Looming Aleppo Battle indicts both sides of Civil War for breaking Cease-Fire

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The only thing worse than the new hero status of now-covert al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani and his Army of Syrian Conquest (ASC) is the news that he plans to subject all of Aleppo.

Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, or at least it used to be, with some 2.5 million people. Some reporters who have been there think that although a lot of people have left, others have come flooding in from the countryside, so that its current population may be similar but rearranged. Many more people, perhaps 1.2 million, live in relatively well-off West Aleppo, still controlled by the Syrian regime, which by all accounts is still very popular among them. Some 250,000 live in slummy East Aleppo, ruled by a congeries of fundamentalist militias who are supported from the outside by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Julani.

For the regime to besiege and take over East Aleppo would result in an enormous human tragedy. That siege had begun last month, but al-Julani and his allies have broken it, apparently with the help of GRAD batteries supplied by Turkey and the Gulf and maybe the US CIA. Since a siege would have starved out children and non-combatants it would have been horrible. And if the regime took back over the east, it would round up thousands of rebels and put them in mass graves after it tortured them.

This fate is what al-Assad, Iran and the Russian Federation wanted for East Aleppo and its hapless residents, whose crime was to be poor and to have been disadvantaged by the regime and to hate it, and to have been conventionally religious as Sunni Muslims.

On the other hand, if the seedy al-Qaeda types al-Julani has gathered around himself took over the more than a million people in and around West Aleppo, that would also be an enormous human tragedy. They include members of minorities whom al-Julani has promised to ethnically cleanse. Their crime is to have been somewhat well-off and to have made their peace with a totalitarian regime that they feel provides them order.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and apparently John Brennan of the CIA want the rebels to take East Aleppo, and in backing this effort they are prolonging a civil war that has killed off nearly half a million people and left half of the 22 million Syrian homeless or refugees abroad. They are also unembarrassed to ally with the right-hand man of 9/11 mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The great tragedy is that the ceasefire negotiated by John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov last February could have forestalled this further round of vicious battles.

That ceasefire (or “cessation of hostilities” because the regime refused to acknowledge the rebels) had succeeded better than anyone had expected.

But the ceasefire broke down in Aleppo, with two sides at fault. On the one side, al-Julani refused to abide by any cessation of hostilities, and launched repeated attacks on regime positions and against minority villages, as well as shelling West Aleppo. Some groups “vetted” by the CIA joined in with al-Qaeda in breaking the ceasefire, with weapons and money supplied by the US and Saudi Arabia.

On the other side, Bashar al-Assad began thinking that the rebels’ willingness to abide by the cessation of hostilities was a sign of weakness and that it would be possible for his regime to reconquer all of Syria. This is hubris on the scale of insanity. What the last 5 years have proven is that the regime is stretched too thin, its remaining army of 80,000 (down from 300,000 before the civil war) too small, for Damascus to rule the whole country. It has lost Idlib, al-Raqqa, al-Jazira, Deir al-Zor, Golan, etc.– even parts of the capital, Damascus, and its hinterland.

The regime could well have been overthrown by now if not for the fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite Hizbullah, and the Afghan cannon-fodder Shanghaied by Iran, and Russian air support. But apparently one reason the al-Qaeda-led forces were able to break the siege of the East is that the Afghans ran away and the vulnerable regime forces also faded back. Hizbullah was left to fight on its own and it wasn’t enough.

If the ceasefire had held, someday there might have been new elections. East Aleppo could have elected fundamentalist members of parliament and West Aleppo could have elected Baathists or whatever. They could have argued out their differences in the national legislature instead of turning their beautiful old city into more rubble and ruining the lives of their families and children.

Last October, it was West Aleppo that was besieged, with all supply routes cut off and a danger of mass starvation. Russian air intervention saved the West Aleppans from al-Qaeda and the other rebels then.

Now it seems the Syrians are doomed, like actors in that Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” or Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” to living the same scenes over and over again. Al-Julani’s hope is to turn the tables and put West Aleppo under siege again, or perhaps even conquer it for covert al-Qaeda. The Gulf and Turkey and probably some American agencies also want him to succeed in this, in part because they imagine it will harm Iran (talk about science fiction). So here we go again.

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Related video:

France24: “Syria: intense air attacks in Aleppo after rebels break siege”

12 Responses

  1. The Vietnam war could of been avoided if the US had allowed elections to have gone forward in Vietnam as agreed. I wish that the fate of Syria could be decided by the ballot box, but that is not going to happen.

  2. In the sixth paragraph, which begins with “Saudi Arabia, Turkey and apparently John Brennan of the CIA want the rebels to take East Aleppo, …”, it seems possible from the context that an error of transposition was made there, that the sentence should instead read “Saudi Arabia, Turkey and apparently John Brennan of the CIA want the rebels to take West Aleppo … ” even though such a result would likely result in more misery for the Syrian population, by sheer volume, than the competing outcome of a regime takeover of East Aleppo.

    Let us hope (and, as possible, work to ensure) that your conclusion “Now it seems the Syrians are doomed, like actors in that Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” or Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” to living the same scenes over and over again …” is also too pessimistic, that the various peoples of Syria may find a way out of the nihilistic competition of corrupt power structures and towards a government reflecting the long-term interests of those quite various populations.

  3. “And if the regime took back over the east, it would round up thousands of rebels and put them in mass graves after it tortured them.” But you make it sound like it’s a bad thing…

    • Because from the last 6 years every Sunni male from the age of 10 is a rebel, the 300k civilians dead Assad butchered are a proof. I could post you videos if you want.

