If You Ask the Kurds…

The Iraq War Was a Good Idea, they love George W. Bush!



But a tour through Iraq exposes what happens when America does, in fact, intervene militarily, and so it must have come as a relief to the amigos when they arrived in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s been ten years since the U.S.-led invasion, and most will observe the anniversary by remembering the dead and evaluating mistakes. Things are a little different in Iraqi Kurdistan, the northernmost autonomous region where the “invasion” is still referred to — insistently — as a “liberation.” It’s a strange, parallel universe in which American ideals like freedom from tyranny and economic promise are more intact than they are in America, as is the belief that those ideals can be spread and won through war. Some say that admiration for Americans runs so high that among the younger generation are Kurds named “Bush.” I’ve never met such a child (nor have I ever met anyone who has) but it’s plenty surreal that, as the amigos gleefully tweeted, Iraqi Kurds like Americans. Moreover, they like Republicans — the more hawkish the better.

For a few days, the senators were led by a beaming President Massoud Barzani, who they referred to on Twitter as an “old friend” (by McCain) and a “Kurdish patriot and true friend of the US” (by Lieberman). They visited Erbil, Shaqlawa, and Kore, where abandoned Iraqi tanks are monuments to Saddam’s defeat by Kurdish troops in 1991, the year the U.S. helped to establish a no-fly zone over the region. They reconfirmed the friendship started by that no-fly zone. Barzani was happy to show the senators what they wanted to see.

Full analysis.


5 Key Findings from CAP’s Recent Discussions in the Middle East

President Obama’s first trip as president to Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Jordan this week offers an important opportunity for the United States to assume a leadership role in dealing with security threats such as Iran and Syria, political challenges such as the historic changes sweeping many countries in the Middle East, and diplomatic challenges like the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The window for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closing. Many Israelis and Palestinians told us that if no progress toward a two-state solution is made during President Obama’s second term in office, it may never happen.

This issue brief details findings and recommendations are based on seven days of meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Tel Aviv with leading Israeli and Palestinian government officials and a wide range of independent analysts, academics, and journalists.
Read more and download the full issue brief here.

By Rudy deLeon, Brian Katulis, and Matthew Duss


The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

The two year anniversary of the Syria uprising coincides with another dark milestone: over one million refugees have now fled across Syria’s borders into neighboring countries. More troubling news is that half of that number arrived in the last two months. The United Nations (UN) estimates that over 2.5 million people are displaced inside Syria and many more have been affected by the upheaval and fighting.

I would like to share with you the approach my bureau in the State Department is taking to address the crisis and how our efforts and USAID’s work are complementary and mutually reinforcing… I shall first briefly comment on how the refugee crisis is affecting the neighboring countries, discuss the challenges we face in delivering humanitarian assistance to those in need throughout the region, and provide some specifics on the priorities of the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and our diplomatic outreach to other countries.

Refugees in Neighboring Countries

Countries bordering Syria are approaching a dangerous saturation point with refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in January of this year, 2,000 people fled Syria every day. In February, the number climbed to 5,000 a day; and in March, we’ve seen 8,000 people a day crossing from Syria into Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. In addition to serving as evidence that life inside Syria has become extremely dangerous for many, the number and the rate are overwhelming the capacity of humanitarian aid organizations to meet the needs of these victims and are sorely testing the limits of host countries’ abilities to provide safe shelter. If international borders are closed to Syrians seeking refuge, the awful tally of human destruction will only increase.

Jordan: There are approximately 350,000 refugees in Jordan according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Approximately 70 percent of refugees in Jordan live outside of the refugee camps in cities and towns. Many have been taken in or helped by relatives, friends or even strangers. Only 30 percent live in the Za’atri refugee camp in northern Jordan. The Government of Jordan set up Za’atri in response to the large numbers of refugees crossing the border, and it has moved to set up another camp, as yet uninhabited, and initiated plans for another. Za’atri camp has been plagued by security problems and we have been in active conversations with the UNHCR and the Government of Jordan to improve the safety of refugees there as well as humanitarian workers.

Jordan is allowing refugees to cross its borders but is finding that its resources are stretched to help massive flows of refugees while providing services to its own citizens at the same time. We should note that we are concerned by reports that some Palestinian and Iraqi refugees have been turned around at the border and we have asked the Government of Jordan to let them cross. We’ve thanked the Government of Jordan for its ongoing assistance to the refugee population, and asked them to keep their borders open to all refugees. Knowing the significant economic cost associated with hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, the U.S. government is providing Jordan with budget support.

