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Assad won't take the fall 'standing tall'

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   July 24, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

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HERNDON, Va., July 24 (UPI) -- While it is doubtful Syria's Bashar Assad ever had any intention of voluntarily stepping down as president, it has now become clear he has crossed the line of no return in exercising that decision on his own.

Two developments have sealed the dictator's fate, from which there is no escape.

The first took place July 12. It was the single deadliest day of violence since the Arab Spring swept into the country 16 months ago. An estimated 200 villagers in Tremseh were massacred.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated "indisputable evidence that the regime deliberately murdered innocent civilians" existed as artillery, tanks and helicopters were used in the onslaught, contrary to an earlier agreement the Syrian government was not to use heavy weapons in populated areas.

In the early morning hours that day, all electrical and communication lines were severed, followed by a predominantly Syrian minority Alawite military force shelling the predominantly Syrian Sunni majority town.

After a 2-hour shelling, a house-to-house search by Assad's militiamen, known as "shabiha," was conducted, during which residents were told to present their identification cards. Many of those who did were subsequently attacked with knives -- their bodies then mutilated and/or burned.

Even patients taken to the local hospital were savagely beaten and slaughtered.

The second development occurred July 15. With an estimated 17,000 Syrians having died in the violence that began in March 2011, the International Committee of the Red Cross made a long overdue declaration. It designated the uprising a full-fledged civil war.

This designation has enormous implications for both Assad and the opposition -- although greater for the former as he has primary control over bringing a halt to the death and destruction. Such a designation creates the legal status under international law by which warring parties can now be held accountable for any war crimes they have committed.

The combination of these two developments has effectively removed Assad's option to resign as president, being granted by the international community free passage to another country with the right of immunity of prosecution from war crimes by doing so.

It is not beyond the scope of possibility the major international player who has run interference for Assad to date in preventing him from being held accountable -- Russia's Vladimir Putin -- might try to provide him with shelter. By doing so, Moscow -- due to its support for the dictator to date -- would be hammering the final nail in its coffin as far as any meaningful relationship with a post-Assad government goes.

The more likely scenario should Assad's fall be imminent is Iranian special forces whisk him across the border with Iraq and, with Baghdad's assistance, on to Tehran.

Accordingly, as violent as the uprising has been, greater violence can be anticipated. Undoubtedly, Assad is getting nervous as he sees his iron-fisted control slipping away.

The opposition is taking territory; protests have now spread to Damascus; senior government and military defections have begun; casualties and defections, among his troops have drastically increased; rebel attacks are regular rather than intermittent; top level government ministers are falling victim to suicide bombing attacks.

Should these trends continue, Assad will fall. The only questions then remaining are how much longer can Assad retain power and whether he will seek to delay the inevitable by employing chemical weapons. Movements of such weapon stockpiles have already been detected.

As far as his survival as president is concerned, this murderer of Syrian masses now has his back against the wall. And, as with most dictators, Assad personally will not "fight to the death" -- i.e., he will not take the fall "standing tall."

Not wishing to suffer the fate of Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, he will fade away, escaping to Iran, leaving Alawite supporters behind to "face the music" alone.

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(James. G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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