Monday, 31 December 2012

Iraq-Syria-Lebanon rushing to Brahimi’s “hell”

Top right: Placard raised in Anbar demands release of Sunnite women detainees

Tens of thousands of Sunnite protesters in Iraq’s west today kept the main highway to Syria and Jordan blocked for a ninth straight day.
The mass protests in Iraq’s Anbar and several other Sunni-dominated provinces accuse Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of mounting an organized campaign against their sect and of being an ally of the Syrian regime and a surrogate of Iran.
The protests erupted December 21 in Anbar province after troops loyal to Maliki detained bodyguards and aides of his finance minister, a Sunni. The move evoked attempts to arrest Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi in December 2011. Hashemi was later sentenced to death in absentia.
An attempt by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of the most senior Sunnite officials in the government, to defuse the crisis ended in chaos, with his bodyguards opening fire and wounding two demonstrators in Ramadi.
The protesters want an end to what they perceive as Maliki’s targeted marginalization of Sunnites and the release of Sunnite females rounded up after the detention of their male relatives under terrorism charges.
When women in Iraq are arrested, they routinely go through three gruesome phases, starting with humiliation, followed by torture, and often ending with rape (see report).
“Clouds of divorce” is the inspired title of a leader comment today focusing on Iraq by Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.
He recounts how he called on a senior Iraqi official for a nameless briefing on the situation in the country.
Since I want to talk candidly, the official said, the situation is very bad and the days ahead are far from looking rosy.
He then pulled out from his pocket a note, which he started reading.
He said the number of Sunnite staff at the Interior Ministry that was so-and-so has dropped to this much; same thing at the Defense Ministry -- the Agriculture Ministry wasn’t spared either.
The Sunnite positions in the Armed Forces are also dwindling non-stop, the official added.
“A few days ago, a senior officer was assassinated, most probably by a man in uniform,” he blurted out.
When I asked about his expectations, he said: “The Iraqi Sunnite street is at boiling point. No Iraqi Sunnite accepts being a second-class citizen. Where would the Iraqi Sunnites’ wrath lead? Beyond what you imagine! I don’t fancy that, but I am afraid that’s where we’re heading.”
After the meeting, I felt distraught. It’s unusual for a state official to talk so plainly to a journalist he was meeting for the first time.
When protests broke out in Anbar a few days back, I called another Iraqi politician, asking how serious the unrest was.
He told me in no uncertain terms: “It is more serious than many people imagine. If Maliki persists in his exclusion, marginalization and monopolization policies, I don’t rule out Iraq heading to partition.
“His (Maliki’s) policies are destroying Iraq’s political fabric. He has taken relations with the Kurds to the verge of war and reneged on his promises to them.
“He is now driving Arab Sunnites to challenge his rule in the open.
“Add to that another split among Iraqis over Iran and happenings in Syria.
“It is in your interest as a journalist to visit Iraq because it is at a critical juncture. Sadly, we can’t now hide behind our finger and cover up our divisions by blaming the (U.S.) occupation and the remnants of Saddam Hussein.”
While the clouds of divorce were gathering in the skies of Anbar, UN reports and correspondents’ dispatches spoke of the Syria conflict turning overtly sectarian. This probably explains Lakhdar Brahimi’s remark on his return from Moscow predicting “hell” and a breakdown of Syria into a “new Somalia” in the absence of a negotiated settlement.
Taken in the context of Brahimi’s earlier call for “real and deep change” in Syria, chances are that “hell” is more likely in 2013, particularly that the Syria conflict is now on the Sunnite-Shiite fault line stretching from Baghdad to Beirut, passing by Damascus.
The winds of divorce whipping Syria are lashing Lebanon as well. Sectarian affinities have brought down the sanctity of international borders and built up the appetite for risk-taking. The Lebanese are divided over the Syrian Revolution, the Syrian regime’s future and the flow of refugees fleeing the Syrian inferno.
The “hell” Brahimi talked about won’t necessarily respect international borders that are porous anyway.
Gambles taken by allies of the Syrian regime, and by some of its opponents, are also inviting strife.
Together, the clouds gathering in Iraq’s Anbar and the winds of divorce lashing Syria and Lebanon show the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon triangle gushing forth to “hell.” 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Syria: A rose grows from the concrete