Lebanon: Lebanon is hosting over 354,000 Syrian refugees. Lebanon has also taken in 32,000 Palestinian refugees who have fled the violence in Syria. Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in host communities and are not in camps, which allows for greater freedom of movement, greater possibilities for self-sufficiency and a semblance of a normal life. At the same time, the presence of so many refugees in a country of 4 million people taxes Lebanon’s infrastructure and resources and has increased tensions within the refugee-hosting communities. Hizballah’s presence in southern Lebanon creates a challenge for UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) in providing aid, while its involvement in the Government of Lebanon complicates U.S. efforts to provide help during this crisis. Despite these strains, the Government of Lebanon continues to keep its borders open, though its leaders have warned that Lebanon has reached its saturation point and requires significant international assistance in order to support the refugees.

Iraq: Over 110,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq, and most are now in Kurdistan. Domiz camp in Kurdistan accommodates approximately 54,000 persons, and two camps in Anbar province at Al-Qaim accommodate over 7,500 persons. In addition to those living in camps, there are many who live in villages and communities. In Kurdistan, Syrians are permitted to live and work in the community once they have registered.

Since October 21, 2012, the Government of Iraq has kept the Al-Qaim border crossing with Syria closed, except for medical emergencies and some family reunification cases. Local authorities and the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement state that the border is closed for security reasons. Syrian refugees in Anbar prior to the closure of the border are restricted to the camps, although some have family members nearby. The main reasons for return to Syria continue to be lack of freedom of movement out of the camp and lack of a way to earn a living. UNHCR continues to provide support to those expressing interest in returning to Syria but is not encouraging repatriation because conditions are not conducive to a safe return.

Turkey: Since the beginning of the crisis, the Government of Turkey has supported most of the humanitarian needs of the refugees from Syria who have crossed its border. In addition to 186,200 refugees registered in 17 camps set up by the government and 71,000 registered (or soon to be registered) outside of camps, the Government of Turkey estimates that an additional 100,000 unregistered refugees live in urban areas. While the government has previously focused its support for Syrian refugees on the camp-based populations, it is now beginning to address the needs of the out-of-camp Syrians by setting up centers where urban refugees can register for IDs and free health services. Turkey has a strong economy but is experiencing a decline in its once vibrant cross-border trade with Syria.

Challenges in Crisis Response

The challenges before us are many. USAID Nancy Lindborg’s testimony discusses access, security and funding issues. Therefore, I will focus on: (1) the need to work with host governments to ensure that they keep their borders open to refugees and have what they need to help the refugees; (2) specific contributions made by the PRM bureau; and (3) ensuring that other countries are contributing to humanitarian aspects of the crisis so that the UN and other humanitarian agencies have more of the support they need to respond.

Working with Host Governments

We recognize the huge strain that the influx of refugees is currently placing on countries that neighbor Syria. In both Jordan and Lebanon, government leaders are concerned about their capacity to absorb so many refugees. Iraq has expressed concerns that al-Qaeda and its Syria affiliate, al-Nusrah Front, are sending fighters and weapons across the border. Turkey, for the most part, has maintained an open border policy for all refugees, although each day it limits the number of refugees allowed to cross at border crossings with high traffic. It is essential that neighboring countries continue to keep their borders open for those refugees fleeing violence in Syria. In every meeting with officials from these countries, we thank them for allowing refugees to cross and discuss ways to help them uphold humanitarian principles while safeguarding their own security so that they are protected from a spillover of violence.

It is important that short-term relief programs link to longer-term development aid as part of overall U.S. government aid to the region. This is particularly the case in Jordan and Lebanon. We must leverage other aid and investments and incorporate refugees into the fabric of these countries, in order to minimize the costs that hosting refugees places on communities. This is an important area in which the State Department and USAID are working together.

Department of State Response

The Department and USAID lead the U.S. government’s humanitarian response and we work closely together in response to the crisis. Nancy Lindborg and I have traveled together to the region twice and were also recently joined by Ambassador Ford in Turkey, prior to our participation at the Kuwait Donors Conference in January. Our communications teams are taking advantage of maximizing every opportunity to get the message out to domestic and international audiences about the dimensions of the crisis and to highlight our government’s leadership role in responding.

That said, allow me to outline the role the State Department has in helping to get as much humanitarian aid into Syria as possible through partners. Over several decades, PRM has developed a privileged relationship with the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and non-governmental organizations. These agencies are a key part of the international humanitarian system that is governed by humanitarian principles. They bring technical expertise and operational capacity to respond to this large-scale crisis. Of the nearly $385 million in humanitarian assistance that USAID and the State Department are providing in response to the Syria crisis, the State Department’s contributions total nearly $185 million. Our contributions provide life-saving emergency assistance to meet basic humanitarian needs, such as shelter, water, sanitation, and health both inside Syria and in host countries.

