Endgame on the Euphrates, no simple solution to foreign conflict


Endgame on the Euphrates, no simple solution to foreign conflict

Mark Brady

Foremost, I believe the ISIS threat should be removed and stamped out. In all likelihood, these fighters will start dispersing into different regions, and returning to their “home countries,” posing another post-war security threat. I think that the most extreme rebel groups should be removed, such as the Al-Nusra front. After the final sweeping actions, the parties should consider coming to the table. At that moment it would be prudent to establish the principles and guidelines for the post-war order in Syria. The diplomatic will of the major powers tends to favor the existence of large states in the region (such as Syria and Iraq proper). If such states are created within the same shell however, conflict will likely ultimately ensue once again. The current Iraqi government is part of the majority Shia sect, as opposed to the minority Sunni rule under Saddam Hussein. As a consequence, the extremist-Sunni group, ISIS, was able to bolster its ranks in the Northern part of the country. On a similar level, Assad maintains a position of minority rule as well, drawing his powerbase from the Alawite Levantine coast. In a likewise situation, Sunni resistance gained strength in the countryside of Syria. 

One proposal struck me as unique to mediate a potential post-war peace scenario: This was a federalization proposal brought forth by the Kurdish-controlled “Rojava.” The Kurdish alliance envisions a post-war Syria model, in which power will be increasingly federalized, leading to greater autonomy for different regions. This is likened to the old French colonial administration, which followed a similar process of administration along ethnic and religious lines. The Assad-government has rejected this proposal, but many foreign observers and contenders feel that this model might be the only way to produce longstanding peace. British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, acknowledged that a “Dayton style accord” may be the only way to end the conflict. The Dayton Agreement itself was the agreement by which the ethic-related Bosnian War was ended. The state structure was divided between the primarily Bosniak “Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” and the Serbian “Republika Srpska.” 

The Kurdish controlled Rojava, remodeled their territory into Swiss-style “cantons,” providing a model for such a situation. Thus far, many nations have rejected such proposals. In all likelihood, any such federalization proposals would prove very unpopular with neighboring Arab states, who already occupy precarious multi-ethnic positions. Interestingly enough, the Secretary-General of the Arab League came out in support. Only time will tell how this proposal will measure up, but given the sectarian and ethic/religious nature of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, I feel this federalization proposal might be the most appropriate solution. 

I ultimately believe Assad will come out on top in this conflict. The entrance of Russia as a direct ally in the war has created a level of complications that simple diplomacy will never resolve. Russia has spent naval, air and ground assets to bolster the Assad regime in the conflict. While both Russian and American air assets have targeted common enemies such as ISIS, Russian air units have directly bombed Assad’s rebel opponents, while on the same token, President Trump ordered a missile strike against an Assad airfield believed to have conducted chemical attacks. After ISIS is completely gone from the picture, it might become a diplomatic battle of attrition to see which major power is willing to risk the assets and time to come out on top. I don’t believe the United States will risk war over the region. 

So far in the conflict, Russia and Iran have ultimately obtained the most political and military successes in the war. Russian involvement in Syria has prevented an overthrow of their middle eastern ally, and they will likely keep a lease on the port of Latakia in the Mediterranean. Iran has seen its influence creep into both Syria and Iraq, sending volunteers directly into these countries. Iranian support of Hezbollah (an ally of Assad), has seen its influence grow rapidly in the Levant and Syrian region. Iran is also gaining support of the Shia Iraqi government, potentially displacing American influence outright. As such, America’s cards haven’t particularly been played well in the last few years, and its international competitors in the region have stepped in. Iran will see its influence grow steadily in the region, particularly across its Shia and Alawite allies. 

Regarding the various belligerents themselves, I see Assad maintaining power in the coastal and urban areas of the country, albeit with a perpetual insurgency in the countryside and desert. I don’t think Russia nor Iran will accept a capitulation of his power, disrupting both their efforts, and potentially destabilizing the region further. At this time, the major opposition simply doesn’t have the military strength to dislodge Assad. Whether the United States or Turkey will directly intervene on their behalf is up for debate, but at present, this would seem increasingly unlikely. The United States recently acknowledged that its rebel armament program was a failure. I don’t see Turkey directly intervening, but they may play an increasing role in the next crisis. 

Ultimately, I think the next crisis issue will involve the Kurds. The Syrian Army and Kurdish forces will soon be staring down one another after the defeat of ISIS. Currently, they both occupy the two largest swaths of territory. In Iraq, a similar situation unfolds, between the Iraqi government and the Peshmerga-held Kurdish Autonomous Region. Both Kurdish groups, the Syrian Rojava and the Iraqi Autonomous Region, desire higher degrees of independence. The Iraqi Army recently reoccupied the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, a major oil producing region, after the Kurds held an Independence Referendum. Turkey has been paying close attention to these developments, as a sizeable (and historically rebellious) minority of Kurds occupy the Southeastern parts of the country. Unfortunately, I see another conflict in the works. I would not be surprised if Assad launches a major attack against the Kurds, and Iraq reasserts its dominance over the Kurdish Autonomy Region. Turkey will likely support these endeavors, as they already publicly offered assistance to Iraq and condemned the Kurdish independence initiatives. I believe the United States will turn a blind eye to this issue, and potentially betray the Kurdish forces, who proved their valiance in the fight against ISIS. If a Kurdish conflict heated up, the United States would potentially have to choose between Turkey or Kurds. Needless to say, the United States policy has favored a strong NATO-backing Turkey, so their decision might be made.