Nada... work
She is a Syrian medic.
Her first name is Nada  (Arabic for dew).
Her surname is withheld for security reasons.
At the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in mid-March 2011, she was in her sixth year of study and clinical work at Damascus University’ School of Medicine to become an MD or doctor.
As the military, security and paramilitary forces of President Bashar al-Assad intensified their brutal repression of demonstrators, activists and insurgents, Nada stayed home in Zamalka, a town of about 50,000 in Ghota just east of the capital’s neighborhood of Jobar.
Regime forces then started killing and abducting wounded members of the opposition from hospitals and clinics.
Video footage leaked from a military hospital in Homs earlier this year showed wounded patients blindfolded and shackled to their beds by medical staff loyal to the regime.
Opposition forces responded by gradually developing their own makeshift medical facilities, which is when Nada was enlisted into the underground care network from her home in Zamalka,
She and many other Syrian medics now face an uphill struggle to attend to the mounting casualties of the war.
To cope with the rush of casualties, Nada has just set up a “field hospital” that she walks you through in the video below.
Nada and the other Syrian medics manning field hospitals or makeshift frontline clinics across the most dangerous parts of the country to help the wounded face summary execution by Assad forces. The regime perceives them as prolonging the lives of “terrorists.”
Three Aleppo University students who helped treat demonstrators shot by regime forces were arrested at a checkpoint in mid-June. Their mutilated and charred bodies were found in a burned car a week later.
For the benefit of non-Arabic readers of this post, here is a translation of how Nada introduces her underground medical premises:

These [premises] offset my efforts and those of my team of seven volunteers.
As you notice, we get the medical supplies and display them this way in order to be able to pick what we need as quickly as possible.
The section we’re entering here is where we receive the wounded. It consists of a chair and first-aid trolleys with a range of medical supplies covering first aid and primary care requirements. Modest contributions coming from people very close to us paid for them.
On this side, I have my “field hospital,” which is the section where I perform my surgical procedures. It’s nothing more than an adequate Operating Room, simple but large at the same time. It has basic equipment but ample instruments.
I trace back my experience and the work I am doing to my earlier years, when I was supposed to earn a living in order to continue my studies.
I have served as assistant surgeon at more than one hospital around the country. That’s how I gained my experience.
Since the beginning of the revolution, my obsession was to commit 24 hours a day to the young men of the Free Syrian Army.
In Zamalka, we had to cope at one point with 270 martyrs and 400 wounded.
It was a big miracle for us to move from one place to another to treat the wounded.
We got to the stage where we had to carry this humble suitcase [of medical supplies] from one roof to another. Checkpoints were everywhere in Zamalka.
We used to carry suitcases from one roof to the other and through concrete walls or homes to the next. We cut through concrete walls and smashed windows to get through with our suitcases.
I was staying at home in the early days of the revolution. They [insurgents] came by and told me someone was injured. The wounded man was lying on the street in the gunsight of a sniper. The sniper would even take aim at a cat if it came near.
I was forced to crawl from one highway to another to avoid the sniper and reach the wounded. I operated on his chest on the pavement.
I felt elated later, when I saw him carrying his firearm and heading back to the front.
حَسْبُنَا اللّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ or “Allah is sufficient for us. He is the best guardian.”
The problem for us medics is not whether this or that person backs the regime. The predicament is there are people who need our help.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Russia in the line of Arab fire over Syria

