After Iraq, which is a de facto divided country, Syria is fast approaching the point of no return. Notwithstanding the partial ceasefire that seems to be holding at least in certain parts of the exhausted land, decision-makers are now talking about a ‘Plan B’ that, for all practical purposes, means Damascus will soon compete with Daraa, Deir Al Zor, Aleppo and Latakia. Is partition a viable option for Syria?
A few days ago, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, raised the issue as an alternative to the ceasefire deal brokered with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and that entered into effect on February 27, even though it did not include Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), as well as the Al Qaida-linked Jabhat Al Nusra. Despite violations, including those attributed to both the Syrian regime and Daesh, expectations ran high that everyone will respect the ceasefire. Time will confirm whether this is wishful thinking, even if such an outcome will enhance prospects for political negotiations and, eventually, some sort of reconciliation among warring factions.
We are not there yet because so much is at stake in the war for Syria. For starters, there are states and groups that believe they are winning, even if Syria as we knew it no longer exists and will take at least three or four generations to rebuild. Those with the abilities to remake Syria — moderate opposition forces — are at the receiving end of attacks, including from Russian jets that have yet to hit a single Daesh target. In fact, Daesh has not silenced its guns and is happy to defy foreign arrangements, oblivious to the quadrilateral alliance that emerged between Russia, Iran, the US and the Bashar Al Assad regime.
What used to be complicated gained a notch in the mind-boggling category as Kurds received assistance from both Washington and Moscow that, naturally, irritated Turkey where the fear for irredentism is all too real. This is the chief reason why Ankara is afraid of what will occur next along its long borders with Syria and Iraq and insists on a plan that will allow it to control at least a strip of buffer territory to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Few should therefore be surprised if Ankara increases its various assistance programmes to opposition groups. Moreover, Syrian Kurds — who are receiving assistance from both Moscow and Washington — will also need to worry, because such ties are driving Turks bonkers.
Regardless of these permutations, which will probably need a lot more time to unravel, a partition of Syria is far more likely than many assume because the Al Assad regime is committed to a full-fledged war and will not accept to share power.
By Joseph A. Kechichian