A wide range of Syrian opposition groups will be represented at an important summit in the Qatari capital Doha, which begins this Saturday.
According to a Foreign Policy article, the aim is to announce a new opposition council on 7 November, a day after the US presidential election. This will replace the current Syrian National Council, which has weak roots in much of the opposition movement inside Syria. The US is reportedly heavily involved in the new initiative. The summit in Qatar – a Gulf state which allowed American forces to use an air base to send supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan - follows a New York meeting in September, when US secretary of state Hilary Clinton met Syrian activists.
US trying to shape a ‘proto-parliament’
The two main presidential candidates have been competing with each other over who is more committed to overthrowing the Assad regime – and shaping a post-Assad Syria in favour of US interests. In last week’s televised debate on foreign policy, Republican challenger Mitt Romney argued for a “form of council that can take a lead in Syria”. It is now becoming clear that the Obama administration, though incapable of direct military intervention in Syria, is engineering such a council to ensure any post-Assad government is closely allied to US interests. Dozens of Syrian movement representatives are expected to attend the Doha summit. The US hopes it will become an interim alternative government to the Assad regime – and potentially a future government. A senior US official has referred to it as “a proto-parliament”. Foreign Policy reports the same US official as saying: "We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you're going to do this now".
The meeting will be attended by many representatives of Local Coordination Committees – a crucial component in the grassroots of the Syrian opposition - in an attempt to broaden the social base of the new leadership council. These committees have tended to be more hostile to foreign intervention than the exile-dominated Syrian National Council. The participation of many such committees, if not all of them, appears to indicate a growing accommodation with the US.
The US administration will be represented directly at the Doha summit. Robert Ford, the country’s ambassador to Syria, will attend. He has already been involved in negotiations over the composition of the new council. Ford also reportedly held a conference call with several Free Syrian Army commanders in October.
Civil war and foreign intervention
What began as a popular uprising against the brutally authoritarian Assad regime has morphed into civil war. The dynamics of the Syrian opposition movement, embroiled in fighting Assad’s forces, have increasingly become influenced by relations with foreign interests: the US and its allies in the region.
This development is disastrous. It threatens to turn the Syrian opposition into a proxy for US intervention. However, inside Syria there is no coherent political opposition to the trend of working with the US. The lack of such alternative political leadership, combined with US efforts to corral the movement in support of its interests, has encouraged this trajectory. The US has for some time been forging relationships with parts of the Syrian movement, to help remove the Assad regime – an ally of Iran seen as an obstacle to American influence in the region – and to shape what happens on ‘the day after’ Assad’s removal. Limited in its capacity to directly intervene - as it did it Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya - it has had to rely on a range of covert means.
The British government is a reliable ally in this project. But the US and British governments are no champions of freedom, democracy and human rights in the Middle East. We need to campaign to stop Western intervention in the country, and allow Syrians to determine their future free of foreign interference.
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