Iraq's Tariq Aziz with Mikhail Gorbachev (top) and Syria's Faisal Mekdad

There are practically no Arab takers of Russia’s underhanded offer to play peace facilitator in Syria.
Two think pieces appearing today in the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat explain why.
One by Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, head of Alarabiya TV news channel, says “it is too late” for Moscow now to change from warmonger to peacemaker.
The other, by Lebanese journalist, author and political analyst Samir Atallah, draws parallels between the visits to Moscow of Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad this week and of Iraq’s Tariq Aziz in the buildup to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
In his think piece -- titled “Why kiss the Russians’ hands?” – Rashed writes:
I don’t understand this insistence over the past year and a half on trying to convince the Russians to renounce Assad’s regime in Syria despite the Kremlin’s intransigence.
Why is Russia still the focus of the Arab drive to stop the genocide against the Syrian people?
The Kremlin’s lord and master, Vladimir Putin, has been unambiguous and resolute in his dogged support of Bashar al-Assad, providing him with weapons and experts, shielding him at the UN Security Council and defending him in international forums. He even printed bank notes for Assad to bypass sanctions on minting the Syrian currency in Europe.
In the beginning, we gave Russia the benefit of the doubt. Gulf delegations and representatives of Syrian opposition forces flocked to Moscow bearing promises and gifts to try to solve the puzzle. We thought the Russians probably believed Assad’s arguments or feared for their interests, or worried about Islamist extremists, or sought material gains. All these concerns were raised and addressed, but to no avail.
Now, a year after all those visits, meetings, gifts and deals, it seems the reason is irrelevant. The only remaining conclusion is that Russia will stand by Bashar to the end, even as she begins to use endearing phraseology to justify her shameful positions.
Even if Russia now changed her stand, it would be too late to be helpful.
The Russians helped prolong the war and they shared in killing 50,000 human lives, in destroying most Syrian cities and in displacing three million people.
What use is Russia’s stance today? Zilch.
If the Russians were to abandon Assad in the present day, he would fall in a month. If they didn’t, he would fall in two months. It is too late to try and reduce Syria’s losses. Cessation of the war will only cut the losses of Assad and his clique.
We pinned hopes on the Russians intervening during the past 20 months, for them to be partners in peacemaking. Instead, they chose, together with Iran, to be Assad’s partners in crime.
We pinned hopes on an early cessation of the hemorrhage so as to preempt grudges and acts of revenge and build a civil state representing all Syrians.
But prolongation of the conflict by Assad’s allies paved the ground for the emergence of terrorist groups and internecine rifts.
There is no room left for a smooth and peaceful transition of the kind branded about by good-intentioned people, such as international Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
So why pay heed to the Russians and make the pilgrimage to Moscow, which only led Syria to a quagmire of blood?
We’re fully aware Bashar’s regime has been prone to crumble for more than a year, running short on fuel for tanks and ammunition for warplanes to continue pounding the cities daily for eight months. We knew, and so did the Russians, that no regime, regardless of its military muscle, can withstand a mass revolt. The outcome is certain, save for the date of the regime’s fall.
For that reason, we no longer want any pleading with the Russians to continue. The cemeteries, the widows, the orphans, the bereaved and the wounded won’t accept any of the solutions the Russians propose or approve.
In his column -- headlined “Destination Moscow, Tariq Aziz’s route” -- Atallah asks, “What does Mekdad’s trip to Moscow via Beirut remind you of?”
“It reminds me,” Atallah writes, “of poignant days in Baghdad, when Tariq Aziz used to travel to Moscow via Iran because Iraq’s airports were closed.”
Each time Aziz flew to Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev would tell him, “Go tell the president that war is looming. Iraq will lose the war and be destroyed.”
On his last visit to Moscow, Atallah recounts, Aziz told the Soviet president: “Saddam accepts your advice. Find us a way out.”
Gorbachev replied: “You destroyed all doors. You failed to read the sea-change in the world.”
Saddam was counting on the Iraq-Soviet Friendship Treaty, according to Atallah. He thought the Soviets were going to wage a world war for the sake of a country 300 kilometers beyond their borders. “He was wrong. The Soviets didn’t fight to keep their grip on [East] Berlin or their foothold in Cuba – their first and foremost outpost on America’s doorstep…”
Atallah says the shuttles to Damascus of Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, and of Nabil Elaraby before them, are reminiscent of past shuttles by go-betweens to Baghdad. “They pleaded with Saddam Hussein to spare Iraq and the region warfare and its aftermath…”
A few months ago, when Damascus airport was still open, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem flew to Moscow in person. He later told the world that everything was hunky-dory with his friend Sergei Lavrov.
Russia’s friends, Atallah counsels, need to carefully read Gorbachev’s “Memoirs” and the latest book of Yevgeny Primakov [“Russia and the Arabs: Behind the Scenes in the Middle East from the Cold War to the Present”] to spare themselves false hopes and their peoples sanctions, death and destruction.
“In matters of Law,” Atallah wraps up, “there is something called ‘precedent.’ The word is often used in legal proceedings.
“Mr. President [Assad], Moscow won’t help you more than it helped Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat or Fidel Castro. Nor will China offer you other than it did by way of ‘full-throated’ statements. Precedents, after all, set a formidable pattern.”