The delivery of assistance is often undertaken at great personal risk to those distributing the aid. For example, in the past couple of months, two UNHCR convoys and one UN interagency convoy have delivered aid into north-west Syria, where thousands of internally displaced people are in acute need of humanitarian help. The operations were carried out in collaboration with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the local community. Once the convoys moved across battle-lines into areas controlled by the opposition, the missions were facilitated by the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Such operations are dangerous and difficult, which underscores the need for unhindered and safe access for those providing humanitarian assistance inside Syria. We will continue to encourage the UN to do more such cross-line assistance deliveries, counting on the Syrian Opposition Coalition to help coordinate and negotiate safe access. While these convoys are good, much more is needed to ensure supplies consistently and safely reach people in need.

Of course, people in need are not concentrated in one area and instead can be found on both sides of shifting battle-lines. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in a neutral and impartial manner. The United Nations is seeking to get access to all communities in need on a regular basis. It is unacceptable and a violation of humanitarian principles for the Syrian regime to deny this access.

I should also mention the plight of the 525,000 Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria prior to the start of the conflict. They, too, have been caught up in the violence in Syria. Fighting has engulfed many Palestinian refugee camps and neighborhoods, including in Yarmouk, causing over half of Syria’s Palestinian population to be displaced. For the most part, the Palestinian population has kept away from taking sides in the conflict. Those refugees who remain in camps are the poorest and most vulnerable. Some Palestinians have fled Syria, but most remain inside the country, having heard that they will be turned away at the borders with neighboring countries. The U.S. is the largest bilateral donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees. There are also approximately 63,000 Iraqi refugees inside Syria. In recent months, many other Iraqis who were living as refugees in Syria have chosen to return to Iraq or flee for a second time to other countries.

Contributions of Other Countries

With no end in sight, we are facing a resource crisis. The UN’s Regional Response Plan to assist up to 1.1 million Syrian refugees in the region has thus far received only 21 percent of the funds it needs to operate for the first half of 2013 and, as of mid-March, refugee arrivals have already nearly reached June 2013 planning figures. Despite our own budget constraints, the United States continues to make every effort to continue to provide funding to meet the increasing needs. However, it is vital that other donors quickly honor the pledges they have made and provide the cash that agencies need to keep life-saving operations going.

Even if the Asad regime falls soon, displacement and the need for humanitarian aid will continue. This is because of the widespread destruction of Syria’s infrastructure and predicted flows of refugees that would continue to cross borders – likely in both directions. If refugees are not able to return for years, host countries will need to continue to help host Syrian children in schools, and help families with medical facilities, and provide other public services.

Using diplomatic channels, we are using every opportunity to ask other donors to follow through on the pledges they made at the Kuwait Donors Conference in January in order to raise the promised $1.5 billion. The Secretary and other Department principals have reached out to other governments to ask them to do more for the Syrian people, including Syrian refugees. Funding is urgently needed if UN agencies and others are able to continue to operate.

Coordination of the international humanitarian response is complex and must occur on multiple levels. The United States participates in meetings in Geneva of the Syria Humanitarian Forum that bring together senior officials from key donor governments, countries affected by the crisis and UN leaders to discuss the humanitarian aspects of the crisis, and to coordinate our collective response. We also actively participate in UN coordination meetings in the field. In addition, we are deepening our coordination with the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit. We have also encouraged UN agencies and other partners to do the same, and are pleased with the initial results.

In conclusion Mr. Chairman, I would like to say that my bureau’s primary concerns are providing protection to and aiding those who have fled the violence. The State Department’s overall goal, of course, is a return of peace and stability to Syria and to one day see the refugees return home.

I am grateful for the generosity of Congress and the American people who make our assistance possible, and for the excellent collaboration with the State Department’s Near East and European bureaus, and USAID colleagues. Thank you once again for the opportunity to highlight PRM’s role and some of our concerns regarding the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary.


The Voice of the Syrian Refugees

The two year anniversary of the Syria uprising coincides with another dark milestone: over one million refugees have fled across Syria’s borders into neighboring countries. More troubling news is that half of that number arrived in the last two months. The UN estimates that over 2.5 million people are displaced inside Syria and many more have been affected by the upheaval and fighting inside Syria.

I suppose many Americans tune out when they hear the numbers of people involved in this crisis. After all, “2.5 million” sounds like just a number. But I am quite certain that this audience knows full well that I am talking about people, about individuals, about families in peril. You have all been affected in one way or another and no doubt some of your own relatives remain in danger.

