Media Anthology: October 22 – October 28, 2019


Media Anthology

October 22 to 28, 2019

Turkey suspended Peace Spring, whilst the Self Administration is discussing the Russian-Turkish dealArabicAl modonOctober 23, 2019Conflict and Military
Russia deploying patrols on the Syrian-Turkish borders for the first timeArabicEnab BaladiOctober 23, 2019Conflict and Military
Responding to Menbij strike, SDF carried out a large-scale detention campaign among local residentsArabicBaladi NewsOctober 22, 2019Conflict and Military
Five explosions in northern Syria following the Russian-Turkish dealArabicEnab BaladiOctober 25, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime forces arrest about 50 young men from Harasta city in the Eastern Ghouta in Rif Dimashq including people returned to the city under auspices of the “reconciliation” committeeEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsOctober 24, 2019Conflict and Military
Heavy clashes erupted between the Turkish army and the Syrian regime forcesArabicAl HurraOctober 24, 2019Conflict and Military
Fears of a dark future for Idleb following the kill of Al-BagdadiArabicAl modonOctober 27, 2019Conflict and Military
ISIS return is paving the way for the second CaliphateArabicJusoor for StudiesOctober 25, 2019Conflict and Military
Protests threaten 30 billion dollars for Syrians in Lebanese banksArabicAl-7alOctober 23, 2019Economic
Idleb's daily markets provide job opportunities and livelihoods for the governorate's populationArabicSyria TVOctober 24, 2019Economic
Idleb: No roads for traveling to other governorates due to the closure of Menbij-Jarablus roadArabicEqtsadOctober 26, 2019Economic
Syria: Turkish identification cards obliterate identity of natives and displaced populations alikeEnglishSyrians for Truth and JusticeOctober 21, 2019Governance and Service Management
The end of the first phase of Qaboun Residential ProjectArabicAl-7alOctober 23, 2019Governance and Service Management
Punishing Syrian public servants in former rebel areas will only bring more divisionEnglishMiddle East EyeOctober 24, 2019Governance and Service Management
A village in Afrin district suffers a severe lack of services ArabicHalab Today TVOctober 24, 2019Governance and Service Management
The Interim Government forges the first council in east EuphratesArabicEnab BaladiOctober 28, 2019Governance and Service Management
Documentation of 72 torture methods the Syrian regime continues to practice in Its detention centers and military hospitalsEnglishSyrian Network for Human RightsOctober 21, 2019Social Dynamics
The tribes of the Syrian Jazira: who is paying the camels price? ArabicAl modonOctober 25, 2019Social Dynamics
Syrian Arab tribes that saw off Isis gear up to face Bashar al‑AssadEnglishThe TimesOctober 27, 2019Social Dynamics
A full report of Deir-ez-Zor protests on October 25, 2019ArabicJesr PressOctober 25, 2019Social Dynamics
Aiding & AbettingEnglishInternational ReviewOctober 22, 2019Humanitarian & Development
The Syria withdrawal’s other victimsEnglishThe New RepublicOctober 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Exclusive: EU transfers €500m Turkey aid project to IFRC – but mulls exit strategyEnglishThe New HumanitarianOctober 24, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Syrian refugees from Rukban camp fear execution in regime 'reception centres'EnglishThe New ArabOctober 23, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Turkey, Russia agree on new Syria accordEnglishHurriyet Daily NewsOctober 22, 2019International Intervention
Pedersen: the solution in Idleb is political not militaryArabicEnab BaladiOctober 24, 2019International Intervention
Trump wants U.S. troops to guard Syria’s oil. The Kurds may not welcome themEnglishForeign PolicyOctober 24, 2019International Intervention
Russia emphasizing its presence in northeast Syria and talking about Kurdish withdrawingArabicAsharq Al AwsatOctober 25, 2019International Intervention
Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen: The long-term civil challenges and host country threats from “failed state” warsEnglishCenter for Strategic & International StudiesOctober 25, 2019International Intervention
Sochi agreement: A Russian overreach?EnglishMiddle East EyeOctober 25, 2019International Intervention
The Constitutional Committee starts its meetings next Wednesday in GenevaArabicDaily SabahOctober 28, 2019International Intervention
Ten barriers to the Turkish safe zone in north SyriaArabicBrocar PressOctober 22, 2019International Intervention
The Syrian opposition: The Russian-Turkish deal is a disasterArabicAl modonOctober 24, 2019Other

Syria Update: October 23 – October 29, 2019

Syria Update

October 23 to October 29, 2019

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria. The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

