Syria is passing the fifth year in conflict and yet no sign of peace, except for failed meetings, “talk-shop” conferences and a recent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution that is absolutely weak. Questions arose as to how long will it take to reach “peace”? How much more blood will be spilled? How many refugees had to risk their lives into Europe? How many more meetings and conferences in lavish vicinities are required to agree to life by disagreeing deaths?
Incentives to prolong the war
The prolonging of the Syrian conflict was possible because of certain factors: (i) the sides are well matched, (ii) each faction has sufficient willpower and resource, and (iii) each side has domestic and/or overseas support to continue the war for a longer period.
Each side is truly well matched. If one side’s willpower is at the peak, the other sides have either the best military resources or financial resources or foreign backup to fill up their lackings in other aspects. While groups like al-Nusra and ISIS, who are driven by the thought of paving their way to paradise, lack no determination or willpower to continue the war, the Arabian Sunni rebels have backups from regional powers (mainly Saudis, Qataris and Turks) to carry on their part of the campaign. Kurdi Sunni rebels (within Syria) are backed by the West (mainly the U.S.). On the otherside, the Assad regime has the blessings of Russians and Iranians to continue its part.
Occurrences in Iraq impact Syria
The U.S. and Iraqi Sunni tribes largely defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS) by 2008. But the desertion of the tribes by the U.S. in the hands of a sectarian government caused the tribes to lose their trust completely on the U.S. and Iraqi government. Out of their distrust for Iraqi government, one part of the Arabian Sunni populations in Iraq want for themselves either an autonomous Arabian Sunni federal state within a reformed Iraq or a complete independent Arabian Sunni state. Although this part of the population is not taking anyone’s side, they are helping any groups or sides whosoever (including ISIS) can help them with their vision of autonomy or independence. The other part of the Arabian Sunni population in Iraq has directly jointed ISIS, accepting their ideology. Such a situation is impacting occurrences in Syria, because ISIS operates in both the countries, with recruits of ISIS in Iraq taken to Syria for military operations.
The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances do not have any set plan for Syria. On the otherhand, the other coalition – involving Assad regime, Iran, Iraq and Russia – claim that they have a plan. No one else otherthan themselves knows what the plan is though.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to make accessibility of the region risky for Russia and China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts say that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then get the U.S. embroiled and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from lower global oil price.
On 18th December, 2015, the UNSC endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, adopting unanimously the resolution 2254 (2015). The resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire, endorsing a non-sectarian government in Syria within “6 months”, and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new Constitution. The resolution also endorses for UN-monitored elections within “18 months” pursuant to the new Constitution, reiterating the call for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria. However, such a resolution keeps no direction as to what will be Assad’s role and also fails to categorize the rebels that are legitimate and the ones that are not. Moreover, the drafting of Constitution of a severely divided country will take years, if not decades, in order to gain acceptability and recognition for such Constitution by all legitimate parties. Any Constitution that would be drafted by 18 months is bound to dissatisfy many legitimate parties to the conflict.
Moreover, the reality is that no UN resolution and draft-Constitution can save Syria, which is plagued by foreign involvements. Because of such involvements, the ongoing destructive process in Syria reached the point of no return. No UN resolution can save Syria if foreign involvements are not completely eliminated. Continuation of such involvements will only be followed by the final disintegration of the country.
- Although two major powers – Russia and the U.S. – are involved in this conflict, a Russia-U.S. direct confrontation is next to impossible. No UNSC member can fight another UNSC member as per UN provisions. However, such international provisions never matter when conflict of interests reaches the height and heat of confrontation goes out of control. But, what would really keep these two powers away from fighting each other are not the UN provisions, but the reality that both are nuclear armed states and a war between them means total annihilation of not only these two major powers but also a larger part of human race and earth’s landmass.
- The worst case scenario in this conflict would be a Saudi-Iran direct confrontation. Such Saudi-Iran direct confrontation may occur if, for instance, the Sunni alliance commits professional soldiers in support of the rebels in Syria. However, such a scenario is the worst case scenario that is highly unlikely to occur.
- Turning from hypothesis to what may actually happen, it appears that currently there is a stalemate, involving Russian airstrikes, deaths of rebels, deaths of Iranian soldiers, deaths of civilians, Assad regime simultaneously gaining and losing towns and villages, Hezbollah and ISIS continuing to hold territories. Such stalemate may be broken by exhaustions, leading to a deal similar to the one that has been reached by the UNSC on 18th of this month. But it is unlikely that Syria would experience any solution through this deal. Even if some solution is reached through this deal, it would be impossible for Syria to ever become completely peaceful. Syria may become another Lebanon or Angola, where both compromise and fighting revolve around time to time.
- Would it not be better to have left the Syrians alone to solve their own problems? Would it not be better to end all sorts of international interventions by all international parties in Syria? Innocent people in Syria and Iraq are suffering from the ongoing conflict. The influx of refugees in Europe is a sheer reflection of this reality. These sufferings will only end when the U.S., which is backing one warring side, and Russia, which is backing the other side, will end their interference in the country. The country is better off without foreign involvements. Let Syrians solve their problems by whatever means they choose. Let the global north and middle eastern powers not interfere anymore in Syria. Only then solution will be reached sooner.
Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst, and writes on Middle Eastern, greater Asia-Pacific & European geopolitics. Also a campaigner for environmental and social awareness, Bahauddin Foizee occasionally writes on environment and refugee issues.