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There is no such thing as a moderate Syrian opposition

The Syrian Arab Army has multiple charities that go house to house looking after its men in uniform.

Ahmed Chalabi of Iraq with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, 2008. Ahmed Chalabi of Iraq with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, 2008. James Bowman/Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.David Cameron has recently announced that British military trainers will soon begin assisting the Syrian rebels. This could be a colossal mistake given a now four-year failure to vet the so called moderate Syrian opposition. It seems that Cameron has not learnt from the experiences of Libya, Iraq & Yemen. However the most costly blunder that the west has made is the complete misunderstanding of the Syrian state and the will of its military to fight on.

Despite the brutal ravages of this war, it is only the Syrian Arab Republic that is providing not just salaries to over 100,000 soldiers but also looking after its injured troops, their families and giving the semblance of normality to the areas it controls. The Syrian Arab Army has multiple charities that go house to house looking after its men in uniform. Whilst the ‘moderate rebels’ beg the west for military intervention their leaders spend time in luxury hotels in Turkey, Qatar and western capitals. Leaders of men are most needed on the ground, yet the Syrian moderate opposition is nowhere to be seen. They have successfully to their credit at least convinced the corridors of power in Washington DC and London to support them with weapons. But so had Ahmad Chalabi of Iraq, and look where that got Iraq.

In the light of the attacks in Paris and the shooting exchange in Belgium now is the time to make decisions based on realism and without a dose of the aspiration to bring a benevolent democracy to the Arab world. Egypt is a perfect example of how the policy makers in London got schooled by the Egyptian military on how not to meddle in their affairs of State. The military is the pillar of any strong state and should have the only say in the monopoly of violence. Of course history has proved from Latin America to Europe to Asia that often militaries take undue advantage and commit excesses. But states that have survived the brutality of civil wars invariably emerge with triumphant militaries. The Syrian military was directly and indirectly part of both the civil wars of Lebanon and Iraq in addition to the conventional battles it fought with Israel.

In Libya, Gadaffi had never built an army in all his years of madness; his was just a state of rape and plunder. With him gone, there was nothing to control the tribal and geographic tussle that is now evident in Libya with no end in sight. The loss of Libya as a state has complicated Europe’s fight not just against terror but the increasing migrant ships coming off the coast of Libya. After the fall of Baghdad, and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army, the country has slipped into an irrecoverable vortex of violence. The so called successful surge of Iraq was but a mere illusion as the current group led by Abu Bakr Baghdadi has proved.

They are a direct off-shoot of the group previously run by al-Zarqawi. The western-made Iraqi Army is no more than a group of multiple sectarian militias mostly under the control of Iran. Here lies the irony, that a post-Saddam army, paid for and equipped by the United States and its allies is now fully under the control of Iran. This of course has fed into the resentment of the Arab Sunni. On top of that, the ongoing desire to back the Kurdish groups in both Syria and Iraq has further alienated the Arab Sunni in the northern and eastern provinces of Syria bordering Iraq. This has driven them reluctantly into the hands of Baghdadi and the other death cults that are now also sending soldiers to commit atrocities such as Paris.

The moderate Syrian opposition is a figment of Whitehall & DC’s imagination. It is about time the right partner was chosen to fight the greatest threat to the west; that of terrorism. That partner lies in the Army of the Syrian Arab Republic. 

About the author

Kamal Alam is a Syrian military analyst and Fellow for Syrian Affairs at The Institute for Statecraft, and has been a visiting lecturer at several military academies and staff colleges in the Middle East, Britain and Pakistan. He has previously worked at the Aspen Institute in Berlin. He also advises various Damascus-based family offices. His PhD examines the geopolitics of Afghanistan & the Arab world.


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