Tony Blair , John McCain and other advocates of regime change by military force in Syria are ignoring the disasters it has created elsewhere, and its role, via Iraq, in creating the current crisis in Syria (1) – (2). Lebanon shows that power sharing can succeed in ending sectarian civil wars where force will fail.
Iraq’s continuing sectarian civil war is now worse than ever (3). Al Qa’ida in Iraq has become stronger than ever since the US ended their funding for Iraqi awakening militias, which had got many former Iraqi Sunni allies of Al Qa’ida to fight against it (4) – (6). Al Qa’ida In Iraq has said that it helped establish the Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Al Nusrah (7).
Libya is often presented as a successful regime change by force. Yet former rebel militias have tortured and killed Gadaffi’s supporters and even his former opponents, along with thousands of black Libyans, who have also been ethnically cleansed from towns like Tawergha (8) – (15). Islamist groups have also attacked British and French embassy staff and killed US embassy staff (16) – (18). Al Qa’ida has also been able to use Libya as a base for attacks on French uranium miners in Niger (19).
Regime change by force in Syria, whether just by invasion, by arming the rebels, or by a pseudo no-fly-zone actually used for regime change, as in Libya, would also strengthen Al Qa’ida ; and merely replace Sunnis and Assad opponents including civilians and children being systematically and systematically raped, tortured and killed by Assad’s forces , deliberately, on a large scale, with Alawites, Shia, Christians, Kurds and Assad supporters as victims of extremists among the rebels.
There have already been sectarian massacres of Alawites by anti-Assad Sunni jihadists in the town of Aqrab and of Shia in Hatla. Syrian refugees include huge numbers of Syrian Christians fleeing Sunni extremist groups among the rebels, just as Iraqi Christians did (20) – (23).
Increasing rebel car and suicide bombings, mostly by Al Nusrah, routinely kill as many or more civilians than combatants. (Many of the bombers are Al Qa’ida men who learnt the method in Iraq and Afghanistan, or trained by them ) (25) – (29).
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that rebels have also tortured and executed not only captured soldiers or militia-men but many civilians too, some merely for being Alawites or Shia Muslims. While the majority of bodies found with torture marks and bullets in the back of their heads are killed by Assad’s forces, many of the dead, who include women and teenagers, are killed by rebels (33) – (34).
Given the vast number of groups among the rebels and the lack of any real organised command structure among many of them, any rebel victory would also likely to be followed by chaos and continuing civil war in which Al Qa’ida would continue to thrive.
Syria experts and journalists on the ground says the FSA doesn’t even exist as an organisation, backed up by the words of some FSA fighters themselves who say they don’t take orders from anyone (35) – (37).
Even if Al Nusrah/Qaeda lost a second round of civil war, all the rebel groups are Islamist, overwhelmingly Sunni, and only differing in how extreme or sectarian they are, including at least 80% FSA affiliated groups (38) – (39).
We already know from Al Nusrah youtube videos that some of the Croatian and former Yugoslav arms provided by the Saudis with CIA co-ordination via Jordan and NATO members Turkey and Croatia have got into the hands of Al Nusrah/Al Qa’ida ; and that General Idriss, the nominal commander of the FSA, can’t even get units he sends arms and money to tell him what they did with the last lot he sent them, never mind obey his orders (40) – (43).
So neither arming the rebels nor ‘no-fly zone’ regime change will end the atrocities against civilians, nor defeat Al Qa’ida and other groups as extreme in Syria. Only a viable peace plan can do that.
The US arming the rebels directly does not rule out using this as a way to get Assad to negotiate with a viable peace plan as the starting point for negotiations, if it is done only on a scale that makes the military balance a bit more equal, or total victory by force for Assad unattainable.
Lessons from Lebanon
Lebanon’s example shows power sharing works to end sectarian civil wars where military force or arming one side usually fails.
Intervention in the sectarian Lebanese civil war by British, French and US forces in the 1980s failed to end it (partly because these foreign forces started taking sides).
Article 5 of the 1991 Taif agreement which ended the 15 year Lebanese civil war included sharing parliamentary seats equally between Christians and Muslims with certain proportions also guaranteed to other minorities within these two groups. This power sharing has been retained in Lebanon’s electoral law (45).
The three most powerful political positions, President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, were already guaranteed to a Christian, Sunni and Shia respectively by the 1943 National Pact. Taif made the relative power of the three offices more equal by reducing the President’s powers and increasing the Speaker’s so that some talk of them as three Presidents (46).
A power sharing peace plan for Syria
In Syria power sharing could be between opponents and supporters of Assad, or between Sunni Arabs on the one hand and Alawites and other minorities on the other (again providing agreed shares to the other minorities), including a referendum on replacing the Presidency with a multi-member ruling council, indirectly elected by parliament, to give every faction a share of power. The ruling council's decisions could require unanimity, parliamentary approval by a two-thirds majority and in some cases a referendum too.
