Will Assad triumph in Syria?

The Syrian opposition is now effectively in the hands of extreme Islamist groups with a very different agenda from that of the secular-led Free Syrian Army.

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad.
Photo by: REUTERS/George Ourfalian
In November, when details of the peace conference on the Syrian civil war – known as Geneva 2 – were finally agreed upon, and the event was scheduled for January 22, 2014, the outcome of the conflict was in the balance.  A month later, it seems as though Bashar Assad’s régime – supported as it is by Russia, Iran and Iraq, and augmented by substantial fighting forces from Hezbollah and the Iranian al-Quds Brigades – is gaining the upper hand militarily, while its opposition has fallen into disarray.  As a result, the projected peace conference could be a non-starter or, if it does take place, could easily degenerate into a travesty.

Back in April 2011, as small-scale popular protests developed into a nationwide rebellion, it seemed that the rule of President Bashar Assad was doomed. Protesters were demanding his resignation and an end to Ba'ath Party rule, which began in 1963.  Soon the opposition began to organize political and military wings, in anticipation of a long uprising against the Assad regime. By December 2012 the US, Turkey, the Gulf states, France and Britain had recognized the main opposition, the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution (NCSR), as the "sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people" – a clear sign that they believed the Assad government was doomed.
However, the NCSR never coalesced into a coherent or effective body, nor did it ever achieve sufficient authority to persuade Western powers to provide it with the sort of military support it needed to overcome the Syrian army. This was mainly because of the rise in its ranks of a radical Islamist militia allied to al-Qaida – the Al-Nusra front. No Western power was minded to ally itself with the world’s number one terrorist organization. The result was a marked cooling of international support for the National Coalition, and this, in turn, allowed the Assad government and its supporting fighting units to launch a counter-offensive. In August 2013, this onslaught included the use of chemical weapons indiscriminately against both rebel fighters and any civilians who chanced to get in the way.

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