Moscow on January 30, 2012.
Kofi Annan peace plan: offered a six point plan to end the conflict. Points were as follows:
1. Find the concerns of the Syrian people and address them
2. Commit to stop the fighting on both sides; the Syrian government should commit to immediately ceasing troop movements and end the use of heavy weapons
3. Ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance
4. Release peaceful political prisoners
5. Ensure freedom for journalists
6. Respect for freedom of protest
U.S.-Russia peace proposal: Joint proposal issued in May 2013, joins to a series of Middle East peace proposals. Tries to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Updates on Syria:
Support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah have helped President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government to reverse the gains made by the opposition
The Syrian military has intensified their attacks in the Idib province while have reportedly been advancing into insurgent strongholds, such as Jobar, Qaboun, and Harasta.
Divisions among the opposition groups have deepened. Recently, members of al Qaeda linked groups reportedly killed Kamal Hamami, a member of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council. Members of Islamist militant groups, including al Qaeda linked groups, fight alongside other Syrian rebels, including the Free Syrian Army. Members of al Qaeda linked groups have been blamed for several assassinations of more moderate rebel units. Members of the Islamic State were accused of beheading two Free Syrian Army fighters. As the Syrian government has pushed back advances by the opposition, infighting between the opposition has increased with a series of killings and kidnappings.
Growing uncertainty with the various opposition groups and distrust from much of the West.
The conflict seems to be growing. Mohammad Darra Jamo, a commentator who worked for Syrian state media, was assassinated in Lebanon. The Israeli army has reported that Syrian suspects infiltrated an unmanned military post on the border between Syria and the Golan Heights. A car bomb exploded in the heart of the Hezbollah territory, growing fears that the spillover from the Syrian conflict will go to other countries, too.
The United Nations has estimated that the number of people fleeing the conflict in Syria has risen to an average of 6,000 per day during 2013.
British newspaper reports say Prime Minister David Cameron has retreated from the idea of arming Syria’s rebels
Increased concerns in the Western world that weapons supplied to opposition could land in the hands of anti-Assad Islamist fighters with al Qaeda.
British newspapers report that British military commanders advised Prime Minister Cameron that sending small arms would not sway the conflict
A French diplomat reported that it would only send arms if they can be certain it will not strengthen Islamist fighters
Obama administration planned to use the CIA to covertly train and arm the rebels. The training has not started due to concerns by Congress.
Concerns about arming the Syrian rebels:
The Free Syrian Army is an umbrella organization; there are hundreds of different groups are under that umbrella. Not all of the battalions are under the command of General Salim Idris (who has been identified as its chief general of the opposition). Most of the more organized and well-equipped factions reside in the north and the lesser groups are in the south. Moderate rebel groups often fight alongside more extreme or Islamist groups. There is not a way to completely distinguish that the arms will only be used by non-al Qaeda linked groups.
There have been some reports of “moderate” rebel groups have sold some weapons they have received to more extremist groups, in order to make more money, in an attempt to buy different weapons. Even if there is a guarantee that the weapons are being delivered to the “good” rebel groups, there is not a guarantee that is where they’ll stay.
Qatar has been suspected of supplying heat-seeking shoulder fired missiles to Syrian rebels. The Obama administration warned of keeping these missiles away from the Syrian opposition. These shoulder fired missiles found their way to rebel groups, such as Jabhet al-Nursa (known as the Nursa Front), which have al Qaeda links. Qatari officials assured the Obama administration that they were not arming the hardline Islamist groups.
There are concerns that rebel groups that receive arms are less likely to reach cease fire agreements.
According to a study done on civil wars, rebel groups that receive external support from a third party lasted significantly longer than civil wars that did not receive external support. Governments are typically less likely to offer opposition a peace settlement when there is foreign support for the opposition.