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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. and allies meet to choose new leaders for Syrian rebels

By Ken Hanly     Nov 3, 2012 in Politics
Doha - The U.S. and allies plan a conference on Syria in Qatar next week. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, claims that the Syrian National Council can no longer be considered the leaders of the opposition. The leaders are the fighters inside the country.
The U.S. is withdrawing support for the Syrian National Council and wants to groom a new leadership that will represent those within Syria fighting on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. worries about extremists whom Clinton accuses of trying to hijack the revolution. There is a conference to be convened in Qatar next week, where no doubt deals will be made to form a new group of leaders to replace Assad once his regime is overthrown.
After the U.S. election, one can expect more western intervention in Syria. The most immediate move may be be to provide the opposition with higher powered weapons so that they can neutralize Assad's vast air superiority. There is little doubt that arms are already being smuggled into the country with the blessing of the U.S. Indeed the U.S. is supposed to be making sure that the weapons do not fall into the hands of the wrong parties, radical Islamists.
In response to a question about U.S. policy in Syria, Clinton was dismissive of attempts by the UN Special Envoy Lakdar Brahimi to broker a ceasefire and negotiations. She sad that the U.S. could not and would not wait for the UN to broker a peaceful solution. In other words the bloody conflict is destined to continue, with the support of the west. The U.S. and allies will use the rebels as proxies to overthrow the Assad regime and install a regime with leaders hand-picked by countries outside Syria.
Clinton noted that the U.S. had "facilitated the smuggling-out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition" who will consequently appear at the meeting of Friends of Syria in Doha, Qatar. At the same time, Clinton treated the Syrian National Council with almost open contempt.
Only last December she had claimed the group as the “leading and legitimate representative of Syrians seeking a peaceful democratic transition." However, now Clinton maintained that the Syrian opposition could not be made up of representatives who had not been inside Syria for decades, some up to 30 or 40 years. The representatives must be “those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.” Apparently, it is not Syrians, but those outside, who are to say who their representatives are to be.
However, jihadists may receive support and funding from outside as well and will not just disappear because the west chooses a new set of leaders. The Syrian National Council was not happy about this turn of events either, Zuhair Salem, an exiled spokesperson for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, said:“These dictates are not acceptable to the Syrian people anymore,." Zuhair's group is a significant portion of the Syrian National Council.
The U.S. also called the exiles "extremists" threatening the rebellion. This is somewhat odd in that most of the fighters are sectarian Sunnis armed and funded probably by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, with the blessing of the U.S. The number of terrorist incidents shows that radical jihadists are an important part of the rebel forces. The fighters within Syria, rather than the exiles, are more likely to be extremists.
Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is helping to identify and select new representatives who will be in line with U.S. interests. Clinton told a news conference in Zagreb, Croatia:“We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure. We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.” The U.S. may wish to have various minority groups within Syria represented in the leadership including the Alawite sect that dominates the Assad regime, Shia Muslims, Kurds, and even Christians. However, the fighters on the ground may not accept any such leadership arrangement.
The SNC has rejected the U.S. plan and has even called its own conference in Doha. There have been reports that at least Turkey and Qatar may still support the SNC. In a similar leadership conference last June in Cairo participants ended up fighting with each other literally. Clinton said: “We also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution." No doubt many in Qatar and elsewhere will not consider Muslim Brotherhoods members as extremists. Compared to Sunni Salafist groups they are moderates and no doubt they are moderates compared to many of the front line fighters against Assad. The SNC has been recognized as the sole legitimate government of Syria by Libya.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about US Syria relations, Syrian civil war, Syrian Naional Council
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