It’s worth noting that the United States and Al Qaeda are on the same side in Syria.
That’s not to deny that the government of Syria is conducting a brutal, no-holds-barred attack against a nationwide rebellion that is, increasingly, led by armed paramilitary forces and, well, terrorists.
But the Battle of Syria 2012 pits Saudi Arabia, Turkey, a bloc of Sunni Arab states, the Muslim Brotherhood and even Al Qaeda against Syria and the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose quasi-Shiite minority Alawite sect forms the core of his political power and who is backed by Shiite Iran. It’s no surprise that the United States, which swallowed Saudi Arabia’s ongoing vicious crackdown on the Shiite rebellion in the island Sunni kingdom of Bahrain, is on board with what increasingly looks like a Saudi- and Turkish-backed effort at forcible regime change in Damascus.
The latest wrinkles:
One, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, a complacent oppositionist force there, is backing the rebellion in Syria. Although little or nothing is known about who’s leading the Syrian revolt, it’s almost certain that in cities such as Hama, Homs and Aleppo, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is leading the charge. For decades, Arab leaders such as Hosni Mubarak and Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, warned that if they fell from power the Islamists would take over. It seems that they were right, although in Egypt today the military heirs of the Mubarak regime and trying to hold on to power while seeking a compact with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Two, the Iraqi Sunni movement, including its Al Qaeda in Iraq component, is mobilizing to support the Sunni sectarian revolt in Syria. That’s because many Iraqi Sunnis see the fall of Assad as a way of counterbalancing the Shiite, Iran-influenced regime of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. If Assad falls, Maliki is likely to come under much stronger Iranian pressure to tie Iraq to Iran more overtly, and if he doesn’t cooperate the Iranians will get rid of him and replace him with someone who’ll do so.
Three, in at least some high-profile cases Al Qaeda seems to responsible for a series of devastating bombings in Aleppo and elsewhere. One bombing in Damascus killed seventy people. A US official told the New York Times:
It comes as no surprise that Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate—through its networks in Syria—might attempt to seem relevant by going after the Assad regime.
The bombs in Aleppo seemed coordinated with an attack on Syrian government buildings by the so-called Syrian Free Army, a Turkey-based, and apparently Turkish-backed, militia force. Reported the Times:
Senior officers in the Turkey-based Free Syrian Army, which includes defectors from the security forces, said it had carried out an armed attack on the two headquarters earlier in the day, prompting skirmishes with the military.
The pompous king of Saudi Arabia, whose intelligence service backed the Sunni rebellion in Iraq and which now supports the Sunni revolt in Syria, bitterly criticized the votes by China and Russia at the UN, which vetoed a UN Security Council resolution against Syria. “We are going through scary days, and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” said His Kleptocratic Majesty, who rules a dictatorship of princes. “The world is ruled by brains, by justice, by morals and by fairness.”
That was too much for even the Washington Post, which slammed Saudi Arabia in an editorial, noting that it was using military force against its own dissidents. And it added:
But brains, justice, morals and fairness are in short supply not only in Mr. Assad’s Damascus but in the royal palaces of Riyadh as well.
Al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian, explicitly endorsed the anti-Assad rebellion this week, following the bomb explosions in Damascus and Aleppo that US officials blamed on Al Qaeda. Said Zawahiri:
Wounded Syria still bleeds day after day while the butcher, son of the butcher Bashar bin Hafiz [Hafez al-Assad], is not deterred to stop. But the resistance of our people in Syria despite all the pain, sacrifice and bloodshed escalates and grows.… If we want freedom, we must be liberated from this regime. If we want justice, we must retaliate against this regime. Continue your revolt and anger, don’t accept anything else apart from independent, respectful governments.
On the right and among neoconservatives, there are calls for the United States to intervene directly in Syria, by imposing a no-fly zone, by arming and training the rebels (which might already be happening at NATO bases in Turkey) and even by adopting a Libya-style campaign of bombs, drones and missiles against Assad. Welcome to the Arab Spring, Part II.