Syria/Middle East
Syria Report 2016 - Middle East

Syria Report 2016

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

Situation in Syria is as dire as can be – with 6.6milllion internally displaced, 4.8million out of the country as refugee, cities and townships devastated with bombings and battles and the population strife with shortages of food and basic needs.

After 4 and a half year’s intense battle and a UN estimate of a 400,000 dead, Syria does not see an end to war.

As complicated and confusing as it is to comprehend Syria’s delimma, with hundreds of armed groups in the Rebels and the Rojava (Kurdish groups) and as many groups tied to the Syrian government (some estimate at least 1000 armed groups)– perhaps it would be useful to take a quick temporal view of the crisis before going for a spatial one.

In 2011 when protests in Syria began in the onset of the Arab Spring the world looked with awe towards Syria, as a people ready for revolution – a people angry at the repression of the Assad regime and yearning for a real democratic and just Syria. And the people representing the ‘people of Syria’ were the ‘rebels’ – but who did the ‘rebels’ really represent?

Remember the released a declassified document of the DOD (US Dept. of Defense) in May, 2015, this document was dated August 2012. The document shows that the DOD had clear understanding that the situation in Syria, after the so-called Arab Spring, was ‘taking a clear sectarian direction’(not a politcal one aimed for democracy), that ‘the Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood and AQI are major forces driving the insurgency in Syria’, and predicted that the ‘regime will survive’ but only in the coastal area.

DOD was also sure of the outcomes that, because ‘opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka, Deir Zor) adjacent to Iraq’, this ‘will help prepare safe havens under international sheltering similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command center of the temporary government’, therefore ‘there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers of the opposition want’ which are according to the DOD  ‘the West the Gulf States and Turkey support the opposition forces…’.

But amazingly the DOD also clearly links the ‘opposition forces’ to the AQI or ISIL in awarding the establishment of the same ‘Salafist Principality’ to AQI, when it says ‘this creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to Mosul and Ramadi and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria ... against what they call… dissenters (Shia)’ and that ‘ISI could also declare an Islamic State… in Iraq and Syria…’

Clearly the language  of the document shows that the insurgency in Syria was not merely an uprising of dissident Sunnis against a repressive Alawite regime but a far larger set-up, linked with AQI (renamed ISI in 2006). An insurgency supported by and perhaps sequenced by the Gulf States, Turkey and the West. Though this doc does not name Saudi Arabia but just one month later in Nov. 2012, the Syrian National Coalition of the rebel groups was formed in Qatar, backed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. And in April 2013 ISI did just as predicted – declaring itself ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

As for the situation today, the rebels’ territories has shrank considerably, and at the same rate as that of the expansion of ISIL. If one compare 2016 with 2013, one would see that almost all the areas claimed by ISIL today were claimed by the rebels in 2013. It is as if the rebels fight fercely with the regime but have little resistence agaisnt ISIL.

A look on the geography of Syria reveals another interesting factor, that most of ISIL-claimed land is a no-man’s-land. Silsilat al-Jibāl as-Sāḥilīyah is the coastal mountain range in northwestern Syria running north-south, parallel to the coastal plain. These mountains block the moisture laden winds from the mediteranean, rendering most of in-bound Syria arid or semi-arid.

Because of this desertification, Syria’s sparce population of about 23million in 2013, is mostly concentrated along or near the coast and along the Epharates River. The map above shows, how large swaths of areas are uninhabited in Syria. ISIL does not actually occupy the empty lands but only some major cities and townships, and also controls major highways and the oilfields located in its bounds. The map below shows that almost all the oil and gas fields are located in ISIL-claimed area.

The map also shows how the Rebels concentrate close to the costal areas where the Alawites are bounded. They usually create a buffer between the Regime and ISIL and with a general pattern of retreating from the east and penetrating deeper into the west. Nobody knows how many real fghters constitute the Rebels or ISIL, most estimates run between the CIA estimate of about 31,500 ISIL fighters and the Baghdad-based security expert, Hisham al-Hashimi’s estimate of close to 100,000 ISIL fighters. on the other hand the IHS Jane's report gives an estimate of 100, 000 fighters of the Rebels and ISIL combined, also making clear that nearly half of the rebel forces are jihadist or hardline Islamists. The Guardian published an article in Dec 2015, explaining that most Syrian rebels sympathise with ISIS, meaning they both have the same Salafist, Jihadist ideology. It is also noteable that if the rebels or ISIL were representatives of the people, the 4.8million people who have fled the country, would have stayed with their saviors and joined their ranks.

