The Syrian conundrum

Proverbial fog of war remains, thick as ever, rendering situation as confusing and as murderous as ever.

2016/06/05 Issue: 59 Page: 14

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

Although the war in Syria seemed to be stagnating, recently the situation appears to be moving and evolving at an accelerated pace. Russia and Iran have increased their military involvement in Syria. Both countries contributed troops to the conflict in support of the Syrian president and the Russians committed their air force to back pro-government forces.

The Iranians who have been sending troops and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight in support of Syrian Presi­dent Bashar Assad recently ran advertisements aimed at recruit­ing young boys — generally aged 9-12 — to fight in Syria — a repetition of what the Iranians did during the war with Iraq. They would often have youth brigades precede regular troops on the battlefield to clear land­mines. In exchange for their lives, the ayatollahs promised the boys a place in paradise.

US President Barack Obama reiterated multiple times over the past year that there would not be any US troops in Syria. It seems he spoke too soon. It has been confirmed that, despite Obama’s promises, that there are a number of American special operations forces on the Syrian front. Although limited in numbers, there are nevertheless US troops in Syria today.

Peace talks — or rather attempted peace talks — in Geneva have gotten nowhere with the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition throwing in the towel, saying he was resigning in protest over the failure by the United Nations to make any headway.

The proverbial fog of war remains, thick as ever, rendering the situation as confusing and as murderous as ever. All sides in the civil war, more than five years long, claim to be on the right side and periodically they all claim to be on the winning side, too.

Indeed, at some point in this continuing mayhem, they may well be right or winning, or both or neither. Contributing to the confusion are the multitude of factions engaged in the fighting. Many of these groups have extraordinary names, such as the pro-government Cheetah Force or the Kata’ib Hezbollah. Or yet the pro-rebel Deterring the Oppressor Brigade.

Some of these groups have several thousand men while others consist of barely a handful of followers. But if the perhaps hundreds of thousands of fighters engaged in the Syrian conflict are unable to force a military solution despite five years of continued warfare and the military, finan­cial and political support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Russia and the United States as well as a handful of European countries, including France and Britain, what on Earth could find a solution to the current conun­drum?

What is obvious is the inability of Syrians at solving their prob­lem on their own and the solu­tion, if indeed there is one, would require the intervention of two of the world’s most powerful countries, each with its own reason to want to see the demise of the Islamist terrorists. The United States, of course, opposes terrorism and wants to promote democracy in the Arab world, even if it goes about it in a rather strange manner.

As for the Russians, they want to make sure they get to defeat the jihadists before they return to the former Soviet republics and autonomous regions within Russia.

It may have taken five years of all-out war but it finally seems as though the Americans and the Russians have finally realised that by working together they may be able to solve the crisis. It is perhaps to that end that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been meeting in recent weeks.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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