In recent months I have met on numerous occasions with diplomats from the region and I’ve traveled repeatedly to Turkey and Jordan and I’ve visited Lebanon. In every one of these countries I have met with Syrian refugees. I’ve visited camps in Turkey and Za’atri camp in Jordan. I have also sat and talked with Syrian families on the floors of apartments in Amman and Mafraq in Jordan and or met at UN offices in Beirut. So, like you, when I talk about the numbers of those who have been affected by the fighting in Syria, I recall the faces of real people, with real fears and worries.

They are fathers who have brought families to safety but are too proud to say they need help or are temporarily unable to provide for their families. [They are] mothers who wonder how they will take care of their children while living in a tent. Children still in Syria who cannot or are afraid to go to school and babies who have not been vaccinated.

Let me say at the outset that in my speech today I won’t be able to give you what you and what your friends and relatives in the region truly want: news of the fall of Asad or an end to the fighting and a return to peace, or the establishment of a democracy in Syria that will respect and include all Syrian citizens. Rest assured: this is a goal we all seek.

My role is to talk to you about what the U.S. government is doing to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East. To share with you the approach my bureau in the State Department and colleagues at USAID are taking to the crisis. Perhaps, if I can, to debunk a few rumors, and to enlist your help in justifying the use of taxpayer dollars for humanitarian purposes and secure your support for our diplomatic efforts.

The U.S. government is the leading donor to aid operations in response to the crisis and is currently providing $385 million to respond to the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and in neighboring countries. With this support, international and non-governmental organizations, called NGOs, have brought emergency medical care, food, shelter, and household supplies to victims of the conflict in all of Syria’s 14 governorates.

Efforts to manage the current refugee flood and help the millions of people in need still trapped inside Syria have produced real results. Neighboring countries are admitting refugees and providing aid directly or allowing international aid agencies to do so. International NGOs and local NGOs are working round the clock to help and delivering aid. The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partner organizations are supporting Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq to manage the influx of new arrivals.

Inside Syria, providing humanitarian assistance is extremely risky and the fighting hinders access to populations in need on both sides of the conflict. You heard me say before that aid has reached all 14 governorates, but that does not mean it reached everyone who needed it within those 14 governorates. An assessment carried out in mid-January that was partly funded by the U.S. government confirmed that millions are in need. The U.S. is pursuing all means to reach these people, working with NGOs, the UN and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), all of whom have staff in Syria.

The ICRC and UNICEF have managed to keep clean water flowing out of taps all over Syria. Thanks to them, ten million people benefit. NGO partners have even managed to get clean water into the Atmeh displaced persons camp in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey – a tough place for aid to reach. There, latrines have been constructed, pipe has been installed for a sewage system, and garbage is being collected and removed. We are also mindful that most displaced Syrians are not in camps or settlements and so our programs help communities like Idlib and Aleppo and provide extra household supplies and food to host families.

But operations inside Syria are dangerous. The list of problems is daunting and includes: ongoing fighting, numerous checkpoints, various restrictions by the Syrian government, targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel and risks posed by extremist elements among the opposition. Aid workers have been injured and killed. Despite repeated requests by the UN to the Asad regime to allow humanitarian aid to be brought in across land borders, the regime continues to deny permission and has threatened to expel the UN and other humanitarian organizations if they attempt such operations. On a daily basis, UN aid workers try to expand what is allowed by the government and try to get aid to those who need it, while dodging bullets and bombs. Humanitarian workers regularly put their lives on the line to deliver assistance to those in need. Ten members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been killed since the conflict began, and five workers with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees have paid the ultimate price.

UN organizations have succeeded in carrying out operations with aid flown into government-controlled airports. The UN has conducted three successful operations to date to cross from government-controlled areas to reach opposition-controlled areas. But it is not enough. Over the coming weeks, the UN aims to conduct daily convoys delivering assistance to conflict-affected areas in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, and Deir-ez-Zor.

The U.S. government has also encouraged the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit, or ACU, to assume a role in humanitarian operations inside Syria. I have met in Turkey with senior representatives of the ACU and I recently welcomed the Syrian Coalition’s Washington representative to my office to discuss aid efforts.

It is important for you to understand that we remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance solely on the basis of need. This is what we do all over the world and the Syria crisis is no different. The phrase “humanitarian” has a very specific meaning to my colleagues and to UN and other aid agencies. It not only describes the type of aid — basic lifesaving materials, like clean water, food, and shelter — but also the motives of the donor and the way aid is delivered. Core humanitarian principles include providing aid to all people, in all circumstances, while ensuring respect for the individual; doing so on an impartial basis, so aid is distributed based on need and not by playing favorites; and delivering aid independent of politics and the whims of governments .

