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Sam Hamad

The fall of Aleppo

Syrian pro-government retook al-Salihin neighbourhood on December 12, 2016 from rebel fighters [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 December, 2016

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Comment: The fall of Aleppo might be a major propaganda victory for Assad, but in reality it highlights the long-term weaknesses of his regime and its backers, writes Sam Hamad

The fall of Aleppo to pro-Assad militias is a catastrophic blow to the revolutionary forces in Syria. Of this there is no doubt.

Even amidst the chaos unleashed by Assad upon all areas of Syria held by the revolutionaries, Free Aleppo tasted liberty in ways that would've been unthinkable in Baathist Syria, with the spontaneous, diverse development of forms of free organisation. And this is what the Syrian revolution was all about. 

Free Aleppo was a beacon for the civil and humanitarian core of Syria's democratic revolution - it was run by democratically elected councils and it was home to a growing independent civil society, including over 28 free media outlets, numerous educational services and humanitarian organisations. 

While much emphasis has been put on the strategic significance of pro-regime forces recapturing Aleppo, the ideological significance is rarely mentioned. 

The social relations of liberation in Aleppo, the freedom of speech, the freedom of organising and the growing forms of self-determination through democracy and free expression, were the antithesis of life under Assad's brutal, authoritarian dynasty. 

Aleppo was a thorn in Assad's side because it proved to the rest of Syria that Syrians didn't need him and his regime. 

The fact that it has taken not just one but several mass mobilisations of Russian and Iranian imperialism to finally begin to crush Free Aleppo ought to be the greatest testament to just how precious freedom was to the people, whether the defiant civilian who would not be cleansed, or the local fighter who would not abandon not just his post but his community. 

But while imperialists and fascists in might physically conquer and crush such freedom and its organs in that city, one ought to remember that the revolution clings on precariously to life in other parts of Syria.

We've seen the transformation of these organs of the Baathist state from quietly brutal, to outright genocidal

To put it more concretely, the fall of Aleppo to the fascist counterrevolution is a case of Assad winning a battle but by no means winning the war. The conditions that have allowed for the regime conquest of Aleppo were quite specific, and will not easily be recreated in other parts of liberated Syria. 

For a start, Free Aleppo has been entirely besieged; no support from the rebels' only backer - Turkey, could reach the rebel forces.  There is some controversy here about whether Turkey came to some kind of "deal" with Russia whereby it would carry out "Operation Euphrates Shield" against the PYD and IS without any Russian or regime interference, while it would cut supplies to rebels in Aleppo.

There are fairly compelling arguments for both sides of this argument, but the fact remains that other areas of liberated Syria, such as in Idlib and the northwest in general, share an expansive border with Turkey. 

 
Read More: Circles of Hell in Aleppo

If pro-regime forces are able to launch attacks on liberated areas that share an uninterrupted border with Turkey - and the rebels receive no supplies from Turkey - we will know for sure that the Turkish government has followed the US in abandoning the revolution in favour of its own short-term interests. 

But it seems unlikely that Turkey would want to see the areas of liberated Syria close to its borders captured by Assad and his allies, given that the massive stream of people that would be displaced by such an attack would make their way to Turkey, putting even more pressure on the government. 

But these are themselves specific factors regarding the dynamics of the revolutionary war. Objectively speaking, while the fall of Aleppo might be a major propaganda victory for Assad, the reality is that it actually highlights the long-term weaknesses of his regime and its backers. 

The Assad regime triumphed in Aleppo through the sheer ruthless power of Russia and Iran, but, beyond these imperialist forces, Assad lacks the necessary legitimacy to achieve some kind of total revanchist victory over the rebels. 

It is Assad, Iran and Russia who have carried out this genocide, and it is they who are pursuing not a solution to the conflict but a counterrevolution

For a start, his regime controls approximately less than a third of Syria, but, even then, when people use the term "Assad regime" or, even more absurdly, "Syrian government", what exactly do they mean? 

They mean a rump state that relies almost entirely, whether financially or militarily, on foreign forces, namely Russia and Iran, to remain intact. One of the greatest myths of the Syrian war is the existence of the "Syrian Arab Army" (SAA) as a national army.

The bulk of the pro-regime forces on the ground in Aleppo, and the rest of Syria, might be loyal to Bashar al-Assad in the short-term, but their long-term loyalties lie with the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Moreover, unlike the rebel forces, these Iranian proxies are not only foreign, but they're ultra-sectarian and thus hostile to the overwhelmingly Sunni Syrian population. Among the Syrian component of Assad's forces, you have a loose network of loyalist provincial Alawite death squads known as the "National Defence Forces", known for their gangsterism and unreliability in theatres of war outside of their communities.

Unless Aleppo is "cleansed" of much of its population - as is distinctly possible given ethnic cleansing has been a major tactic used by Assad - holding the city in the long-term will take unprecedented brutality from the collection of sectarian militias, Iranian troops and extermination forces that have come to serve the Assad regime. 

Even with that, the city could still be susceptible to renewed offensives by the rebels from nearby liberated areas. Assad still has major problems with manpower, while, despite the loss of Aleppo, the rebels have managed to maintain a steady stream of recruits from local populations.

Just look at the recent case of Palmyra, where IS - whose demise has been greatly exaggerated - were able to retake areas of the city it lost not to the "SAA" last year, but rather the same collection of foreign militias who took Aleppo, as well as bands of far-right Russian mercenaries. 

We must continue stand with these victims and with those who continue to resist

The pro-regime forces diverted a massive amount of resources to break through in Aleppo at the expense of other parts of their territories. Even with massive military intervention from Russia and Iran, this is hardly a force that is on the cusp of total victory.

But the same can be said for the rebels – there is no chance of them achieving military victory at this stage. They have extremely limited resources and a shrinking list of dubious allies, if any at all. None of this is about false hope and denial, but neither is it about outside observers calling for the rebels to surrender. 

What exactly would they be surrendering to? One must never forget that it is Assad, Iran and Russia who have carried out this genocide and it is they who are pursuing not a solution to the conflict but a counterrevolution = not reconciliation but violent retribution. 

During this war, we've seen the transformation of these organs of the Baathist state from quietly brutal to outright genocidal – they have become apparatuses of extermination, as attested to by the thousands of photos depicting Auschwitzian images of anti-regime Syrian prisoners starved and tortured to death in Assad’s dungeons.

These are the forces that will seek to erase the very idea of the revolution in Syria – all they know is cruelty and violence, tinged with sectarian malice. The dynamic in Eastern Aleppo is - on the surface - one of surrender to Assad or death, but many of those who surrender are not being spared the wrath of Assad's fascist forces. 

The triumph of counterrevolution in Syria doesn't mean stability and doesn't mean "peace" for Syrians. It means an escalation of the terror that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and cleansed millions of others. We must continue stand with these victims and with those who continue to resist this.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

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