‘Petro-Dollars fuelling Syrian insurgency’

A Syrian journalist talks about the Assad regime and the Arab world funded insurgency that is pushing Syria to an abyss 

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

The story of the Syrian conflict is mired in shades of grey. With a new massacre being reported every other day, the country seems to be headed to a civil war. The sectarian clashes have spilled over to neighbouring Lebanon as well, where Hezbollah, an anti-Israel Shiite militia, an important ally of Tehran, shares power in the government. Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s autocratic style of functioning and the delay in reforming the system has only worsened the situation and definitely alienated him further. “The government is on a sticky wicket,” agrees Waiel SH Awwad, a veteran Syrian journalist based in New Delhi who just returned from Damascus. 

However, he says that more than 55 per cent of the people are still backing Assad led government and most of the cities are quiet. However, he says it’s not about reforming the system for that has already been initiated. The ultimate goal is to oust the Assad regime. “The country has a new parliament and 208 out of 250 MPs are first timers,” Awwad informs. “Government should be given some time,” he adds. Although he agreed that present regime woke up late to the need of reforms and was ridden with corruption and other problems. “But that doesn’t justify foreign intervention,” he says.  

Awwad says that the Arab countries have played an adverse role and blames extremist Salafists militants, some 20 such groups backed by the Saudi Arabia and Qatar regimes and trained in Turkey, Libya and Lebanon for tearing apart the secular fabric of the country. “Recently, when I visited Syria, I could not visit my parents in Hama for they said it was unsafe to travel as bandits had unleashed a cycle of violence.” 

“We Syrians are secular, moderate Muslims who have been living in harmony for ages,” he says of the country whose capital Damascus is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. “I have been observing it that in the last two years, this Salafi influence increased considerably and so did the violence. It is the handiwork of extremist foreign elements,” he mentioned. “Shia-Sunni marriages were common. And there was no sectarian problem in the country,” he added. 

On the insurgency, he claims that it is entirely driven by outside forces and has little indigenous support. “It is the local criminals who have joined these outside forces including Al-Qaeda jehadis for the lure of money. It is the petro-dollars which are financing the insurgency,” Awwad says. 

“Nearly 4500 instances of violation of ceasefire by the militant groups have been forwarded to the UN observers,” he informs. “Even if you see the timing of Houla massacre, it was done to discredit the Kofi Annan peace plan. The president said that even a monster can’t carry out such killings. First it was said that they were bombarded. It later emerged that they were literally butchered, their throats were slit. This is the trademark of militants,” he says. 

With the chorus growing for ousting Assad’s regime, Awwad wonders what the actual game plan is? “Does the West want the Islamic tsunami to sweep all of Arab world and foment fundamentalism. It is not Arab spring. Reactionary forces have taken over the Arab world. Is that why even though Assad’s government has agreed to UN peace envoy Annan’s six point peace plan, the Western countries, the US, UK and France continue to target Syrian regime. It is the opposition and ‘outside opposition’ which are not serious about stability of the country,” he says. Recently, at the UN Security Council, Annan pressed for Iran’s inclusion in the peace plan, an idea rejected by the US which blamed Tehran for supporting Assad’s “tyrannical” regime in Damascus. Awwad claims that Russia and China have abstained from siding with the West and Arab countries and have been vociferously against any foreign intervention because they understand that Islamic fundamentalism and militancy can acquire unmanageable proportions in those countries as well. 

“The US led west and Arab countries have made up their mind for a regime change in Syria, but do they have an alternative? Any foreign intervention will lead to chaos as witnessed in Libya. We don’t want anarchy,” he says. “Now Tripoli has become a centre for militant activities as it is easily accessible from Homs,” he mentions. “Right to Protect policy of NATO cannot be extended to Syria,” he believes. 

“Syria is surrounded by a turbulent neighbourhood. If Syria falls it will have adverse effects on Israel, Turkey and other nations in the region,” Awwad warns.