Friday, 28 December 2012

Pro-Iran Maliki and Syria war risk fracturing Iraq

Iraqi political analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi and a map showing Iraq's provinces  

Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki’s drive to sideline the country’s Arab Sunnites, his harassment of ethnic Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan, his subservience to Iran and his support of the Syrian regime risk fragmenting Iraq and embroiling Jordan.
The arrest of bodyguards assigned to Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi, one of Iraq’s most prominent Sunnite politicians, while searching his home and offices on December 20, sparked week-long mass protests in western Iraq's Sunnite province.
The protests in the predominantly Sunnite provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin have blocked the country’s highway to neighboring Syria and Jordan.
Demonstrators torched pictures of Maliki and the Iranian flag and flown the banner of the Free Syrian Army.
“Why doesn't Maliki go after criminals and outlaws among the Shiites who sit in parliament and government, and are well-known for their atrocities over the years?
“The answer is clear. He wants to shut the mouths that criticize him to turn this country into a pure Shiite one affiliated to Iran,” a protester charged.
Essawi said Maliki was deliberately seeking to stoke sectarian strife between Sunnites and Shiites by targeting Sunnite national figures.
The incident was essentially a replay of a similar crackdown in December 2011 targeting Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, also a leading Sunnite politician.
Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government charged Hashemi with running death squads. He has been sentenced to death multiple times in absentia.
Iraq has an estimated population of 31 million, roughly including 15 million Shiites, nine million Sunnites and five million ethnic Kurds.
The move against Essawi also came amid growing tensions between the Maliki government and Kurdistan, which have seen Iraqi troops and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia facing off against each other in disputed territory in the autonomous Kurdistan region north of the country.
Ahmad al-Moussawi Makki reporting today for the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar under the title, “The Anbar war: Gateway to partition,” suggests the most alarming aspect of the ongoing Sunnite protests are the calls for regional autonomy in Anbar and other provinces in the northwest where the Sunnites are in majority – a status similar to that of the Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan.
Makki says some of the protesters are even clamoring for setting up the “State of Western Iraq.”
He quotes Iraq’s respected political strategy analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi as telling him: “These sit-ins and demonstrations are meant to pave the way for Iraq’s partition. It’s an objective shared by many Iraqi political leaders. You can tell by the flags raised by demonstrators – the flags of the Iraqi Free Army and the Kurdistan region. All this heralds the so-called New Middle East.”
Sharifi says Maliki’s whistle-stop visit earlier this to Amman, where he offered to prop up the cash-strapped Jordanian economy, was aimed at preempting the empowerment of Islamist forces in the Hashemite Kingdom “because the Islamists’ advent to power in Jordan would lay the cornerstone for declaring the State of Western Iraq.”
Sharifi adds, “In addition to a vast oil field discovery, an enormous field containing as much as 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was found in western Iraq lately.”
The finds, together with the intractable problems between Baghdad and Kurdistan, are the harbingers of Iraq’s dismemberment – “perhaps six months from now,” according to Sharifi.
Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government has been lurching from crisis to crisis. Should today's protests in Anbar provide a mass show of force, it may add to concerns that Syria’s increasingly sectarian war, where majority Sunnites are battling a quasi-Shiite ruler backed by Iran, will push Iraq back to the Sunnite-Shiite butchery of 2005-07.
When fugitive Vice President Hashemi was asked in an interview with Thursday’s pan-Arab daily al-Hayat if he had evidence Maliki supports President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, he said:
“There is conclusive evidence. Maliki acknowledged in a statement weeks ago that the Iraqi government is no longer able to inspect Iranian planes [overflying Iraq] after the pledges he made to the Arab League and the United Nations.
“Since he first made the pledge to the U.S. administration, I said this man is lying and would only inspect aircraft carrying medicine and medical equipment. This happened on two occasions. He inspected a plane coming from Iran and a second one coming from Syria, after it unloaded its full cargo of militias, explosives and other weapons. He called it a search.
“The media is focusing on aviation, but the main problem is land corridors. According to my information, there are endless means of overland transportation, from Zurbatiyah on the Iraq-Iran border to the al-Waleed port of entry [between Syria and Iraq]. There is a stream of civilian convoys with tinted windows heading from Iran towards Syria... These convoys don’t stop at checkpoints, and no one knows what they are carrying. I think this is part of the scenario to support the Syrian regime and increase the suffering of the Syrian people, regretfully.”
Hashemi added, “When the reference of the officials in Maliki’s sectarian regime is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, what do you expect…?
“I suspect the war machine killing the Syrian people is run by Iran.”

