Syria: A Market bombing kills 38 and Explains why Government won Syria War

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A rocket fired by rebel forces at a market, Kashkul, in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus on Wednesday killed dozens of people.

It strikes me that this incident encapsulates the deep tragedy of the Syrian civil war. Jaramana is a mixed Christian and Druze neighborhood 3 km. south of Damascus and has since 2011 been under the control of the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad. The Druze are an esoteric offshoot of Ismaili, Shiite Islam who practice secret knowledge and do not have mosques or Friday prayers.

The rocket strike was likely intended as revenge by the Sunni Muslim fundamentalist groups in East Ghouta, over two-thirds of which has now been taken by government troops in the ongoing current regime push to take all of this district outside the capital.

Syria’s demography is a matter of educated guesses. But perhaps 14% are Alawi, an esoteric Shiite group, and 5% Christian and 3% Druze and 2% Twelver Shiite, which gets you near to 25% of the population. Then 10% are Kurds, mostly Sunni leftists but including some minorities like Yazidis. So that is 35% of the population outside the Sunni Arab mainstream. Of the 65% remaining, mostly Sunni and Arab, more than half are urban and secular-minded, many of them socialists with a Marxian ideology mixed with Arab nationalism. Sunni Muslim fundamentalists are likely no more than 20% of the population.

As the Syrian revolution of 2011 turned into a civil war and as strongman president Bashar al-Assad maneuvered the democratic opposition into being a guerrilla movement increasingly dependent on Gulf money, the civil war was turned into a fight between the regime and fundamentalist Sunni Arabs in the medium cities and small towns and rural areas.

The 35% non-Arab or non-Sunni part of the population and the 33% of Sunni Arab secularists or regime loyalists, mainly in the big cities, equal together 68% of the population, over two-thirds.

The Salafi fundamentalists who targeted Druze and Christians were punishing them for the defeat at East Ghouta and were marking them out for fellow Sunni Arabs as deserving of being targeted as supporters of the regime. But in a country where a super-majority is not Sunni Arab fundamentalists, what that sort of mayhem does is drive everybody into the arms of the regime. If the choice is between the seedy Baath one-party state and democracy, maybe most Syrians would choose democracy. If the choice is between a government that will protect Alawis, Christians, Druze, Shiites, and secular Sunnis and a government staffed by Salafi extremists with ties to al-Qaeda, then in today’s Syria, Bashar al-Assad wins every time.

This market bombing, despite its mayhem and cruelty, will soon be forgotten by all but the relatives of the victims. But it sums up in itself how we got to 2018 with the regime in control of most of the country. The Sunni Arab fundamentalists acted as their own spoilers, spooking the super-majority in the country that does not share their ideology.


Bonus video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Dozens killed in rocket attack on Damascus market”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 12 Responses | Print |

12 Responses

  1. “If the choice is between the seedy Baath one-party state and democracy, maybe most Syrians would choose democracy. If the choice is between a government that will protect Alawis, Christians, Druze, Shiites, and secular Sunnis and a government staffed by Salafi extremists with ties to al-Qaeda, then in today‚Äôs Syria, Bashar al-Assad wins every time.”

    With that level of concise and accurate reporting, its no wonder you’re not popular with the MSM Juan. Don’t you know the evil Iranians are behind everything that goes wrong in Syria (*Sarcasm*)?

  2. It’s a deeper unpopularity than that. What Prof. Cole keeps showing is how incredibly complex and amoral conflicts are in one small corner of the world. Yet we Americans come from a cultural legacy of trying to impose a Manichean division of the entire universe into simple good and evil, and our reaction to endless struggles between fairly awful groups of people has been to hide inside an isolationist fantasy or try to steamroll the facts under our Superpower strength. The American MSM has of course benefited from this binary delusion, and the market for news was cultivated for it.

    • The question of whether the 2011 uprising was worth the results it created was addressed by Syria’s top dissident leaders and the response varied from “yes” to “ambivalent”.

      Yassin Al-Haj Saleh has authored “The Impossible Revolution” a study of the civil disobedience that led to civil war and this has become a critically acclaimed definitive work on the subject. He spent 16 years as a political prisoner in Syria and blames Russia, the U.S. and Assad’s regime and his ISIS and other Islamic extremist allies for the carnage:

      link to

      The consensus is that popular demonstrations were justified that the demonstrators that opposed the Assad regime cannot be blamed as they had no other recourse to fight a tyrannical system.

      The fault for the failure of the revolution has been opined as multifactorial but includes the inability of the opposition to create a cohesive and effective presence in both the international community by way of foreign relations and leadership for the domestic movement.

      The U.S. government abetted the uprising and funneled arms to the Syrian opposition forces – and then abandoned them. Russia, on the other hand, used the civil war to re-establish itself as a superpower in the region.

      Some views on the subject:

      link to

  3. The binary presentation suits the needs of propaganda. The Middle East in general and Syria in particular are more complex than that but oversimplifying it all is what the powers that be desire.

  4. There is zero class analysis in this account. Those who took up arms against the dictatorship were driven by economic misery, not a desire to impose sharia law. I know that Juan will not approve this comment but he should be aware of what those on the left like Gilbert Achar think about these issues.

    • Hi, Louis. You aren’t a careful reader of texts and/or haven’t been reading my blog. I don’t deny that class resentments played a role. However, the emergence of Salafis as the vanguard of the revolution did doom it afterwards.

      Also, the phrase ‘I know this won’t be published’ usually causes a comment not to be published because it is a passive-aggressive form of trolling.

  5. Prof. Cole ignores systematic targeting of markets, bakeries and hospitals in the oppossition areas by the regime. What does it say about the regime?

  6. When the uprising against the Assad government began I was surprised that it was not supported by Syrian Christians but they and other minorities knew that the “revolutionaries” would likely prove far worse than the secularist though dictatorial Assad regime. They had only to look over the border to Iraq to see the consequences of the end of sectarianism and the ensuing persecution of Christians and other minorities.

    • The civil war was going well as of late 2013 when the major rebel force was the Free Syrian Army whose organizing principle was provide a rebel force for Syrian soldiers and officers who were opposed to firing on Syrian anti-government demonstrators. This rebellion commenced in 2011 in the Daraa governorate.

      Initially the key Islamic extremist force in Syria was the Al-Nusra Front – who owed their allegiance to al-Qaeda. Later a number of Salafist-oriented brigades of the Free Syrian Army split off to fight under the Islamic Front umbrella group. Next came the Islamic State of Iraq organization to come into Syria and fight practically every rebel group in the country – and supply oil to the Assad regime.

      As the “face” of the rebel movement became less secular and more extremist in orientation, they lost significant support among segments of the Syrian population – including Christians.

      Assad and his wife appeared in churches at Christmas in Damascus – although many Christians within Syria disliked his rule – he was nevertheless seen as a lesser of two evils among Christians as the prospect of Salafist rule over Damascus became dangerously close to fruition several years ago.

  7. The rebel faction in a civil war almost always ends up controlled by extremists, who are the most cohesive and dedicated (Cromwell’s Presbyterians, Dutch, Scottish and French Calvinists, the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins, the Communists…). So no surprise here. In this case, they lacked the critical mass, consistent outside support or control of key centres that might have carried them to a repellent victory.

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