On January 17, US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have no place in Syria´s future and did not rule out increasing US pressure on Damascus.
“There is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen,” Kerry said. “We are also not out of options with respect to what we may be able to do to increase the pressure and further change the calculus,” he added.
Kerry’s remarks came ahead of the Geneva-2 conference, which is scheduled to open in Montreux (Switzerland) on January 22 and is theoretically aimed at paving the way for a negotiated solution of the Syria crisis.
At the same time, Kerry has rejected the participation of Iran in the Geneva-2 talks and accused Iranian policies of causing “adverse consequences in Syria.” On this issue, Washington has clashed with Russia, which supports Iran´s presence in the event.
When Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the exclusion of Iran from the Geneva-2 conference might ruin any chance for a resolution of the Syria conflict, the US Secretary of State bluntly replied that the only acceptable solution to the crisis was on US terms. He demanded the Syrian President´s ouster and the creation of a “transitional” government, in which half the seats would be given to the US-backed opposition. Kerry called it “common sense” to exclude Iran, which has not agreed to such a US-imposed “transitional” regime. That is, the US administration is trying to give the armed groups fighting against the Syrian government a victory that they were unable to achieve in the battleground.
The US, the UK, France, Britain and their allies in the region -Turkey, Qatar and especially Saudi Arabia- have used terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda-affiliated groups and tens of thousands of foreign militants, as their proxies in a war for “regime change” in Syria. As a result, more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed.
After a talk with Kerry, during the last meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” group in Paris, Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba, a Saudi-backed figure, indicated that he was satisfied by the tone of the conversation and the renewed US focus on regime change. “We all agreed there is no future for Bashar al-Assad and his family in Syria. His departure is inevitable,” he said.
However, the SNC cannot hide its frustration. For months, the Geneva-2 conference was put off due to the lack of interest of the opposition. Only when the date had already been set and under strong US and British pressure, it finally decided, during a meeting held in Istanbul on January 18, to attend the event.
Actually, the SNC members had bet on a repetition of the Libyan scenario, including a Western military intervention, in order to grasp the power in Damascus, but their judgment was proven to be wrong. Washington has clearly showed that it does not intend to launch a war against Syria because the American people are just fed up with wars in the Middle East and the US economy is unable to bear the costs of another ruinous conflict, which would also likely to involve other countries both in and out of the region.
The agreement on the participation in the Geneva-2 conference cannot hide the deep divisions within the coalition. Some of its members have criticized the actions of Jarba and the method used for his re-election. Several weeks ago, he sent a letter to UN Secretary General stating that the SNC would go to Geneva without having asked the General Council what its opinion was in that regard.
To all this must be added the issue of credibility, which has dogged the SNC since its creation a year ago. This body was set up under intense Western pressure to try to form a united opposition body. However, it lacks the support of both the Syrian street and of the most important armed groups that fight on the ground. In September, a dozen of the most prominent armed groups broke with the SNC and its military wing, the Supreme Military Council, and stated that they did not represent them. Several more armed organizations have since followed.
For its part, Damascus said in a statement that decisions in Paris were “closer to illusions than reality and taken by people who are detached from reality and extremely far from any acceptable political logic.” Syria has made it clear that Assad, who enjoys an overwhelming support in Syria, could be a candidate in the 2014 presidential election and nothing can prevent him from doing so.
On January 7, Syrian Information Minister Omran Zohbi stressed that dialog with the opposition could lead to the formation of a national unity government or an increase in the number of ministers. However, a transitional administration, as existed in Iraq during the US occupation, is completely discarded, he said.
US to restart aid shipments to armed groups On December 11, the US stated that it had suspended its official aid shipments, carried out along with covert weapons shipments monitored by the CIA, after it emerged that US aid to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) had gone to the so-called Islamic Front (FI), which overran the northern headquarters and two warehouses belonging to that group. An anonymous senior administration official then admitted to the New York Times that “there’s no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front”.
According to US officials, Washington is now preparing to restart shipments to the FSA following the FI’s decision to join the war on the forces of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Al Qaida-linked group rejecting any negotiations or dialog with Washington. The US administration is reportedly trying to reconcile the FSA with the IF. The latter was set up in September under Saudi sponsorship and is led by a Saudi agent, Zahran Allouche. It has a Wahhabi ideology and collaborates with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front.
Actually, Washington is also trying to initiate a relationship with the IF. According to Al-Akhbar newspaper, a meeting was held on December 18 in Istanbul between representatives of the US administration and “intermediaries linked to the IF, not representatives.” Kerry previously used the term “moderate” to describe the IF, which wants to create a Taliban-style dictatorship in Syria. Its leader, Zahran Allouch, has publicly showed his sectarian hatred by attacking Shiites in Syria and comparing himself to Omeyya rulers who fought against the Family of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, US attempts to reach such a rapprochement with the IF face numerous obstacles.
Firstly, the IF does not seem too inclined to start a relationship with Washington. US Ambassador in Syria Robert Ford revealed on December 18, in an interview with Al-Arabiya television, that the IF had refused to meet with representatives from the US administration. “We are ready to sit with them because we talk to all parties and political groups in Syria. However, the IF has refused to sit with us without giving any reason,” Ford said, a day after Kerry described as “possible” a meeting with the organization. Apparently, the IF knows that US policies are deeply unpopular in Syria and does not have much to win by publicly appearing like another US puppet in the country.
Secondly, the links between the IF and Al Qaeda are becoming too evident. The top political leader of the Islamic Front, Abu Khaled al Suri, who is also a top figure in the rebel group Ahrar al Sham, acknowledged on January 17 that he considered himself a member of Al Qaeda. Ahrar al Sham is one of the most powerful groups fighting against the Syrian government and one of the largest groups aligned with the IF.
He also accused the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (EIIS), another radical rebel group that has been attacked by other rebel groups for the past weeks, of not being al Qaeda’s real representative in Syria and not following the way of Al Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden, its current leader Ayman al Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda´s slain leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed by a US missile in 2006. In fact, Zawahiri himself designated Al Suri to mediate disputes between ISIS and the Al Nusra Front, another Al Qaeda affiliate.
Al Suri’s admission has undercut Western hopes that the new Islamic Front could prove to be an acceptable replacement for the moribund Free Syrian Army and a counterweight to the rising influence of other Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria
“Al Suri’s prominence in Ahrar al Sham and his public statement praising Zarqawi and Zawahiri will make it very difficult for the US administration not to designate Ahrar al Sham as a terrorist organization” said Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on US-Islamic World Relations, to the McClatchy newspaper.
Thirdly, the rival armed groups are fighting each other near the northern cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa and that is weakening all of them. This fighting has claimed more than 1,000 lives, including the mutual execution of dozens of prisoners. The fighting is taking place between the FSA, the IF and Al Nusra Front, on one hand, and the ISIS, on the other hand. The Ahrar al Sham Brigade, one of the leading IF-affiliated groups, has lost 400 men in the combats.
In short, US support for the Geneva-2 conference is only a hypocritical attempt to cover up a failed criminal policy, which has fuelled a civil war in Syria in which Western powers and some Arab countries have used terrorist organizations, some of them tied to Al Qaeda, as proxies in order to set up a puppet regime in Syria. However, it is likely that US plans to put their Syrian allies in power will keep on failing as they have done up to now.