-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Decadence of Syria in Middle East by destabilization policies of external powers for years gave rise to a civil war, engineered by the all powerful USA as part of its regime change fallacy pursued since the era of former CIA boss Senior Bush, has certainly made the enemies of Islam happy. Unfortunately, self proclaimed Sunni leader Saudi Arabia, possibly having seemingly lost faith in Islamic unity, not only supports US scheme for oil rich West Asia but also wants the Pentagon to dismantle all Muslim nations ruled by Shi’a leaders, even if they rule Sunni nations.
Syria, a Sunni nation in West Asia but ruled now by a Shiite leader Bashar al-Assad is a case in point. Both USA and Saudi Arabia want Assad to resign so that a Sunni leader takes over the reign.
The Syrian conflict, now in its fourth, unrelenting year, is an unmitigated disaster even in US arithmetic. By any measure – strategic, humanitarian, political, social or environmental – the conflict has ravaged the Middle East. The humanitarian toll is overwhelming. Over a quarter of a million are dead and half of the country’s population is displaced. Though there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity recently, no political agreement is on the horizon either.
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad now effectively controls only a little more than a quarter of the territory of original Syria and its control is diminishing on a daily basis because it is losing territory to insurgents, ISIS and facing a manpower shortage in the military.
The Syrian conflict is so confounding and disruptive because it’s not just a product of levers and forces internal to Syria. Syria has become the lightening rod for all of the ills of the region. It has become the place of convergence for regional and international rivalries, religious apocalyptic visions, the lack of human security, demographic challenges, the inevitable social and political effects of decades of authoritarianism and the lack of broad-based legitimacy of political elites, social and religious movements.
The ISIS is attempting to move into the regions that have been abandoned by the regime, on 26 July, Assad, who is still adamant and refuses to step aside in order to save the people and nation as per the game plan of CIA in Mideast/West Asia, admitted that the regime had difficulty in holding on to all the provincial centres that it had so far endeavored to do and that it would now concentrate available military resources on securing the Damascus-Homs-Hama-Latakia coastal belt in the west.
The Assad regime is essentially fighting three main enemies—the IS, which holds almost half of Syrian territory although much of it is desert; the Islamic rebel coalition Jaysh-al-Fatah that is supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar; and the Southern Front, a moderate opposition coalition that holds much of the south of Syria.
The Syrian Civil War has now been raging for four years and there does not seem to be any end in sight. The major participants are the Assad regime and its primary supporters Iran and Hezbollah, the IS, Turkey, the moderate Southern Front, the Saudi Arabia sponsored Islamic fundamentalist group Jaysh-al-Fatah and the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat-al-Nusra. In addition the Kurds are extremely active as are the Western nations fighting an air war against the IS. Each fights for its own cause. Assad’s calculation is if and when the ISIS defeats the other groups, the US led international community will come to his aid to fight the scourge of ISIS.
However, Assad forgets that the war began to remove him from power and USA is unlikely to fight to keep Assad in power. Also, USA does not want the IS to fill the vacuum that would be left in the wake of the removal of Assad.
Turkey perceives Syria and the Kurds as the fundamental threats to its security. From the beginning of the US involvement in the Syrian Civil War the US has concentrated on defeating the IS, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have focused on ousting Bashar al-Assad. While the US has supported the Kurds as ‘effective partners’ on the ground in the fight against IS, Turkey and the others supported opposition militia in their fight against the Assad regime.
Apart from Turkey, the Kurds are spread over Syria, Iraq and Iran with their fight for independence starting to gain traction with the arrival of IS into the fray. Currently the Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq and Syria can be considered almost a single entity. Turkey has realized that the Iraqi-Syrian Kurds are now far advanced in their quest to be an autonomous State and are fearful of the influence it will have on their own Kurdish population.
Turkey fears that if it fails to stop Turkish Kurds from joining their brethren, it would translate to the loss of about a quarter of Turkish territory where Kurds are in majority. Such a turn of events, would see Turkey losing its common borders with both Iraq and Iran and suffering a commensurate decrease in its regional influence. Turkey had undertaken a brutal repression of domestic Kurds in the 1980s and 90s, who still account for about 20 per cent of the population. Although the Kurdish militia has been the most effective fighters against IS on the ground, Erdogan has reopened the Turkish civil war with the Kurds instead of attempting to achieve a negotiated settlement for a more durable peace.
The AKP government is pursuing to create a ‘buffer zone’ in northern Syria so that the land area controlled by the Syrian Kurds will not be contiguous to set up an autonomous Kurdish state. Ankara is also rounding up Kurdish activists within Turkey to prevent them from initiating any action towards a ‘greater’ independent Kurdistan. Turkey finally entered the US war on ISIS on July 2015.Now Turkey faces direct threats along its southern border from the IS and the Kurds. The ISIS controls large swaths of desert between Aleppo in north-west Syria, Mosul in northern Iraq and Ramadi in the south near Baghdad.
Turkey has consciously attempted to destabilize Iraq through increased support for IS in Iraq and more importantly through its support for Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.
Saudi Arabia expects that removing the Syrian President, who is supported by Iran, from power would bolster its position and lead to greater regional influence. Since the beginning of the war against IS, Saudi Arabia has felt that the flagging of its regional influence. The situation was exacerbated by the US-Iran deal that led to the international community’s acceptance of the Shiite nation and Iran’s increasing influence in the region.
The fundamental political objective of Jabhat-al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Southern region is to influence Syria’s transition and to ensure that it becomes an ‘Islamic’ nation.
With its improved status and re-entry into mainstream international politics following the nuclear deal, Iran proposes cessation of hostilities within Syria; a five-year transition period; retention of Syrian sovereignty; and the expulsion of all foreign terrorists from Syrian territory and charting an acceptable way forward with a transitional Syrian Government. Tehran pushes for a negotiated settlement.
No one could have predicted that what started as peaceful protests against Assad’s authoritarian regime could spiral so thoroughly out of control and lead to the establishment of ISIS and the fracturing of the Syrian state. The world continues to lament the state of Syria but has been unable to muster any solutions.
The worst-case scenario is that Syria’s slow, violent burn continues unabated for years to come, accelerating related regional crises. The best-case scenario is a more orderly disintegration of the state, a crumbling that has already begun. This has far-reaching consequences for the entire region, yet the focus continues to be on the rise of ISIS to the exclusion of other deep-seated issues driving the conflict.
The real threat remains the fact that the Syrian could rapidly engulf the neighbouring countries. The antagonism inherent in the Turkey-Kurd relationship complicates the implementation of the Iran Plan. At the absolute baseline the chances of establishing successful peace comes down to Turkey-Iran relations.
It seems inevitable that Syria will continue its path towards complete fragmentation. The USA and its allies do not have a coherent strategy to bring about an acceptable solution so that the people of Syria can start to rebuild their ravaged lives.
Syria’s death knell is audible, loudly and clearly. More than half the Syrian people have become refugees in their own country; their erstwhile ruler Assad continues to bomb his own people along with his opponents. The challenge now is that the civil war is not a Syrian Civil War anymore, it is a Middle-Eastern Civil War, where friends become foes and foes become allies in very short order, creating a confusing mosaic of half-truths and grey areas..
The chief beneficiary of the Syrian and Mideast crises undoubtedly is Israel. Any political solution in Syria, recognised by all participants, therefore, can never be achieved.
Death spree continues unabated in Islamic Arab world and Arab leaders are also responsible for that.
A multitude of proxy conflicts and parochial interests is being played out in Syria, and it is unlikely that all of them can be encapsulated in a lasting political settlement.
In time, may be, there will likely be no more Syria.