  4. I am glad that it is acknowledged that the civil war has been prolonged is mainly because of the Gulf, Turkey and CIA . (We should replace CIA with Obama administration and underline HRC’s role when she was sec. of state. CIA can’t do things if not authorized by Obama.) Crushing of the rebels would have given us continuation of the same old Assad’s dictatorship. But isn’t it preferable to the slow genocide that is going on now, and an accelerated one when Gilani crushes Assad?

    • And the role of the shia militias, Iran, shia government in Iraq and Russia that has been active in Syria since the summer of 2011 engaging in mass religious cleansing of Sunnis? Who is at fault for that?

      • Your claim is not based in facts. There are many sunnis who support Assad. Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia have supported Assad against predominantly Jihadi and genocidal forces. They have not carried out sectarian policies and got involved in force only when takfiris gained upper hand in the civil war. I don’t condone what Assad does and he should be tried for war crimes, but the neoliberal policies that led to Libya and Syria interventions are not legal nor justified. It is America exceptionalism deluxe that justifies intervention in other peoples affairs any time, anywhere it wishes. It violates international law and makes it worthless. What I propose in my post is that crushing of the rebellion, in retrospect, was far preferable to the current suffering.

        • The shia militias in their media do not hide the fact that is the 1400 year revenge in waiting against the grandsons of Yazid, the depopulation of the countryside of Homs (upwards of 50% of all Syrian refugees are from Homs and its province) and the importation of tens of thousands of shias and turning Sunni mosques into shia mosques and desecrating sunni graveyards (all proudly shown on the media above) tells a different story.

          I wish the story was different but it is not. There are no shias in Syria to defend, Alawites were apostates until the infamous fatwa of the Marje’s in Iraq and Iran in 2011 that made them followers and defenders of Hussain which basically made them shia again. That fatwa lead tens of thousands of shias to volunteer and to fight for pure sectarian reasons.

      • Those parties you highlight are responsible. Most of us though are responsible for what our taxes pay for, and our taxes are financing the shipment of munitions to extremist groups in Syria. We may dislike what Iran, Russia, Iraq, and Syria are doing to the people of Syria and Iraq, but ethically and legally we are not responsible for their actions. We should rightfully speak out about what they are doing, but suggesting that our actions in Syria are justified through other’s misdeeds is faulty logic.

        On the other hand, we are directly responsible for selling munitions to Saudi Arabia which then end up in Syria and Iraq with extremist groups that commit pogroms. We could stop many of the atrocities that are occurring in Syria and Iraq simply by stopping or stemming the flow of munitions from Saudi Arabia and Turkey into Syria.

  5. This post is largely balanced, but the balance belies an underlying truth of this 5+ year strife. The two sides are not the same, and nor can the legal process to try the opposing sides is not the same. If any of the two sides ‘win,’ as you note, there will be huge losses for the losing side (though I do not think as this site seems to imply that the two losses would be roughly the same).

    Moreover, this site has called the actions of al-Assad as ‘state terror,’ and I have argued that this phrase has no legal definition or meaning. What the government al-Assad has done is war crimes, and should be tried in a war crimes tribunal for such actions. This site has also argued that the legitimacy of the Syrian government is in question. Except, this site fails to acknowledge by whom is this legitimacy in question: the United States, Europe, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Informed Comment? In failing to address how legitimacy of a government is conferred and by whom, it skirts around legal responsibilities the ICC has to the people of Syria. As a governing authority in Syria, al-Assad could be tried for war crimes.

    International law provides a vehicle to redress injustices to aggrieved parties that cannot be tried in our domestic court. In a fair world, Syrians who have seen their loved ones killed by munitions supplied by Saudi Arabia and Turkey (through the backing of the United States) would be able to lodge their suits in our legal system against Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the our government. In the same capacity, al-Assad should be tried in an international tribunal for war crimes.

    Calling the two sides equal or the same obfuscates the legal procedures through which a crisis could be resolved. The Syrian crisis appears to look less and less like any of the failed Arab spring revolutions and more like the Sri Lankan civil war.

    Resolution of the Syrian crisis could end in many different ways, some much worse than others.

    You write,

    “And if the regime took back over the east, it would round up thousands of rebels and put them in mass graves after it tortured them.

    This fate is what al-Assad, Iran and the Russian Federation wanted for East Aleppo and its hapless residents, whose crime was to be poor and to have been disadvantaged by the regime and to hate it, and to have been conventionally religious as Sunni Muslims.”

    Sri Lanka resolved it’s crisis through negotiated settlement after capturing most of rebel territory. A similar situation could happen in Syria in that your worst case situation of thousand of rebels ending up in ‘mass graves’ does not occur. The alternative of mass pogroms of Alawis, regime-loyal Sunnis, Christians, if the rebels take over West Aleppo, is certain: it’s just a continuation of the rebels genocidal polices all over Syria and Iraq. The two sides have not engaged in the same sectarian rhetoric. Al-Assad, Iran, and Russia have not engaged in rank sectarianism that the extremist groups and Saudi Arabia have engaged in.

  6. The rebels certainly showed up with a lot of heavy military equipment – tanks as well as artillery – so obviously somebody’s been supplying them, and generously. While it’s certainly reasonable to suspect Turkey, the Gulf Arabs, and the CIA, is there actually any hard evidence on who handed over all that gear?

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