Money and Expectations

August 14, 2012

Over the weekend U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Turkish officials in Istanbul to work on contingency plans for the eventual fall of the Syrian regime. Secretary Clinton says that it’s urgent to prepare for a transition in order to make sure Syria’s institutions remain intact.

Syrian opposition groups are hoping that the U.S. will do more than just design transition plans. Many are calling for U.S. involvement in overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad’s rule through military and monetary support.

The U.S. Treasury has granted a license to an American-based organization to raise money on behalf of a coalition of armed opposition groups known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The “Syrian Support Group” (SSG) is a nonprofit organization that has an office in Washington, DC. The nonprofit is primarily comprised of Syrian ex-pats (12 are on its board of directors) and they volunteer their time to support “peaceful protests in Syria” as well as the FSA.

The SSG’s director of government relations, Brian Sayers, has suggested in media interviews that the nonprofit is providing needed intelligence to the U.S. government (through contacts it has on the ground) in exchange for the U.S.’s facilitation of monetary donations to the FSA.

As I have stated previously, there are possibly hundreds of opposition groups in Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the incumbency for the opposition. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are  divergent ethnic groups that are often antagonistic and even violent towards one another.

There is also a lot of concern within the Western intelligence community about just who some of these various groups are aligned with. Some groups have ties with al-Qaeda and other jihadi organizations. The SSG’s intelligence gathering could help U.S. policymakers and those within the intelligence community to paint a clearer picture of who and where important actors are during the conflict.

The Syrian civil war is a very complicated contest. Rebel opposition groups control very little in land or resources within Syria. Groups continue to hold small swaths of land along the Turkish border, but scarce else.

The defection of Syria’s prime minister last week has sparked more speculation that the end of  the regime is rapidly approaching, but that’s been predicted at various times previously. The truth of the matter is that all of the defections we’ve seen thus far, between the politicians, the prime minister and the army, have been by token Sunnis serving in the Alawite Shi’a government: We have yet to see a single Alawite defect.

I maintain that this conflict has the potential to persist for quite some time. If and when the regime does finally fall, Syria could very well break up along sectarian lines. Syria’s population is over 70% Sunni, yet the country is run by minority Shi’ites who make up only around 12% of the population.

The self-appointed leader of the FSA, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, is himself a Sunni and the FSA is seemingly a Sunni organization. This organization’s sectarian leanings could play a role in any power vacuum created by President Bashar al-Assad’s downfall.

For more information on the Syrian Support Group, visit their website here: http://www.syriansupportgroup.org/

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