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Opinion

The way forward in Syria after Bashar al-Assad

Yesterday's strategic bomb attack in Damascus shows it's not too soon to consider the way forward in Syria after the rule of Bashar al-Assad. Lessons from other countries teach that Syria and the international community will have to pull together for a successful transition.

By Kurt Shillinger / July 19, 2012

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Fahd Jassem al-Freij, Syria's new defense minister, left, is sworn in before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, right, July 19. A bomb attack in Damascus yesterday killed three senior military officials. Op-ed contributor Kurt Shillinger writes:'Conflicts in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere illustrate that by the time the battle reaches the capital, the night is far spent.'

SANA/AP

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In light of yesterday’s bomb attack in Damascus that killed three key officials in the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it’s not too early to consider the way forward in a post-Assad Syria.

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Conflicts in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere illustrate that by the time the battle reaches the capital, the night is far spent. Even as the UN Security Council again split on Syria, with Russia and China vetoing sanctions today, international leaders were already looking beyond the final collapse of the 42-year-reign of the House of Assad. British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called again on Mr. Assad to step down, while President Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his Syrian ally.

A post-Assad peace and reconstruction framework would require a significant departure from business as usual both within Syria and in the way that the world interacts with this strategically placed country.

Examples in other countries show that a transition will be greatly aided if Syrians can:

First, be inclusive. As the South African transition in the early 1990s illustrated, bringing all parties to the table is essential. Both Iraq and the protracted peace process in Burundi – in the volatile Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa – underscored the perils of exclusion.

Syria is emerging from four decades of brutal minority rule. The society is fragmented into nearly four dozen ethnic groups and a plethora of competing political groups. Without meaningful participation from, say, Assad’s Baathists or the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, in transitional and constitutional negotiations, building social and political unity will prove frustrating, if not impossible. Leaving these groups out could also provoke more violence.

Second, integrate the rebel forces and national Army under civilian authority. In effect, the many and continuous defections of high-ranking Syrian military officials and rank-and-file soldiers have already set this process in motion.

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