In retrospect, if Saudi Arabia and friends funded Al Qaeda in the first place and continued to do so when it was in Iraq, and if Saudi Arabia and friends fund the Rebel’s Syrian National Coalition from Qatar, then how could the both be of separate ideology?

The above map also highlights another aspect of the war – the Rebels and ISIL combined, have effectively isolated the Alawites, the Kurds and the Druze from each other. Even so the map shows the Rebels and ISIL are maintaining a buffer between the Syrian Kurds and the Kurds close to the Turkish side. This buffer gives the Rebels more access to the Turkish border from where they can get reinforcements. Turkey also has an interest in keeping the Kurds divided and interestingly the Aug.2016 incursion of Turkey’s artillery along this northern buffer zone showed Turkey’s anxiety at keeping the Kurds at bay and getting Jarablus back from them.

But indeed we would be more interested in looking at the even broader picture that covers both Syria and Iraq as regards to ISIL. The map below gives a good idea of what is happening in Syria and Iraq combined. In present scenario ISIL can lay claim on the large swathes of land comprising the larger central and western part of Iraq and the adjacent eastern and central part of Syria – effectively pushing the Shias in Baghdad to one corner adjacent with Iran, the Alawites clinging to the Mediterranean and the Druze to Jordan. As for the Kurds, even after this long strife and even when this had been a Western-backed war, they won’t be allowed to unite or form a single state by any means, for they have always been and will still be used as playing cards in the hands of concerned stake-holders.

The map also shows how ISIL manages to contain all different opponents by controlling only strategic points and routes. As for Baghdad, it seems to be self-contained, perhaps with the help of rampant terror of suicide bombing that occur every other day in and around Baghdad. In spite of Iranian strategic support the rulers of Baghdad are mostly confined inside the Green Zone, the secure complex in the heart of the capital, since the U.S. invasion of 2003.

So how do you see the bigger picture now! Perhaps one could speculate on the re-drawing of the Middle East map now. Speculation is that from the US invasion of Iraq to the Iran Nuclear Deal there is a chapter of negotiating with Iran a Shia south-eastern piece of Iraq allied to Iran at the cost of Iran’s nothing to do with the Kurds and giving-up the rest of the Sunni Iraq to the US and its allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States. On the other hand the Saudis and friends had to be talked into a partial Iraq and Syria, when in the beginning they must have opted for the whole states. If such scenario happens, this will lead to a large Sunni Islamic State with lots of oil, but not much of infrastructure, a completely land-locked, mostly desert, Sunni state, totally reliant on the outside world for food and other necessities, thus easily manipulated by the allied handlers. A Sunni state surround by unhappy, more advantaged neighbors, who have been deprived of their oilfields. Perhaps in such scenario it would be helpful for the handlers, to maintain the Islamist struggle within the Sunni state to reap more advantage in a status quo chaos.

The unbelievable thought for all Sunni around the world, who would have otherwise been more than happy to see a large Sunni-majority state emerging on the globe, would be that ‘did Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Gulf States plan all this with their western allies?’. Is this the idea of liberating fellow-Sunnis from so-called oppressive regimes – to throw the populace into decades long state of war, into the pitfall of perpetual hunger, lack of medicine and absence of any kind of civil life – is this how you remove them from repression?

The Lancet, one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world estimated Iraq's 'excess' death toll to be over 655,000 in its 2006 report, while the Syrian Center for Policy Research estimated at least 470,000 Syrians dead as a result of the war. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center has estimated at least 3.3 million internally displaced in Iraq.

Let’s be clear, interventions in Iraq, Libya or Syria were not humanitarian Responsibility to Protect (R2P) interventions. These countries were economically stable, had high literacy rates and healthy populations. There only common sin was there refusal to accept American hegemony and their tilt towards Russia. And what happens to humanity is of no apparent concern to the warring sides –especially not to the ‘opposition forces’ and the ‘powers that support them’.