Torture Report Underscores Deep Resonance of Detention

In Depth Analysis

On October 21, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) published a widely circulated report documenting the scope of detention in Syria, an issue which remains one of the touchstones of the Syria conflict. In large measure, the report is a catalog of the various forms of abuse to which individuals detained by the Government of Syria have been subjected throughout the conflict, including physical abuse, deprivation of food and medical care, sexual violence, and psychological torture. The report also attempts to document the scale of detention in Syria; according to SNHR, 14,131 detainees have died in the custody of the Government of Syria throughout the conflict, while approximately 130,000 Syrian detainees remain unaccounted for. Presumably, the majority of these individuals are dead. To this end, it is difficult to overstate the impact of detentions on Syrian communities. Indeed, the issue of detainees and detention is a growing national concern that affects almost all aspects of the Syria conflict. The fate of detainees has shaped virtually all local reconciliation agreements, while the Government’s failure to substantively follow-through on this issue remains a major driver of instability in Government-held areas, most notably in Dar‘a. Furthermore, it is widely expected that the status of detainees will factor heavily in future returns as well as negotiations toward a political settlement to the Syria conflict.

It is important that detention be understood not as a niche issue, but as a major concern of national proportions in Syria. To that end, on September 15, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued the broadest amnesty to be made since the beginning of the conflict, guaranteeing the release of individuals who had been detained under a wide range of circumstances (Syria Update September 12–17). Thus far, however, few of the sweeping promises made in the order, Decree 20, have come to fruition. In Dar‘a, for example, local estimates place the total number of detainees released since the decree was announced between 2,000 and 3,000, a small fraction of those believed to be held in detention. Additionally, those released under the order had been charged for petty crimes and small offenses, and there is little sign of reprieve for individuals detained under more serious, conflict-related charges, or on arbitrary grounds. More concerning is that elsewhere in Syria, the number of detainees continues to grow. Since the beginning of October, the National Security Bureau has denied reconciliation to at least 3,250 individuals in Eastern Ghouta, effectively condemning them to detention (Syria Update October 9–15).

Image caption: An exhibition of images showing detainees who died in the custody of the Government of Syria. Image courtesy of

In terms of local impact, nowhere is the importance of detention more evident than in Dar‘a. More than 15 months since the reconciliation of southern Syria, in summer 2018, the status of detainees remains a concern of potentially explosive volatility, underscoring the degree to which the issue of detention is capable of destabilizing Syrian communities in a post-reconciliation context. Certainly, the instability prevailing in Dar‘a has myriad causes, including unpopular conscription campaigns, faltering service provision, and increasingly open clashes between armed actors backed by Russia and Iran. However, the fate of detainees, which was central to local reconciliation negotiations, has remained a key factor in this instability; in this sense, the Government of Syria is either unwilling to de-escalate by releasing detainees, or incapable of doing so, presumably because many detainees have died in Government custody (Syria Update April 4–10). On June 30, Jamil Al-Hasan, then head of Air Force Intelligence, visited Dar‘a in a bid to quell rising unrest in southern Syria. When directly confronted over the status of detainees, Al-Hassan stated: “With respect to the detainees, forget about them,” tacitly admitting that many of the detainees have died (Syria Update June 27–July 3). In the months that have followed, Dar‘a has witnessed  anti-state resistance on an increasingly widespread, organized, and coordinated basis.

Finally, it is crucial to bear in mind that detainees and detention will be significant factors in the resolution of the Syria conflict and the mitigation of its impact. Death certificates for those who have died in Government custody are important for pragmatic reasons, to ameliorate HLP issues, and to assist family members seeking to claim entitlements or stake legal claims under the auspices of rehabilitation and reconstruction projects, as well as programming supported by the international community. As for returns, many Syrians who have been displaced internally or fled abroad will not voluntarily return to their communities (or to Syria) as long as they are wanted for arrest by Syria’s much-feared security services. In terms of transitional justice, transparency on the fate of detainees remains a demand of Syrian communities, although the prospects for accountability are dubious. Thus far, the Government of Syria has been adept at containing the impact of widespread detentions by releasing the names of those who have died in its custody on a limited basis and in a piecemeal manner, thus preventing large-scale popular reaction. Given the political salience of detainees in the long term, however, the resolution of this issue will be crucial to the Government of Syria’s efforts to restore legitimacy in—or, at the very least, to pacify—formerly opposition-held areas.

Whole of Syria Review

1. New chapter opens in NES as SIG forms Tell Abiad council and SDF acquiesces to Turkey-Russia pact

Tell Abiad, Ar-Raqqa Governorate: Amid the withdrawal of Syrian Democratic Forces from Syria-Turkey border areas, on October 28, the Syrian Interim Government announced the formation of a new local council in Tell Abiad, the first such council to form in areas captured by Turkey and the National Army in the ‘Peace Spring’ military operation launched earlier this month. Practically speaking, the council formation was enabled by the SDF’s acquiescence to the October 22 Russian-Turkish agreement carving out respective areas of influence in northeast Syria, under which the SDF withdrew from border areas with Turkey, facilitating the deployment of Government of Syria border guards and Russian military police. SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali stated that the SDF withdrew from border areas under a Russian guarantee, and that it would take all necessary steps to find a political solution for northeast Syria “on the basis of the same guarantee from Russia [for] a political dialogue with the central government in Damascus.” Relatedly, in terms of conditions prevailing on the ground, water has been unavailable for three days throughout Hasakeh governorate, affecting 750,000 individuals, as a result of damage to the Allouk water station due to Peace Spring operation.

