The car stopped at the road barrier erected by the army. A young soldier approached followed by a lieutenant with 3 others soldiers behind him. The soldier asks the driver for an I.D. He looks at the I.D. and compares it to a long list he has in his hand. He did not find the name on the “wanted” list. “You live by the grocery store?” asked the soldier staring in the face of the driver as if try to read something in it. He gathered his courage and raised the list in front of his face. His lieutenant and the other three comrades stand in half circle behind him as a wall. He recited four or five names and said tell them not to come through the barrier. He wanted to give more names. But one of his comrades started insulting the driver and ordered him to take off ending the scene. The driver left trying to remember the names he just heard. A soldier of the “republican guard” arrived at this moment to witness the end of the scene.
The soldiers and their officer are risking being shot on the spot by a single bullet in the back of the head if the last “soldier” saw what they did. They had been set up at the barrier and were given a list of names to search for in each car. The list of the name is for political activists or even just demonstrators who got recognized by the security forces. The last soldier was a “Shabih,” a thug or a paramilitary, who is paid per day an amount equal to a monthly salary of an elementary school teacher. He was given 15 days of training and a uniform to use if needed. His mandate authorizes him to shoot anyone including army personal. He receives all the support he needs from the republican guard snipers who keep an eye on the scene from not far away.
This scene is a normal event every day in the cities of Syria. Some cities or neighborhood are not as lucky as this one. They do not get an army barrier only. They find themselves facing invasion of the tanks of the republican guard.
Many of the soldiers in the Syrian army find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Their colleagues who refused to shoot civilians have been executed by the Security forces of Assad or by his republican guards. Their bodies returned to their family with the standard explanation that they were killed by “armed terrorists.” Even the highest ranks in the army were plagued by sudden retirements and sudden heart attacks during the last six months. Some troops have defected. The question is “defecting to where?” Some of them run to Turkey. But with the Syrian regime the punishment is collective. General Harmoush, for example, defected to Turkey leaving his family behind. His wife was arrested. His house destroyed. His brother killed under torture.
When I hear these stories, these terrible stories leaked from the iron curtains forced around the country by the regime, my fears are deep that one day we will discover that this is but the tip of the iceberg. The international community has a history of being late. Angola and Bosnia are examples of the outcome of this habit. The question is, what did we learn from them?