The sources said Bashar began to lose his power in April as
demonstrations spread throughout Syria. They said Iran worked directly with
Maher and other senior regime members to widen and intensify the crackdown
on the pro-democracy opposition.
On Aug. 1, the president issued one of his first statements that praised
the bloody crackdown on the opposition movement, Middle East Newsline reported. Assad said the Syrian Army
assault on Hama — in which more than 120 people were killed — marked an
achievement for national unity.
"It [military] proved its loyalty to its people, country and creed,"
Assad said. "The army was a model of commitment to the nation's causes and a
defender of its rights, proving to be an impregnable fortress foiling the
dreams and suspect plans of enemies."
Western diplomats maintained that Bashar has been isolated from the
regime's power bases. In his rare public appearances, they said, the
president appeared listless, adding that his statement in support of the
military sounded as if it had been dictated by others.
"The government is not exactly a cohesive, coherent unit but rather a
group of disparate groups within the government itself," U.S. embassy
spokesman J.J. Harder said.
In an interview with the BBC World Service, Harder said the Assad regime
contains what appears to be reform wing that has been offering such
concessions to the opposition as free and multi-party elections. At the same
time, the U.S. diplomat said, the regime has declared total war on its
"This full-on warfare in which the government is engaged in today, I
think, amounts to nothing less than a last act of utter desperation," Harder
Over the last two months, the diplomats said, Chawkat, a leading Syrian
military commander, returned to the regime's inner circle. Like Maher,
Chawkat has expanded military operations against the opposition. The sources
said Maher and Chawkat were deploying about 50,000 soldiers from the
military, intelligence and security forces to quell the revolt.
"Bashar is the chairman of a Mafia family council, but now he listens
more," a leading Western intelligence analyst, who disagreed with the
diplomats, said. "He still makes the main
decisions but Maher decides how to implement them."
The diplomats said Bashar was probably never allowed genuine control
over the military in his more than decade-long rule. They said even before
the revolt in 2011 the Western diplomatic community had assessed that Bashar
was part of a regime leadership that actually made decisions in his name.
"Even the closest Arab allies of Bashar long ago came to the conclusion
that Bashar has people telling him what to do," the Western diplomat in
Damascus said. "These days, I don't even think he's given much chance to
even think about what he has to approve."