Analysis: The establishment of a SIG-aligned local council in Tell Abiad marks an inflection point in the local dynamics of northeast Syria. Local councils that are effectively controlled by Turkey have served as critical building blocks of Turkish local administration in Syria, and they have functioned as precursors to de facto annexation in Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield areas. The formation of councils in these areas offers a road map for Turkish ambitions in northeast Syria, which primarily concern the dismantling of Kurdish political power and the resettlement of large numbers of Syrian Arab refugees in what is, in effect, a new ‘Arab Belt’ spanning the Syria-Turkey border. In the case of the former goal, the SDF withdrawal is a critical, but incomplete, first step to neutralizing the highly cohesive, powerful Kurdish-led SDF, which remains in tact in areas further south. In terms of the latter goal, the expansive territory secured by the National Army in the course of the Peace Spring offensive is nonetheless unlikely, in the long term, to satisfy Turkish ambitions to resettle Syrian refugees potentially numbering in the millions, given that it has marginal value strategically and contains no major built-up urban areas. Given that the National Army’s gains in these respects fall short of Turkey’s ultimate vision, the preservation of the status quo in northeast Syria is far from guaranteed in the long term. As such, the trajectory of the northeast will hinge on the willingness of Russia and Turkey to uphold the October 22 agreement, and on as-yet unarticulated efforts led by Russia to amalgamate the SDF into the command structure of the Government of Syria. Should either of these efforts founder, renewed hostilities, likely initiated by Turkey or the SDF, are distinctly possible.

2. ISIS ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi reportedly killed in U.S. operation in Idleb

Barisha, Idleb Governorate: On October 26, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed during a U.S. special forces operation in Barisha, a village in northeastern Idleb. According to President Trump, Al-Baghdadi was killed during the special forces raid when he detonated an explosive vest, killing himself and three of his children; Al-Baghdadi’s DNA was reportedly tested on site to confirm his death. According to several media sources, Baghdadi was said to have been residing in the house of a Hurras Al-Deen affiliate. Notably, Hurras Al-Deen is nominally linked with Al-Qaeda, and often at odds with HTS; clashes between the two have occurred frequently throughout the course of the conflict. ISIS media sources have denied the death of Baghdadi, stating that the individual killed during this operation was in fact a different ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Rawi.

Analysis: Although undoubtedly marking an important symbolic event, the apparent death of Al-Baghdadi is unlikely to impact the actual functionality of ISIS in any meaningful sense. Al-Baghdadi’s centrality to ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq is questionable, and he had been in hiding since ISIS ceased to physically control territory in Syria and Iraq; as such, Al-Baghdadi’s death is unlikely to lead to the strategic collapse of ISIS, which is increasingly operating as a decentralized insurgent terrorist group. While continued ISIS sleeper cell activity in various locations remains likely, it is improbable that ISIS will re-establish itself in any significant way, at least when compared to its earlier iterations as a territorial power. As such, the most pressing concerns related to ISIS going forward are the future of ISIS prisoners and control over IDP camps holding the relatives of ISIS combatants. Al-Hol camp, in particular, remains a flashpoint issue for the larger international community, given the rapidly deteriorating security situation in northeast Syria. How the international community intends to deal with these ISIS combatants and their relatives, in particular those who are dual citizens or foreign nationals, is thus a critical issue. However, while the repatriation of some foreign nationals to their respective countries has been facilitated, it is unlikely that the international community will repatriate all of the foreigners currently held in northeast Syria, or even significant numbers of them. The future of these prisons and camps thus remains uncertain; there is a distinct possibility that the Government of Syria may assume control of them as negotiations proceed between the SDF and the Government of Syria.

3. Civil society list lags as Constitutional Committee convenes

Geneva: On October 26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres confirmed that the Syrian Constitutional Committee would convene its first session on October 30 in Geneva as scheduled, despite the announced resignation of four delegates earlier this month. As of this writing, it remains unclear whether the four members of the civil society list who announced their intention to withdraw from the committee have rescinded their resignations, or whether alternate delegates have been selected in their place. However, in an interview on October 28, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen stated that the full slate of 150 members of the Constitutional Committee will arrive in Geneva this week, adding that the committee’s work will proceed under the aegis of the UN, as planned. Meanwhile, both the Government of Syria and the opposition have each selected the 15 delegates who will represent their respective blocs in the 45-member ‘small body’ that will serve as the core of the Constitutional Committee; however, the delegates representing the nominally independent civil society list have yet to be announced (see: Syrian Constitutional Committee: Background Note).

