In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, Syrian army defectors
staged a daring
raid on an Air Force Intelligence Directorate complex on the northern edge
of Damascus. Employing heavy weapons and machine guns, the attack not only
shook the Syrian capital, it struck at the heart of the regime -- the air force
was former President Hafez al-Assad's base of support when he seized control of
the Syrian state in 1970 -- and during the current unrest its intelligence
services have been used to
squelch dissent within the armed services. Though helicopters circled above
the area and gunfire was heard throughout the neighborhood, Syrian state media
made no mention of the assault.
The attack punctuated what is shaping up to be Syria's
bloodiest month yet -- and perhaps a turning point in the eight-month uprising
against President Bashar al-Assad's rule. As Syrian army defectors targeted
symbols of government power, the regime has continued its crackdown on peaceful
protesters, notably in the restive city of Homs and the governorate of Hama. With the violencing threatening to spiral out of control, the Turkish prime minister called
on the world to "hear the screams" of Syrians and international efforts to
find a resolution to the crisis have increased.
The Assad regime, which finds itself increasingly isolated
internationally, may be doubling down on repressive measures in an attempt
to gain the upper hand against its foes. With the Arab League poised
to suspend Syrian membership into the organization, Assad has increasingly few
friends to placate by keeping casualties low.
It wasn't always this way. Violence surged in April, driven
by an assault on the southern town of Deraa -- the first major center of revolt
-- and subsequent attacks by Syrian security forces on mourners at funeral
processions for slain protesters. But over the summer -- despite a
pre-Ramadan assault on the protest hub of Hama and the
shelling by tanks and warships of demonstrators in the port city of Latakia
-- the Assad regime managed to bring casualties down significantly. Since
August, however, deaths have crept higher once again. If current trends
continue, a whopping 800 people may lose their lives in Syria this month.
For more: Read "Measuring Syria's Violence," an explanation of how FP compiled this data.
As the Syrian revolution has stretched on, the nature of the
protest movement has also changed. In the early months, demonstrations
primarily occurred on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, as Syrians organized at
mosques before taking to the streets en masse. The explosive nature of these weekly
immortalized in a drawing by Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat, who sketched
Assad cringing as he turned the calendar to another Friday.
The protests, however, are no longer exclusive to Fridays.
As anti-Assad activists' methods of coordination have improved, Syrians have
found ways to organize outside of the mosque. Where the risk of a crackdown
remains great, Syrians have protested at night -- here, for example, in the
city of Idlib -- to avoid identification. In other cases, such as this demonstration in the
heart of Damascus, Syrians have organized flash protests that move quickly
through a neighborhood to avoid capture before
government forces can mobilize.
As the protests have spread from Fridays throughout the
week, the risk of being a victim of violence in Syria is also no longer
confined to a single day. During the first three months of the protest
movement, the number of Syrians killed on Fridays accounted for over 40 percent
of the total death toll. From August through mid-November, however, only around
20 percent deaths have been recorded on Friday. In other words, Friday isn't the
only day that should make Assad cringe.
The death toll in Syria is breathtaking: Over the past eight
months, more Syrians have lost their lives than the number of Palestinians
killed over four years of the Second Intifada. The casualty count is now roughly
equivalent to the number of U.S. soldiers killed during the entire Iraq
war. And the violence shows no sign of letting up. (The civilian death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is measured in
the tens and hundreds of thousands, would dwarf all of these figures if
included in this chart).
When compared to the other Arab Spring uprisings, only Libya
-- which was wracked by a full-fledged civil war and a NATO-led bombing
campaign -- has seen more bloodletting than Syria. While Egypt and Tunisia did
experience spasms of violence, the death toll was limited by the fact that
protesters were able to quickly overcome the ruling regimes and re-establish
some semblance of order. In Bahrain, the opposite was true: The monarchy's
success in crushing the street protests prevented a longer, potentially more
violent uprising and crackdown. (The bloodshed in Yemen is likely the closest
equivalent to that in Syria, but no comprehensive casualty statistics exist
there. A Yemeni official said
in October that 1,480 people had been killed from the time the unrest began in
February to Sept. 25.)
Assad's crackdown has appalled the international community, fractured
his alliances, and spurred domestic rage that threatens to topple his regime
and tear his country apart. And it looks to get worse before it gets any