Syria’s Conflict: The fog of chemical war

A Syrian man carries a wounded boy.

In Washington and Ottawa, signs of political unwillingness and inaction for Syrian intervention are beginning to show. All signs suggest a concerted misleading effort to end Syria’s civil war are nothing more than empty rhetoric and political shadowboxing.

Following recent UN reports alleging use of chemical warfare in Syria, UN investigator Carla del Ponte claimed the Syrian opposition is likely behind the deadly use of sarin gas. The Obama administration sees it differently. Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary said:

“We are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons,” he said. “We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position.”

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Idol images of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad

It would seem unlikely that del Ponte, a former Chief Prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, would cast serious warrantless accusations against the free Syrian army. While moderate opposition factions reject committing atrocities Al-Qaeda operatives in arms with the rebels are  more willingly capable.

Moreover, the situation on the ground is overly exaggerated. Assad is not universally unpopular in Syria as certain secular groups, Alawite and Christians minorities support Assad’s regime, which has protected them from the Suuni majority.

The consternation is that reversing the tide in Syria without a strongman to hold factions together would unleash the floodgate of religious sectarian violence, like in Iraq. Many fear brutal persecution and repression under the Muslim Brotherhood like in Egypt.

Despite contending intelligence, the US remains unwavering in its support for the Syrian rebels. US interests necessitate greater regional alliance following the Arab Spring and decades of US backed dictatorships. Syria, among others, continues to be a US proxy between China, Russia and Iran that are supporting Assad’s regime.

Tehran represents a second Mecca for Shiite Muslims and rising Shiite regional hegemon. Iran’s strategic alliance with Assad, Lebanon, Iraq and other states consolidates an adversarial Shiite Crescent against the Brotherhood’s predominately Sunni centre.

It is unlikely Israel’s air strikes on Syrian targets will bring their American allies into a four-front war to curtail Shiite regional hegemony.

Syrian rebels with a captured Army tank. Image via Freedom House.

Proponents for intervention should err on the side of caution and not expect substantial US involvement. Provided Obama’s past Syrian effort has proven feeble. Particularly last year’s inactivity after discovering mass graves in Aleppo. The atrocity alone constitutes a crime against humanity and justified outside intervention.

Nevertheless, after Obama’s statements, Canada’s Parliament convened yesterday in an emergency session to debate Syria’s situation. In subdued atmosphere, MPs shared few consensus on courses of action. Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Secretary called for exercising caution and waiting for the civil war to stop before rushing into building Syrian civil society.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Ève Péclet warned that inaction and undefined action is dangerous for Syrians and blamed Harper’s Government of not renewing support for the UN mission after voting for it. She also remarked that Harper’s failure to secure a seat in the Security Council does not help the situation nor does cutting Canada’s funding to rights and democratic development organizations. She continued to accuse Harper of emphasizing trade with China and Russia over pressuring them to end the Syrian conflict.

Paul Dewar, NDP Foreign Affairs critic, reported that in addition to town-to-town torture, women are being systematically gang raped by a Syrian militia that “insert[s] a live mouse into the woman to destroy any sense of dignity that might have been left for this woman.”

Péclet further explained that rape is used to demoralize Syria’s community and prevent Syrians from speaking out.

Syrian children inherit this trauma. UNICEF now reports 2 million displaced Syrian child refugees. According to Dewar, Damascus has targeted bombs at schools containing children.

Such reports to Ottawa would likely have also been received in Washington. All signs indicate a concerted effort from the Obama-Harper governments to mislead the public into believing that they intend to help end Syria’s civil war.

Péclet words perhaps best summed up last night and two years of political inactivity in Syria: “It is absurd to talk here about Syria without actually doing anything.”

Whatever Washington and Ottawa’s intentions for Syria one should not expect the cat to weep for the dead mice.

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