Apr 022012
Authors: Tribune Washington Bureau Brian Bennett

WASHINGTON _ U.S. intelligence agencies don’t see signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing his grip on power, said the chairman of the House intelligence committee during a television interview on Sunday.

“We don’t see Assad’s inner circle crumbling,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on CNN’s “State of the Union With Candy Crowley.”

In fact, the Syrian leadership believes it is winning against the armed rebels trying to topple the government, said Rogers, citing U.S. intelligence reports.

The U.S. and the international community have been under heavy pressure to act as Syria’s brutal crackdown on armed rebels has left thousands dead. According to the United Nations, about 9,000 people have died in Syria since a protest movement inspired by the “Arab Spring” gave way to violent clashes last year.

After a meeting about the Syrian conflict in Istanbul, Turkey, over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Syria would face “serious consequences” if the government did not stop killing “fellow citizens.”

But what those consequences may be is unclear.

The Free Syrian Army, an armed faction of the rebellion, has repeatedly called for the international community to supply it with heavy weapons to oppose the tanks and missiles of the Syrian military.

The U.S. has stopped short of arming the Syrian rebels. The coalition of countries meeting in Istanbul as the “Friends of the Syrian People” released a communique Sunday pledging millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and communication equipment to help the Syrian opposition, but made no mention of military support or weapons that the rebels, who are outgunned by the Syrian army, have been requesting for months.

Speaking in Washington on Sunday, Rogers said that arming the rebels is probably not a good idea, mainly because “we just don’t know who they are.” U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about members of al-Qaida in Iraq moving into Syria to assist the rebellion.

The Assad regime also continues to be propped up with support from Russia and Iran, as both countries see Syria as a critical “toehold” in the Middle East, Rogers said.

The roughly 70 Arab and Western officials gathered in Istanbul urged Kofi Annan to set a timetable for his Syria peace plan, given that killings have continued in the five days since the Syrian government agreed to abide by the accord.

Assad agreed on Tuesday to the six-point plan proposed by Annan, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, that calls in part for a cease-fire and an end to troop movements.

“Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises,” Clinton said in televised comments from the conference.

On Sunday, 68 people across Syria were reported killed in continued shelling of towns and clashes with the army, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition activist groups. The death toll included 21 people in the central city of Homs, which is entering a third month of shelling of various neighborhoods.

The Syrian government restricts access of the media to the conflict zones _ one of the issues Annan’s plan calls on the regime to address _ which makes it difficult to independently verify the deaths reported by the opposition.

 Posted by at 3:14 pm

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