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BLOG 295 March 21, 2016

With basketball playoffs and political show-offs going full tilt, readers find it difficult to get updates on the Middle East. Are we seeing double-dribbling or just plain old dribble? Hard to say, but here’s some issues worth noting.

Putin says he’s pulling out the bombers and jets. Kerry says he’s hopeful in the midst of doubt. Assad’s not talking or sticking his head up, least it get knocked off. It is true that the U.S., and Russia agreed on a cease-fire plan. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergev V. Lavrov agreed on the possibility of a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire. The issue is whether the warring factions will honor any form of such commitments. The White House immediately applauded efforts to halt fighting, but also recognized the obstacles and the fact that setbacks can be expected.

What are some of those problems?

One of the major issues will be getting any sort of an agreement between the many factions fighting Assad. They range from the Kurds to ISIS to groups in between who are supported by opponents Iran and Saudi Arabia. ISIS has already established itself as ruthless, a defiler of women, and beyond brutal. The Kurds have proven to be valiant fighters, but have their own agenda. Of course, Assad’s use of chemical weapons and starving his own citizens into submission doesn’t suggest he’s highly reliable. Not a good blend!

Turkey is now in the mix with intense hatred and suspicious of Assad. Russia’s suggestion that Kurdish representation be included in talks certainly rankles Turkey.

At this point, it appears Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed on talks to end the civil war. However, these two nations remain bitter enemies and will be so after the war is over. The major fear is that Iran and the Saudis will get “into it” again and their hostility would reignite the war. Certainly possible!

And what could talks accomplish? The immediate goal would likely be a reduction in fighting and getting supplies into starving people in trapped cities. Wounded need to be evacuated to hospitals outside the country. Medicines are desperately needed. These objectives are more obtainable than an actual cease fire.

Events like the triple bombing in the predominately Shiite suburb of Damascus, killing at least 50 people and occurring just as the U.N. mediator held his first meeting represent the harsh reality on the ground. The killing casts a long shadow over all attempts to halt the killing.

Russia and America continue to arms their sides of the conflict under the table. All in all, the current situation doesn’t make for much of a recipe of peace. However, even a small step forward is to be preferred to the killing and massive migrations that continue to haunt Europe.

The March Madness in basketball will come to an end soon. It won’t in Syria.

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