Even Iran, Syria's best friend, urges Assad to ease crackdown
Iran implored Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to listen to the 'legitimate demands' of protesters, warning that a failure to do so could lead to the regime's collapse and broader regional turmoil.
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Syria's regime has lost crucial support from close allies Iran and Turkey at a time when its Army is beginning to fall apart, signaling cracks within and without that could spell the end of more than 40 years of rule by the Assad family.
Syrian residents and activists say that dozens of soldiers defected after the Army told them to fire on protesters in a Damascus suburb, according to Reuters.
The Damascus soldiers fled to nearby farmland after security forces fired on demonstrators in Harasta to prevent them from gathering in the center of the city, Reuters reports. Their defections are the first reported in the capital, whose support for Assad has been crucial so far in shoring up the government against uprisings elsewhere in the country.
The regime, which has blamed the uprising on terrorists and foreign saboteurs, denies that any soldiers have defected.
Iran, Syria's most powerful ally, had until now echoed President Bashar al-Assad's claims of a "foreign conspiracy. But on Saturday it began urging its ally to listen to the protesters' "legitimate demands."
The shift appears driven not so much by a desire for human rights protections or democratic progress, however – Iran reportedly has helped Syria crack down on the protesters – but rather a concern that a collapse of the Assad regime could result in an "unprecedented regional crisis," according to the Associated Press.
Iran's ties with Syria go far beyond the countries' long-standing friendship in a region dominated by Arab suspicions of Tehran's aims. Syria also is Iran's conduit for aid to powerful anti-Israel proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Should Assad's regime fall, it could rob Iran of a loyal Arab partner in a region profoundly realigned by uprisings demanding more freedom and democracy.
Iran's comments show that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials are concerned about being on the losing side of the uprising, writes Syria expert Joshua Landis.