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“You did not join the army to protect the Assad clan. If you are an honorable officer, remain honorable, and if you are not honorable, stand by the Assad clan,” said First Lieutenant Abd Al-Razzaq Muhammad Tlas from the 5th Division.
There are even defections from the Republican Guard. Waleem Qashami told Amnesty International that he decided to quit after he saw three children, a young man, and a young woman killed in Harasta near Damascus in April. He and five others then abandoned the military. “We in the Republican Guard took an oath to protect the country, its citizens and leader, not to betray the country…We saw no armed gang. We didn’t even see anyone carrying a knife,” he said.
The questionable loyalty of the military is why the Assad regime is importing members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. Refugees in Turkey say that bearded soldiers that do not speak Arabic are involved in the attacks on Jisr al-Shughour. One farmer said that the combatants admitted they were Iranians. A soldier who escaped to Turkey confirmed that the Iranians and Hezbollah are helping the regime, and are executing those who don’t follow orders.
There have been reports of defections since the uprising began in Daraa. The chief of police of that city and some of his officers were fired by the regime, and video emerged of soldiers leading protesters. There were also clashes in Daraa between defected members of the 5th Division and Maher Assad’s 4th Division. Between 60 and 70 soldiers exchanged fire with Assad loyalists in Homs earlier this month, with one witness reporting a clash between two tanks after 200 soldiers and 14 officers defected in Arrasta.
In May, the regime claimed that 10 soldiers were murdered in Homs, but the opposition says they were killed for defecting. A group of soldiers fought for two hours in Homs to defend the residents from attack. “Stiff resistance” from civilians armed with automatic rifles and RPGs in Tabliseh and Rastan in Homs Province has also been reported. In another incident, three soldiers who defended refugees from the Shabbiha militia tried to flee to Lebanon. One died from a gunshot before making the escape. The two survivors were then arrested and handed over to the Assad regime.
The fractures in the military are a positive development, but there defections are still not of a large scale like in Libya. There is no central location that has been freed of government control like Benghazi. Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian democratic activist, says that this will not happen until the international community demands Assad’s resignation.
“Syrian army generals are the most paranoid in the world…until the West makes it clear that they view Bashar as illegitimate and they want him out, they will not make the leap themselves,” Abdulhamid told FrontPage.
He also said that the structure of the military prevents mid-level officers from rebelling. “[They must] try to refrain from engaging in too much bloodshed, or simply run. They are not in a position to arrange for a mutiny,” he said.
The regime’s violence is only causing more protests and more defections. The Assad regime may not face a major challenge from within its military yet, but the number of soldiers who have switched sides or want to quit is growing. Don’t count out the possibility of a civil war in Syria.
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