Fears of ´another Iraq´ if troops enter Syria / US raises alert over possible chemical weapons arsenal as world leaders meet (INDEPENDENT UK) CHARLOTTE MCDONALD-GIBSON 02/24/12)
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World leaders struggling to force Syria´s President from power will
gather in Tunisia today armed with fresh evidence that his regime
ordered crimes against humanity, including the killing of children,
but calls for military intervention remain firmly off the agenda.
Despite a growing body of evidence that President Bashar al-Assad is
personally culpable for the atrocities inflicted upon his own people –
the rationale for military intervention in Libya – William Hague,
the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that a repeat of the Nato
action that helped topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was unlikely.
His comments come amid rising concern that the splintered, disunited
opposition may be infiltrated by extremist Sunni and al-Qa´ida
fighters. American officials are also concerned that President Assad
is sitting on a cache of chemical weapons that could wind up in
extremists´ hands if his regime fell.
"We are operating under many more constraints than we were in the
case of Libya," Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4´s Today programme. "Syria
sits next to Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq – what happens in
Syria has an effect on all of those countries and the consequences of
any outside intervention are much more difficult to foresee."
Instead, he said, world leaders including the US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and leaders from the Arab League meeting under the
Friends of Syria banner in Tunis today would focus on "tightening a
diplomatic and economic stranglehold" on the regime.
The apparent futility of this diplomatic approach, however, is
frustrating the opposition. Despite repeated rounds of strong words
and sanctions since the uprising in March last year, Assad shows no
sign of stopping his fierce assault.
Up to 7,000 people are believed to have died. The Sunday Times
reporter, Marie Colvin, was among 30 civilians reported dead on
Wednesday during the apparently indiscriminate bombing of the
opposition stronghold of Homs. A new UN report on Syrian atrocities
made public yesterday said that 500 children had been killed in the
violence. The panel of UN human rights experts has also compiled a
list of Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes
against humanity, which will be passed to the UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights. The experts have indicated that the list goes all
the way up to the President himself.
Any move to refer Syrian officials to the International Criminal
Court in The Hague, however, would be likely to face opposition from
Russia and China, who on 4 February vetoed a UN resolution calling on
President Assad to step aside. Activists hope this is one area where
the Friends of Syria group could have some influence, even though
Russia is not sending a delegate.
"They need to think of how to exert more pressure, not just on Syria,
but on its allies," said Nadim Houry, the Human Rights Watch deputy
director for the Middle East. "I would hate to think the option is
whether to bomb or not to bomb."
Voices calling for military intervention are more muted than they
were when Gaddafi rained artillery down on his own people. So far,
just a small fraction of the many armed and unarmed opposition groups
has openly called for intervention, and many military analysts
believe it would be disastrous.
"The great risk is that the situation in Syria resembles that in Iraq
and the entire government force and government authority
disintegrates," said Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow from the
Royal United Services Institute. "You are already seeing
international actors start to enter Syria from Iraq and other places,
many of them are Sunni fundamentalist and have links to al-Qa´ida."
Yesterday CNN cited a US military report speculating that 75,000
ground troops could be needed to secure Syria´s chemical weapons
sites. These are thought to include facilities for producing nerve
gas. But unlike Iraq, where the alleged presence of chemical weapons
and al-Qa´ida was used as a rationale for going to war, in Syria
these factors are being used to make the case for caution. "If the
ulterior motive would be to justify some sort of intervention, it is
operating in completely the other direction – it has been suggested
that the presence of al-Qa´ida means that any intervention could see
the situation worsen and we would be trapped in a civil war from
which we couldn´t escape," said Mr Joshi.
Opposition groups are desperate to deny reports that they are being
infiltrated by extremists, blaming propaganda by the Assad regime.
But the claims have made Western governments wary of funnelling money
and weapons to the rebels.
What next? The options
For Assad so far appears immune to the diplomatic pressure aimed at
forcing him to hand power to his deputy and stop his brutal crackdown
on anyone opposed to his rule. Military strikes could take out the
tanks that are causing dozens of deaths in the opposition stronghold
Against Even Syrian opposition groups are largely against any Libya-
style air strikes in Syria. The country still has powerful backers
including Russia and Iran, and military action without international
consensus could spark a broader conflict that would spill into the
nation´s already unstable neighbours such as Iraq and Lebanon.
Arming the rebels
For The armed opposition groups are mostly made up of defecting
soldiers, but they are out-gunned by Assad´s forces. Giving weapons
to the rebels and providing training would help them take on Assad´s
army and get around the minefield of direct military intervention.
Against The rebel groups are divided and there are reports that
Islamist extremists have infiltrated the opposition. The West remains
scarred from its experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when some of
the men they armed to fight the Soviet occupation eventually turned
their weapons and training on the West.
For Temporary ceasefires and the creation of a humanitarian corridor
from neighbouring countries would allow aid to get to the worst-hit
areas such as Homs and facilitate the evacuation of the injured. This
will be a key issue discussed at the Tunisia summit today.
Against The Syrian regime would need to adhere to any ceasefire
otherwise humanitarian workers would be put at grave risk. It is also
very difficult to enforce such safe passage without foreign military
boots on the ground for protection – something Assad is unlikely to
agree to unless under pressure from Russia.
More economic sanctions
For Many analysts say that as the regime is gradually squeezed by
sanctions including an oil embargo, the business community and middle
class will turn against Assad as they are hit in the pocket. One
Western diplomat said yesterday that the regime´s foreign currency
reserves will run out in three to five months.
Against As with any sanctions, some argue that it is the people of
Syria that are hurting the most, with crippling inflation and power
cuts every day. Thousands more civilians could also be killed as
diplomats wait for the sanctions to work even as the regime continues
its slaughter. (©independent.co.uk 02/24/12)
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