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Iraq-Iran tandem filling GCC’s shoes in Jordan

Iraq's Maliki with Jordan's King Adullah II in Amman

The Islamic Republic of Iran is taking up where the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) left in Jordan.
The GCC proposed in 2011 to invite Jordan (and Morocco) into the regional club. No further development has taken place since and there are no signs any progress has been made or whether the initiative has any traction left at all.
More recently, when protests erupted in Amman against a cut in fuel subsidies, the six GCC partners indicated they would come to Jordan’s rescue with financial assistance. The regional club is seemingly still studying ways to reduce the kingdom’s budget deficit.
Iran has swiftly stepped into the breach.
A month after the Iranians started courting Jordan overtly, their surrogate in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri el-Maliki, flew to Amman on Monday to offer of a lifeline to the Jordanian economy.
On November 21, Iran’s ambassador to Jordan, Dr. Mostafa Moslehzadeh, said in a televised debate Tehran is ready to supply Jordan with oil and energy for the next 30 years in exchange for Jordanian goods and “religious tourism” to Shiite shrines in the kingdom (see my post, “Iran on charm offensive in Gaza and Amman).
On Monday, December 24, Maliki said on conclusion of a fleeting visit to Amman that Iraq and Jordan have agreed to extend an oil pipeline to the Red Sea city of Aqaba for the export of Iraqi crude.
The new pipeline would have a one million barrels daily capacity.
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, who met with Maliki, praised the deal, saying: "We need each other. Jordan is important for Iraq’s trade and the export of its oil… At the same time, we need the Iraqi market as a target and a route to access Turkish and European markets.”
Iraq also agreed to “bring into effect a 2009 agreement to establish a free trade zone between the two countries” and double monthly heavy fuel exports to Jordan to 60,000 tons.
There was also talk about Iraq boosting its crude oil shipments to resource-poor Jordan from 10,000 to 15,000 barrels a day at well below the global market value.
Maliki's Shiite-led government announced earlier a one-time gift of 100,000 barrels of crude to help Sunni Muslim Jordan face an energy-related budget crisis.
Violent protests erupted in Jordan last month after the government removed subsidies to offset $5 billion in losses from a rising fuel bill. Heating and cooking gas prices jumped by 54 percent, and some oil derivatives rose by up to 28 percent.
Ensour and Maliki signed the minutes of the Joint Jordanian-Iraqi Higher Committee meetings, which undertook to foster cooperation in trade, transport, energy and investment and to grant six-month multiple entry visas to drivers of trucks and vehicles transporting passengers and cargo between the two neighbors.
"We need each other; Jordan is important for Iraq in trade… and at the same time, we need the Iraqi market as a target and a route to access Turkish and European markets," Ensour told reporters at a joint press conference with Maliki.
He said the Iraqi market would prop up the export of local agricultural produce, which has been hit by the Syria war.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Syria Coalition: No solution with Assad

The following is my translation of a statement posted in Arabic by Moaz el-Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition force, on his Facebook page.
Moaz el-Khatib
The statement categorically rejects any political solution brokered by Syria troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi that would keep President Bashar al-Assad in place until the end of his second term of office in 2014:
In the name of God the Merciful
To the forbearing people of Syria,
The Halfaya massacre was not committed by the Syrian regime without help. Whoever acquiesces to it is an accomplice to shedding Syrian blood.
Reticence on the massacres being committed against the Syrian people translates into blackmail and coercion of the people, their revolution and leadership.
All political solutions being floated around are unacceptable when they bypass the Syrian people.
We told every official we met: Keeping the regime and its head in place – with or without powers – is totally unacceptable to Syrians. After 20 months of sacrifices and the shedding of the Syrian people’s blood, how can anyone suggest maintaining the status quo until 2014?
The sitting National Coalition leadership let Lakhdar Brahimi know the rejection of this solution in plain words.
Any political solution to redeem the regime is unacceptable. A political solution is one that spares Syrian blood. Any solution that does not commence with Assad stepping down is refused and one we have to abort.
The Halfaya outrage was not just one more massacre. It was a communication from all regime supporters saying: You either die or accept the servitude we dictate.
I say forcefully: We choose freedom no matter how long it takes.
Moaz el-Khatib
Head of the Syrian Coalition

