Opinion: The US-led coalition which supported the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have routed the Islamic State’s (ISIS) fighters out of Baghouz which was the last bastion of their self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
And while the SDF, supported by U.S. airstrikes continues to pound the remnants of the ISIS fighters in the tunnels and caves along the eastern Euphrates River as SDF technicians remove mines and booby traps from the liberated areas, the question remains, is Syria any better off now?
Removing ISIS is a plus anywhere in the world but the eight-year bloody civil war will go down as a resounding victory for the oppressive regime of Bashar Assad.
When in 2011 the civil war started, many both in the West and in the Arab world were looking for a change from the authoritarian brutal rule of the government of Assad. But as events played out, everything worked in favor of Assad.
As the civil war began by rebels in Idlib province, springing out of the Arab Spring protests, calls for Assad’s removal were met with violent suppression. There were several factions involved in the very confused fighting. Facing the forces of Assad were a loose alliance of Sunni opposition groups (including the Free Syrian Army), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front), the mostly Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Islamic State.
The Islamic State saw an opening and poured fighters in and began to seize territory in both Syria and Iraq to proclaim its own caliphate. The fighting spilled over into Lebanon with fighters from ISIS and al-Nusra battling Lebanese Army units.
The morass got worse with several other countries entering into the fray. Russia, a long-time ally of the Assad regime conducted airstrikes on the rebel-held areas. Iran saw an opening to make itself a bigger power player in the region and poured troops and money into the support also for Assad. They also saw an opening to establish bases on the border with Israel which they quickly have set up.
This prompted air strikes from the Israelis who vowed never to allow Iranian troops on their border. The Israelis ravaged Iranian, their puppet Hezbollah as well as Syrian government bases with heavy airstrikes.
The United States and a coalition led by them entered the fray on the side of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, which the SDF fights for both militarily and logistically. They set up bases inside of Syria for the sole purpose of fighting ISIS and removing them from Syrian territory. Therefore, the U.S. coalition, enemies of Assad was actually helping the government by helping to rid them of the ISIS threat, which is a friend to no one in the region. The Americans and Russians worked out an agreement not to fly or operate in each other’s areas.
That arrangement was tested when Russian “contractors” attacked a U.S. base with armored vehicles reportedly by mistake and were savaged by U.S. airstrikes and artillery fire.
The situation took on an even more twisted perspective when Turkey became embroiled in it. The Turks supported the rebels battling the Assad government and attacked ISIS as well, but they also consider the SDF and the Kurds terrorists. They’ve moved into the northwestern part of Syria and have threatened an offensive against the Kurdish SDF. Like Israel with Iran, they won’t accept an armed Kurdish faction on their border.
The refugee crisis has become a world-wide problem. And no place that is more keenly felt right now than in Idlib province. With the ISIS threat removed and the US-led coalition scaling back their troop levels, the threat to Assad’s power is basically gone.
And in Idlib, which is still a rebel stronghold, Assad is targeting civilian infrastructure with his airstrikes. News reports had Syrians bombing a hospital, other medical facilities, and a bakery. Idlib is currently home to three million people. Two million of them are from there and a million are refugees fleeing from the fighting elsewhere.
Assad has shown in the past and currently that the ends justify the means. Therefore, his government forces along with Russia are conducting airstrikes with impunity, forcing the civilians to flee while he exerts control once again over the area.
“The ongoing attacks in Idlib fit the same pattern we’ve seen before, in Aleppo, Daraa, Damascus Countryside, whereby Syrian government forces hit hospitals, medical facilities, emergency responders, bakeries, schools, leaving people no choice but to flee,” Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International said.
The rebel forces in Idlib are no match for the government forces of Assad and although the fighting may become protracted like in other large population areas, the outcome is not in doubt. Assad has one and the other countries in the region have already come to grips with it.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and other countries are reestablishing diplomatic relations with Syria. The country is in shambles and despite Russia and Iran pumping a lot of cash into reconstruction, Assad will need money from the West to aid there.
Will the West and the U.S. see the overwhelming need to aid in a humanitarian crisis and offer their help to a government that caused it all in the first place? The lack of help from the West, should they refuse would be to set the stage for another civil war and even more bloodshed. And worse, set the stage for ISIS to return.
The European Union and Washington will ask for political reforms before they agree to commit billions to rebuild Syria. However, Assad, Russia, and Iran are hardly the players who give that any semblance of succeeding.
There are estimates that state that Syria needs $400 Billion to rebuild. Those estimates sadly may be smaller than what will actually be needed.
Syria is a mess and it isn’t getting better anytime soon, but in Damascus, Assad is happy…he won. With the help of his enemies.
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