Iraq Comes to Syria

Update Brig. Gen. Issa al-Kholi who headed a military hospital, was assassinated Saturday outside his Damascus home. He is the first high-ranking officer to be killed. Because he was a physician rather than a staff or field officer, he probably lacked good security and so was a soft target. Hitting physicians and nurses is a hallmark of the Iraqi Sunni insurgency.

A deadly car bomb killed at least 28 and wounded more than 200 in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city on Friday. The regime blamed “terrorists” for the blast, and the US fingered “al-Qaeda” (presumably the Iraqi ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia). Syrian oppositionists entertained dark suspicions that the regime bombed itself in Aleppo. As the second largest city, it has a significant Christian population. The opposition gains nothing from this bombing, and, indeed, suffers. Christians and others in the city were already afraid that the uprising could lead to Iraq-style violence, so here was their proof.

Elsewhere, regime security forces killed some 27 civilians as they came out of mosques after Friday prayers or tried to join protests. A handful of Syrian troops was also killed by military defectors.

Sources in Washington DC maintained that they had sources that informed them that members of the Syrian elite were making plans to flee.

This latter item seems to me likely an element of psychological warfare. There was all that talk about the Saddam family surrendering in Iraq before the Bush invasion. Regime decapitation or collapse at the top is a fantasy in Washington, but it seldom works in real life.

7 Responses

  1. You must have been in a hurry when you wrote the last paragraph, as you are usually more literate than that. The “latter” would be the second of two items when you were referring to the last of three items, and I finally figured out that rather than “psychological warfare” which would be an attempt to influence or disrupt Syrians, you meant “propaganda” whichj is an effort to decieve American readers.

    • No, he meant “psychological warfare.”

      The audience for that story (if Prof. Cole is correct) consists of military and political figures around Assad or in the military who are trying to decide whether to defect to the opposition, or go down fighting with Assad.

  2. As always, the big questions at such pivotal moments in “nascent” revolutions (if Syria’s beleaguered opposition movement can be describe as such) is the loyalty of the military command and rank-and-file soldiery: how tightly bound to the Assad regime is the military? Would mounting international pressure (sanctions, arming of the opposition) alter the incentive structures within the high military command? Compare Egypt recently, and Iran 30 yrs ago: at what point does the military gamble that its survival and continued influence and power lay on the side of reform, or perhaps even a coup? And when do internal military command structures break down; when do soldiers on the street decide to stop firing on civilians? From what I’ve been reading and hearing, the Syrian military is tightly controlled institution under orwellian security apparatus of the Assad regime. But then other experts talk about the real possibilities of a military coup, which, if they are correct, must mean there is at last the potential for and uncoupling of military/regime interests.

    • But a coup would normally mean the generals, who are wedded to the status quo. So it would happen because they think Assad Jr. isn’t brutal enough to save their privileges. A coup by lower-ranking officers, meaning Sunnis looking for power redistribution, would be harder. Note that in most coups carried out by colonels, majors, etc, the overthrown regime was incompetently organized: Libya ’69, Egypt ’52. No surprise that Liberia and The Congo were conquered by former sergeants! If you’re only a colonel and you want to take over a country, you need serious CIA backing.

  3. Juan:

    Sources in Washington DC maintained that they had sources that informed them that members of the Syrian elite were making plans to flee.

    This latter item seems to me likely an element of psychological warfare.

    Let’s not be so quick to discount information form “the other side of the hill”. This is a data point, let it stand. If it is true we’ll get corroborating evidence soon enough.

    And this is not about “regime decapitation”, nobody has mentioned that. Josh Landis has reported on his blog that some number of Alawis in Damascus have started to return to their home villages.

    Reports from Damascus are uniform in saying that the deteriorating economic situation is evident in Damascus.

    Yes, the fourth armored and the republican guard will fight to the death, but that doesn’t mean that the Alawis aren’t getting increasingly nervous.

    This news item really has the ring of truth.

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