Syria: Assad’s “Iron Fist” and Failure of Arab League Involvement

As the 9-month-old revolt in Syria becomes increasingly bloody, the foreign and domestic tension has escalated with Arab League officials rebuking their own fact-finding mission and President Assad vowing to vanquish all those seeking to end his rule.

Assad Has Vowed to Repress all "Terrorists"

In his 4th speech since the protests began in March, President Assad has illustrated an ever growing vigilance to resist all attempts to usurp his rule, promising the perpetuation of bloodshed and torture in his country.  With no hint of flexibility or reform, the severity of the situation can hardly be overstated as the Syria death toll rises to well over 6,000 and an never-ending stream of reports detailing the torture and kidnapping of civilians.  Not only does Assad’s speech undercut efforts to pressure his regime, but the presence of thousands of rapturous supporters in Damascus has illustrated the division and manipulation of the people.  With dozens dying everyday, the only response from the international community has been ineffective sanctions and a fact-finding mission by the Arab League.  The Arab League had suspended Syria in November for failing to halt its crackdown on protests and now has also sent a fact-dining mission, which began in December.  So saying, the fact-finding mission has been criticized as arbitrary, a farce and many claim its only purpose has been to relieve pressure from Assad to allow him to regroup and revitalize his security forces.

“We cannot relent in the battle against terrorism.  We strike with an iron fist against terrorist who have been brainwashed.” – Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria

Of all the half-hearted and faulty responses to the Syrian crisis, the Arab League mission seems most affluent in its failures.  According to the UN, close to 400 Syrians have been killed since the start of the mission and the US ambassador to the UN stated that the killing had gathered pace since the mission began.  Many officials within the mission have already broken ranks, claiming that the mission is powerless to prevent countless crimes against humanity.  The target of most of these criticisms has been the leader of the delegation, the former Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi, who had already attracted controversy for his involvement in the Darfur conflict.  According to reports, al-Dabi has been attempting to avoid inciting Syrian officials by acknowledging unrest, but not on the scale or severity of the violence.  The opposition and corruption within the Arab League mission has heightened concern about the viability of its mission, which will be reviewed by officials for a second time on the 19th of January.  Evidently, the initial emboldening of anti-government forced has come to an end and the monitors from the Arab League are avoided as much as possible.

“What I saw was a humanitarian disaster.  The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people.  The snipers are everywhere, shooting at civilians.  People are being kidnapped.  Prisoners are being tortured and none were released.” – Anwar Malek, Algerian member of the Arab League fact-finding team

In Europe, the embargo and sanction on Syria have strained the economy and availability of resources for Assad’s regime, but as with most embargoes, the strain has also affected opposition forces, who are desperately trying to run guns across the borders of neighboring countries.  Moreover, the embargo placed by the EU is not without its faults.  Before, when the UN Security Council attempted to pass a resolution on Syria, both China and Russia vetoed its passing because of their lucrative trade deals with the country.  For example, a recent shipment of tens of tons of munitions was sent from Russia to Syria on Tuesday.  Russia is not part of the EU, so such a route would not have violated its embargo but the cargo ship dropped anchor off the southern Cypriot port of Limassol.  Custom officials boarded the ship to examine its cargo and later reported the vessel to be carrying munition to a destination near Turkey.

“Syria’s priority should be to listen to its people, not to denounce others; instead of massacring its people, it should listen to them.”– Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Foreign Minster

Turkey, which had once cultivated close ties with Syria, is now one of the Assad’s regimes most vociferous critics.  Turkey has imposed trade sanctions on Syria and is allowing its opposition groups to meet on its territory.  There were talks in the past about possible intervention by Turkey due to growing gears that Syria’s feud could spill over its borders and onto Turkey’s grounds.  Any intervention would be different from the one in Libya since Russia and China have made Syrian airspace a no-fly zone.  This means that the role of regional players like Turkey increase dramatically.  Turkey may have declared it does not welcome a military solution to the Syria crisis, but it has not ruled it out either.


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