The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is in big trouble. It has killed over 200 civilians since the anti-government uprising began, but the unrest is spreading across the country. Assad has been forced to turn to Iran for help, and now, the Reform Party of Syria has just revealed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is overseeing the effort to save the regime.
The Reform Party of Syria, a U.S.-based democratic opposition group, says that as of Monday, April 4, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps stationed in Syria (which it said is 10,000-strong) had gained authority over the efforts to put an end to the uprising. All of the top Syrian generals now report to the IRGC operating out of a command-and-control center inside a military base in Homs Province. The Iranians are said to be closely monitoring military and security leaders, especially Allawite generals that could lead a military coup.
The RPS also says that the IRGC is responsible for footage of alleged attacks on Syrian security personnel that was shown on state television. Assad is denying that his security forces are responsible for the deaths of protesters, instead attributing it to “armed gangs.” The regime has since claimed that these “gangs” are killing both protesters and members of the security forces – a lie meant to justify the use of force and deny responsibility for the death toll.
“In essence, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps now occupies Syria and has become its de facto ruler. Syria has become the 32nd province of Iran,” Farid Ghadry of the Reform Party of Syria said in a press release.
There were strong indications of Iranian involvement in the crackdowns on the protests when the uprising first gained steam. Eyewitnesses in Daraa, where the revolution began, said that some attackers were speaking in Farsi and others said they heard southern Lebanese accents, indicating the involvement of Hezbollah. On March 21, Turkish officials intercepted a secret Iranian arms shipment to Aleppo, Syria. The huge stockpile included “60 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, 14 BKC/Bixi machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of BKC/AK-47 ammunition, 560 60-mm mortar shells, and 1,288 120-mm mortar shells.”
There is good reason for Assad to be worried enough to request Iranian intervention. The regime consists of Allawites, a minority that represents only 6 to 12 percent of the population. The 4th Armored Division, commanded by Maher Assad, Bashar’s brother, is the only unit fully staffed by Allawites. There are unconfirmed reports of clashes between Assad’s Allawite tribe and that of Ghazi Kanaan, the Interior Minister assassinated in 2006 who comes from a more powerful Allawite tribe.
Video has surfaced of a Syrian soldier in Banias who was shot by the security forces, and eyewitnesses have reported the shooting of soldiers who refused to attack protesters in the city. On April 11, 10 soldiers and officers were hung for disobeying orders to fire on citizens in Banias. State television predictably said they were killed by “armed gangs.” There have been unverifiable reports of friendly encounters between soldiers and protesters, and video has been posted of these positive interactions in Daraa. There is also footage of this happening in Inkhil and Jassem in late March.
The key question is what comes next. The Reform Party of Syria says that on April 8, the IRGC commanders in Syria decided that the demonstrations in Daraa must be violently put down in order to demoralize the opposition elsewhere in the country. It is possible that Assad and the IRGC have decided that it is best to keep out of the world’s headlines by only killing a limited number of people in one spot each day, but an all-out assault on Daraa is a distinct possibility.
There are strong indications that the Syrian regime is planning major action. The military has surrounded Daraa, and its communications have been cut off. The same has been done to Banias, where five tanks have been seen and the Allawite Shabbiha militia is reported to be deploying. The Syrian Republican Guard has been deployed to two towns in Homs where tanks have also been seen, and power and communication has been cut off in some areas. There are reports that in Aleppo, some roads have been closed, hundreds of Shabbiha have been mobilized, and several tanks have been seen at the western entrance.
It is apparent that the Syrian regime must take aggressive action far beyond what has been already been undertaken to ensure its survival. The protests every Friday significantly grow each week, with the citizens of more and more towns joining. Damascus is even becoming the scene of unrest, with the regime killing at least eight protesters in Douma earlier this month, which lies on the outskirts of the capital. On April 11, an estimated 1,500 students demonstrated at Damascus University and were met with gunfire that killed one student.
The Damascus Declaration organization is asking the international community to exert pressure on the Assad regime to stop the violence. It is specifically requesting that the Arab League place sanctions on it. The White House has finally issued a forceful condemnation of the violence, but the U.S. ambassador to Syria has yet to be recalled. Secretary of State Clinton’s remark that Assad is a “reformer” indicates the Obama administration still sees the Syrian regime as a government that can somehow be won over.
The news about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ leading role in the effort to stamp out the uprising puts an end to the illusion about the nature of the Syrian regime. Assad presents a much greater threat to the West than Qaddafi does, yet the U.S. has been slow and weak in its response to the uprising. At the very least, the ambassador should be withdrawn. The U.S. should abandon the false belief that Assad’s regime can change.
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