The Threat of Rifat Assad’s Return Looms over Damascus

Fireworks are expected at the Syrian Baath’s 10th convention opening in Damascus Sunday, June 6, from the upcoming duel between the two vice presidents Farouq a Shara and Khalim Haddam. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Damascus sources report that this is small beer compared with the unexploded bomb about to drop in the person of President Bashar Assad‘s disreputable and filthy rich uncle Rif’at Assad, 68.

Rif’at, then vice president, was thrown out of Syria 16 years ago by his own brother, Bashar’s father, the late president Hafez Assad, when he was caught plotting a coup against his brother who was then recovering from a heart attack.

He is notorious as a ruthless infighter for power and not too squeamish about bloodletting. He has been living in exile since his expulsion, making money and dividing his time between Spain, France and Britain. He has made his home in Marbella and owns a satellite TV channel and the London-based Arab News Network which is run by his son Sumar.

With a strong sense of drama, Rif’at has told no one, including nephew Bashar, when his plane is due at his old home town of Damascus or his plans after arrival. Suspense is running high. Syrian intelligence does not have the answers either, although it has caught wind of the disquieting preparations Rif’at has made for his homecoming.

  1. Through messengers, he has picked up old connections with former collaborators in the army and intelligence service. Those messengers were also armed with lists of young officers to approach on his behalf.
  2. Many millions of dollars of his personal fortune have been pumped back into Syria to buy political influence. The resources he can afford to invest to win influence far outstrip the funds available to Bashar or any other Syrian hopeful.
  3. From early May, Rif’at or his messengers have been sending funds to Syrian opposition groups in the United States and Europe.
  4. He is in secret talks with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Syria and in exile. He wants them to grant him a public pardon for the 1982 massacre Syrian forces under his command carried out against their homes in Homs and in the Tadmor prison. Between the two, 30,000 Syrians were slaughtered, most of them Muslim Brethren.

Assad plans reshuffle regardless


Our Middle East sources believe that Bashar’s uncle has bestirred himself to return home on the assumption that President George W. Bush has decided that, whatever happens in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon, the Syrian president must go. The Americans will not take direct action to remove him; neither will they interfere if he is brought down. Therefore, if Bashar falls in the absence of his uncle, the Assads will lose power for good and the minority Alawi Muslim sect will be overtaken by Sunni majority elements who will fill the vacuum with the help of other ethnic groups in Syria.

Farouq a Shara will open the Baath conference on Sunday. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources who have seen a draft of his speech, report that he will declared the UN Security Council resolution 1559 which caused Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon was not directly aimed against Syria because the country’s name is not specified. Haddam will then rise and deliver a strong speech attacking a-Shara’s address, an event unheard of in these formalized Baath gatherings.

But ahead of the convention, Haddam is busy organizing the senior office-holders who are members of the conference to demonstratively resign their posts in order to be free to criticize the government’s handling of the Lebanese crisis and point fingers at Shara.

Our sources add that the president intends firing prime minister Naji al Oteri and appointing the minister of finance Muhammed Hossein in his stead. This gesture is designed to show that Assad has began initiating reforms whereby professional people will run the country in place of politicians.

But aside from this show, the president has decided to sack vice president Haddam, after his long years of service to him and his father, for the unforgivable act of challenging Shara.

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