May 10, 2012

Who Is Responsible For Syria's Shock Bombings?

The latest double-bombing in Syria released physical and political shockwaves through the international sphere. The first explosion was reported around 7:30 A.M. near the government's Palestine intelligence branch, and followed by a second attack on an aviation headquarters. Most of the casualties and wounded - 55 and 370, according to the Syrian government - are civilians caught up in a revolutionary struggle with no end in sight. With all sides pointing fingers at a list of subjects, what is being unanimously described as a hellish scene has sent the Syrian populace and international community into a new tailspin. 

Syria's Formal Opposition

Each powerful blast that strikes a Damascus suburb triggers a culpability race between Bashar al-Assad's regime and Syria's formal opposition. State media invariably wins each heat, on scene with cameras to broadcast row after row of gruesome images. Government condemnation of "terrorists" soon follows, leaving the opposition to catch up to a well-oiled propaganda machine. Oppositional sources did take credit for a recent IED attack on Syrian forces, which reportedly missed a UN team by 100 yards, but the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) have both rejected any involvement in Damascus's series of high-profile explosions. Ausama Monajed, the adviser to SNC Chairman Burhan Ghalioun, explained, "This is a government-planned attack, and we are used to provocations using these tactics." 

“These bombs are not the work of opposition fighters,” added Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, chief of the FSA's military council. 

Taking all known factors into consideration, Syria's internationally-recognized opposition has no strategic incentive to commit these bombings.

Actual Terrorists and Radicals

A more realistic non-government source is a rogue actor bent on destabilizing Syria out of personal interests. This actor must be sufficiently advanced to carry out a relatively sophisticated campaign, to pack cars with thousands of pounds of explosives and smuggle them into a tightly controlled capital. General al-Sheikh argues that, "no other parties in Syria... are technically capable of making such a huge explosion, except for the regime itself." He explicitly ruled out the possibility of foreign terrorism, claiming, "Not even al Qaeda can do that." Many oppositional figures and protesters are inclined to agree, however the presence of internal and external rogue forces cannot be rejected either. al-Qaeda has years of experience moving between the Syrian-Iraqi border, and the group is motivated to suck America into another regional war that could distract from intensifying U.S. operations against al-Qaeda's branches. 

One retired Lebanese army major general, Hisham Jaber, told Al Jazeera that he isn't, "accusing al-Qaeda, but everybody knows there are groups from al-Qaeda or similar or belong to it or they have the same objective and belief. We do estimate the number of those groups, who came from Libya, Yemen, north Lebanon and Iraq, at about 800-1000. These are well-indoctrinated and well trained." 

The situation becomes even murkier at this point. Bill Roggio, the editor of Long War Journal, suspects that one of two radical groups operating in Syria carried out the Damascus bombings. Scant information is available on the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant. An alleged product of al-Assad's vicious crackdown on Homs, the Al-Nusra Front has vowed to avenge the killing of Syrian revolutionaries with their own justice. A rogue Islamic group would normally view its own style of justice as beyond the secular world's ethics, but this faction still needs assistance to orchestrate its attacks. That leaves al-Qaeda elements to multiply the force of local radicalized groups and the regime to let them slip past. 

Opposition members suspect Al Nusrah to be a government front, citing al-Assad's influence over foreign fighters during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Others believe that the regime is ignoring advanced warnings in order to scapegoat Syria's revolutionary forces. Damascus has further twisted this possibility by concentrating on the arrival of foreign fighters, who aren't coming from Iraq but Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Syria's Permanent Representative to the UN, Bashar al-Jafari, blamed Syria's unrest of these actors while praising the UN's observer mission. 

"Therefore, we are talking about facts that cannot be denied regarding the involvement of foreign fighters in the events in Syria which is a very serious issue." 

To be as clear as possible, these possibilities are not mutually exclusive and could overlap to form a complete picture of the situation. Yet the fog of war is too thick to believe the government's versions of events. Netwar's ad hoc complexities appear to have fused extremist and terrorist cells with Damascus, two or three independent networks working in simultaneous cooperation and opposition. 

Al-Assad's Regime

The series of bombings that have shook Damascus and Aleppo share many attributes: their pairing, selection of targets, time of day, on-site placement of state media and political timing with UN or Arab League missions. UN observers were immediately ferried to two craters to inspect the blast site, just as the Arab League's monitors toured a double car-bombing one day after their arrival. These incidents are then thrown back to the international community as proof of the opposition's terrorism - funded by Western and Gulf states. Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, has recorded 849 deaths (628 civilians/insurgents and 190 government soldiers) since a partial ceasefire took effect on April 12th. During this time al-Assad's regime has tried to destroy Kofi Annan's plan while avoiding blame - once again "terrorists" are taking the fall. Damascus also expects the UN to confront the Saudis and Turks, an unrealistic demand intended to gunk up the international community's response. 

"The regime is behind this," says the SNC's Samir Nashar. "This is the only way for the regime to claim that what is happening in Syria is the work of terrorist gangs and that Al Qaida is expanding its presence in Syria." 

Forced to respond, the Obama administration and UN officials usually react by denouncing all forms of violence by either side, regardless of the motivation. The UN would fall head over heels into this trap on Thursday, issuing a sternly-worded statement and deploying its leadership (Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, his predecessor Kofi Annan and Norwegian General Robert Mood) to the political fence. To its credit the Obama administration sidestepped al-Assad's plots by differentiating between Syria's revolutionaries and spoilers. "We do not believe this this kind of attack that you saw in Damascus is representative of the opposition," White House spokesman Jay Carey told reporters. "There are clearly extremist elements in Syria, as we have said all along, who are trying to take advantage of the chaos in that country, chaos brought about by Assad's brutal assault on his own people."

Problematically, Syrian state media is full of international condemnation loosely directed at Syria's opposition, including statements from the Obama administration and UN.

Whatever the case, no side stands to profit more from bombing government buildings than the government. This is al-Assad's plan to void Annan's ceasefire and pin its collapse on the opposition. Bombing one's people is irrational and inhumane, but al-Assad has no real connection to a large segment of "his people." His regime is willing to kill thousands of Syrian revolutionaries and sacrifice the same number of his own troops to remain in power. If Syria does collapse into open civil war between civilians, al-Assad would use all of his supporters as political and military bargaining chips against a foreign intervention. 

Why wouldn't he already be using them as pawns?

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