The regime has also presented Turkey with a deadly dilemma tailored to Turkey's own ethnic struggle. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been at war with Turkey since the early 1980s. A PKK alliance gives Assad a way to regionalize the war. Should outside forces intervene in Syria, a massive PKK-led revolt in Turkey, Syria and Iraq would certainly hinder the intervening forces. Turkish military analysts contend that Assad is already using Syrian Kurdish militias as proxy forces to fight Syrian rebels.
So why the death match? Why? Early on, the Assad regime concluded it is locked in a kill or be killed war with Syria's fragmented but numerous rebel groups. The regime is rooted in Syria's Alawite religious minority group, perhaps ten percent of the population. To an Alawite, the war is about preventing a genocide -- his clan's own genocide. Losing political power in Syria means losing control of the security forces. If the Alawites lose control of the security forces, they believe they will inevitably face widespread revenge attacks by their long-repressed ethnic and sectarian rivals.
So the death match continues. The rebels have demonstrated they, too, are resilient, for they believe their lives and their families' lives are at risk to Alawite revenge. The war will continue and the death toll will rise until one side shatters. An ironic scenario is emerging: an international force, perhaps led by Turkey, intervening to protect the surviving Alawite minority from genocidal slaughter.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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