I read Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s statements to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper more than once because he addressed sensitive issues very frankly. It is not often that politicians open up their minds to others.
He knowingly spoke of Syria, where he lived for many years when he was an opposition figure. He said he was not surprised by the path of the ongoing struggle and that of the regime’s ability to survive. He also said that during a visit to Washington he projected this outcome for the crisis during talks with U.S. president, vice president and former Secretary of State.
Maliki said that they thought Assad will fall in two months while he made a bet that Assad will not fall even after two years. Why? Maliki says the regime in Syria is a sectarian issue and that the presence of Alawites in power provides survival net for the sect and that their ouster from power would put them in a situation where they all be slain. To Maliki, the Alawites are fighting with their men and women because they are obliged to, and that’s why the regime has withstood.
Although Maliki’s estimation of the regime’s determination and entrenchment by Alawites is right and although all what he said is true, it is not true that Assad’s survival for all this long time, amid the destruction, is because the Alawites are steadfast or more united and determined or, as he put it, because they are in a state of desperation, that is defending in a manner similar to the defense of those besieged.
No. Although these reasons are an important factor to Assad’s survival in power, they are not the reasons the regime has stayed. The real reason is clear. Assad’s regime is fighting with the help of Russia and China. It is confronting a huge popular gust of millions of people who are neither immune nor backed. These people fight with primitive weapons and confront warplanes and tanks with rifles. This type of war does not achieve massive and quick victory, and it may never achieve victory.
Maliki himself and his party, Al-Daawa, fought Saddam Hussein for 20 years, and they did not succeed in seizing one inch of Iraq because the borders were closed and their weapons were light. When Saddam fell, he fell due to a U.S. “Armada.” And so Assad’s regime did not withhold and remain because the Alawite men and women stood by it.
The truth is the opposite of that. They stood by Assad when they saw that he is succeeding in convincing Russia and China to staunchly support him and that he is also succeeding in neutralizing Western countries and the Vatican, alleging that there is a sectarian war against the Christians and Druze and that the revolution will help establish an extremist religious regime.
The rebels war
The rebels only got a little from Turkey and almost nothing from Jordan. Their backs are exposed, and they carry primitive weapons to the point that more than one fighter uses the same rifle and when ammunition runs out so they are forced to withdraw.
Saddam fell easily in 2003 because America, the world’s superpower, ended him in eight days. Saddam survived for eight years when Iran fought him and killed a million without winning. What I mean is that balances of power are not only rooting, willpower and faith.
Afghan mujahedeen kicked out the Soviets with “Stinger” missiles that paralyzed the Russian warplanes and with the massive aid of progressive Western weapons. This is true in the case of the Viet Cong in Vietnam with the generous Chinese backing it overthrew the regime supporting Washington while the liberation movement in Chechnya failed against the Russians because it was isolated.
Today, the Syrian majority is fighting a regime which cannot be called sectarian but a security and suppressive one that resembles all dictatorship fascist regimes. Sunni and Christian pockets of resistance fight alongside Assad because they share the same interests or fears.
Both sides with all their categories; men, women and children tirelessly fight. It is a bloody absurd war because of the loitering of the international community.
We are in front of the biggest massacre of the 21st century. We have not known of a war where one party uses warplanes, tanks and cannons daily to shell cities and kill thousands of civilians and that has gone month after month. Show me one such scene from our modern history.
What Maliki says of the Alawites’ heroisms is not true and is not even important. The story is that without Iran’s and Russia’s generous support, the regime would run out of ammunition and fuel for its tanks and warplanes.
What Maliki did not deny and did not speak of was the end of the war, as he knows well; Assad’s regime in Damascus will fall no matter how long the struggle takes.
This story was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 10, 2013
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.