Recently you heard Secretary of State Kerry announce that the U.S. would increase the amount of aid given to the opposition. This aid is different from humanitarian aid. It is handled by other offices, and is intended to help the opposition succeed. In the past aid to the opposition was to provide equipment and communications gear to support nascent civilian offices. We also sponsored civil society groups with similar aid to allow them to build support for opposition efforts. The increased aid will help the Syrian Opposition Coalition in communities deliver essential services (for example, trash collection, schools) and operate like a local government..

Meanwhile, despite using a principled approach to deliver humanitarian assistance, there has been criticism. Some charge that humanitarian aid is concentrated in regime-controlled areas. U.S. assistance is more evenly distributed than critics suggest or the press reports. Observers on the scene may not realize that aid provided in smaller communities is, in fact, paid for by the U.S. government. USAID is working with partner organizations to “brand” or put the U.S. flag on our assistance in opposition-controlled areas when safety allows so that aid recipients know that we are helping. But if branding aid or taking credit for it will endanger the lives of the people who distribute or receive it, it is not worth doing. We don’t want medical kits destroyed because of a U.S. flag sticker, or children harmed for buying bread at a U.S.-supported bakery. Our aim is to save lives.

Some are concerned that involving the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in aid deliveries is tantamount to giving aid to the friends of Asad. While the political views of Red Crescent workers probably reflect the diverse views held by the rest of the Syrian populace, I have heard repeatedly that Red Crescent staff and volunteers are living up to the ideals of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement for neutrality and impartiality. They are courageously working across the country, including in opposition-held areas, and are making a great difference, especially because they know the local geography, they know the neighborhoods, and they have a better sense than international staff or staff from Damascus about where it is and is not safe to go.

Another rumor that has cropped up a few times is that aid is being diverted to feed Asad’s troops. We have investigated this rumor and can report to you that it has no basis in fact. We have a large number of contacts throughout Syria and there is no evidence that this is happening.

The UN has been accused of funneling aid dollars to the Asad regime and as contributing to the Asad regime’s control. Let me assure you: this is completely false. This rumor has not only misinformed and demoralized many Syrians, it has had the effect of dampening donations to UN agencies, which is a terrible mistake. It is true that UN agencies have offices in Damascus and need to get the government’s approval to secure visas and operate. No money, however, is being used to prop up the regime.

The UN’s planning figures of up to 1.1 million refugees that were previously considered a worst case scenario are now the baseline for current requirements. The UN needs at least $1.5 billion in donations to meet the existing needs through the end of June 2013 and is already in the process of preparing an additional appeal.

Donors have met only about 21% of the UN’s current appeals and generous pledges made at the end of January by the Gulf States and others have yet to materialize. My fear is that international assistance will not rise to the levels needed.

The sad truth is that the scale of the suffering in Syria continues to outpace efforts to address it. This trend threatens to exhaust the hospitality of neighboring countries and to overwhelm the ability of international relief organizations. The “international humanitarian system” is a network of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and others. Within this network, the United States is a traditional leader. The network only works when all of the groups involved are funded, expert staff get access to areas in need, and borders remain open. I fear we are pushing this system beyond its capacity.

And I want to assure you that even as we work to get medical supplies and equipment into Syria, set up mobile medical units and support clinics, and we train additional first responders and medical staff, that our goal is not to run the best battlefield hospitals on earth. Our real goal is to make these efforts unnecessary and to bring peace back to Syria.

Even if the Asad regime falls soon, continued political, economic, and social insecurity will mean a sustained reliance on humanitarian aid and refugees living outside Syria for the foreseeable future.

So…I’ve got my work cut out for me in terms of convincing other countries to give more, in setting the record straight about the heroic efforts of aid workers inside Syria, in pressing international aid agencies to do as much as they can wherever they can. I am encouraging UN leaders to take on more risks and “push the envelope” to get aid into those hard-to-access parts of Syria where the needs are great. And we are formally requesting that they plan for every conceivable contingency, since this crisis has already defied predictions about its likely scale and scope. We are asking neighboring countries to keep their borders open despite political tensions and economic burdens within their own countries, to work with us to ensure international aid reaches the Syrians, and to help us uphold international standards in order to protect and aid refugees.

At the same time, we could use your help.

I am glad Congressman Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will speak to you shortly. It is important that your elected representatives know that you care about what happens in Syria and that you support U.S. government engagement and efforts to help. Your presence today when he speaks makes that clear.

Please also try to keep coverage of this crisis in local newspapers, on radio. You can write letters to the editor or invite the press to cover events, like this conference today. Or, post updates you receive on facebook, share with friends, follow State department and USAID twitter feeds and retweet information that you think others should hear. Let your relatives and friends overseas know that we are doing our utmost to help.

You can write me, too, if you want, but please believe me when I say Syria is never far from my mind. My office has global responsibilities, so I care about what is happening in Mali and South Sudan and Somalia, too. But lately I would estimate that I spend most of my time on the Syria crisis. You must, too, or else you would not be here today.

Finally, let me thank you for coming today, for your attention to this issue and for everything you do to help the victims of violence in Syria.

Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary.


Crisis in Syria: The U.S. Response

This past weekend marked the two year anniversary of the Syrian conflict. The country looks disturbingly different today than it did then. What started out as a peaceful demand for dignity and freedom, when a few, young boys scribbled the fateful words “down with the regime” on a wall in Deraa, has turned into a devastating conflict with a growing human toll.

Syrians face a new level of ruthlessness from the Asad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens. The carnage is appalling. For instance, we have heard that some Syrian parents who still send their children to school now stitch their child’s name on school uniforms. That makes it easier to identify the bodies.

According to the UN, more than 70,000 Syrians have died since the beginning of the conflict and the number is rising as the fighting in Damascus intensifies. More than one million people have left their homes in Syria to seek refuge in another country – a number that could triple by the end of 2013 if the rise in numbers continues at its current rate.

The increase in refugees – in addition to the potential spillover of ethnic and sectarian violence – has the potential to destabilize the region. Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp is now Jordan’s fourth largest city. The refugees in Lebanon are now around 10 percent of that country’s population.

Our Response

We are working to alleviate the human suffering. The United States is the largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. And we are working to make sure the rest of the international community plays their part. In January at a conference in Kuwait, over forty countries pledged $1.5 billion to help the Syrian refugees. We are pressuring the countries that have not yet paid to make good on their pledges – and I have personally asked our partners and Gulf and European countries to give the funds they promised.

The humanitarian assistance from the United States amounts to nearly $385 million. This money is being spent on emergency medical care and supplies, blankets, and shelter. We are sending flour to 50 bakeries in Aleppo and sponsoring food and sanitation projects for the desperate families in Atmeh refugee camp. Our aid into opposition – controlled areas is often intentionally discreet to protect those delivering the aid, but it is significant.

The humanitarian assistance is vital but there is far more to do. Preserving Syria’s national unity and laying the foundation for a free Syria that respects the rights of all its citizens is essential if we are to secure a Syria that helps, rather than threatens, stability in the heart of the Middle East. Collapse or fragmentation of the Syrian state or its takeover by extremists would threaten the region with hugely greater refugee flows, as well as the risks associated with the security of the regime’s big chemical weapons stocks, and confront us also with the likelihood of major terrorist bases. Those outcomes would directly threaten our interests.

Therefore, apart from our humanitarian aid, we are providing non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition to:

Solidify the efforts of Syrian moderates who are competing for influence with extremist groups, knitting the national opposition leadership with local councils on the ground inside Syria. The national opposition leadership needs to provide local communities with an alternative source of support to prevent the influence of al-Qaida’s affiliates from expanding.

Curtail the influence of extremists by helping national and local opposition leaders provide vital services such as food, water and electricity. Syrian activists and rebels are working hard to unite the opposition, establish local governing structures, and provide assistance to the many Syrians in need. We need to work with these courageous Syrians – both armed and unarmed –so that they can respond quickly to critical needs.

Prevent the disintegration of the Syrian state by supporting a unified, inclusive, and effective civilian leadership at both national and local levels – and by retaining the civil servants that can keep state institutions functioning as Syrians struggle to recover from this conflict.

Investing in Syrians

Let me offer a few specifics:

Our previous non-lethal assistance, totaling approximately $54 million, focused on linking disparate Syrian opposition groups across the country to build a network of ethnically and religiously diverse civilian activists.

We supplied approximately 5,000 pieces of equipment, including communications gear, to enable activists to coordinate their efforts. Some activists used these tools to organize a Free Lawyer’s Union, which now coordinates with the Local Council for the Governorate of Daraa and has taken responsibility for legal affairs within the local council.

We boosted radio signals, extending the reach of broadcast on FM stations, and funded media outlets. Then we used those media platforms to address sectarian violence and issue public service messages on chemical weapons exposure.

