Over 1,000 Militias Make Syria "Like L.A. Riots Gone Berserk"

Syrian refugees shout slogans against Assad at Boynuyogun refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border March 16, 2012.
Credit FreedomHouse / Flickr

U.S. and other diplomatic officials say discussions within the Obama administration in favor of providing arms to the Syrian rebels are gaining ground amid new indications that President Bashar Assad's regime may have launched additional chemical weapons attacks.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says eliminating Syria's air defenses would be the first step before inspectors could determine if the regime did indeed use chemical weapons.

"Once you've destroyed the Syrian military, you're in Iraq in a sense," Landis says. "We were criticized in Iraq because we only had 100,000 troops to protect an entire country."

Officials insisted Wednesday that no decisions have been made but said arming the rebels is seen as more likely and preferable than any other military options. Landis says by most estimates, over 1,000 militias are operating in Syria.

"Every neighborhood is putting together a militia, because there's no law," Landis says. "It's working. There's money coming from donations of all kinds. So militias are forming, they're raising money because the Gulf Sunni countries want to see this Shi'ite government that's allied with Iran taken down."

Landis says the Syrian government no longer holds sway in Northern and Eastern parts the country, and the situation has descended into "warlordism."

"Different militia leaders need to pay their men, and they don't have money," Landis says. "So they put up roadblocks, they start levying money from people. There's been tons of kidnapping. Factories have been stripped, stuff has been sold off in order to raise money. This is the LA Riots gone berserk."

Rebecca Cruise says as the conflict expands, and 25 percent of the Syrian populations flees to refugee camps, uprisings and resentment are growing beyond Syria.

"This could ignite conflict in other lands," Landis says. "We can come in behind them, but if we're holding the whole bag, it's expensive, and we haven't had great success."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.