Analysis: The uncertainty surrounding the composition and leadership of the civil society bloc is characteristic of the impediments that have slowed the progress of the Syrian constitutional reform process, and it underscores the degree of atomization that persists within this bloc. The fact that the civil society faction has lagged behind its counterparts in announcing delegates to the Constitutional Committee ‘small body’ may be especially consequential as the Government of Syria and opposition stake out their respective positions in the committee. The 45-member ‘small body’ will, in effect, set the parameters of debate for the wider committee. In this sense, uncertainty over the civil society list may signal that infighting and disunity within the bloc have not come to an end; however, it also highlights the crucially important swing-vote role to be played by the civil society delegates. Given the three-quarter voting threshold required to pass measures within the ‘small body’ and the full committee, it will be critical for the unified Government of Syria and opposition delegations to court the civil society to pass any measures. Nonetheless, given its high degree of uniformity and high technical capacity, the Government of Syria bloc has a strong hand and leverage to stymie progress until it is satisfied with the reforms on offer as well as the conditions on the ground inside Syria. As such, intense gridlock is for the time being highly likely.

4. Iran reactiviates $3 billion credit line, doubling down on Syria

Damascus: On October 28, local sources reported that Iran had reactivated a $3 billion dollar credit line to Syria. Iran has provided Syria with a $3 billion credit line every year for fuel, medicine, flour, and other goods throughout the conflict, but suspended this credit line in October 2018 due to intensified U.S. sanctions on Iran. While Iran was compelled to halt the credit line, and faced serious difficulties in shipping oil to Syria, it resumed shipping oil to Syria at scale in May 2019. The Government of Syria will reportedly use the renewed credit line to purchase generators, water pumps, flour, and yeast, to be imported by land; medicine, to be imported by air; and oil, to be imported by sea.

Analysis: Amid mounting international isolation, restrictive measures, and domestic political pressure, Iran’s willingness to continue providing support to Syria is remarkable, especially given the fact that the extension of the credit line will certainly be a major financial strain on Iran. However, while the extension of a credit line to Syria may cause immediate financial setbacks for Iran during a period of deepening recession domestically, there are both security and economic incentives for such measures. First, Iran’s vision of its own expansive role in post-conflict Syria is complementary to its broader security-military interests in the region. Second, only companies that are affiliated with the Government of Iran are allowed to receive funding through the credit line extended by Iran, which likely envisions long-term economic returns for its investments in Syria which are likely to mature only in a post-conflict, reconstruction phase. Inside Syria, reactivating the credit line will provide a crucial support which will be especially vital to avoiding shortfalls during the upcoming, fuel-intensive winter months.

5. Aid workers detained in northeast Syria, underscoring threat as control shifts

Al-Hasakeh City, Al-Hasakeh Governorate: In early October, local sources reported that at least three former aid workers were briefly detained in Al-Hasakeh city by Government of Syria Military Security. According to these sources, Military Security offices detained the aid works (to include two women), who were former employees of a French humanitarian organization, after they visited the offices of the Military Security Branch in Al-Hasakeh to file administrative paperwork. The aid workers were released after a brief detention, but only after their families paid large bribes to the Military Security officers in the city.

Analysis: Aid workers will face mounting protection concerns as the Government of Syria re-establishes de facto security control across most of northeast Syria. These concerns are particularly acute for employees of organizations that are not registered with the Government of Syria, especially those included on the Government’s list of so-called “terrorist entities” (among which were several international humanitarian organizations that operated prominently and with large rosters of local staff in northeast Syria). In general, the threats facing aid workers in northeast Syria mirror those previously witnessed in Rural Damascus, southern Syria, and northern rural Homs. However, in those areas, reconciliation agreements permitted (or forced) irreconcilable and vulnerable populations, including humanitarian workers, to evacuate to northwest Syria; in the case of northeast Syria today, these populations have remained in their communities, and will consequently be vulnerable to harassment, extortion, and detention. Moreover, with communities between Ras Al-Ain and Tell Abiad now under the uncontested military control of Turkey, restrictive legal and administrative conditions—like those seen in Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas—are rapidly taking shape (see Point 1), and employees of organizations that are outlawed in Turkey are likely to be singled out. Consequently, former aid workers will quickly confront cross-cutting security challenges based on the local administrative or security control of the Government of Syria or Turkey. As such, further detentions are highly likely; given the scale of the northeast Syria response, this is a concern of wide-reaching implications.

6. U.S. forces redeployed to oil fields in Deir-ez-Zor

Rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On October 26, local and media sources reported that U.S. forces had redeployed from northern Iraq to rural areas in southern Deir-ez-Zor that contain some of the most productive oil fields in all of Syria. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the deployment was aimed “at keeping the fields from potentially falling into the hands of Islamic State militants.” In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov characterized the U.S. deployment as “international state banditry,” and stressed the Government of Syria’s exclusive control of natural resources within Syrian  territory.

