The Age of Mass Killing Comes to Syria & France Pushes Gov’t in Exile

In recent months, the uprising in Syria has become bloodier and bloodier. In the beginning, in spring and summer of 2011, the crowds were largely peaceful. The Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad responded by placing snipers on rooftops of tall buildings and having them fire randomly into the protesting crowds. They would kill 5-10 people in each city, to raise the cost of the protests. If they were hoping that this official sniping tactic would tamp down the demonstrations, the Baath security officials were wrong. Sometimes they would pull up tanks and use them as pill-boxes, peppering the crowds with live ammunition. These techniques would kill 50-80 people a day fairly regularly, if you added up deaths in all the small towns and cities.

In response to the regime’s militarization of its repression of civilian protest, Syrians (including defectors from the army to the opposition) began using firearms themselves, against the regime. In order to root out the elements of the Free Syrian Army, which began basing themselves in some city quarters, the regime began last winter heavily bombarding those districts, risking large losses of civilian life in hopes of clearing the area of opposition fighters.

Then in spring, the regime began sending Ghost Brigades into small Sunni towns and villages aligned with the revolt, and committing massacres of men, women and children. The massacre at Houle, which a UN investigation determined had in fact been carried out by pro-regime militias, was a turning point. It encouraged more Sunnis to defect from the Alawite=dominated regime.

The rebellion in Syria has often been fiercest in Sunni working-class suburbs. One of these in Damascus, Daraya, had become a center of opposition. Last week the Baath army launched an attack on Daraya and over-ran it. But over the weekend, it appears that either the victorious troops or the Ghost Brigade irregulars accompanying them committed reprisal atrocities against the people there for daring defy them. Over three hundred bodies were discovered in the aftermath, according to opposition sources.

A British official condemned the Daraya killings as an atrocity on a new scale, which captures the reality pretty well. The UN secretary-general expressed shock and called for an investigation.

On Monday, regime forces pounded dissident neighborhoods around Damascus with artillery killing dozens, including innocent civilians. They also continued shelling in Homs and in the north.

The escalation in the loss of life has impelled some outside countries to a new sense of urgency. French President Francois Hollande announced that he would recognize a government in exile if one were formed by the Syrian revolutionaries. The US declared that approach premature.

As killing escalates to hundreds a day, that datum will put pressure on the governments of the world to act.

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Responses | Print |

19 Responses

  1. Western governments need to daily “hang” these atrocities at the diplomatic door of the Russian and Chinese governments. This “drumbeat” needs to increase in intensity, daily, at any and all levels of diplomatic discourse….

  2. Hello Juan –

    I am a former Classics prof whose privilege it was as a graduate student to travel throughout Syria. It was only for nine days in mid December of 1994. But wow, what a magnificent place. Damascus is a fabulous, beautiful and unique city. My two days spent in Aleppo I will never forget, particularly the souks. Crac de Chevalier, Phillopolis, Latakia, Dura Europas, Ebla, Palmyra (Roman jewel of the desert), Halibya, Saladin’s fortress, and I could go on and on. In Aleppo I was struck by the similarity between Italian and Arabic architecture and designs from the same period, and wondered who was imitating whom. These events are all the more tragic given the great history of this country and its significance for humankind. My heart goes out to the Syrians who are in my prayers. I hope that in a future post you will discuss the urgency of preserving Syria’s cultural treasures and her people’s patrimony (and didn’t we learn an awful lesson by the destruction of Iraq’s history?) Please post pics of these historic sites and Syria’s wonderful peoples.

  3. Your article appears to have all the hallmarks of a single sided narrative. There is no mention of the military support the rebels receive from Wahhabi states. No mention of the UN’s findings of war crimes on the rebel’s side. No mention of terrorist organizations involved with the rebels. What of Turkey’s role, what of the illegal CIA influence and Stinger Missile delivery? What of the hypocritical notion of humanitarian grounds where as other nations remain off the spotlight?, what of Hilary Clinton stating the road to Tehran is through Damascus, are we to believe the NATO led regime change has nothing to do with geopolitics?. No mention of the power vacuum and the likelihood of an internationally hostile replacement to the current regime. I guess that FBI scare allowed to you rediscover patriotism.

