Assad is picking and choosing his opposition

Raed Omari

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has requested a list of "terrorist organizations" in order for him to take part in upcoming peace talks. But what about his own regime, responsible for 300,000 deaths since 2011? Muallem's demand is stomach-churning and illegitimate, particularly as it coincides with international shock over horrifying images of starving citizens in the besieged Syrian city of Madaya.

But the Syrian top diplomat's statements were not out of character for the Syrian regime, which previously had the audacity to call for an independent investigation into the iconic Ghouta chemical attack of August 21, 2013. President Assad has also urged more joint international efforts to eradicate terrorism and the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). The Syrian regime has even gone further, by criticizing the world's handling of the Syrian refugee crisis. A traditional Arabic proverb comes to mind, describing “a person who kills, then walks in the funeral procession."

With Russian military and political assistance, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has grown a lot more audacious recently, particularly seen in Muallem's frequent state visits, including to China. To escape its diplomatic isolation, the Syrian government has desperately invested in voicing commonly-heard international rhetoric on Syria. Now, the requested terrorist organization list is something the Syrian government is trying to utilize to improve its bargaining position in the upcoming peace talks in Geneva.

Assad's regime is the source of all terror. Without establishing such fact and then acting accordingly, Syria's nearly five-year-old war will not come to an end.

Raed Omari

But is Damascus serious about participating in “Syrian-Syrian dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference," as stated by Muallem? What about Assad-allied Russian and Iranian interference in Syria? It does not need much analysis to conclude that Muallem's comments were a dig at Riyadh’s recent landmark summit for the Syrian oppositions.

Although cautiously received as a gesture of goodwill from the Syrian government, Muallem's statements were indeed more of complication than help to the U.N.-proposed peace plan for Syria. They indicate that the Syrian government is ready to enter the peace negotiations but only if assured that the make-up of the opposition delegation is not that harmful to its interests. He is sure that the opposition delegation to future peace negotiations is expected to include the factions that were present in Riyadh.

But is there even a Syrian opposition delegation that would be accepted by the Damascus government? The Syrian regime has already classified all opposition groups as terrorist, including the moderate Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups of Islamist tendency. As had happened in preparations for the Geneva peace conference on Syria in 2012, the Syrian government will again call for the inclusion of Syria's internal opposition parties that had already rejected the outcomes of Riyadh meeting.

It would be interesting if the Syrian government is asked to provide a list of opposition forces that it could accept as rivals on the negotiating table. Although Syria's opposition mosaic is complicated, it is generally made up of the exiled Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and its military arm, the FSA, and numerous rebel Islamist groups (excluding of course ISIS and Nusra Front.) All these have been rejected by the Syrian government which even sarcastically refers to the exiled Western-backed SNC as the “Istanbul council.”

Assad's regime is the source of all terror. Without establishing such fact and then acting accordingly, Syria's nearly five-year-old war will not come to an end. Softening the international position on Assad is the biggest mistake the U.S. and other key players have made in handling the Syrian file although cautiously meant as a diplomatic tactic to resolve the crisis. The departure of Assad is certainly the unifying factor for all Syrian opposition groups which will never cease fighting unless this irreversible objective is realized.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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