Day: February 3, 2018
As 2018 opens, the Syrian Civil War, as a battle of two opposing visions of Syria’s future, has ended. Today, the conflict continues on a more complex level: with multiple layers of conflict, international intervention, and growing power for non-state armed militias. What does 2018 bode for Syria, and what strategies are there to help bring the conflict to an end?
On January 25, the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank focused on the Syrian conflict, debuted its operation in Washington. The Omran Center, which has been operating in Turkey since 2013 as an arm of the broader Syrian Forum, opens its doors in America as a source of independent research and objective analysis of the murky state of affairs in Syria today. Yaser Tabbara introduced Thursday’s event, featuring analysts from the Omran Center discussing the current situation on the ground in Syria and trajectories for the near future.
Sinan Hatahet reported on the background as Syria moves into 2018. Describing the goals of the strongest power players on the ground (U.S., Turkey, Russia, Iran, along with the Syrian government and opposition), he noted that all are in favor of stabilization, with one exception: the forces of the Syrian opposition. Thus, building a lasting solution to the conflict requires a response to fundamental political issues that sparked the uprising in 2011. Hatahet went on to explain that, on the international level, the peace process is tilted toward the Russian approach to hold new elections and update the constitution, while preserving Bashar al-Assad as president. Despite this, the weakness of the Syrian military makes it difficult for the regime to regain control of the whole country without the assent of opposition groups.
Ammar Kahf spoke on developing trends on governance across Syria. Kahf described the complex phenomenon of decentralization that is taking place, both officially under the Assad government’s reforms and unofficially with local councils in areas outside of government control. The situation of local councils varies across the country, but their growing ability to provide for their constituents hints at a path toward stabilization that could bring in all Syrians. Kahf displayed the Omran Center’s proposal for a reorganization of the flow of government from Damascus to individual provinces and towns, in order to grant more local control over security.
Mona Alami warned about other risks for Syria in the absence of a peace deal. Alami predicted greater influence of Iranian-linked paramilitary groups, which have grown to rival the power of the Syrian army. With greater ability to call airstrikes, hold and control territory, and deploy rapidly from one area to another, these militias have become an unpredictable factor in building a solution for Syria. On a similar note, Sinan Hatahet warned that continuing conflict could spark the appearance of new rogue non-state actors, potentially more destructive than the Islamic State.
What the panelists did not predict for 2018, notably, is peace. There may be prospects for stabilization in Syria, but it is likely that the conflict is far from true resolution.