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.


October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria