Northern California Syrian American leaders support US intervention against Assad
The Sacramento Bee
While thousands of Americans protest President Barack Obama’s plan to retaliate against Syria for the poison gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people last month, Northern California Syrian leaders not only support a military strike but also favor the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad in favor of a democratically elected leader.
“Bashar Assad is the Hitler of the 21st century,” said Dr. Nabil Majid of the Syrian American Council of Northern California and the Syrian American Alliance, representing about 1,500 Syrian Americans. “All peaceful efforts to remove him have failed. This is a madman who won’t stop short of destroying the world just to secure his power. According to Syrian government officials who defected, there’s very strong evidence he helped create and train the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida.”
Majid said the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah’s militant anti-Western wing are linked, “and it’s in the best interest of the United States to cut this evil chain before it grows stronger. Otherwise, instead of paying a small price in Syria, the price will be much higher.
“The enemy’s at the gate. If we stop him now we send a clear message to all other rogue regimes: Abide by the law or face the consequences.”
Dr. Nihad Jebrini, a dentist in Yuba City, said of the 300 Syrian families he knows in the Sacramento region, “every Syrian around me today says Bashar has to come down. We don’t like intervention, but we are out of options after three years of suffering, the killing of 120,000 people by tanks and bombs and another 1,500, 500 of them children Assad killed by chemical weapons.”
Jebrini, 50, is from Aleppo, Syria, “one of the oldest cities in the world. Today the 1,000-year-old mosque is gone, the ancient city’s been destroyed and 80 percent of the 4 million people are gone.”
Dr. Mahmoud Khattab of Elk Grove, former chairman of the Syrian American Alliance – a nonprofit that promotes democracy in Syria – said “the only people against U.S. intervention are those who support the regime.” While some Syrian Christians have criticized plans to attack, “we have a Christian in our organization in full support of Obama’s response to chemical attacks,” Khattab said.
While some Syrian Americans distrust what the United States did in Iraq, “that was done hastily against the will of the American people,” Majid said. “What’s going to happen in Syria is more comparable to when President (Bill) Clinton and the U.S. bombed Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. Clinton’s airstrikes brought the Serbs to the negotiation table to sign a peace accord, then withdrew to their own country and now Bosnia and Kosovo are thriving democracies.”
Khattab, 43, who came from Damascus in 2000, said an American response will send a message to Iran and North Korea “that they can’t use chemical weapons and get away with it. If we don’t respond to Assad, he will continue to use chemical weapons.” Khattab said seven of his cousins have been killed, “one of them just two weeks ago when the regime shelled his house with tanks.”
Majid, Khattab and Jebrini don’t favor full military intervention. “We don’t want U.S. boots on the ground,” said Majid. “We want limited air strikes crippling Assad’s ability to launch air attacks – to level the playing field.” While some reports have linked the Syrian rebels to al-Qaida, Majid said the opposition mostly consists of regular Syrians fighting for their lives and liberty. “The core of the free Syrian army are soldiers who defected from the Assad regime and organized themselves into a hierarchy that answers to the democratically elected, civilian-controlled Syrian coalition.”
Majid acknowledged there are rebel factions and militias of undereducated youth “some, from neighboring countries. There is strong evidence Assad bribed some people to spread confusion and let them smuggle arms through the border to these militias.”
Majid said some are fueled by religious extremism. “I’m worried about that, too; the last thing I want is for somebody to blow up my house and kill my family in the name of ideology,” he said. “As the conflict drags on, lawlessness spreads, rogue fighters with personal agendas spring up and horrific scenes of retaliation and massacres start to surface. The sooner the Syrian people can take control and kick out these extremists, the faster this will end.”
Khattab noted that Monday, Russia proposed a plan to put all of Syria’s chemical weapons under the control of the international community and Obama said if that happens he might cancel his military response. “I really hope that the president will not fall into this trap and continue with his plan to respond militarily. Russia has continued to send Assad weapons to use against his own people. Assad used chemical weapons while U.N. observers were in Damascus. He’s has proved over and over again he’s a liar. How can we trust this regime?”
Realistically, no one expects a few cruise missiles will force Assad out, Majid said. “But the strikes will force more high-ranking officials from the Syrian army to defect.” Along with targeted air strikes, the U.S. must all give weapons to the Free Syrian Army to topple the Assad government in a matter of months. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, “Syria’s people are highly educated and have been looking for democracy since Bashar took office in 2000 and jailed the leaders who promoted the basic human rights – freedom of speech, organization and self-governance,” Majid said. “All Syrians of various ethnicities and religious backgrounds are willing to live together on a united soil.”