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Samples of How the Assad Regime Understands Politics and Alliances

Samples of How the Assad Regime Understands Politics and Alliances

Wednesday, 5 May, 2021 - 09:15

Asharq Al-Awsat introduced Abdel Halim Khaddam’s memoirs, which it is publishing in chunks, by summing up the roles he had played before becoming vice president: governor of Hama, then of Quneitra, and then foreign minister. It thereby reminded us that the man had been an official- though of different ranks- between 1963 and 2005.

From his positions in the upper echelons of power, from deep within the regime’s core, he describes to us aspects of how the Assad regime governs Syria and how the rulers understood the issues, countries and factions they were dealing with.

Below are a few selected samples, which this column doesn’t have room for more of:

During a conversation on the eve of the 2003 Iraq War with the Iranian president at the time, Mohammad Khatami, Bashar says: “If someone other than the Americans had waged war, Saddam would fall quicker, but the Americans are stupid. They said that they would end the war in days or weeks. They have needlessly constrained themselves with this interval;” adding: “If we were to ask Iraqis: whom do you hate more, America or Saddam? Some would say Saddam, but the feeling is that the Iraqi people will fight on Saddam’s side. For this reason, I think that a group of Iraqis will take care of one side while other Iraqis take care of the second side.

Assad goes on: “Another thing: the Americans will kill large numbers of Iraqis, and at that point, the people will forget about Saddam Hussein. Regarding the republican guard and the (Baathist) partisans close to the regime- and I am talking here about the close circle of republic guards- there are many political and military leaders whom we can split into two types: the first are regime beneficiaries, and the second have committed crimes and executed people. American stupidity will come into play… It left no way out for any of them; it issued a list of 1,700 opposition figures banned from entering Iraq and talked about a military governor of Iraq. In reality, there will be a battle, but everyone will be against America a few days later.” Based on this cold, cynical view of the Iraqi people, the idea of resistance comes to play its functional role: as he discusses hurdles and difficulties, Assad says: “Resistance is the solution… We should prepare for resistance before the war.”

As for the policy perused in Lebanon, which was crowned by Rafik Hariri’s assassination, it was managed and thought about in the following manner, one that mafia movie goers will find they are familiar with: Khaddam says that Hariri visited Damascus a few days before he was assassinated and after he had been accused by Bashar of conspiring against Syria.

Khaddam gave him the following advice: “Bashar spoke clearly, and the punishment for those accused of conspiring is death. Thus, you must leave Beirut today before tomorrow”. Khaddam goes on, “he asked me: “how is the relationship between Bashar and his brother Maher? Are their disagreements between them?” I replied: “there are no disagreements.” He told me: “Maher sent me a letter saying: “We love you and we will help you, and I await a visit from you once you come to Damascus. We want to support you.” He (Hariri) asked me: “Why is Maher saying these things if they intend to kill me?” He replied: “This message is intended to keep you in Lebanon so that they can perpetrate their crime.”

However, in his memoirs, Khaddam addresses Syria’s closest allies in 1986-1987, the year the Assad regime’s leadership decided to enter Beirut under the pretext of containing chaos that had swept it.

This is how he describes them: “In 1986 and early 1987, the security situation collapsed in Beirut. Gangs and militias carried out looting, robbery and murder, and clashes pitted them against one another: between the Amal Movement and Al-Mourabitoun, between Amal, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Communist Party, in addition to Amal’s clashes with the camps and then Hezbollah… West Beirut almost became an arena for armed sectarian clashes between Muslims. When Muslims are ripped apart and kill one another, we all lose. Every sanctity was violated in Beirut, and everything became fair game: dignity, life, and property; universities were disrupted, prominent doctors and scientists fled Beirut, and this city, the majority of which is Muslim, turned into a jungle inhabited by foxes, monsters and snakes. Then, the final battles broke out; it was the natural result of the status quo that had been in place in the city, and the people started crying out for help.”

Even Hezbollah was not left unscathed, with the so-called Fathallah Barracks incident and speculation that it had been infiltrated by a “clique” carrying out “actions which undermine its role in Lebanon and its relationship with Syria,” a reference to Imad Mughniyeh being a Arafatist infiltrator (Mughniyeh, as is well known, joined Hezbollah from Fatah).

When he met with the Iranian ambassador to Damascus, Hassan Akhtari, who complained to him about the Syrian forces’ behavior at the Fathallah Barracks, Khaddam explained to him Damascus’ view of an ideal relation, with Damascus hoping Iran would reciprocate.

“For us, if a citizen utters one word against Iran, we put him in prison, and if a group of people criticizes Tehran, we deal with them stringently. This is how we understand concern for relations between the two countries.” For our part, this is how we understand how these two countries had been and continue to be governed.

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