North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Deathtoll in Syria mounts, words fly ...

One of the "horrors" of our modern accessibility to world events, is the excruciating minute by minute - it seems - witnessing of violence, and way too much time to ponder the mystifying selectivity of what is or is not covered by media, much less what is or is not addressed by the world.

Syria and its neighbors

Syria's daily reports of armed forces shelling and blasting civilian populations is both numbing and frustrating. In the eleven months since an "Arab spring" of sorts emerged in this country, the government of Bashar al-Assad has sought to crush opposition, first in a sort of "whack a mole" strategy, but increasingly with more deadly fire. The death toll in Syria is now over 5,000 (Saudi Arabia lists it as over 7,000), far past the trigger of 1,000 to 2,000 which moved the West to take on Libya's now-deceased Gadaffi.

A map of Syria, showing the major cities and where protests have centered. It is outdated in that deaths have now occurred about everywhere as well as what might be classified as major protests.

Click on image for full picture
Egyptian bloggers are paying attention as well. This from an Egyptian woman, with the dark brown representing blood where martyrs have died.

The framework and timeline of Syria's conflict seem clear enough:

In early 2011, Bashar al-Assad's regime, based from within its own minority Alewite tribe, was busy with its longstanding, business-as-usual hostile stance against Israel, while continuing its quiet domination of neighboring Lebanon through its proxy ally Hezbollah. With a certain amount of status in the Arab world (Syria was a founder of the Arab League), it maintained neighborly relations with Turkey to the north, Russia on the international power scene, and content within its informal regional alliance with its strong supporter Iran.

Bashar (center) with his buddies, the holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left), and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasralla.

Then came the Arab spring. Syria watched warily as the protests erupted in a handful of countries in the region (Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt), and brought about the downfall of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. As the West intervened in Libya, Assad chose to deal harshly with its own set of protestors - hoping to "nip it in the bud," as we would say.

Bashar al-Assad has long carefully cultivated a modern Western image, buttressed by his young attractive wife, Asma. (Asma's dress of course would not be acceptable or comparable to his buddies' wives.)

By June, however, a new pattern was becoming clear. Protests were not dwindling, and each death of a protestor resulted in a funeral that fanned flames further. Each Friday's day of prayers resulted in a new wave of protests, and Assad was loosening his rules of engagement for his security forces, including the murkily-linked go-ahead given to the feared Shabiha - a militia of thugs who had long run protection rackets, weapons and drug-smuggling rings, and other criminal enterprises in cities along the Mediterranean. And in June for the first time, the Arab League formally expressed its disapproval of Syria's actions against its own people.

Today, after eight months of steadily escalating violence, Syria is isolated, saved on the international scene only by predictable self-serving votes in the UN by Russia and China, who wish to avoid any precedent for nations to intervene or condemn what is sacrosanct - how a government conducts its internal affairs. The Arab League has now taken a stand against the present regime of Syria, calling for it to step down, and the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (The vote in the 193-member world body on the Arab-sponsored resolution was 137-12 with 17 abstentions) for a resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for the Syrian President to step down while strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime.

Click on image for full picture
Voting in the UN General Assembly condemning Syria for its repression. Let's be clear on who voted against the resolution, the language of which can be found at the UN website( The votes against were from Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe

Turkey, Syria's neighbor to the north, is strengthened the guarding of its common border, providing refuge to those able to flee, and providing de facto protection to what some observers note are armed resisters. Jordan to the south is also now building refugee camps for those civilians fleeing Syrian violence.

Bashar al-Assad had at one time a 270,000 person security force, but according to Turkish intelligence, about 40,000 have deserted, and over 2500 soldiers have joined the opposition Free Syrian Army. The notorious Shabiha of June has become just one of many violent groups now tearing at what remains of the country's societal fabric.

The West, led by the US and the UK are becoming more free with undiplomatic language towards Syria and its UN supporters China and Russia. The latest was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of the word "despicable" when it came to these two countries votes in support of Syria. Syria outraged the West again this past few days when it deliberately shelled a makeshift press center, killing two well respected journalists.

Click on image for full picture
Marie Colvin was one of two journalists killed in what is described as deliberate targeting by Syrian forces. Colvin lost an eye while reporting on the civil war in Sri Lanka back in 2001. With due respect, the other journalist killed was a younger man, French photographer Remi Ochlik.

But words are just that. And the conflict and death toll could get much worse, so the average westerner at least, will likely be bombarded with random images and stories on a daily basis for the foreseeable future.

It is a sobering statistic to note that in the Libyan spring, which morphed into a western intervention, that in just six months, at least 30,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded. In September, 2011, Naji Barakat, Libya's interim health minister, offered this first detailed estimate of the high cost in lives of bringing down Gadaffi. Barakat said at the time he expected the final figure for dead and wounded to be higher than his current estimate. But the world has since moved on - by and large deeming the intervention a success, the "smart way" to win a war - and more than a casual search on the internet unearths no further updates on casualties after the September assessment.

Click on image for full picture
This neighborhood apartment complex in the city of Homs, pocked by Syrian shells and bullets.


Teatree said...

Hmmm, even the UN today has come out with a civilian death toll in Syria of over 7500. From Reuters, "There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council. "The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people."

Ben said...

Last week's New Yorker magazine details various voices "on the ground" in Hom and other cities ("Implosion" by Jon Lee Anderson:

It reveals an interesting mix of competing narratives (from rebels, pro-government officials and citizens, and those "regular folk" just trying to survive). Interestingly, there are a number of conspiracy theories among Assad supporters regarding the rebels - that they are the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda, propped up by Israel.

Anderson's assessment: "The Syrian opposition seems to reflect a cross-section of citizens who feel victimized by forty-two years in a security state. Some have been abused by the secret police and are seeking revenge; others are inspired by sectarian hatred; and some are genuine patriots, who simply couldn't continue to serve a repressive regime."