Analysis: Despite its timing and the public assertions of U.S. policymakers, the stationing of U.S. troops in Deir-ez-Zor should not be seen as an effort to prevent resurgent ISIS cells from seizing strategically valuable oil fields (which is, in any case, a highly improbable scenario). Rather, the U.S. deployment is almost certainly intended to prevent the Government of Syria and local Iran-supported armed groups from taking control of oil fields on the east bank of the Euphrates River, either by force or through rapprochement with the SDF. Throughout 2019, U.S. forces have taken an increasingly hard-line approach to oil smuggling and the cross-line oil trade between the Kurdish Self-Administration and the Government of Syria. Under the prevailing system, crude oil extracted in northeast Syria is processed almost exclusively in Government of Syria refineries, before being apportioned to the Self-Administration and the Syrian Oil Ministry. The announcement that U.S. forces will remain in Deir-ez-Zor stands as evidence that despite the notably erratic turn in U.S. military policy in Syria, American efforts to isolate the Government of Syria and contain Iran’s influence regionally will remain, at least in concept and in the immediate term, largely consistent. Much like the U.S. garrison located on the Baghdad-Damascus highway at At-Tanf, the U.S. presence in Deir-ez-Zor should be viewed as an effort within the U.S.’s broader regional campaign to apply “maximum pressure” to Iran and, with it, Damascus.

7. Syrian cement factory work grinds to a halt as Lebanon gas imports stop

Damascus: Throughout the reporting period, local sources close to the Damascus industrial sector have reported that the import of industrial gas from Lebanon has ground to a halt, due to the ongoing uprising in that country. As per these sources, cement factories in Syria have halted production and other factories are thought to face similar challenges due to the gas shortage. In light of the ongoing general strike and civil uprising in Lebanon, activity within the Lebanese banking sector has been suspended, subsequently halting all money transfers to and from Lebanon. As a result, businesses in Syria are incapable of purchasing industrial gas. Additionally, the closure of key highways in Lebanon, including those linking coastal Lebanon to Syria, have also disrupted the cross-border trade in gas and most other goods.

Analysis: With no signs of improvement in the Lebanese economy in the near future, compounded by the ongoing turmoil in the country, Syrian businesses reliant on the Lebanese market are expected to see the production and import challenges they already faced greatly exacerbated. Besides the immediate impact of the banking sector inactivity and road closures, challenges facing Syrian businesses reliant on access to Lebanon’s market are expected to outlast the current turmoil in Lebanon. The Lebanese economy as a whole is rapidly deteriorating: the market exchange rate for the Lebanese lira is now rapidly devaluing for the first time in decades, state debt remains astronomically high, and the deep structural faults of the Lebanese economy are likely dependent on long-term political reforms. So long as Lebanese businesses, including fuel wholesalers, face these challenges, trade with Syria—and the Syrian economy as a whole—will be likely to face knock-on effects. Syria’s industrial capacity will likely be hampered for the foreseeable future, exposing the Syrian population to further shortages and deepening Syria’s reliance on outside assistance, which, for the moment, Iran is most willing to provide.

8. Government drug raid prompts Nasib protest, jeopardizing precarious border trade

Nasib, Dar’a Governorate: On October 23, local sources reported that Government of Syria anti-terrorism and Air Intelligence divisions conducted a massive raid on stores at the border crossing facility in Nasib, southern Dar‘a Governorate. The campaign was allegedly carried out to arrest drug smugglers who are active in the area. During the campaign, Government of Syria forces reportedly detained one individual from Nasib, though his involvement in drug smuggling was not established. Following the detention, civilians from Nasib reportedly tore down posters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad at the Nasib border crossing station and halted all traffic through the crossing in an attempt to pressure the Government of Syria, which released the detainee on the same date, in an attempt to contain the uproar.

Analysis: The hostile reaction to the raid speaks to the deep resentment felt toward the Government of Syria in southern Syria, and it casts further doubt on the Government’s capacity to effectively foster the security conditions that will be necessary to restore vital economic activities, including trade with Jordan via the Nasib crossing. As previously reported (Syria Update October 9–15), the reopening of the Nasib border crossing has failed to revitalize commercial exchange between Jordan and Syria. In large part, this can be attributed to mutual protectionist measures kicked off by the Government of Syria’s imposition of high tariffs and restrictions on imports through Nasib; however, the dire state of the Syrian economy as a whole, as well as the continuing unrest in southern Syrian, will be seen as further impediments to cross-border trade (Syria Update October 16–22). Finally, it is important to note that the narcotics trade has become an immensely profitable wartime activity for many conflict actors in Syria. As such, Government of Syria initiatives to crack down on the drug trade with neighboring countries (especially Jordan and Lebanon) is a double-edged sword for the Government; while breaking up drug networks may make inroads toward a meaningful restoration of Government control, by rooting out entrenched interests, it is also likely to engender stiff resistance locally.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: October 15 – October 21, 2019


