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Syria: the regime's war of attrition

The Syrian regime's response to five months of popular uprising was described by a recent report of the International Crisis Group as "slow motion suicide", resulting from a "mix of uninhibited brutality, sectarian manipulation, crude propaganda and grudging concessions".

The regime opted for a survival strategy: responding by violence and threatening the population with chaos and civil war in the event of its demise. The objective was to launch a war of attrition by playing on time to wear out any internal revolt. It chose, however, the wrong combination of brutal repression and gradual concessions. The result was a crisis of confidence which was too deep to be overcome by mere calls for national dialogue and reform.

The death toll is estimated at 2,000 civilian casualties (including more than 100 children), and 400 members of the security services. The situation has now reached a stalemate. Neither side appears to be able to defeat the other. Protests are rallying at major urban and rural centres, including Damascus and Aleppo in the last weeks. Rallies continue in Hama, Homs, Lattakia, the Idlib province, and continue to be met with massive military assaults and house to house arrests. The cities of Homs, Hama and Deir ez-Zor were brutally besieged by the regime's armed forces; hundreds of civilian casualties have fallen since the start of the holy month of Ramadan. In Deir ez-Zor, the regime was met with strong resistance by local tribesmen, including the leading Baqqara tribe who joined the opposition movements.

On July 17, the National Salvation conference held in Istanbul gathered 450 opposition figures who called for civil disobedience throughout the country. Tenets of regime survival quite naively assumed that they would effectively counter the historical meeting held in Damascus on June 27 by prominent opposition figures in the Semiramis Hotel of Damascus. The regime's so-called "national dialogue" conference held on July 10 included a few organic intellectuals and public figures which were carefully selected and summoned to contribute to the process of constitutional amendment and political reform. The strategy was to divide the opposition and maintain the status quo. Dialogue under repression was, however, firmly rejected by the opposition. MORE
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