Transfer of Homs: the beginning of the end?

Syrian government forces this week retook control of Homs after the evacuation of rebel troops. State TV declared May 8 that the Old City was "totally clean of armed terrorist groups," although officials later confirmed that the evacuation was not fully over. The negotiated evacuation marks the end of three years of resistance in Homs, called the "capital of the revolution." (Al JazeeraDaily Mail, May 9; BBC News, May 8) This, with the upcoming sham elections, is being portrayed by the Bashar Assad regime as the beginning of the end for the revolution. Don't buy it. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied groups are gaining ground in the areas around Latakia, Dara'a, al-Qunaitra and Aleppo. The FSA is in control of most of Dara'a, where a southern front is reportedly being organized. And the most reactionary elements in the insurgency, the Nusra Front and ISIS, are engaged in their own mini-civil war in Deir Al Zour and north of Aleppo. With any luck, they will destroy each other in the process. (Gulf News, UAE, May 8)

With the jihadists in disarray and the FSA preparing to open a new front, this could indeed be a turning point—but not the kind Assad is hoping for.

Nigtmarish violence across Syria is unabated. A regime air-strike on a school in Aleppo on April 30 killed at least 18, mainly children—an all too familar grisly spectacle. This came a day after bomb attacks on government-controlled parts of the city killed more than 100. These included two car bombs, and (according to regime sources) a mortar strike on a school that left 14 dead. (Reuters, April 30) The May 8 blast that destroyed Aleppo's once-luxurious Carlton Hotel, near the ancient Citadel that government troops are using as a military base, was claimed by the ostensibly more "moderate" Islamic Front faction. (AP, May 8)

The Obama administration has meanwhile designated the offices of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (rendered in media reports now as the Syrian Opposition Coalition) a "foreign mission" in the US, a category that "gives the group a symbolic boost in status but that falls well short of diplomatic recognition as a government." The designation (which follows a breaking of diplomatic ties with the Assad regime) was timed to coincide with a visit to Washington by coalition president Ahmad al-Jarba. The administration also will ask Congress to provide an additional $27 million in "nonlethal" aid to the Syrian political opposition, "bringing the US total to $287 million" (although we are skeptical how much of this has actually reached the rebels). (WP, May 8) The National Coalition has issued a statement boasting that "Rebel's [sic] Retreat from Homs with Their Weapons is Message to Assad They Will Return."

We have no choice but to hope so. The FSA (now allied with the National Coalition) is doubtless corrupt, authoritarian and militaristic, and has much to answer for in terms of rights abuses. But it is ostensibly secular and pro-democratic, and emerged as a self-defense force for the popular civil resistance that started the revolution way back in March 2011. The co-optation of the National Coalition and FSA by the West provides another layer of contradiction, but contradiction is an inevitable part of any transformative process. As we stated in regard to Libya before the fall of Qaddafi:

If the rebels ever really are installed in Tripoli, imperialism will hand them a political bill, and we will see if they agree to pay it by instating neoliberal policies that deliver Libya's labor and resources to international capital. We will also see how the Libyan people react—and therein lies the potential for things to get really interesting.

And contrary to "leftist" (sic) portrayals, indeed the common people of Libya have been able to flex unprecedented political muscle since the revolution—for instance, virtually paralyzing the country's oil industry with a series of strikes and protests over a range of economic and social grievances.  For all the instability and contradictions still playing themselves out in Libya, we will be lucky if things in Syria work out as well…

  1. Syria: new Islamist ‘Revolutionary Covenant’ ices Qaedists

    Five Islamist formations in Syria have issued a "Revolutionary Covenant" rejecting "extremism" and the presence of foreign fighters, and pledging a commitment to a "multi-sectarian and multiethnic" Syria with "respect for human rights." The signatories range from relatively moderate Islamic nationalist militias to more hardline groups such as the Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham. The covenant listed the Syrian regime and its "mercenaries from Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah," as well as the Qaedist ISIS as legitimate "military targets." Nusra Front did not sign on to the statement, apparently rejecting its call for trials for regime figures, instead demanding "death by sword." (Long War Journal, May 22; Syria Direct, May 21)

  2. Syria rebels to ask US for missiles

    Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba confirmed to the NY Times May 7 that the rebels had received TOW anti-tank missiles fmor the US, and said he will ask for anti-aircraft missiles in his visit that week to Washington. He of course went to great pains to emphasize that the weapons would not fall into the "wrong hands." Such fears are doubtless exponentially augmented by the recent developments in Iraq. Did the missiles ever arrive?

  3. Obama seeks aid for Syrian rebels

    President Barack Obama finally asked Congress to approve $500 million to train and equip "moderate" Syrian rebels. We hope that "moderate" means "secular." Obama of course insists the rebels will be vigorously vetteed to keep arms from falling into the "wrong hands." (Reuters, June 27) 

    The move seems clearly motivated by the terrifying developments in Iraq. Days earlier, Syrian National Coalition President Ahmed Jarba said in a speech to foreign ministers from Islamic countries in Saudi Arabia: "Abandoning the Syrian revolution and refusing to support it is the biggest aid to terrorism across the region." (PMOI, June 21)