Media Anthology

October 15 to 21, 2019

As part of their counteroffensive against the Turkish Forces and their loyal factions, SDF regain control of the entire city of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Half townEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsOctober 15, 2019Conflict and Military
A detailed map for the zones of control of the east of Euphrates after Peace Spring OperationArabicQasiounOctober 21, 2019Conflict and Military
The regime exploits SDF and expels it from Ashrafiyeh and Ash-Sheikh Maqsoud in AleppoArabicSY 24October 14, 2019Conflict and Military
Foreign fighters of SDF, when did they come and when will they go back?ArabicBrocar PressOctober 14, 2019Conflict and Military
Wilayat al-Hawl: Remaining’ and incubating the next Islamic State generationEnglishThe Washington InstituteOctober 19, 2019Conflict and Military
12 Assassination attempts in Dara'a within a week ArabicEnab BaladiOctober 20, 2019Conflict and Military
Intensified Russian military movements in rural Idleb preparing for a military operationArabicXeber 24October 20, 2019Conflict and Military
SDF: There is no deal cut with the regime and what happened were only understandings ArabicEnab BaladiOctober 21, 2019Conflict and Military
The Ministry of Justice denied impounding the money of Hamsho, Makhlouf, and QatrjiArabicAl-IqtisadiOctober 14, 2019Economic
Regime’s intelligence raids two towns in the Eastern Ghouta and arrests about 15 people on various charges including killing members of the “regime forces” when the opposition factions took control of the areaEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsOctober 9, 2019Economic
Criticisms for the new investment law in Syria: a wide door for corruption and manipulationArabicEnab BaladiOctober 16, 2019Governance and Service Management
Deir Al-Zour governorate in eastern Syria demonstrates to refuse the Assad regime invadingEnglishNedaa SyriaOctober 18, 2019Social Dynamics
A general strike in Menbij to refuse to enter the city by the regime forcesArabicEnab BaladiOctober 21, 2019Social Dynamics
UNHCR increases aid in north-east SyriaEnglishUN High Commissioner for RefugeesOctober 15, 2019Humanitarian & Development
15 Aid agencies warn of humanitarian crisis in northeast SyriaEnglishAction Against HungerOctober 16, 2019Humanitarian & Development
13 Terms in the American-Turkish deal to suspend the Peace Spring Operation in SyriaArabicEnab BaladiOctober 18, 2019International Intervention
The American withdrawing plan entails preserving the air space, the Tanf base, and oil and gasArabicAsharq Al AwsatOctober 21, 2019International Intervention
Return of Assad’s forces to Kurdish areas brings relief for now, but fear for futureEnglishThe IndependentOctober 16, 2019Other

Syria Update: October 16 – October 22, 2019

Syria Update

October 16 to October 22, 2019

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria. The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

Putin and Erdogan strike deal to split northeast Syria

In Depth Analysis

On October 22, following a bilateral summit in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan unveiled a ten-point action plan that solidifies Turkish military gains in northeast Syria and draws a roadmap for Russian military police and Government of Syria forces to deploy across wide swathes of the Syria-Turkey border east of the Euphrates River. The agreement sets forth a rapid timetable for military deployments that will create several distinct zones of influence in northeast Syria. In areas that have already been captured by the Turkey-backed National Army between Tell Abiad and Ras Al-Ain, the agreement preserves “the established status quo” (i.e. Turkish military control) to a depth of 32 kilometers. In remaining border areas east of the Euphrates River—including northern Hasakeh and northeastern Aleppo governorates—Russian military police and Government of Syria border guards will “facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons” to a depth of 30 kilometers from the border; according to the agreement, this will take place within 150 hours, beginning October 23. Russia and Turkey will undertake joint military patrols to a depth of 10 kilometers across the border, with the exception of Turkish-controlled areas and Quamishli city. Finally, the YPG will also be forced to withdraw from Tel Rifaat and Menbij, which will presumably come under Government of Syria control.

The agreement is the latest development in the rapidly evolving political and military dynamics of northeast Syria, following the military agreement between the Self-Administration and the Government of Syria and the announced withdrawal of U.S. forces. Although the Russian-Turkish deal to split areas of influence in northeast Syria will shape the trajectory of northeast Syria as a whole, its impact will be particularly deeply felt in several key respects, to include ongoing political negotiations between the Government of Syria and the Self-Administration; the potential breakup of the SDF; and the status of opposition-held northwest Syria, which now comes into sharper relief as the looming priority in the Syria conflict.

Russian President Valdimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi to discuss the situation in Syria.
Image courtesy of Voice of America.

