Juan Cole

Message for Assad: ‘You Know You’re In Trouble When…’

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Some observations for the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad:

You know you’re in trouble when you can only rule over people if you massacre them:

Opposition sources said that a major massacre was committed on Thursday by Syrian government forces, which bombarded the Sunni town of Taramseh near Hama with artillery and helicopter gunships. The government then sent in Shabiha (Ghost Brigades) militiamen composed of Allawites from surrounding villages, who finished off the slaughter by hand. If confirmed, it is one of the great massacres of the past 40 years.

You know you’re in trouble when there is mortar fire in the shi-shi neighborhoods of your capital’s downtown:

There was fighting Thursday in the tony Kafar Souseh district in the downtown area of Damascus. There were conflicting reports of whether the government or guerrillas fired the weapons, but it is in any case not good news for you if there is mortar fire in the middle of your capital city.

You know you’re in trouble when your ambassador to Iraq defects and denounce you as a terrorist.

Nawaf Faris, a Sunni diplomat who had also in the past served as governor of some provinces before he was posted to Iraq as ambassador, walked off the job and ended up in Dubai giving interviews. He said that his allegiance was to the Syrian people, not to a regime and army that was massacring them. He called on the Syrian army to cease killing the people, and he accused Bashar al-Assad of having aided terrorists who went to Iraq in the last decade to commit terrorism against the new government.

You know you are in trouble when one of your top Sunni generals, son of a long-serving minister of defense defects.

Last week Gen. Manaf Tlass defected to the opposition. Although, as a Sunni, he had not exactly been in Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle (which is largely Alawite Shi’ite), he was a top member of the regime. His father, a long-serving minister of defense, had been a key figure in incorporating Sunnis into the Baath regime during the time of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, who came to power in a 1970 coup.

You know you’re in trouble when thousands of your Sunni foot soldiers flee to Turkey:

Sunni soldiers are often put in the front lines and intensively spied on so that they cannot easily escape. Despite these measures, thousands of Sunni service personnel and officers have defected, many crossing over to Turkey.

The death toll of the attempted revolution and civil war in Syria is now being put at 17,000. Russia and China continue to block any international action to stop the bloodshed.

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