Guaranteed equal power sharing no matter what the election results may seem strange when most countries have winner-takes-all elections in which one side is winner and one loser in each election. Yet many of these elections are decided by a few per cent of the vote and provide big majorities to parties which got a minority of the vote, while excluding those who got almost as many votes from government entirely. Is that really more democratic? And why would either side in a life or death conflict agree to accept election results if they excluded it from power entirely and so put its leaders and their supporters at risk of torture and death?
Rebel groups which signed up to power sharing could become Syrian army units under their existing commanders, or else all militias could agree to disband and hand over their weapons, with an agreement that within a fixed time half of all professional soldiers and officers would be Sunnis, with each non-Sunni religion and the Kurds getting an agreed proportion of the other half, along with similar changes in the composition of the police and judiciary.
Any armed group which rejected the agreement or continued hostilities (most likely including Al Qaida / Nusrah) could be attacked as an enemy by all who had, until it was defeated, disarmed and disbanded, or accepted the agreement.
Isolating or weakening Al Qa’ida is a common interest for the NATO and Gulf Co-Operation Council governments (Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni monarchies) as well as Russia’s and Iran’s.
In the unlikely event that Al Nusrah did sign up to the peace agreement, it would have to end violence and become more moderate to keep any share of power. The peace process in Northern Ireland showed that even when extremists were elected on both sides (Martin McGuiness of Sinn Feinn and Dr Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party) they worked together amicably and helped isolate any groups which refused to end violence (e.g ‘the Real IRA’).
This plan would be an addition to Kofi Annan’s 6 point peace plan rather than an alternative to it.
The biggest problem will be the anarchic nature of the rebels, making it difficult to find representatives who most of them will accept as negotiators.
Why power sharing agreements are needed in Iraq and maybe elsewhere too
Similar power sharing proposals in Iraq, between Shias, on the one hand, and Sunnis and Kurds, on the other, could go a long way towards ending the sectarian violence there and stopping it spilling over into Syria again and from Syria to Lebanon, though the triple division makes this more difficult as the Kurds might side with the Shia on some issues.
Power sharing in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Emirates would also allow democratisation without Sunnis fearing losing power to Shia entirely. Jordan and Egypt could also benefit from power sharing between secular and Muslim groups.
(1) = guardian.co.uk 15 Jun 2013 ‘Tony Blair calls for west to intervene in Syria conflict’,
(2) = CNN 15 Jun 2013 ‘Sources: U.S. to send small arms, ammo to Syrian rebels’,
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/14/world/meast/syria-civil-war/, (scroll down to bolded sub-heading ‘McCain: Rebels losing fight’)
(3) = guardian.co.uk 11 Jun 2013 ‘Deadly attacks deepen Iraq's sectarian divide’,
(4) = USA Today 09 Oct 2012 ‘Al-Qaeda making comeback in Iraq, officials say’,
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2012/10/09/al-qaeda-iraq/1623297/ , ‘But now, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.’
(5) Reuters / guardian.co.uk 20 Mar 2013 ‘Al-Qaida claims responsibility for Iraq anniversary bombings’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/20/al-qaida-iraq-anniversary-bombings
(6) = BBC World Service 13 May 2009 ‘Awakening Councils face uncertain future’,
(7) = Reuters 09 Apr 2013 ‘Iraqi al Qaeda wing merges with Syrian counterpart’,
(8) = Amnesty International 04 Jul 2012 'Libya: Militia stranglehold corrosive for rule of law ', http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/libya-militia-stranglehold-corrosive-rule-law-2012-07-04
(9) = Medicines Sans Frontieres 26 Jan 2012 'Libya: detainees tortured and denied medical care', http://www.msf.org.uk/libyaprison360112_20120126.news
(10) = Times 12 July 2012 'Hate and fear: the legacy of Gaddafi', http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article3472720.ece
(11) = Amnesty International UK 07 Sep 2011 'Libya: Tawarghas being targeted in reprisal beatings and arrests',http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19674
(12) = Human Rights Watch 30 Oct 2011 'Libya: Militias Terrorizing Residents of ‘Loyalist’ Town', http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/10/30/libya-militias-terrorizing-residents-loyalist-town
(13) = New York Times 02 Mar 2012 'U.N. Faults NATO and Libyan Authorities in Report',http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/03/world/africa/united-nations-report-faults-nato-over-civilian-deaths-in-libya.html?_r=1 ; 'Certain revenge attacks have continued unabated, particularly the campaign by the militiamen of Misurata to wipe a neighboring town, Tawergha, off the map; the fighters accuse its residents of collaborating with a government siege.
