Plans by the USA to bomb Assad’s military bases have been stalled by the “Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons”.
This agreement between the US and Russia demands Assad hand over his chemical weapons and allow for the handover to be verified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This would be a condition for Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention and removing its stocks of chemical weapons much faster then other signatories to the agreement — including the USA and Russia!
As socialists, we are glad of the reprieve from bombing. Military experts had said that a short spate of bombing would achieve little; more sustained bombing would bring “mission creep”. We detest Assad, but the victory of the militarily dominant groups in the opposition would bring nothing better.
The UK, US and France say they want a UN resolution under chapter VII of the UN Charter which would allow UN cover for military action against the Syrian regime should the “Framework” fail. The US says it is still prepared to bomb without UN agreement if it sees fit.
But for Russia and Syria the deal has obvious advantages. Russia can continue to back the regime and provide weapons, and increases its diplomatic prestige. Assad can continue his war, only with fewer or more discreet chemical weapons, and avoid US bombing.
Tellingly Syrian Government reconciliation minister Ali Haidar thanked his “Russian friends” for helping achieve a “victory for Syria”.
It may well be, though, that despite the official statements Obama is relieved that he has been “forced” not to bomb: there were no clear gains, even from a US point of view, which he could expect from a bombing raid.
The opposition Free Syrian Army has condemned the deal as allowing Assad to get away with further massacres.
Even if chemical weapons are removed, the Syrian state will still attack its own people. The FSA has called for further supply of arms and more direct political support for overthrowing the Assad regime.
Increasingly, however, the militias on the ground are quite distinct from the FSA.
Military consultants IHS Jane’s have released estimates of the makeup of the estimated 100,000 fighters of the Syrian opposition. They count 35,000 “hard-line Islamists” and 30,000 “moderate Islamists”.
There are 10,000 “jihadists”, many of them foreign fighters linked to salafist groups. The remaining 25,000 are listed as nationalist and secular groups.
Progress in Syria depends on the emergence of a democratic and working-class Third Camp opposed both to Assad and to the sectarian militias.