Obama on Syria: They're still dying, he's still looking

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A lot has been happening in Syria lately and if I had the time I would have produced another half-dozen diaries on these events in the past few days but with rent due in a few days and less than that in the bank right now, I've been forced to focus my attentions elsewhere.

Still people still dying at a rate approaching 200 a day while many more continue to flee the country because the Assad regime is keeping up its shelling and bombing of many opposition districts, and Assad forces and the opposition fighters are still locked in a fierce battle that seems to be creeping ever so slowly towards the Presidential Palace in Damascus.

Also, this morning, I stumbled upon a very interesting interview with a Free Syria Army officer in Latakia, so I thought I's do this quick bit of scribbling to share this with you and also provide a space where those that have the time can discuss these events around Syria.

I have seen reports the the FSA in Damascus has gotten close enough to the Presidential Palace to start shelling it while reports proliferate that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is anywhere but.

Dueling tweets in the propaganda wars!

Here is the original tweet from a well respected journalist:

Here is the pro-Assad version that showed up minutes later:

This is another way the propaganda war is waged:

Even the Russian PM Medvedev <

a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/0128/Russian-PM-Medvedev-says-odds-against-Assad-s-political-survival">is now saying that Assad's chances of winning this war grow slimmer by the day while the Russian are looking more and more like they are pulling their people out. Even Assad's mother has gotten out of Dodge.

Recently the Russians made the candid admission that they have continued to supply arms to Assad all along "honoring existing contracts." I think that has really been an open secret, even though it has at times been hotly contested even in comments to my diary. Most people knew that Assad hasn't been shelling and bombing his own people for almost two years with stuff he already had on hand. Now we have this valuable admission.

I find it quite ironic that the former Soviet Union is now using the sanctity of contracts as justification for being the chief enablers of a murder spree that has cost more than 65,000 Syrian lives so far.

As a matter of fact, I think that some Russians should be brought up on war crimes for that because no contract and be used to justify the continued shipment of cluster bombs to a regime that is using them to smear children's brains all over the playground.

Also yesterday, President Obama came out with a double-barreled defense of his do-little policy on Syria with and interview on CBS 60 Minutes and The New Republic, at the same time hinting that he is thinking about doing a little more. Obama said:

“We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, where we take on things without having thought out the consequences of it,”

This sounds very good and reasonable to most people here because they have lost no one in Syria and don't stand too. It sounds very different to parents who have been burying children for more than a year because there is no willing on the part of world powers to stop Assad from killing their children with his superior air power, in fact, they have given him an assist. While Putin has made sure Assad didn't run out of bombs, Obama has done his best to make sure those attempting to protect those children, have not had the means to knock Assad's bombers down.

So talk on, world leaders. This revolutionary war will be decided on the ground by Syrians.

Those with little do much while those with much, do little.

Syria Deeply carried this interview on Day 685 of their struggle:

Interview: I’m an FSA Battalion Leader

Karen Leigh – January 25, 2013
Abu Adnan and I meet on a cold dark night, a few days before the end of the year. He’s lean and grizzled in jeans and a dark overcoat. He holds a flashlight, standing at the precipice of an incline in the mountains along the Turkey-Syria border. He’s about to walk me down and looks wary, but determined, at the thought of yet another cross through this well-used smuggling route.

Abu Adnan is not his real name; many of the FSA leaders in the mountains around Latakia City use the nickname “Abu” – “Abu Adnan” means the father of Adnan. A gentle-eyed 55-year-old, with floppy black hair he looks the part of the father of the pride. His own children, and wife, are not here.

When we are safely through the mud, he becomes chatty. At our safe house, with its mismatched carpets and a small generator-power TV blaring Al Arabiya’s news of a regime massacre in Damascus, Adnan talks candidly about the states of his battle, his mind, and Latakia’s sectarian tension.

