Thursday, June 16, 2011

Increasing Splits Within the Army

This article analyzes evidence of increasing splits within the Syrian army. / is a major source for this analysis. Reports indicate at least two signs of the regime’s increasing nervousness about the phenomenon of soldiers. First, the regime is importing members of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have no ties to Syria and who can be counted on for their fanatical loyalty to the Assad regime and to the cause of radical Shi’ite Islam. Second, a defecting soldier who fled to Turkey said that members of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are murdering soldiers who refuse to follow orders to slaughter unarmed civilians. Similarly, Darwish Mohammed Fidou, a soldier who refused to fire on civilians in Homs and later fled to Turkey, said that snipers were designated specifically to fire on deserting soldiers. . The fact that the regime feels the need to not only import members of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah but also to station snipers specifically to attacking deserting soldiers is a strong indication that the regime realizes the army cannot be counted on to follow Assad’s orders and slaughter unarmed civilians who are only seeking freedom.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2011) on page A8 by Ayla Albayrak and Nour Malas was entitled,”Refugees Urge Action Against Syria.” Syrian refugees in the Yayladagi camp in Turkey said that their members included Syrian air force and intelligence officers.  This is the second report indicating that Syrian intelligence officers have defected from the regime – and the first indication of air force officers deserting the regime.  If confirmed, this information is obviously highly significant evidence of cracks among a key pillar of the regime: military officers. 
The initial reports of defections came from Daraa. In Daraa, videos of unknown date reportedly showed soldiers leading protestors. Also clashes between the Assad loyalists of Maher Assad’s Fourth Division and the Fifth Division were reported in Daraa early in the uprising. The police chief in Daraa was so ineffective in maintaining the Assad regime’s control that he and some of his officers were fired.

Two separate incidents of soldiers defecting in Homs have been reported. In May, opposition activists said that 10 soldiers in Homs who refused to fire on civilians were murdered by the regime. During a second incident in June, also in Homs, 60 to 70 soldiers fought with Assad’s forces.

In a third incident, three soldiers defended refugees from the Shahiba militias. The soldiers tried to flee to Lebanon; one of them was murdered, and the two survivors were turned over to Assad’s forces to face almost certain death.

A fourth incident involved the defection of 200 soldiers and 14 officers in Harasta. One witness reported that this defection produced a clash between two tanks.

Additional evidence about the scale of defections in two separate incidents near the Sunni town of Jisr al-Shughour. On Saturday, June 11, a captain and 15 of his soldiers fighting in this town defected to the side of freedom.

The previously reported defection of the Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush of the 11th Battalion in the 10 km west of Jisr Al-Shughour in Bedama village may also have involved 150 soldiers. Harmoush defected after witnessing what he called a ‘massacre’ on June 4th in Jisr Al-Shoughour. About 60 of these soldiers decided to remain behind in Jisr Al-Shughour to try and protect residents from the wrath of the Assad regime.

A seventh incident of military protest may also have occurred on Saturday, June 11th, in Lattakia. Possible reports determined that soldiers may have prevented some members of the regime loyalist Shabiha militias from accessing some parts of Latakia.   . If true, this event would mark a significant example of soldiers taking action to protect civilians from the depredations of the Shabiha militias.

A separate account of the ‘massacre’ in Jisr al Shughour on June 4th also contained an important and revealing detail. On June 4th, a funeral was held for a man who was murdered by plain-clothes police in this town. The funeral became an opportunity for an anti-regime protest. As the protestors passed the military secret police headquarters in the town, the secret police immediately killed 8 protestors. But some secret police members refused to fire on civilians, and a clash between the loyalist members of the secret police who slaughtered peaceful protestors and conscience-stricken secret police men who refused to murder their own people ensued.

If true, this story is highly significant because it indicates that dissent against the regime motivated by courageous acts of individual conscience has now reached the Syrian secret police. The secret police in any totalitarian regime are specifically selected and trained for their loyalty to the regime, and their loyalty to the regime often vastly exceeds that of the regular army. For this reason, examples of defections and resistance from KGB members in the Brezhnev era and NKVD officers in Stalinist Russia were very rare.

The story of the defecting Darwish Mohammed Fidou, who fled to Turkey, also contains a significant detail. Mr. Fidou and several other soldiers refused orders to fire on protesting citizens in Homs. The soldiers escaped and received temporary help from residents who witnessed their desertion from the scene. But the soldiers were so confident that their treason would go undetected that they actually returned to their barracks. Thankfully, their treason remained undetected, and the soldiers survived. The regime’s inability to identify and track down all dissenting soldiers is another sign of weakness.

Examples of defections from the elite Republican Guards have also emerged. Waleem Qaashami, 21, told Amnesty International that he defected in April after witnessing the murder of three children, a young man, and young woman in the city of Harasta near Damascus. Once again, the theme of a conscience-stricken soldier who refuses to fire on civilians comes through.

On Wednesday, June 15, another video of a defecting soldier, Lieutenant Ibrahim Munir Majbour, emerged.

The video was translated and given English subtitles by this outstanding YouTube channel, a Syrian exile from Germany: This YouTube channel has outstanding videos available for download which should be reviewed by all analysts of the Syrian freedom uprising.

One cautionary note should be added to this article. As the Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid points out, right now the Syrian opposition has not yet managed to secure any central territory which is free from the control of the Assad regime. Thus, Syria does not have a Benghazi location where defecting soldiers and civilians can flee to. The opposition’s inability to liberate any particular territory from the Assad regime is a major weakness which must obviously be overcome before the regime can fall. Mr. Abdulhamid believes Syrians need the help of the international community to start liberating areas completely from Assad regime’s control. However, the international community has made clear that it sides with the Assad regime against the Syrian democrats and wants Assad to remain in power.

I believe that the Syrian people have exhibited sufficient momentum that perhaps they can begin liberating some parts of their country on their own. An article in the Wall Street Journal on page A8 on June 16, 2011, by Ayla Albayrak and Nour Malas was entitled,”Refugees Urge Action Against Syria.” The article said that activists estimated that 100,000 people marched against the regime in Hama on Wednesday, June 15. The protestors in Hama had a highly revealing chant: ”Oh, youth of Damascus, here in Hama the regime has already fallen.” This chant reflects the increasing confidence of the Hama residents that they have liberated their city from Assad’s control. Hopefully this confidence can soon spread from Hama to the rest of the country so that Syria can finally breathe free of the 41 year tyranny of the Assad regime.

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