Assad Plays the Sectarian Card

(World Affairs) Jackson Diehl - There has been, from the very beginning, a streak of raw sectarianism in the Syrian version of the Arab Spring: of a disgruntled Sunni majority turning on the corrupt ruling clique based in the Alawis. It is sectarianism that has motivated much of the foreign intervention, from Shiite Iran to the Sunni Persian Gulf kingdoms and Turkey's Sunni Islamist government. Syria has become the focal point of at least four regional conflicts: between the old autocratic order and the liberal movements for modernization and democracy; between Iran and its allies and the U.S., Israel, and the "moderate" Arab states; between the Western powers and Russia and China; and between the Sunni and Shiite sects. In the end, the sectarian battle - with its potential for unending, pitiless carnage - may drive all the rest. According to U.S. and Arab sources, Iran has sent advisers from the Quds Force of its Revolutionary Guard to Syria to advise Assad, supplied him and his family with bodyguards, and flown in planeloads of weapons through Iraqi airspace. The central thrust of U.S. policy has been to head off a full-scale sectarian war in Syria. The quicker Assad falls, administration officials believe, the more likely it is that he could be replaced with a liberal and democratic order. Conversely, the longer the domestic bloodshed goes on, the more likely it is that sectarian fighting will take over the country, and possibly spread to Lebanon or Iraq. From the beginning, Assad has described the opposition as "jihadists" linked to al-Qaeda. The regime's message to the Alawi community is simple: "If we die, you will die with us." To minority Christians, Kurds, and Druse, the message is: "You will be crushed by the Islamist Sunni majority if it comes to power."

2012-05-04 00:00:00

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