Omar Sabbour: Regarding statements by Syrian opposition and Western solidarity groups

This was initially written by Omar Sabbour on Facebook. Reposted here with permission:


Of course your average Syrian on the rebel street will have generally (though not always, and this will also differ from an area like Idlib which has witnessed repeated US massacres to an area like Dara’a which hasn’t) welcomed the airstrike on the basic principle of “fuck Assad”, even incidentally whilst generally acknowledging that this is an isolated theatrical show. However, when on the level of a political movement, a purely contextual-removed momentary attitude of “fuck Assad” is not good enough; and in that light for many Syria opposition and solidarity groups to have welcomed the Trump airstrike – which is likely to be a trap – is likely to be a grave error.

The opposition had a brilliant chance to redeem itself after years of being seen to be chasing after the West for (non-forthcoming) help. Whilst there can be no demonisation (such as by the privileged Stop the War idiots) of those who are under the bombs wanting any sort of help, these groups nonetheless should not have fallen into the trap of a PR stunt (Trump’s airstrike on an empty airbase that didn’t even put the airbase out of service), not least when they should remember that US airstrikes have killed 1000 civilians in Syria, including 50 in an airstrike on a mosque in the same province of Idlib and 30 in an airstrike on a Raqqa school just in the last week. Welcoming this event opens the door to associating the opposition with wider US intervention *which will not aim to get Assad out* (that in the “pragmatic” consideration) to add to the (in terms of principle) unpalatable nature of welcoming the US action. More importantly, all these groups have completely missed what their focus should be, and have taken the opportunity to again repeat the same incorrect line of 6 years – the claim that the US-led international community has been “doing nothing” in Syria (wrong – it has actively aided Assad and prevented his regime’s collapse) and that the only remedy is for military intervention against the regime (failing that, there is nothing the US could do, so goes the argument. When this doesn’t come, depression sinks in and people think there’s nothing that could be done to improve the situation).

Instead, the focus should very much have been on the very practical, damaging and *interventionist* – not so-called “hands-off” – aspects of US policy on the rebellion, as Syrian activists on the ground have for years been saying. The focus should have been on demanding the US and UK lift its blockade of qualitative (including anti-aircraft) weaponry from regional allies, and removing restrictions imposed on ammunition supplies (such as by the MOC in Jordan and MOM in Turkey). The focus should be on demanding Western governments to freeze any military support to Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon until respectively a) the full withdrawal of Iraqi Army militias fighting for Assad in Syria, b) the cessation of Egyptian military aid to the Assad regime and c) the full withdrawal of Hezbollah to Lebanon. The Iraqi militias and Hezbollah combined are effectively what constitutes Assad’s army and even without the former (who unlike Hezbollah, receive direct US military support) this would be a massive dent to Assad’s capabilities. The focus should finally be on telling the US and UK to cease any military operations in coordination with the Assad regime, remove their aircraft from the same airspace with it – whether the target is ISIS or anyone else – and finally end any intelligence sharing between Western security agencies and the Assad regime.

The pragmatic reality is that there is likely no policy change from the US administration, and so we can revert to remembering the principled reality: the United States has killed hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians directly and hundreds of thousands of more indirectly; it has spent three years joining the regime in dropping bombs exclusively on areas of Syria that broke out in revolt in 2011; it indirectly promoted the rise of ISIS to attempt to ensure the dualistic choice of Assad versus religious extremism; and it has prevented the means from the Syrian people to defend themselves. The United States is objectively – not emotively – an enemy of the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people and has – in my opinion – proven to be an even more important actor over the years in the preservation of the regime than Russia (which could only help the regime, not obstruct support for its enemies). If it was Assad or Russia that set the building on fire, the United States hid the fire-extinguisher away from the victims. Those who support the revolution should at this point be perhaps a bit more cynical and stop falling prey to its tricks and machinations.

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