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Beleagured Assad

The Syrian government looks ever more isolated. The latest blow came yesterday when King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab ruler to call for Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

King Abdullah’s outspokenness is a further sign Syria’s neighbors believe his regime cannot survive. Syria’s suspension by the Arab League had already underlined that  Assad has few allies left. Comparisons can be made with Libya six months ago: as with Syria, the Libyan regime found itself without friends and allies. A vote by the Arab League opened the door to Nato’s military intervention, which ultimately proved decisive in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. However,  Assad still has a powerful army loyal to him while Colonel Gaddafi never really had an army to begin with. The Syrian government still has support from part of the population. It is also better organized at the top, while Gaddafi and his family never seemed to get a grip on events. The Libyan regime suffered defections to a degree that has not happened in Damascus.

All the same, the prospects for  Assad do not look good. A year ago he had good relations with Turkey but these have soured to the point of open hostility. Iraq abstained in the Arab League vote, but its concerns are partly dictated by the sectarian power struggle inside Iraq. If an insurgent Sunni regime comes to power in Damascus then this will strengthen the beleaguered Sunni minority in Iraq in its contest with the Shia-Kurdish government that holds power.

His departure would be a serious blow to Iran since Syria has long been its crucial ally in the Arab world, making it a regional power and enabling it to funnel aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But Tehran never likes to put all its eggs in one basket and has, publicly at least, put some distance between itself and  Assad.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

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Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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