After seven years of a brutal conflict in Syria that has left over half a million people dead, a million people injured and 12 million displaced, Assad has, in most peoples’ eyes, won the war to remain in power. That, however, does not mean that the fighting is over. Rebel forces still have control over Idlib and other areas, Kurds remain in control over large parts of the north and Turkish forces, with the help of with rebel fighters, recently seized Afrin from Kurds. Syrian government forces, aided by Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah, reclaimed the majority of Syria, including Aleppo in 2016, and now Eastern Ghouta after months of intense fighting there. However, a meaningful political solution does not seem close and will be complicated to reach, especially now that so many countries are entangled in the conflict.
Experts predict that violence and opposition to the Syrian regime will be present in Syria for years to come but that Assad will remain in power over the war-torn, broken Syria. Syria’s future will likely withhold “de facto partitioning” between different groups and countries, but that will not bring peace to Syria or function as a long-term solution. Reconstruction will require enormous amounts of money and the economy is severely crippled. It could be more difficult to recover the economy and infrastructure than to win the war itself. The state of the country will likely cause most refugees to stay in the countries that they fled to.
Assad’s regime has clearly shown that they will take all measures possible to remain in power and nothing indicates that they will change course in that aspect. They are evidently unwilling to compromise regarding Assad’s position as a president while the armed opposition are unwilling to agree to anything less than Assad stepping down. There is a possibility that Assad and his allies will implement a military solution but their opponents says that the refusal of a political transition will prevent Syria from ever becoming peaceful and stable.
Additionally, the international outrage that Saturday’s alleged chemical attack evoked has shown that Assad never will become included in the larger international community, nor will they view his power as legitimate. It has been argued Assad cannot be called a true victor of the war anymore since the attack made it clear that he lacks the capacity of rebuilding Syria due to the fact that the regime always will be seen as illegitimate after having committed such atrocities towards their own people.
France, the U.K. and the U.S. have all stated that they will respond to the chemical attack and Trump, in particular, has claimed that the U.S. will retaliate for Saturday’s events. However, an attack from the U.S. would likely have little impact on the situation as a whole, especially since the rebels in the area already have surrendered. While there’s a possibility that the message it would send could prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again, it wouldn’t change the war’s outcome and would only cause more blood-spill at the moment. At this stage of the war, the Allies will not be able to prevent Assad from winning militarily.
Regarding the future of the many actors in the war, their conflicting interests will continue to complicate the situation. The most prominent current peace process, known as the Astana talks, is occurring between the leaders of Turkey, Iran and Syria in an attempt to find a political solution in Syria. Iran and Russia support Assad while Turkey backs the rebels. While the three countries wish for the conflict to end, the Astana talks have overall been less than successful.
However, a new Astana talk was held recently on April 4 which was followed by a joint statement, saying that they together would work for the “the achievement of a lasting ceasefire between the conflicting parties”. The countries also agreed to maintain the four de-escalation zones for another six months. These zones have in the past not succeeded in minimizing violence and analysts say that they mainly serve as a way for the countries to legitimize their role in the conflict. Yet, the differences in interest mean that Iran, Syria and Turkey are “far from reaching a compromise” regarding their visions for Syria’s future and that there is little prospect for the Astana talks to resolve the conflict. The U.N. Security Council will likely not achieve any political solution either since Russia can veto any proposal, as they’ve done before.
Therefore, without a mechanism that can resolve the complex situation, Syria’s future is likely in the hands of Assad unless something drastic and unexpected changes the course of the war. The lack of a political transition means that Syria will continue to be unstable, fragmented and torn by violence. The dreams of democracy, freedom and socioeconomic change that sparked the uprising in 2011 look sadly more distant than ever before, as does any political transition.
Picture: Aris Messinis