We also trained and equipped 1,500 local leaders and activists – including women and minorities – from over 100 Syrian opposition provincial councils. These graduates are improving the ability of local committees and councils from Damascus to Deir al-Zour to Idlib to better provide for the needs of all members of their communities. One recent graduate played a critical role in the Aleppo LCC elections last week. He reached out to 240 delegates across Aleppo’s liberated areas and broadcast the election – bringing credibility, transparency, and accountability to the process.

All of these efforts build on the work of our international partners in the region and in Europe.

Building a National Apparatus

Since December 2012, the United States, along with our international partners, has acknowledged the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Comprised of diverse representatives inside and outside Syria, the Coalition is committed to a democratic, inclusive Syria free from the influence of violent extremists.

In the months since its formation, the Coalition has coordinated discussion of transition planning and transitional justice. It has developed technical committees, including an Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches Syrians in need. The Coalition has the ability to lead but it is directly competing with extremists, and we need to help it build credibility with the Syrian people.

On February 28, Secretary Kerry announced another $60 million in non-lethal support to strengthen the Coalition’s capacity to have a greater impact at the national and local levels. This new funding will tie the Coalition’s national efforts to work being done by local groups and councils inside Syria.

The State Department will create a new, small grants initiative that the Coalition can use to help local councils meet the needs of their citizens. This will include supporting the work of these new governing institutions and helping them undertake service delivery projects for their communities.

USAID will build on this effort by providing the Coalition with two programs designed to have immediate impact. The first will provide short-term assistance for urgent needs, such as fuel, heaters, and nutritional and educational supplies for children. The second will support strategic, longer-term needs on behalf of the Coalition, such as repairing schools, local power, and sanitation. USAID will also provide the Coalition with technical experts to help it manage essential services and light infrastructure. These experts will help with assessments, project design, and track multi-donor rehabilitation efforts.

And we are looking to improve civilian security through training and some non-lethal equipment. This is critical to preventing a security vacuum in liberated areas that will be exploited by extremists if we do not help stand up civilian police.

Finally, to ensure that our assistance reaches its intended targets and does not end up in the hands of extremists, we will continue to use formal processes that have been established across various agencies in the government to vet the recipients.


We continue to believe that political transition is the best solution to the crisis in Syria. And we support the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body with full executive powers and formed on the basis of mutual consent. Bashar al-Asad long ago lost his credibility and we cannot imagine the opposition would ever accept his participation in that transition government. He must step down.

We are working with our partners to strengthen moderate opposition and change the balance on the ground to help give the opposition the leverage they need to negotiate. The Asad regime, holding to power through brute force backed by Iran and Hizballah, will be held accountable for crimes against the Syrian people.

As Secretary Kerry said in Rome, “This is a complicated challenge, but the principle that guides us is simple: No nation should live in fear of its leaders, and all people deserve the freedom and opportunity to live in peace, dignity and justice.”

We look forward to working with Congress as we seek to support the needs of the Syrian people in their struggle to create a free, stable, and democratic Syria

Robert S. Ford
Ambassador to Syria


EU: ENP Package – Syria

Syria continues to be embroiled in an armed internal conflict that causes far-reaching harm and damage. While all bilateral cooperation with the Syrian regime has been suspended, the Syrian population further benefits from EU assistance, especially the large-scale humanitarian aid. No Country Progress Report is prepared for Syria as there is no ENP Action Plan in force.

Political situation and latest developments in EU relationship with the country

Following the beginning of the Syrian uprising in spring 2011 and the escalation of violence and human rights violations by the Syrian government against its citizens, the EU took the decision to suspend bilateral cooperation with the Syrian government and froze the draft Association Agreement. Since then, the EU has suspended the participation of Syrian authorities in its regional programmes and the European Investment Bank (EIB) has suspended all its loan operations and technical assistance to Syria. The EU has established and progressively expanded a policy of targeted restrictive measures, including inter alia an arms embargo, an asset freeze and travel ban of members of the Syrian regime and an oil import embargo. In response, Syria suspended its membership of and participation in the Union for the Mediterranean. The EU Delegation remained open until December 2012 when scaling down for security reasons became inevitable.

The originally peaceful protests in Syria have developed into an intensive large-scale armed conflict leading to the death of more than 60,000 Syrians, according to UN estimates, and causing extensive damage to infrastructure and harm to the whole civilian population. The EU has repeatedly called for an end to the violence, for President Assad to step aside and for the launch of a political transition. The EU fully supports the Joint Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his efforts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis.

