A devastating bomb attack on Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle has exposed deep fractures and a crisis of confidence inside his regime.
The bomb, which wiped out senior military and intelligence commanders, triggered a number of defections, among them senior officers and conscripts.
The battle over Damascus spurred the West, as well as the Arab League, to propose another exit deal for Assad that would keep the regime in place.
And fears over the breakup of Syria have spread panic among Western powers and their Arab allies.
After the blast, rebels launched an uprising in Damascus. Small groups of lightly armed fighters went on the offensive in the capital. The uprising spread to the Palestinian refugee camp and the working class neighbourhoods.
A counter attack by the much-feared Shabiha militia and elite units drove out the rebels. But the offensive struck a severe political blow to the regime.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is now challenging for control of many of the key roads linking major cities.
The battle was ongoing as Socialist Worker went to press. To lose Aleppo, the country’s commercial and industrial centre, would spell doom for the regime.
In the beginning, Assad wanted to derail the revolution with mass arrests and military strikes on rebel strongholds combined with an attempt to re-launch limited reforms.
These reforms failed. The few voices that could be considered a “loyal opposition”, along with those who called for peaceful change, were silenced by the regime early in the revolution.
The repression transformed this movement into an armed uprising. The regime has transformed key cities to rubble. The rebels have no answer to this overwhelming force.
Even arming a small group of rebels becomes prohibitive. This makes them vulnerable—on the battlefield and in maintaining the revolution’s independence.
So far the vast majority of funds have come from inside the revolution. Foreign funding to the Western-friendly exile group the Syrian National Council (SNC) has gone astray amid accusations of corruption.
But this could change if Western powers lose faith in a “transition plan” and begin to pour in weapons—and look for allies.
The Syrian regime is vulnerable and weak. This is giving the revolt an opportunity for victory, but there are many dangers.
The popular leadership has maintained its influence over the masses, and remains trusted. And they have been coordinating closely with the rebel military leadership.
But the longer the fighting continues, the bigger the danger will be of foreign powers stepping in to hijack the revolution. For the revolution to succeed, there must be no Western internvention.
Kurds and the revolt
Kurdish insurgents have taken over most government positions in the north east of Syria and are challenging for control over the regional capital Qamishli.
The Kurds, who make up a sizable ethnic minority, have faced decades of repression. At the outbreak of the revolution these regions quickly moved to assert their independence— raising the Kurdish flag alongside that of the revolt.
But after Kurdish parties were frozen out of the “official” opposition formations, suspicions grew of the SNC.
Both Turkey and Kurdish Iraq want influence in the area but the liberated remain with the revolution. But the Kurdish authorities in Iraq are threatening to send in a “stabilisation” force, ignoring the revolution’s demand that they stay out of Syria.