Assad welcomes Brahimi with breadline carnage

Hours after Syria troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus overland from Beirut because of fighting near Damascus airport, President Bashar al-Assad’s warplanes launched their deadliest air strike of the conflict on a bakery breadline near Hama.
Dozens of people were killed in the air strike while queuing for bread in the Hama province town of Halfaya, which was seized by rebels last week in their 21-month-old revolt against Assad.
One activist in Halfaya, Samer al-Hamawi, told Reuters news agency: "There is no way to really know yet how many people were killed. When I got there, I could see piles of bodies all over the ground.
"We hadn't received flour in around three days so everyone was going to the bakery today, and lots of them were women and children. I still don't know yet if my relatives are among the dead."
Hamawi said more than 1,000 people had been queuing at the bakery. Shortages of fuel and flour have made bread production erratic across the country, and people often wait for hours to buy loaves.
Hamawi, who spoke to Reuters via Skype, uploaded a video of the scene that showed dozens of dust-coated bodies lined up near a pile of rubble by a concrete building, its walls blackened.
Women and children were crying and screaming as some men rushed to the scene with motorbikes and vans to carry away the victims.
Other video footage of the incident's aftermath showed graphic images of bloody bodies strewn on the road outside the bakery.
Rescuers were trying to remove some of the victims buried beneath piles of bricks and rubble.
Several badly damaged motorbikes could be seen scattered near the site of the attack, which had drawn a number of armed men to the area.
The UK-based opposition activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said more than 50 of the wounded were in critical condition and the death toll could rise.
Rebels of the Free Syrian Army have been making a concerted push recently to take areas of Hama province.
Six days ago they declared Halfaya a "liberated area" after taking over Assad army positions there.
As has happened many times before, the Assad regime hit back with airpower at the area it lost.
Yesterday’s outrage comes as Brahimi arrived in Damascus to discuss ways to end the bloodbath.
There is no word as to when Assad would receive him.
However, Brahimi has made little progress on his troubleshooting mission. His proposed four-day truce over Eid al-Adha last October blew up within hours.
The primary demand of the rebels and the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is for Assad to go. Should that happen, the international community is hoping there may be a chance for negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power.
According to the French daily Le Figaro, Brahimi is carrying a joint U.S.-Russian plan for such a transfer of power. The plan envisages formation of a transitional government comprising ministers acceptable to the two camps.
According to the plan, Assad would fully empower the proposed transitional government, then sit on the sidelines and complete his second seven-year term of office, ending in mid-2014.
Still in dispute between the Russians and the Americans is whether Assad would be allowed to run for a third term, which he is keen on doing.
Editorially, Tariq Alhomayed, outgoing editor-in-chief of the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, notes how fighting near Damascus airport forced the special envoy -- on his third trip to Syria since taking the post -- to arrive overland from neighboring Lebanon.
Sadly, he writes, “nothing new” awaits Brahimi in Damascus “except an added loss of time and lives.”
But Talal Salman, publisher and editor of the Beirut daily as-Safir, says: “Lakhdar Brahimi deserves a pat on the back for his resilience and insistence on seeing through his critical mission to save Syria from risks transcending its regime and threatening the unity of its people and body politic.”
The sine qua non for success of Brahimi’s mission is “an acknowledgment by the regime that it committed fatal mistakes in its handling of the crisis.
“The regime had no excuse for reneging on its reform promises, opting instead for confrontation. The result is that the regime is now fighting in the hearts of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deir Ezzor, Deraa, Banias and elsewhere in Syria…
“The mistakes on the home front opened the door to outsiders.”
Brahimi’s task, Salman continues, is not so much to bail out the regime as to save Syria the state, its people’s unity and its role in its surroundings. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Year-end statistics from the Syria war

46,167 killed, including 4,129 females and 3,922 children (Syrian Shuhada)

194,000 detainees, 9,000 of them under 18 (SNHR)

60,000 forcibly disappeared citizens (SNHR)

537,701 refugees (UNHCR)

2.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (BBC/Red Crescent)

72 professional or citizen journalists killed (Wikipedia list)

Horrifying accounts of sexual violence against prisoners collected by BBC journalist Fergal Keane

27 torture centers (Human Rights Watch)

1,000 tons of chemical weapons, stored in 50 towns and cities (BBC)

2.9 million homes, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals destroyed (Los Angeles Times)

$60 billion needed as immediate funding for reconstruction (AFP)

40% inflation and 51% drop in the Syrian lira’s official exchange rate against the U.S. dollar (Institute for International Finance)