Sunday, May 29, 2005

Who's your uncle? 

The Mid East leader that Little Green Footballs have christened "chinless ophthalmologist" is having some family issues:
His resemblance to his older brother, Syria's late President Hafez Assad is astounding. As a behind-the-scenes strongman and head of an elite military unit, he has been linked to a brutal repression of Islamic militants that reportedly left thousands dead.

Now, Rifaat Assad, who went into exile after a failed coup attempt in the mid-1980s, told The Associated Press that he wants to return home to remove the dictatorial regime led by his nephew and help bring democracy and economic prosperity -- even though he claims he risks assassination.

"I have nothing but love for my nephew," he said during a more than four-hour interview Friday at his office in Marbella in southern Spain. "But I have condemned the way he rules."
At 67, and hard of hearing, Rifaat is hardly the new generation of reformists to take Syria into the twenty-first century, but he claims he doesn't want the top job. He's just worried that his homeland now seems rudderless and at risk of social and political unrest - but he too has his own issues:
Former CIA Middle East specialist Martha Kessler scoffed at the idea of Rifaat Assad trying to portray himself to the West as "Syria's Chalabi," referring to Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who got U.S. support in his campaign against Saddam Hussein before falling out of favor with Washington and becoming a deputy prime minister in Iraq.

"If anybody's fallen for it, they're in big trouble," Kessler said, adding that Rifaat Assad was linked to atrocities in Syria and may no longer have much support there because he has been away so long and because his brother cracked down on his allies.

Human rights groups have accused the former strongman of leading crack army units in an assault that crushed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in the northern Syrian city of Hama. The death toll reportedly came to more than 20,000, though it was never officially disclosed.
Considering the CIA's record with Chalabi, I'd say that Rifaat has a very bright future in Syria.


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