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            The civil war trudges on.  With possible multi-national negotiations in the wings, President Bashar Assad has been pressing for an image of success in the on-going civil war. The entrance of Hezbollah gave the sagging regime a new lease on life. Rather than being pushed out the back door, the Assad establishment reversed their losses and appeared to be back on top. However, the picture is not as secure as they would like to represent.

The situation remains a “give-and-take” struggle.

Government forces recently pushed rebels back from a number of suburbs just outside Damascus. Around the key northern city, Aleppo’s rebels are now on the defensive. Because the United States backed away from  its proposed missile attacks, Assad has avoided the serious upheaval that could have tossed him to the back of the bus. He is certainly in a better position from where government troops were a year and a half ago.

Before anyone runs up a victory flag, a second look reveals anything but a winning solution in sight. In Tadamon on the southern edge of Damascus, the government found that it took them weeks to push invading rebels back just a few hundred yards. The government army remains stretched thin.

One of the government’s problems has been their failure to make progress on the gains they have already made. Significant divisions within the Assad government have weakened their ability to respond. Some officials seek to moderate the fighting in hopes of obtaining local cease-fires. Part of their strategy is to present the government as seeking peace should they sit down at a negotiating table. Another portion of the government team wants the opposite and presses for more aggressive action. While these two sides disagree, the crisis in the country only deepens.

The influx of Hezbollah fighters has now bottomed out and other radical jihadists elements continue to cross the borders to fight against Assad. The rumor is that these foreign fighters from across the Muslim world can be bought for $3,000 a head. While the war continues, the number of Syrian refugees also continues to increase. This past week more victims fled Syria and poured into the Bekaa Valley over the border in Lebanon.

The bottom line? Nothing is going nowhere.

The rebels insist no talks are possible until Assad leaves. Assad says he will run for president next year. The world’s nations only jawbone and do nothing. People keep on being killed.

Sorry. Just another day of ongoing chaos.

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Sunni Muslim rulers shunned an Arab League summit held in late March. The

meeting ended with a joint call on President Bashar Assad to stop his bloody crackdown

on Syrian citizens. Unfortunately, an important element didn’t show up. Shi˜ites weren’t

there. Having watched this tension within the Muslim world for years, I still find myself

baffled by how passionate these divisions are in Islam.

Following the completion of America’s war and withdrawal from Iraq, the on-

going bombings made it clear that Sunnis and Shi˘ites have big problems riding in the

same boat. During the so-called Arab Spring, the relationship between these two

fundamental Islamic sects has not improved. To put the struggle in a Western context,

the situation is like the Baptist shooting at the Methodist because they don’t practice

immersion. (And that’s with bombs and AK-17 rifles.)

How can the two major Islamic groups have such a hate for each other? Few

Westerners actually understand the differences. Here’s the inside scoop.

Sunnis constitute 84% to 90% of the Muslim population while Shi˚ites sweep up

most of the rest. The Shi˜ite name literally means “party” or the party of Ali, the younger

cousin of Muhammad who grew up in the prophet’s home and married his daughter

Fatima. The basic Shi˘ite principal is that the head of the Muslim community must be a

descendent of Muhammad. Ali carried the Muslim flag when Islam captured Mecca in

630 A.D. and came out a hero. Long dead Ali is the central figure in this dispute.

The first three caliphs of the Moslem era weren’t of this linage and are considered

illegimate rulers by Shi˘ites, believing God imposed the years of corrupt rule to separate

true believers from hyprocrites. This conviction sets the stage for the ongoing strife and

struggle with the Sunnis.

The population of Iran contains the extremists Shiˇa element while next door

neighbor Saudi Arabia, once allied with Egypt, supports the Sunnis. The fall of Hosni

Mubarak has thrown these struggles into a turmoil, further pitting Sunnis and Shiˇa

against each other. In Iraq, as refugees returned home following the war, the tension runs

high with neither side trusting the other. Consequently, as the Americans left, the old

tensions between these groups returned, but with even greater suspicion and anomisity.

The differences between these groups are complex, but the basic apprehension is

that Sunnis will impose Islamic law and Shi’ites fear they will be required to follow

Sunni law. Sunni’s are highly offended because Shi˜ite ritual still curses the first three

caliphs. In addition, Sunni’s accuse the other group of hypocrisy and immorality because

of their practice of dissimulation and acceptance of temporary marriage.

Sound strange that two Muslim groups could still be at war with each other over

events that stretch back 1500 years? Westerners shake their heads and can’t decipher the

facts. With our separation of religion from government, Americans find Moslem hostility

toward each other to be strange, foreboding, and hostile.

Back to the recent Arab summit. The cold shoulder from Sunni-led monarchies

only re-enforced Shit˘ite suspicions. Iraq’s Shi˘ite leadership and Iran’s identical position

keep them on the outside of Arab League gatherings.

Make sense? Well, not really, but that’s the role Islam plays in the Middle East

and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

Question: Can you see any basis for reconciliation between these two groups? Will they
ever trust Americans when they don’t trust each other?

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