Such attacks have been documented before, but the report stressed that despite previous criticism, the militiamen were continuing to hunt down the residents of the neighboring town no matter where they had fled across Libya. As recently as Feb. 6, militiamen from Misurata attacked a camp in Tripoli where residents of Tawergha had fled, killing an elderly man, a woman and three children, the report said. '
(14) = Independent on Sunday 08 July 2012 'Patrick Cockburn: Libyans have voted, but will the new rulers be able to curb violent militias?', http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-libyans-have-voted-but-will-the-new-rulers-be-able-to-curb-violent-militias-7922358.html
(15) = AP/Guardian 09 Jun 2013 ‘Army chief quits after militia kills dozens in Benghazi’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/libya-shield-benghazi-clash-militia
(16) = BBC News 11 Jun 2012 ‘Libya unrest: UK envoy's convoy attacked in Benghazi’,
(17) = BBC News 23 Apr 2012 ‘Tripoli: French embassy in Libya hit by car bomb’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22260856
(18) = Guardian.co.uk 12 Sep 2012 ‘Chris Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, killed in Benghazi attack’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/12/chris-stevens-us-ambassador-libya-killed
(19) = Reuters 25 May 2013 ‘Niger attacks launched from southern Libya - Niger's president’,
(20) = Channel 4 News 14 Dec 2012 ‘Was there a massacre in the Syrian town of Aqrab?’,
(21) = Independent 12 Jun 2013 ‘Syria: 60 Shia Muslims massacred in rebel ‘cleansing’ of Hatla’,
(22) = Independent 02 Nov 2012 ‘The plight of Syria's Christians: 'We left Homs because they were trying to kill us'’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-plight-of-syrias-christians-we-left-homs-because-they-were-trying-to-kill-us-8274710.html
(24) = UNoCHA IRIN news 13 May 2013 ‘"Sometimes you cannot apply the rules" - Syrian rebels and IHL’, http://www.irinnews.org/printreport.aspx?reportid=98021
(25) = Reuters 23 Dec 2011 'Analysis: Syria bombings signal deadlier phase of revolt', http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/23/us-syria-bombings-idUSTRE7BM18T20111223 , 'Beirut-based commentator Rami Khouri said he doubted the government would have hit its own security targets, suggesting that the bombings could have been the work of armed rebels,....Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut, also said he did not believe that the Syrian government was behind the bombings.'
(26) = New York Times 10 May 2012 'Dozens Killed in Large Explosions in Syrian Capital', http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/world/middleeast/damascus-syria-explosions-intelligence-headquarters.html?pagewanted=all ; 'Twin suicide car bombs that targeted a notorious military intelligence compound shook the Syrian capital, Damascus… with the Health Ministry putting the toll at 55 dead and nearly 400 wounded — civilians and soldiers. '
(27) = Voice of America 22 Feb 2013 ‘Death Toll Rises in Damascus Blasts’,
‘A Syrian expatriate rights group says a series of bombings in Damascus has killed at least 83 people …Most of the victims are said to be civilians, including many children from a nearby school, with 17 of the dead reported to be members of the security forces.’
(28) = BBC News 11 Jun 2013 ‘Syria crisis: Damascus hit by double 'suicide bombing'’,
(29) = USA Today 09 Jun 2013 ‘Large car bombs increasing in Syria’, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/09/syria-ieds-bombs-hezbollah/2401851/
(36) = BBC News 09 May 2013 ‘Syria's protracted conflict shows no sign of abating’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22456875
(37) = CBC News 07 Dec 2012 ‘Free Syrian Army an uneasy mix of religious extremes’
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/12/06/f-vp-bedard-syrian-rebels.html (scroll down to sub-heading ‘Abandoning Secularism’)
(38) = Syria Comment 03 Apr 2013 ‘Sorting out David Ignatius’, by Around Lund, http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/sorting-out-david-ignatius/
(39) = Swedish Institute of International Affairs UIBrief No.13 , Sep 2012, ‘Syrian Jihadism’, by Aron Lund, http://www.ui.se/upl/files/77409.pdf , pages 10 to 17
(40) = CBS News /AP 28 Mar 2013 ‘AP: "Master plan" underway to help Syria rebels take Damascus with U.S.-approved airlifts of heavy weapons’, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57576722/ap-master-plan-underway-to-help-syria-rebels-take-damascus-with-u.s.-approved-airlifts-of-heavy-weapons/
(44) = NYT 01 Mar 2013 ‘Syrian Rebel Leader Deals With Ties to Other Side’,
(45) = ‘The Lebanese Civil War and The Taif Agreement’ by Hassem Kraim of the American University of Beirut,
(46) = Independent Foundation for Electoral Systems Mar 2009 ‘The Lebanese Electoral System’, http://www.ifes.org/Content/Publications/Papers/2009/The-Lebanese-Electoral-System.aspx