The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
by Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017
This book is a necessary corrective to the dominant perception—left, right and center—that the opposition in Syria are all jihadists and dictator Bashar Assad the best bet for "stability." Long a left-wing dissident in Assad's Syria, Saleh is a veteran of the dictator's prisons. Here, he traces the origins of the Syrian revolution to agony caused by the regime's "economic liberalization" (socialist phrases aside), describes the initially unarmed opposition's popular-democratic nature, and discusses the struggle to keep the Free Syrian Army accountable to this grassroots base after it became clear a military dimension to the revolution was necessary. He makes the case that the Assad regime can be termed "fascist" even by the most rigorous definition and has been making good on its pledge to "burn the country" before ceding power. He also analyzes the emergence of "militant nihilism" in the form of ISIS and al-Qaeda (he rejects the word "terrorist" as propagandistic).
US jets attacked a convoy of forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in southern Hama governorate May 18—ironically within one of the "deconfliction zones" established by the US and Russia. The convoy was apparently approaching the base at al-Tanf, which is used by FSA forces and US advisors. "We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," said Muzahem al-Saloum of the local FSA militia, Maghawir al-Thawra (also rendered Maghaweer al-Thawra). The pro-Assad militia targeted in the raid was named as Saraya al-Areen, apparently an Alawite force commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The regime was also said to be moving Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary forces into the area.
Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.
What is happening at the northern Syrian town of Azaz, in Aleppo governorate, could prove critical in determining what the role of the Rojava Kurds will be in the Syrian war and revolution. The Kurdish YPG militia took the nearby Menegh air base on Feb. 10. Since then, Turkey has been shelling YPG forces in the area from across the border, and has issued grim warnings. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu threatened to make the Menagh base "unusable" if the YPG does not withdraw, and promised the "harshest reaction" if Kurdish forces try to take Azaz. (BBC News, Feb. 15) Reuters reported Feb. 15 that 14 people were killed in Azaz when missiles hit a school sheltering displaced families. The account implied the missiles were fired by Russia, which makes sense if Azaz is being held by Turkish-backed rebel forces. But all accounts are maddeningly vague on who is in fact holding Azaz...
US Air Force C-17 cargo planes air-dropped arms and other supplies to Syrian rebels on Oct. 13—as Russia continued to carry out air-strikes on Syrian rebels. Media reports are vague on whether the US is dropping aid to the same factions that Russia is bombing. But the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) have announced a new alliance with militias affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight ISIS in the country's northeast. The Pentagon has now officially dropped its failed $500 million plan to train a Syrian rebel proxy force, and will instead use those funds for air-drops to already existing rebel forces.
Insurgents fired nearly 400 rockets at the two Shi'ite (presumably Alawite) villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in northwestern Syria's Idlib governorate Sept. 18, and detonated at least seven car bombs, opening a new assault on besieged government-held areas. The attacks were carried out by the "Army of Conquest," a coalition that includes the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. (Reuters) Meanwhile, ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombs in Baghdad that killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 60. The attacks targeted police checkpoints in the Wathba and Haraj markets during morning rush-hour—both in mostly Shi'ite areas. Another bomber (not yet claimed by ISIS) struck in the city's Bab al-Sharji area, killing eight civilians and a police officer. (BBC News)
Israel's YNet reports Aug. 31 that Russian fighter pilots are expected to begin arriving in Syria in the coming days, to begin sorties against ISIS and rebel forces. The report cites diplomatic sources to the effect that "a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria and set up camp in an Assad-controlled airbase. The base is said to be in area surrounding Damascus, and will serve, for all intents and purposes, as a Russian forward operating base. In the coming weeks thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in Syria, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft."
An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)