(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian President Bashar Assad has reportedly placed his top intelligence official under house arrest for conspiring with the regime’s enemies to carry out a coup.
Ali Mamlouk, who heads the National Security Bureau, was detained after he was suspected of maintaining contact with governments backing the Syrian rebels as well as opposition forces from abroad, Britain’s The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday.
According to the report, key associates of the president “are increasingly turning on each other.”
Mamlouk reportedly made contact with governments hostile to the Assad regime and former Syrian officials at a time when Syrian troops lost control of the city of Idlib to a coalition of Islamist rebels including the Nusra Front.
“Mamlouk had been communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary,” according to an unnamed senior regime source with knowledge of Mamlouk’s plan.
Furthermore, Mamlouk was reportedly in contact with Rifaat al-Assad, the president’s uncle, who was ostracized from the regime in the 1980s for his role in an attempted coup. An unnamed source claimed that “there is a big interest among the Syrian officers and military for Rifaat Assad to come back to Syria.”
The newspaper cited sources within the presidential palace as saying that there is great dissension within the regime’s top brass, some of whose commanders are growing wary of Iran’s burgeoning influence in Damascus.
Factions within Assad’s inner circle are discontent with the role the Islamic Republic is playing in Syria’s domestic conflict and how much influence its officials are amassing in Damascus, while others are in support of Iranian patronage.
Iranian resources have been indispensable to Assad’s efforts to battle a fierce and fractured opposition enemy. Yet, the spread of Iranian influence has infiltrated some of Syria’s most important institutions, including the central bank, angering some as a breach of Syrian sovereignty.
“Most of the advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian,” an unnamed source told the Telegraph. “Mamlouk hated that Syria was giving her sovereignty up to Iran. He thought there needed to be a change.”
Tehran has also provided the credit and monetary support – more than $15 billion according to Damascus’s finance minister – necessary to keep Syria’s ailing economy from completely collapsing.
However, as Tehran continues to have a major hand in decisions regarding both battlefield strategy and financial policy, the animosity between the two allies continues to grow.
Last month, when senior Syrian officials made one of their regular visits to Tehran, the meetings were tense, the British daily reported.
“Members of the regime said that they were losing control of Syria. At one point they even suggested considering cutting a deal with the opposition,” the source said. “The Iranians were furious, after all they had done to help. They would not lose control.”
This dispatch is the latest in a string of recent reports that suggest the Assad’s grip on power is slipping in light of recent rebel gains on the battlefield.
A report in the Saudi newspaper Okaz earlier this month quoted Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas denying an article in the same paper a day earlier, quoting unnamed sources claiming that Syrian intelligence told the elite Alawite families to leave the capital within 48 hours for its coastal stronghold of Latakia.
“Reports of President Assad giving his top Alawites orders to flee Damascus are undoubtedly wishful thinking and activist fancy,” Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The regime lost an important provincial capital that was surrounded by opposition militias,” said Landis. “Morale has been damaged, but the regime is neither giving up the ghost nor preparing to abandon Damascus for some coastal Alawite enclave.”
Adding doubt to the original Saudi report and others that call into question the stability of the Syrian regime, the Syrian Army reportedly tightened its grip in the capital on Sunday.
“The regime has cut off the last main road for rebels leading out of eastern Ghouta,” a rebel stronghold in Damascus, AFP reported Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman as saying.
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