Politically, the agreement dramatically narrows the scope for negotiations between the Self-Administration and the Government of Syria. The October 13 agreement between the government and the SDF stipulated that Government forces would deploy to border areas; however, it avoided concerns such as security control over population centers and the nature of future administrative reintegration. ‘Final status’ issues such as these remain the remit of negotiations to be concluded through Russian mediation. Certainly, citizenship for Kurds, a separate Kurdish education curriculum, and the appointment of a new, Kurdish, governor in Al-Hasakeh are likely to be important demands of the Self-Administration. To that end, some modest concessions on the part of the Government of Syria are likely. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has hinted that constitutional recognition for Syrian Kurds is probable, noting that Russia’s “goal is to create a situation where all Kurdish organizations in Syria are woven into the country’s legal framework and constitution.” In general, Russia has prioritized winding down the Syria conflict, and pressure applied by Russia to Damascus will be a key factor in extracting further concessions. However, by constraining the space for military dimensions of these negotiations, the Turkish-Russian agreement puts real limitations on the ability of the Self-Administration to negotiate a favorable political settlement in matters of great material impact.

In this context, the survival of the SDF as a cohesive military force is now deeply challenged. With various sections of northeast Syria now falling under the military purview of Turkey (Peace Spring areas), Russia (most border communities), and the Government of Syria (Menbij and Quamishli), the  fragmentation of the SDF on a geographic basis is distinctly possible. One important question is the means by which Russia and the Government of Syria will implement the agreement with respect to the YPG, the core of the SDF. It is by no means certain that either actor will adopt the maximalist view of Turkey that all of the SDF is indistinguishable from the YPG. More broadly, local sources report that morale within the SDF has cratered since the U.S. military withdrawal from northeast Syrial. The SDF has resorted to increasingly desperate last-ditch attempts to gin up international support, although among the PYD, the ideological backbone of the YPG (and therefore, the SDF), a distinct sense of resignation is now apparent. As such, if the SDF does not come under direct Russian or Government of Syria command as a whole, it is almost certain that Arab and tribal components, as well as combatants in areas that are ‘peripheral’ to the Kurish power base, will begin to break away from the SDF as they adjust to evolving security landscape of northeast Syria.

Finally, by forcing the removal of “YPG elements” from Tel Rifaat and Menbij, the agreement insulates the Turkish-controlled northern corridor areas and casts renewed attention to northwest Syria. Removing the SDF from its westernmost outposts in Menbij and Tel Rifaat has been a key Turkish priority in northwest Syria. Indeed, the YPG/SDF presence in Menbij was the chief concern underpinning the so-called ‘Menbij roadmap’, a largely unsuccessful platform for military cooperation between Turkey and the U.S., while Tel Rifaat has frequently been used by YPG combatants as a foothold for launching insurgent attacks on Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas. To this end, in April, National Army units backed by Turkey launched a military offensive to capture the Tel Rifaat, only to see military operations grind to a halt due to difficult terrain, extensive landmines, and the slowdown in the parallel Government of Syria offensive on opposition-held areas in southern Idleb and northern Hama governorates. Now, (in theory) the Russian-Turkish agreement realizes Turkish priorities in both Menbij and Tel Rifaat; in so doing, it draws attention to the opposition-held northwest. Throughout the Syria conflict, major military offensives have often been confined to a single front. If the Russian-Turkey agreement is successful in resolving the political and military status of northeast Syria, it is almost certain that conditions will be conducive for all parties to turn their attention to northwest Syria. In this context, it is worth noting that in a rare visit to frontlines in northwest Syria on October 22, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad stated that Syria troops there “are now ready to receive and execute the order when the time is right.”

Whole of Syria Review

1. Government resumes military operations in northwest Syria

Idleb and Hama governorates: Throughout the reporting period, media sources indicated that heavy Russian airstrikes and Government of Syria shelling targeted various frontline communities in southern and southeastern Idleb Governorate. Media and local sources reported at least 60 airstrikes, resulting in the deaths of at least two civilians, scores of injuries, and significant damage to frontline communities in Idleb. In response, armed opposition groups reportedly shelled Government of Syria positions in northwest rural Hama, southern rural Idleb, and western Aleppo Governorate, and repelled several incursion attempts made by Government forces. Most recently, on October 22, local sources reported that Russian military reinforcements had been deployed to frontline communities in southern Idelb and Kabani, in northern Lattakia Governorate.

Analysis: The resumption of heavy aerial and ground attacks in northwest Syria signals that a renewed Government of Syria military offensive in this area remains a distinct possibility, in spite of the ongoing Government of Syria deployments in the northeast. In the past, the Government of Syria has generally undertaken large-scale military operations in isolation, thereby avoiding overstretching its forces by deploying across multiple fronts. However, the Government has also undertaken continuous aerial bombardment as a means of applying consistent pressure to areas in which it is unable to launch major ground operations. In light of the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria, a simultaneous large-scale military operation  in northwestern Syria may be part of a quid pro quo agreement between Turkey and Russia, according to which Turkey will permit an offensive in northwest Syria—where it exercises nominal influence over armed opposition groups—in return for concessions in northeast Syria, where Russia is now acting as chief mediator between the Kurdish Self-Administration and the Government of Syria. Thus, while a Government offensive in northwest Syria appears unlikely for the time being, it cannot be ruled out entirely.

