Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Fragmented Syria: The Balance of Forces as of Late 2013

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Fragmented Syria: The Balance of Forces as of Late 2013

Article excerpt

Syria today is divided de facto into three identifiable entities. These three entities are: first, the Asad regime itself which has survived all attempts to divide it from within. The second area is the zone controlled by the rebels. In this area there is no central authority. Rather, the territory is divided up into areas controlled by a variety of militias. The third area consists of majority-Kurdish northeast Syria. This area is under the control of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), the Syrian franchise of the PKK This article will look into how this situation emerged, and examine its implications for the fixture of Syria.

As the Syrian civil war moves toward its fourth anniversary, there are no signs of imminent victory or defeat for either of the sides. The military situation has reached a stalemate. The result is that Syria today is divided de facto into three identifiable entities, each of which is capable of defending its existence against threats from either of the others.

These three entities are: first, the Asad regime itself, which has survived all attempts to divide it from within. The second area is the zone controlled by the rebels. In this area there is no central authority. Rather, the territory is divided up into areas controlled by a variety of militias. The third area consists of majority-Kurdish northeast Syria. This area is under the control of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), the Syrian franchise of the PKK.

This article will look in more detail at how this situation of de facto fragmentation in Syria came about. It will also observe the current state of affairs within each of the entities. Finally, it will examine the possibilities for an early conclusion of the Syrian conflict and the reunification of the country, or, conversely, for continued war and the solidifying and consolidation of these separate areas into de facto "quasi-states."

HOW DID THE FRAGMENTATION OF SYRIA COME ABOUT?

The emergence of a de facto divided Syria is the result first and foremost of the Asad regime's response to its strategic predicament in the course of 2012. By the end of 2011, the uprising against the regime had transformed from a largely civilian movement into an armed insurgency, largely because of the regime's very brutal and ruthless response to civilian demonstrations against it. This response did not produce the decline of opposition, but rather the formation of armed groups intended initially to defend protests.1 These armed groups then began to conduct their own independent actions against the regime's armed forces.2

The Asad regime initially tried to hold all parts of the country against the insurgency. Yet it was unable to muster the required number of reliable troops to mount a classic campaign of counterinsurgency. This soon became evident in the rebel heartlands of northern Syria, close to the border with Turkey.

Beginning in late 2011, the opposition and Free Syrian Army began to occupy ground, taking control of a number of towns and villages in the Idlib province. In January 2012, Zabadani was taken. Douma, near Damascus, fell in the same month. The rebels also took control of the greater part of Homs city, for a few months. In January 2012, some additional Damascus suburbs fell under partial opposition control.3

Asad hit back. The regime first attempted to launch a concerted effort to recapture these areas, in the late winter of 2011/2012. In February 2012, a counterattack was mounted. It began by retaking Douma, then moved on to Homs, and then began the pacification of Idlib-in time for the beginning of the "ceasefire" brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which was due to take effect in April 2012.4

The regime's counterinsurgency tactics were characteristically bloody and brutal. Human Rights Watch, in a document based on field research carried out in the Idlib province described how 95 civilians died and hundreds were wounded in the period between March 22 and April 6, 2012, as Syrian armor and infantry swept methodically through the towns of Sarmin, Saraqib, Taftanaz, Hazaña, and Killi. …

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