Searching for a solution to Syria's war

Searching for a solution to Syria's war
Comment: Syria's four-year was will continue unless the international power use their influence to bring about a lasting and dignified peace for the Syrian people, says Sophia Akram.
4 min read
13 May, 2015
Barrel bombs, artillery and snipers continue to terrorise the Syrian population [Anadolu]

Civil war has raged in Syria for four years, but in the past month rebel forces have made considerable gains.

This counters the view that Bashar al-Assad was perhaps winning the war; but the opposition is not winning either.

The International Crisis Group say that the status quo between the rebels and regime remains unbroken as neither side is about to deal with the rising power of the jihadis.

Their backers can help to change the current impasse but the ICG argue that a new policy framework is needed to deal with the conflict.

The regime control western Syria; the rebels have made serious gains in the south while the Islamic State group have strongholds in central Syria.

The Nusra Front are in northern Syria, and are eliminating US-backed rebel factions in Idlib and Aleppo. US air raids drove IS out of Kurdish areas, east of Aleppo, but its hold has weakened elsewhere.

The regime's military power is flailing, and forced it to rely on foreign fighters from Hizballah and Iranian Shia militias.

Islamist factions joining Nusra have done so to help topple the regime but reject a transnational agenda. The main opposition groups cannot continue their fight without consideable foreign backing.

War grinds on

The conflict has been horrendous, with a list of human rights violations. Human Rights Watch has noted an intensification in indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas.

Prohibited weapons have been used, as well as rape, arbitrary detention, disappearances, torture and the use of child soldiers.

The war has created masses of refugees. Accompanying this is a breakdown of education, public services and an outbreak in epidemics.

All states have placed the elimination of the IS as at the top of their agenda. This is the wrong approach and radicalisation in Syria has made IS stronger.

The main regional players - Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey - view the war in terms of military strength and territorial control. Moscow and Tehran happily "underwrite" the regime and make no efforts to solve the crisis diplomatically.

Iran and Russia cannot afford - financially or for their reputation - to continue funding the regime. The opposition need more financing, which the US can provide.

More alignment between the states that back the opposition are needed to strengthen the rebel cause.

     Stefan de Mistura, must succeed where others failed and encourage engagement between different forces.

In both cases, no side is making enough gains to say that they are winning this war, and it leads Syria down the path of further destabilisation.

While both sides are trying to attain outright wins, their allies can use their influence to bring about a reasonable solution to the conflict.

Peace for Syria

Each party needs to consider their bottom line and make the necessary concessions.

The ICG also state that Assad cannot rule in a post-war Syria if peace is to last and that there is no denying that Iran has a strong presence in the Levant region.

Supporters of the opposition need to come together with two objectives: to support non-ideological factions and incentivise Islamist factions that might be willing to distance themselves from transnational groups like Nusra.

This would enable the mainstream opposition to take ground from the regime.

Therefore, the US needs a much stronger policy, particularly if it is training the moderate factions. It should make clear that it will no longer tolerate indescriminate regime attacks.

The US should also have very clear terms to negotiate a peace between the warring factions, including reforms, security and a pluralistic society.

Europe on its part needs to ramp up humanitarian efforts and alleviate the various crises affecting the country, better co-ordinating aid it does provide.
Iran does not need to support the regime if it can still has links to Hizballah. A new government in Syria would not mean that Iran would be threatened by Damascus.

Turkey is crucial in re-balancing the dynamics within the rebel camp, and their key concerns should be secure borders, the return of Syrian refugees, leaving the Kurdistan areas as they are, and creating a pluralistic society.

If the bottom lines have been established, the next obstacle is establishing the path to peace. The third UN envoy, Stefan de Mistura, must succeed where others failed and encourage engagement between different forces.

His strategy to establish "freeze zones" (areas that a ceasefire is in place) has so far failed.

In Feburary, his attempt in Aleppo was rejected by the opposition who felt Mistura was biased towards the regime, and wanted the UN Syria chief to work towards a permanent resolution.

The ICG maintain that the ceasefires could work, so long as neither party viewed it as an act of surrender, or simply relocate their forces to elsewhere in Syria. It should also not be seen as a substitute to an overall resolution to the conflict.

Mistura needs to work harder to make this happen and he will need Western cooperation and an Iranian "buy in" to see his efforts come to fruition.