I read Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s statements to Asharq Al-Awsat more than once because he addresses a number of sensitive issues very frankly and it is not often that a politician reveals his thoughts to others.
He knowingly spoke of Syria, where he lived for many years when he was an opposition figure. He said he was not surprised by the path of the ongoing struggle and that he was not surprised by the regime’s ability to survive. He also said that during a visit to Washington he predicted this outcome during talks with the US president, vice president, and the then secretary of state. Maliki revealed that they thought Bashar Al-Assad would fall within two months, while he assured them that Assad would not fall even after two years. Why? Maliki claims that the regime in Syria is a sectarian one; the presence of Alawites in power provides a safety net for the sect and if they were ousted they could all be wiped out. The Iraqi prime minster believes the Alawites are fighting because they have to, because of their survival instinct, and that is why the regime has remained in power.
Although Maliki’s assessment of the regime’s resolve, entrenched by the Alawites, is correct, it is not true that Assad has survived for all this long time, amid the destruction, because the Alawites are more united and determined or, as he put it, because they are in a state of desperation. No. Although his sect is an important factor behind Assad’s survival in power, it is not the reason why his regime is still standing. The real reason is clear; Assad’s regime is fighting with the help of Russia and China. It is confronting a huge popular uprising of millions of people who lack both protection and support. These people are fighting with primitive weapons and confronting warplanes and tanks with rifles. Such a war never results in a landslide victory, and indeed there may never be a decisive outcome.
Maliki and the Dawa party fought Saddam Hussein for 20 years, but they did not succeed in seizing one inch of Iraq because the country’s borders were closed and their weapons were inadequate. When Saddam fell, he fell because of the “American Armada”. Assad’s regime has not remained afloat because the Alawites have stood by him, far from it. They only stood by Assad after the saw his success in garnering Russia and China’s support, and in neutralizing the Western countries and the Vatican, alleging that a sectarian war was being carried out against the Christians and Druze and that the revolution was seeking to establish an extremist religious regime.
The rebels have only received a little from Turkey and barely anything from Jordan; they are truly exposed. They carry primitive weapons with fighters sharing the same rifle, and when ammunition runs out they are forced to withdraw from the sites they have captured.
Saddam fell easily in 2003 because America, the world’s superpower, put an end to him in eight days. Previously, Saddam survived for eight years when Iran fought him and killed a million without success. What I mean is that the balance of power is not only entrenchment, determination and faith. The Afghan mujahedeen expelled the Soviets with “Stinger” missiles that paralyzed the Russian warplanes, with the massive aid of advanced Western weapons. Likewise the Viet Cong in Vietnam, with generous Chinese backing, were able to overthrow the pro-US regime while the liberation movement in Chechnya failed against the Russians because it was isolated.
Today, the Syrians are fighting a security-dominated and suppressive regime that resembles all fascist dictatorships. However, it cannot be labeled sectarian, as Maliki says, because Sunni and Christian pockets are fighting alongside Assad because they share the same interests or fears.
Both sides are fighting tirelessly. It is an absurdly bloody conflict because of the hesitance of the international community, and we are now facing the biggest massacre of the 21st century. We have not known of a war where only one party uses warplanes, tanks, and artillery on a daily basis to shell cities and kill thousands of civilians month after month. Show me one such scene from our modern history.
What Maliki says of the Alawites’ heroism is not true and is not even important. The fact is that without Iran and Russia’s generous support, the Assad regime would run out of ammunition and fuel for its tanks and warplanes.
However, what Maliki did not deny—or did not speak of for that matter—was the end of the war. He knows it well; Assad’s regime in Damascus will fall no matter how long the struggle takes.