U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition Group As Representative Of Syrian People
Following most other western nations, the United States is now recognizing a Syrian opposition group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people:
In a diplomatic shift, President Obama said today his administration now formally recognizes the newly-formed, leading coalition of Syrian rebels who are fighting to topple Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad.
“We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama said.
The announcement, made during an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters, grants new legitimacy to the rebel group and marks a new phase in U.S. efforts to isolate the Assad regime.
“It’s a big step,” Obama said of the decision. The United States follows Britain and the European Union, both of which last month recognized the Syrian opposition group.
The diplomatic designation will allow the United States to more closely support rebel efforts, including the organization of a future post-Assad government, administration officials said.
“Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities,” Obama said of the young coalition. “To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, [and] that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women’s rights and minority rights.”
This move comes just a few days after the State Department had designated a separate Syrian group called Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist group due largely to its ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq. It also comes at a time when the Syrian rebels appear to be making some major gains on the ground as they edge closer and closer to Damascus. The problem is that kicking Assad out of Damascus may only be the beginning of the battle:
The most likely option, however, and one that appears already to be under way, is for the regime and the core of the army and security forces to retreat to the Alawite-populated mountains on the Mediterranean coast. Diplomatic sources say that there are unconfirmed reports that the regime is planning to register all Sunnis who live in the coastal cities of Tartous, Banias, and Latakia which could potentially form part of an Alawite-dominated enclave. The coastal cities are predominantly Sunni-populated while the mountain hinterland is mainly Alawite.
Furthermore, there appears to be a steady and discreet trickle of families of pro-regime Alawite army officers leaving the upmarket Mezzeh neighborhood of Damascus for the coastal mountains.
“More and more regime supporters and, or their families are moving up the coast, and there are persistent rumors that at least part of the government now sits in Tartous,” the European diplomat says. “All indications are that the regime’s fallback position is to retreat to the coastal area of Tartous and Latakia.”
Significantly, units of the rebel Free Syrian Army operating north of Damascus appear to be limiting ambushes to south-bound military traffic heading to the capital along the main highway, the sources say. Vehicles heading north are left unmolested, raising the possibility that the highway, which leads to Tartous, is being offered as an escape route for the regime to prevent a protracted and bloody last stand in Damascus.
“The Alawite community … is counting on [Assad’s] army to protect them from possible retribution from the rebel militias,” writes Joshua Landis, professor of Middle East history at the University of Oklahoma and author of the influential Syria Comment blog. “Sectarian hatred has been driven to a fever pitch by the brutality of the regime. Syrians have been putting hate into their hearts over the past two years, making the likelihood of some sort of retribution ever more likely and the ethnic cleansing a possibility, even if a small one at the time.”
A rump regime well-entrenched into the mountain villages defended by the Alawite core of the army and security services equipped with armor, artillery, air power and possibly even chemical and biological weapons could buy the Assads some breathing space during a likely period of chaos caused by a sudden leadership vacuum in Damascus. But it is questionable whether it would provide a long-term solution for the Assad clan’s survival.
In other words, the civil war in Syria wouldn’t be over. It would just enter a new phase in which Assad and the Alawite’s would potentially be able to hold out for a long period of time while the war continues.