    • and your comment has all the hallmarks of false equivalences. The scale of regime atrocities dwarfs that of the incoherent rebels, who lack a unified command. The small Qataris support is dwarfed by Russian & Iranian support for Baath.

    • “Anti-imperialists” have adopted the argumentation of global warming deniers.

      Oh, boo-hoo, this incredibly biased climate report doesn’t include my very latest theory about solar flares!

  4. think the middle east has had enough intervention, do they really want a sequence to iraq and lebanon,

    • think the middle east has had enough intervention,

      I agree with your criticism of the Russians and Iranians. I’d love it if you’d link to the comments you’ve left on Russian and Iranian web sites, expressing your opposition to foreign intervention.

  5. Dear Professor Cole

    I seem to remember heavy casualties inflicted by the US Marines in Fallujah and the Israelis shelling Beirut for days. Mahmoud Darwish wrote a book about it.

    I suspect the State Department is wise to avoid getting sucked into precipitate action by the ex colonial power while discussions are taking place among the Egyptians, Iranians, Saudis and Turks (?).

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    One always treats French proposals with a certain amount of cynicism and scepticism. Who might they have lined up as a national leader and what might be the value of the resulting infrastructure projects?

  6. Dear Prof. Cole,

    I’m sure the continuing and alarming escalation is pressuring governments of the world to act. Do you think they should? If so, what can they do that will have meaningful impact? I don’t think we can hope for the success of the Libya intervention in Syria. A few months ago, I myself would have thought doing something even such as a no-fly zone misguided, but with the situation changing over time, I’m not sure I hold that position (then again, I don’t feel I have the military expertise to say one way or the other strongly). If you don’t have a strong opinion on what governments should do, can you at least offer weak one(s)?

  7. “Newser) – Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, has joined the growing global calls for regime change in Syria. “Now is the time to stop this bloodshed and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene,” he said. Not going along with the Assad-bashing: Iran, which the Wall Street Journal reports is sending commanders from its Revolutionary Guards Corps to help the regime, along with hundreds of soldiers, per corps sources. “Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well,” a commander is reported to have told soldiers. The Journal couldn’t verify the remark, but notes that, if true, it would be Iran’s first public admission of military intervention there. ”

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  8. How about setting up an International Displaced Despot Fund? A lot of these critters seem to hold on and keep the blood flowing in large part because of the wealth it brings them and their adherents. Would it not be cheaper and kinder to create a kind of “superfund” of the sort once used in the US to clean up the chemically toxic crap that “our” industry generated and dumped all over the landscape? Since a lot of the politically and socially toxic crap that’s poisoning the planet is the detritus of “United Fruit diplomacy” of the sort practiced by the US and other “Great Powers,” maybe putting billions into a pot for tin-pot dictators to draw on when they are finally on the ropes at home would lead to a gentle landing, rather than the serial horrors we see so much of today? I mean, it’s not like these people can’t be bought…

  9. Dear Professor Cole

    Mr Coughlin seems unimpressed with the French idea of intervention in Syria and is unimpressed with the result in Libya.

    link to

    Can I still be a bleeding heart left wing liberal if I agree with him?

  10. any comments on Robert Fisk’s report on Daraya in the Independent? Essentially saying it was a prisoner swap gone horribly wrong, ie not a straightforward massacre, as most the media are portraying it.

  11. “As killing escalates to hundreds a day, that datum will put pressure on the governments of the world to act.”

    I doubt it. No one much cared about how much killing there was in Fallujah or in the rest of Iraq for that matter. They didn’t even bother to count the bodies.

    When the “international community” decides to act, it will be independent of whatever is happening on the ground.

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