Damascus bombings prompt warnings of Iraq-style insurgency
Yesterday's bombings in Damascus were the largest since the uprising began. The US and others are sounding an alarm about a particularly worrisome turn in the conflict.
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Middle East Editor
Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog.
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Yesterday's bombing of a Syrian government intelligence compound in Damascus, the largest terrorist attack since the uprising began, has the United Nations, the US, and other backers of the opposition worried that the formerly peaceful protest movement is transforming into an armed insurgency that evokes comparisons to Iraq.
No group has claimed responsibility for the two bombings, which killed 55 people and wounded almost 400, according to The New York Times. The Syrian government blamed terrorists, as it has in most past bombings, while the opposition accused the regime of setting up the bombing to frame it, as it too has done in the past. But as the Monitor and other outlets have reported, there is growing evidence that jihadist groups have infiltrated the country and joined the fight against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
The New York Times reports that Syrian members of the opposition have noticed a rise in murmurings about jihad and the number of non-Syrians on the battlefield. Analysts have been tracking the uptick in discussion on jihadi websites about going to fight in Syria, and Iraqi officials say that jihadis in their country have been moving west, toward Syria.
The progression of the uprising is drawing comparisons to the earliest phases of insurgency in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and northern Mali – "where a radicalized domestic core of fighters, eventually supplemented by foreigners and veterans of other jihadi conflicts, gradually swelled into a dangerous, anarchic insurgency" – the Times reports
The UN Security Council condemned yesterday's attacks "in the strongest terms" and "reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation," according to Reuters. The reference to motivation is possibly a warning to the opposition that it will be considered responsible for any violence it perpetrates, even if it is first provoked by the regime.
Bloomberg reports that events like yesterday's bombing pose a challenge to US support for the opposition.
The Syrian opposition has begun adopting the tactics of an armed insurgency such as suicide bombings, which can’t be condoned, said two United Nations diplomats. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment. That shift is making it harder for the US and its allies to keep the blame focused on the Assad regime for the violence, which persists despite a UN cease-fire agreed to by both sides in the conflict.
“America is not going to want to have its fingerprints on car bombs in Damascus,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East program at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. “America is very careful about this because they don’t want to end up supporting terrorism, but that’s where we are headed. Insurgencies carry out terrorist acts. You can call it something different, but ultimately you’re blowing things up and trying to kill as many soldiers as you can.”