What is left of Syria?

What is left of Syria?
7 min read
15 March, 2015
Analysis: The voices of the Syrians who dared challenge the regime four years ago have been silenced by the four-year conflict in Syria has utterly destroyed the country.
Civilians flee barrel bombs in Deraa, where the revolution began [Ibrahim El Hariri/Anadolu/Getty]

It seems that the slogan chanted by regime supporters at the start of the Syrian revolution: "either Assad or we'll burn the country" was not simply a slogan to terrorize the revolutionaries.

As the revolution developed, it became apparent that it was in fact a strategy adopted by Bashar al-Assad from day one, and meticulously implemented. The strategy was to respond to any protest with the most brutal force, destroying cities, leveling some to the ground, and violating religious and sacred symbols.

The tactic used was not only to attack the armed factions that fight the regime, but also civilians in areas that had revolted. This was done in order to transform revolutionary activities into imbalanced acts of revenge against regime violations and to foster sectarianism and localism amongst the residents of those areas, with the ultimate goal of radicalizing residents and create a situation where the regime was seen to be fighting radical extremists rather than revolutionaries.

The regime was quite successful in destroying large parts of the Syrian state, as well as killing some 177,000 Syrians since the start of the revolution, according to the statistics of the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Other tallies put the death toll at more than 220,000. The Assad regime also leveled entire cities, bred extremism and to a lesser extent sectarianism.

The regime not only attacked the armed factions fighting the regime, but also civilians in areas that had revolted.

And though the Syrian revolution, which is entering its fifth year, has stripped the regime of most of its sovereignty and power, it has still been unable to completely remove the regime from power due the lack of any international will to see the regime fall.

The countries currently embroiled in Syria, headed by the US, have preferred to leave the country in a political stalemate between the regime and the opposition, an arena of conflict between multinational militias, while maintaining a fragile balance between the warring parties.

No international leadership

With the end of the fourth year of revolution, it is clear that the only power in control of developments is the US, which does not seem to be in a hurry to resolve the conflict in Syria. A US decision on Syria might be postponed until after the situation in Iraq is resolved. Further, the fifth year of the Syrian revolution is expected to see greater Iranian involvement reflecting the progress achieved in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Tehran that the Obama administration is so keen to achieve as it represents the only foreign policy accomplishment of Obama's two terms in office.

While turning a blind eye to Iranian involvement in Syria, the US has signed an agreement with Turkey to train the moderate Syrian armed opposition in what seems to be the first steps to create a moderate Sunni force to be a partner in filling the vacuum after the Assad regime.

This agreement might enable Turkey to implement its demand to form a buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border, which would be a safe heaven for the forces it will train, and fortify Turkey's southern border against the possible ramifications of events in both Syria and Iraq. Turkey could also use its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia to achieve its demand for a buffer zone without international approval.

Militarily, the growing power and influence of the Nusra Front in the north of Syria is likely to change with the American intention to support moderate factions and hopes that Islamist factions will change their strategy toward more nationalist goals. Further, Nusra's popularity is expected to diminish after its interference in the personal lives of civilians and its hostilities with other armed factions in a manner very similar to the behaviour of the Islamic State group (IS) in the area, for which it was expelled.

The coming period can also be expected to see more cooperation between the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham group and Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions after the marked change in Ahrar al-Sham's strategy, which seems to be abandoning Salafi-Jihadism in favour of joining the nationalist project.

Furthermore, the growth of FSA factions in the Latakia countryside will result in an escalation on the coastal front between the FSA and regime forces that are attempting to secure the coastal regime strongholds.

Among the military forces that America relies on, Kurdish forces seem the most cohesive and trusted, due to the fact that they are not involved in religious extremism. After their victories against the IS group with the support of the FSA on the ground and the international coalition in the air, Kurdish forces moved to control Arab majority areas. However, the secessionist aspirations of these forces could lead to a clash between them and the regime, who had wanted the Kurds to expel the IS group for regime forces to take their place.

Additionally, Kurdish control of Arab majority areas could lead to a future conflict with other armed opposition groups, especially after growing complaints of Kurdish practices in those areas. The rise of Kurdish forces in the upcoming period is linked to the extent of the American need for them to play a role, after the US used these forces to push back the IS group.

In the east of Syria, the attack and retreat battles IS on the one side and the FSA and Kurdish forces on the other are expected to continue, with a reduced rate of fighting between IS and the regime as each side is dependent of the other.

The southern front is also expected to see an escalation in fighting especially since the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah have entered the fray alongside regime forces. However, with the FSA's increased strength in the south, it will attempt to advance to the southern border of Damascus to ease the pressure on opposition forces in the Ghouta belt, south and east of Damascus.

The regime is expected in the coming year to continue its attempts to prove that it is still an active player on the Syrian scene by solidifying its centres of influence on the Syrian coast whilst continuing its siege and violence against the outskirts of Damascus. However, the growing Iranian role in the country and its control of certain regime decisions could develop into a hidden conflict through which the regime will try to limit Iran's influence or at least prevent Iran from replacing the regime.



The countries currently embroiled in Syria, headed by the US, prefer to leave the country in a stalemate between the regime and the opposition.

With the decline of the regime's military abilities and its exhaustion over the past four years, it appears that regime has developed a policy by which it distracts the residents of areas that are far from the regime's direct control by creating militias that fight among themselves. The regime controls these militias from afar in a way that prevents them from expanding into regime-controlled territories, such as the militias in al-Hasakah, Aleppo and al-Suwayda.

The head of the opposition Syrian Republican Party, Mohammed Sabra told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Syrian revolution in its fourth year has managed to topple both the regime and the opposition. He explained that with the fifth year of revolution, the country is witnessing post-revolutionary chaos, as the regime has turned into a militia controlled by Iran after the collapse of the notions of the state and sovereignty.

Sabra believes the regimes have collapsed since Iranians began leading the battles on the ground, executing officers from the regime's army, and ever since 41 countries began flying in Syrian skies without the regime's approval.

Mohammed Sabra also explained his belief that Syria is currently occupied by foreign militias, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizballah, Iraqi Shia militias and the IS group. Sabra called for a reformation of the Syrian national project and an international conference to organise Syrian affairs and force all foreign forces out of Syria.

The head of the Syrian Republican Party believes the situation in Syrian is headed toward the internationalization of the Syrian crisis, in which we will not only see two Syrian parties sitting across the negotiating table, but there will be international actors sharing the table to secure their interests.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.