The Battle of Damascus


While the Russians are being painted as international law’s bogeymen, indifferent to choosing sides in a conflict when the only side to pick can only ever be that of peace, the Syrian opposition forces are nibbling, if not slaughtering their way, into view with their recent killings in Damascus.  President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle has received a series of lethal blows in the National Security Building – four of them, according to rumour mill of press reports.  On Wednesday, Assad found himself one minister of defence and brother-in-law short.  The latter was the infamous intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, though that itself has been disputed.

There is little doubt that the killings being inflicted by the Assad regime are reprehensible and need to cease, but that is ultimately a matter that Syria will have to contend with.  When civilians die at the hands of government forces, quivers of indignation and rage are felt outside the country by anti-Assad regimes who express a partisan interest in the conflict while simulating disinterestedness.  But the Syrian opposition has also relinquished its credentials as a body of peace makers.  Indeed, there is much to suggest that those credentials were shed some time ago, bloodied by the desire to take up arms against a regime that dishes out good doses of it.  The Free Syrian Army, and its allies, are becoming more cunning with their targeting – and at the same time ‘conventional’ with their Muslim fighters in embracing the suicide bomb.  Nor should assistance from foreign sources in this regard be ruled out.

In the field of civil war, mendacity profits with insidious firestorm like speed.  Techniques of killing, for one, are contradicted with regularity.  Syrian state television condemned the killings as occasioned by a suicide bomb.  A commander in the Free Syrian Army has suggested that the culprit lay in explosive devices exploded in the conventional way – remotely.  There is even a dispute as to whether Shawkat actually died in the blast, or was in fact, poisoned two months ago (Daily Beast, Jul 18).

Again, we are left with unconvincing chalk and equally unconvincing cheese – take your pick.  What is certain here is that the FSA can’t be seen to embrace methods of war that might smack, at least to Western powers, as extremist.  Decorum in the face of violence will be maintained, and Assad’s regime is happy to junk it.

Debates about intervening in Syria and placing Kofi Annan’s peace plan under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter is an act of banal window dressing.  As is the issue of sanctions, which has received another boost with a UK-drafted resolution.  Interventions have been taking place in the 17 month old conflict since its inception, and the only issue now is for those who have picked their horse – in this case, the unpredictable, unknown creature called the Syrian opposition – to bide their time.

The hands of intelligence agencies are many and varied – Jordanians, the Central Intelligence Agency, British, French and Turkish agents.  While we might take the comments of Khalaf al-Meftah, a member of the central committee of the Syrian Ba’ath party, with due suspicion, there is little doubt that elements of it are true.  “The intelligence services of the enemies of Syria have always been active in Damascus in a bid to hit a blow at Syria’s popular government and today’s operations were not possible without (foreign) intelligence support for the terrorists” (FARS News Agency, 19 Jul).

International dispensation for atrocities in this vicious conflict will be provided in time – the question now is whether a Security Council resolution can be brokered that legitimises some form of intervention.  The Russians will hold the floor for as long as they can, hoping to stall the collapse of the Assad regime.  And the suggestion so far is that a turning point is in the air.  Fighting is raging in Damascus itself, something the regime will see as ominous.  One of the rebel commanders has claimed that the battle to ‘liberate’ the city has begun. “The Damascus battle,” claimed Colonel Qassim Saadeddine, “has priority for us” (Guardian, Jul 18).  But the punters will continue to be busy, whether on the sidelines or through not so secret efforts, to pick which horse will storm to the finishing line. That line will be a blood-soaked one.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Stonewall and the Battle for Gay Rights 

Director John Scagliotti has donated copies of his acclaimed films Before Stonewall and After Stonewall for the CounterPunch Online Auction. Bid now to own a copy these ground-breaking documentaries on a radical struggle for equal rights.


November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability