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Soldiers leaving Assad

ANKARA — As one of the Sunni Muslim soldiers who form the bulk of the Syrian army, Lieutenant Adnan Suleibi kept being pushed to the front of units fighting in the rebellious city of Homs.

Alawite personnel – members of the same minority sect as President Bashar al-Assad – remained in the rear. Alawites control the military through their domination of the officer corps and, crucially, direct the Soviet-style intelligence and secret police apparatus entrusted with preventing dissent.

“The Sunnis are cannon fodder and morale has been sapped. There are 75 men left in my brigade out of 250. The rest were killed, injured or deserted,” said Suleibi, a slim 23-year-old in jeans and striped tee-shirt.

“As soon as the chance came, I made a run for it,” he said after crossing to the safety of Turkey last week with a comrade.

They are among a new wave of Sunni defectors who have abandoned the military in recent weeks as the army, short of gung-ho infantry, relies more on heavy artillery to batter Sunni towns.

The opposition says at least 17,000 people have been killed in a 16-month uprising against Assad, who says he is defending his country against foreign-backed terrorists.

Assad loyalists in the military use classic Soviet techniques to keep the men in the front line from running away, including the threat of death.

“In Homs I was afraid more of the military intelligence behind me that of the rebels in front,” Suleibi said.

“The military has become a murder and theft machine. The priority of the officers is for us to bring them big-screen televisions from the homes we enter,” he said. “I would have defected earlier if not for concern for my parents’ safety.” (Reuters)

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