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Syria: on the road to ruin

By Graham Cooke - posted Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Slowly and perhaps inevitably, Syria is slipping towards the status of a failed State. The civil war has reached stalemate, both sides at the point of exhaustion; neither capable of delivering a knock-out blow on the other.

Both Government and rebels seek outside support to deliver victory, but in New York the United Nations, which should be the most active in finding a solution, is embroiled in a stalemate of its own as the five permanent members of its Security Council, all with the power of veto, are split on who to back and what to do next.

Meanwhile in Damascus, Aleppo and many other cities around the stricken nation, basic services are breaking down, public servants have deserted their posts and people are mutilated and dying, day after day after day.

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It is a measure of the level to which the Government of President Bashar al-Assad has sunk that it is now welcoming Iraqi and Iranian Shias into the country to fight alongside what remains of its armed forces. In doing so Assad has lost any claim to legitimacy and is simply just another warlord fighting over the decayed and ravaged remains of the Syrian State.

Of course the Free Syrian Army – as we conveniently call the rebels confronting Assad – has been welcoming outside assistance almost since the beginning of the civil war 19 months ago. Fighters, weapons and materiel have flowed in from Sunni-controlled States in the Gulf, turning the conflict into a holy war between the two main antagonistic branches of Islam.

And the war is being played out on the wider stage with Russia committed to propping up the regime in order to preserve its last remaining toe-hold in the Middle East, and the United States seeking the overthrow of the anti-American Assad in the increasingly forlorn hope that he will be replaced by a democrats better disposed towards the West.

The fact that the rebels are now capable of shooting down army helicopters with what apparently are shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles, is proof that increasingly sophisticated weaponry is being funnelled to them. If these are deployed in any numbers Assad's air power, the one significant advantage his side has had up to now, will be largely neutralised.

It should be remembered that similar missiles supplied to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan a quarter of a century ago proved to be the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union's attempt to occupy the country.

The internationalisation of the conflict within Syria increases the possibility that it could spread across borders. Already there is clear evidence that Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants, who are strident supporters of the Assad regime, are shelling Free Syrian Army positions across the border and that Hezbollah fighters are joining Assad forces on the ground inside Syria.

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Lebanese nationals have been counted among the dead after a Free Syrian Army attack on a town close to the Lebanese border. Ominously, Free Syrian Army military commanders in the area have said that if the attacks continue they would feel justified in penetrating South Lebanon to neutralise the threat. The situation in Lebanon has further deteriorated since the assassination of the country's security chief which many blame on Hezbollah.

Jordan, a moderate influence in the Middle East, has its own fears of what is happening in Syria and has reportedly asked Western countries for support should the conflict spread over its long northern border.

And Syrian-Turkish relations are at an all-time low following cross-border shelling. Turkey, which has lost some of its citizens in the incidents, is a fierce opponent of the Assad regime and has not ruled out armed intervention if the provocations continue.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.


He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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