“There is no problem between [everyday] Alawites and Sunnis. But we have tension with the regime, and those who support the regime are Alawite,” Adnan tells me. That said “the regime is mixed between Alawites, Christians, and Sunnis. We don’t have a problem with the people, we have a problem with the regime. We [in the FSA] are liberal people, we like everyone.

“If the regime falls, we will start a new fight with the shabiha, and they have 100 leaders. There are three big groups of shabiha that have famous leaders, like Rami Makhlouf [Assad’s wealthy cousin], who has 2,000 shabiha followers. Our problem isn’t Assad—everyone wants him to leave now. Our problem is with these 100 names. A lot of them escaped fromDamascus to Latakia, and now they’re preparing to fight.”

He lights another cigarette. He has been chain-smoking since we left the Turkish border. “Assad is from Latakia. Muammar Qaddafi, he went to Sirte at the end of his revolution. Assad, he will come back. I am sure he will come back to his village. Maybe he’s already here. Maybe he’s escaped already from Damascus. He won’t be in office more than two months. In the last two to three weeks, I feel that things have changed here [in our favor]. We have heard from the Alawites in Latakia City that they do not support him. The Alawites are scared [for their own safety, should Assad fall].”

According to Adnan,TurkmanMountainis a hundred percent Sunni. He says there’s a Christian village in Jebel Akrad that’s now under FSA control, but “there’s tension there.”

The battalion leaders in Turkman check in with Alawites on the ground; they monitor their allegiance, which has so far remained with the FSA. “There are two types of Alawites,” Adnan says. “There’s the shabiha, and we will fight them. There are families, and we will not fight them. This has nothing to do with them.

“Sometimes we call them and they say, ‘we are not with the regime.’ There’s one Alawite FSA fighter here, he’s in Jebel Akrad. There’s an Alawite nurse in the hospital. The Alawite people know it’s almost finished. It’s 50 kilometers from the border to this house, and it’s all under FSA control.”

In reality, the picture is a bit more complicated. Though the FSA does control much of the area, pockets are still under regime control. The front in these mountains, like in all guerilla warfare, shifts almost daily. But Adnan sees the situation developing in the FSA’s favor.

“There are 80 men in the Hateen Battalion now. There were 35 four months ago. Men here want to support it. The Hateen is getting support,” Adnan says. But, he adds, they still need people to take care of logistics, like managing the supply lines for weapons and food. “We lost two members—they died—about three months ago.”

He sips at a child-sized box of milk. What was meant for a school lunchbox now feeds the FSA.

“If Latakia falls, it will be under us, free. In the next week, we’ll take anti-aircraft weapons. We will control the sky.”

This is wishful thinking. When I ask who will provide the crucial anti-aircraft tools, Adnan is cagey. “Someone here promised me them,” he says.

“A lot of people want to defect. We have a lot of [supporters and would-be defectors] inside the regime now. The Syrian Army, they don’t like to kill Syrians. It’s the shabiha.” In the regime strongholds in these mountains, the force is comprised of seventy-five percent shabiha, according to Adnan.

Adnan’s personal story, like so many FSA leaders’, is a roller coaster. And like so many, there are holes he won’t fill in for a reporter.

“I escaped Syria 30 years ago. I left during the Muslim Brotherhood revolution. I was in Iraq for the next 26. Five years ago, Assad wrote me a letter saying ‘come back.’ My brother was kidnapped 32 years ago. I know the names of the men who have my brother. They are Alawite, with the regime.

When they fall, I will…I will wait for the new government, go to the police station, get the [whereabouts] of the kidnappers. I will catch them and send them to the police.”

Still, despite what Adnan envisions for the coming months, the war has taken its toll on his psyche. “I still don’t know in my head when this war will be over,” he says. “Ask me in a month.” When it’s concluded and the rebuilding stage has begun, “we [in the FSA] don’t want to go work for the new government. But we want rights, for everyone. They have to give us that.”

Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Syria