The EU has urged the UN Security Council Members to agree on a resolute UN action towards Syria. In the UN Human Rights Council, the EU achieved the convening of three Special Sessions on Syria and the adoption of the respective resolutions. The EU strongly supported the mission of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and efforts aimed at ensuring accountability for crimes committed during the Syrian conflict. The EU also provided material equipment to the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) during its operations.

The Foreign Affairs Council of December 2012 accepted the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The EU encouraged the Coalition to persist in its commitment to full inclusiveness and the principles of democracy and human rights.

The humanitarian disaster caused by the conflict in Syria has impacted millions of Syrians. According to the UN-OCHA, 4 million Syrians are in need of assistance inside the country, in addition to the more than 600.000 refugees in neighbouring countries. The EU has so far allocated more than EUR 400 million for humanitarian aid, approximately half of the sum coming from the European Commission and half from EU Member States. The Commission aid is helping people within Syria approximately in the same volume as refugees, mainly in Lebanon and Jordan, and in close cooperation with UN agencies. The EU is the leading donor internationally. The EU has repeatedly urged the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian workers, agencies and organisations unhindered access to those in need.

Economic and social issues

The Syrian economy has been severely affected by the crisis and is expected to continue to decline. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), GDP contracted by 3.4% during 2011 and a further 15.2% in 2012. Others estimate the decline to have been even higher. The fighting has deepened the differences from region to region and even within regions. Productive sectors have almost come to a standstill due to insecurity in agricultural as well as industrial areas. Disrupted transport links, electricity and fuel infrastructure make distribution dangerous, cumbersome and expensive, which is reflected in growing examples of shortages. The Syrian currency has devaluated approximately 60% since the beginning of the conflict, but has not yet collapsed. Public services have been substantially reduced and in many areas are no longer available. Investment expenditure is almost halted, but the government continues to pay salaries and pensions despite speculations since 2011 that public reserves were about to be depleted. The situation for all Syrians is dire due to the combination of extreme violence, inflation, unemployment, reduced public services, shortages, massive internal displacement and increasing numbers of refugees to neighbouring countries.

Trade-related issues

According to the EIU, the value of Syria’s exports dropped 52% during 2012 while its imports decreased by 43%. The reduction in trade can be explained with the deteriorating security environment, reduced economic activity, declining demand and international sanctions; in particular the oil import bans and the broad restrictions on financial transactions and the use of the dollar that make any transactions through the regular financial system very difficult.

EU Cooperation

Regardless of the mentioned suspension of bilateral cooperation with Syrian authorities, several projects are on-going in support to Non State Actors, the Syrian civil society, and the refugee populations. Tempus and Erasmus programmes with Syrian students and universities are also continuing.

In June 2012, a Special Measure benefiting Syria and Syrian refugees was adopted in the scope of EUR 27.6 million. It aims at supporting both civil society within Syria and the Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, and specifically: In Syria, EUR 12.6 million are available to assist the Syrian people to address the medium-term needs such as health, education, livelihoods and media, and support the role of the civil society in the transition context. In Lebanon and Jordan, EUR 15 million EUR allocated to UNHCR and UNICEF to provide Syrian refugee children with access to free formal education and other relevant services.

In December 2012, to take into consideration the important increase in the flow of refugees fleeing the country, another Special Measure for Syrian refugees was adopted. Amounting to EUR 20.8 million, this measure will be used to support neighbouring countries (Jordan and Lebanon) in dealing with the influx of Syrian refugees in the field of education, vocational training, and support to livelihoods of both refugees and host communities through UN agencies and NGOs.

Over the past months, the EU foreign ministers have repeatedly declared that as soon as a genuine democratic transition begins, the EU is ready to develop a new and ambitious partnership with Syria across all areas of mutual interest, including by mobilising assistance, strengthening trade and economic relations and supporting transitional justice and political transition.

Civil Society: role and EU support

Several activities are being implemented or planned in the field of support to civil society and Human Rights defenders, beyond the cooperation mentioned above. In particular, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), at a scale of EUR 4 million, allows emergency support to Human Rights defenders, as well as support to documentation of Human Rights violations, digital security, media, networking of activists and support to Syrian bloggers and independent media.

EU–Syria – Timeline

March 2011: The uprising began

May 2011: EU suspended official bilateral cooperation programmes with Syria as well as new EIB loans, froze draft Association Agreement, and introduced targeted restrictive measures

August 2011: EU called on Bashar al-Assad to step aside

Throughout 2012: EU amended and extended targeted restrictive measures

December 2012: Scaling down of the operations of the EU Delegation for security reasons

December 2012: EU accepted the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people

More over Iraq, Syria, Mideast:

  1. Comme en Libye, l’OTAN pourrait intervenir en Syrie

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