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16-Mar-21 World View -- After ten years, Qatar seeks to become Syria war mediator

Web Log - March, 2021

16-Mar-21 World View -- After ten years, Qatar seeks to become Syria war mediator

Syrian war timeline

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

After ten years, Qatar seeks to become Syria war mediator

Map of Syria showing areas of control, as of February 2021 (BBC)
Map of Syria showing areas of control, as of February 2021 (BBC)

On Thursday of last week, a three-way conference was held in Doha, Qatar's capital, to lay the groundwork for a political solution to war in Syria that began in 2011. Qatar has suffered some foreign policy defeats in recent years, and is looking for a new role to play, and apparently sees this as a way of gaining increased influence in the Mideast.

The conference was attended by ministers form Qatar, Russia and Turkey. They were Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

According to Cavusoglu: "Today we launched a new trilateral consultation process. Our goal is to discuss how we can contribute to efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria."

This is laughable. The United Nations has appointed several envoys -- Kofi Annon, Lakhdar Brahimi, Staffan de Mistura -- to mediate a political solution, and in the end they all resigned in disgust after being made useful idiots by Bashar al-Assad. In neach case they provided cover for al-Assad to continue his war crimes and genocide targeting innocent Arab Sunnis, and also provided cover for al-Assad's supporters in Russia and Iran, allowing them to make sanctimonious statements while they support al-Assad's bloody slaughter. The UN has recently appointed a new envoy, Geir Pedersen, who sounds to me like all the others, and speaks the same nonsense.

All of these envoys say the same thing: "A military solution is impossible. There has to be a political solution." The problem is that Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have joined together, and have brought about a military holocaust in Syria. Bashar al-Assad believes that he is close to a total victory, and will never agree to any political solution.

So now Qatar wants to take on the role of mediator. Qatar is a little different from the envoys because it openly supports tne anti-Assad Arab political opposition, while the UN envoys are supposedly neutral. But Qatari officials apparently believe that they can use their existing relationship with Russia to bring something about.

Russia's Vladimir Putin, of course, doesn't care how many Sunni Arabs Bashar al-Assad beats, tortures, rapes or kills. Russia is supporting al-Assad because it wants to retain control of its two military bases in Syria, the Tartus naval base and the Hmeimim airbase. When al-Assad begged Putin for military help in 2015, Putin agreed to help, and received control of the two military bases in return.

Ten years of war have turned an affluent Syria into a country in ruins

Ten years ago, Syria used to be a beautiful, affluent middle-class country. Today, the entire country looks like a war zone, with buildings destroyed everywhere, particularly schools, hospitals and markets.

Of the 22 million people that lived in Syria before the war, about half a million have been killed, and more than 12 million people have been forced to flee their homes, either becoming refugees or displaced people in their own country.

Today, Syria is an economic basket case, with massive poverty among people who still live there, and among Syrians who live in refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey.

The Syrian currency, the Lira, has crashed. $10 used to give you 500 Syrian Lira. Now $10 is 40,000 Syrian Lira. Money-changers need carts to carry their currency, in a scene reminiscent of the wheelbarrows of money in Germany in the hyperinflation of the early 1920s.

Post-war discontent with corruption, spiralling food prices, a collapsed currency, worsening power cuts and gasoline shortages have aggravated hardships for the remaining citizens.

The remaining battleground in Idlib province

The war in Syria has become more or less static in the last year. There are about 2.5 million Sunni Arabs in Idlib province, which is in northwest Syria along the border with Turkey, and I had expected that Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, would by this time have found a way to exterminate many of the 2.5 million people, who are mostly women and children. But Turkey has sent its own troops and tanks into Idlib, and al-Assad's extermination process has been slowed.

Al-Assad himself has been shown by defectors to be someone who gets obvious pleasure from gouging out people's eyes or pulling out their fingernails, or other forms of torture. (See "8-Feb-17 World View -- Investigation reveals depraved new atrocities by Syria's Bashar al-Assad")

Most of the civilians in Idlib are women and children refugees from other provinces, including Aleppo, Ghouta, Daraa and Quneitra. In each of the other provinces, al-Assad sent missiles into school dormitories to kill children, or dropped barrel bombs laden with metal, chlorine, ammonia, phosphorous and chemical weapons on civilian neighborhoods, or using Sarin gas to kill large groups of people. Al-Assad's barrel bombs, missiles and chemical weapons have specifically targeted schools, markets and hospitals, in order to kill as many women and children as possible, Since chlorine gas is heavier than air, it seeps down into the basements and forces the choking women and children out into the open, where they can be targeted by missiles and gunfire. As if that wasn't enough, al-Assad was supported by Russian warplanes.

In each case, international pressure forced al-Assad to allow hundreds of thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, to escape to Idlib province. The result is that about half the population in Idlib is refugees from other provinces.

Bashar al-Assad repeatedly vowed to attack Idlib next, with Russian support, and to exterminate all the Sunni Arab civilians. This threat actually presented a huge threat to Turkey and even to Europe, as those attacks would drive millions of refugees across the border into Turkey, and possibly into Europe from there.

To block this, Turkey sent its own troops into Idlib, so that an attack on Idlib would be an attack on Turkey. This has prevented the expected extermination of Sunni Arabs in Idlib. But it has also raised pressure on Turkey to end its "occupation" of Syrian territory.

Qatar's strategy in offering to mediate the Syrian war

From the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, Qatar, provided huge financial, political and media support for opposition groups, especially armed ones. However, this aid stopped in 2015 when Russia intervened.

Qatar has for years had sharp differences with the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar after a stormy meeting. One issue was Qatar's friendly relationship with Iran,as well as Qatari support for two organizations that Saudi Arabia and UAE consider to be terrorist organizations -- the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union of Muslim Scholars.

They papered over their differences in 2014, but the diffeences exploded in June 2016, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also broke relations and imposed a sea, air and land blockade on Qatar. Qatar is a very wealthy country and was able to weather this blockade, but it lost influence in the Mideast.

There has been some softening of the blockade in recent months. That change, combined with the presence of a new admiistration in the United States, has led Qatar to change direction and reactivate its diplomatic posture.

Having ended its aid to Syrian opposition groups in 2014, Qatar is now returning to mediation in the Syria war, taking advantage of what it hopes are its existing good relations with Russia and Iran.

Syrian war timeline

The following timeline lists the major events in the ten-year Syrian war?


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(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Generational Dynamics World View News thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (16-Mar-2021) Permanent Link
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