2. Government deploys security officers to Ar-Raqqa, signaling likely effort to restore administrative control

Ar-Raqqa Governorate: On October 17, media sources reported that the Government of Syria had issued a decision to deploy to Ar-Raqqa Governorate 12 high-ranking military and police officers from security branches in various other governorates. The officers have deployed to Ar-Raqqa city, Tabqa city, Ain Eissa district, and Jurneyyeh subdistrict. Russian military forces had already been deployed to many of these areas—moving in as U.S. troops withdraw from Syria—reflecting the pace at which the military agreement between the Government of Syria and the Self-Administration is taking shape.

Analysis: For humanitarian and developmental programmers, the degree to which the Government of Syria intends to impose administrative control over much of northeast Syria is now a critical question (for more information, see COAR paper on Potential Governance in Northeast Syria). The Government of Syria is more likely to regain full control of Arab-majority and peripheral communities than of predominantly Kurdish communities in northern Hasakeh and northeastern Aleppo, making its decision to deploy military officers to Ar-Raqqa Governorate unsurprising. Ar-Raqqa is a predominantly Arab area, where the SDF has long been unpopular among elements of the local population and whose Arab tribal leaders have maintained open channels with Government of Syria stakeholders. The deployment of security officers to Ar-Raqqa city is also of particular importance given that the city is the administrative capital of the governorate. As such, the increased presence of high-ranking Government of Syria security officers, as opposed to military officials, in the cities of Ar-Raqqa and Tabqa is likely an irreversible step toward the Government assuming administrative control of Ar-Raqqa. Pending ongoing negotiations between the Government and the Kurdish Self-Administration, government registration and engagement may become critical in order for organizations to maintain programmatic access; international actors must prepare for new administrative realities in order to avoid service gaps in ongoing programming.

3. Lebanon’s massive protest movement poses risks to Syria response

Lebanon: On October 17, nationwide protests erupted in Lebanon, triggered, ostensibly, by the Lebanese Government’s intention to impose new taxes as part of the newly drafted 2020 state budget. Protestors, reportedly numbering in the millions across Lebanon, have called for the resignation of the Cabinet, which they accuse of widespread corruption. In response, on October 21, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri presented a reform package, which appears to have been met with dissatisfaction by protesters. As of writing, large-scale protests and strikes continue throughout the country, with protesters strategically cutting off roads and highways. Amid Lebanon’s political uprising, Government of Syria television stations, such as Akhbariyya Suriya, have increasingly called for Syrian refugees to return to Syria.

Analysis: The political, economic, and social trajectories of Lebanon and Syria are deeply intertwined; thus far, however, the civil movement in Lebanon has focused its ire on the Lebanese political and business class. However, amid growing civil unrest, Syrian refugees may become increasingly vulnerable for two reasons. First, unrest and instability in Lebanon will certainly lead to increased calls from the Government of Syria, and perhaps the Government of Lebanon, for the return Syrian refugees to Syria. For years, political rhetoric in Lebanon has focused on Syrian refugees as a primary cause of Lebanon’s economic hardship, which has naturally created growing tensions between the Lebanese population and Syrian refugees. Should the protests continue, Lebanon’s political leadership is likely to attempt to redirect public anger toward Syrian refugees as a means of self-preservation. Second, the civil movement has already had several direct impacts on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Mobility and transportation are now severely restricted throughout Lebanon, impeding access to refugee camps, host communities, and project sites, forcing many response staff to work remotely and suspend programming. Given Lebanon’s importance as a response hub, the trajectory of the ongoing civil movement in Lebanon is now a major concern for the entire Syria response.

4. Hezbollah fortifies its presence in Qalamoun

Qarra, western Qalamoun: On October 21, media sources reported that Hezbollah had deployed new military reinforcements to Qarra, in the western Qalamoun. As per these sources, Hezbollah forces seized control of several buildings, erected barricades, and denied civilians access to the area. Other sources indicated that these deployments were concurrent with Hezbollah patrols on the roads leading to Qarra. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the increased Hezbollah military presence is due to the group’s efforts to establish a new air defence base in the vicinity. Critically, Hezbollah’s new security presence in Qarra has disrupted transportation routes throughout the Qalamoun, affecting supply lines of the National Defense Forces. In response, Hezbollah and NDF groups reportedly exchanged fire, although the tensions were quickly resolved.

Analysis: Hezbollah’s new military presence and securitization in Qarra are particularly significant given that this development presents a major obstacle to refugee return and the restoration of normalcy in the western Qalamoun, highlighting persisting HLP risks in the region. Hezbollah has always maintained a considerable military presence in Qalamoun, and it exerts influence over economic activities, access, and return policies in the region. Hezbollah’s mere presence, alongside its confiscation of civilian houses and its extreme securitization measures, are among the primary impediments to return in the Qalamoun region. Indeed, the limited and conditional nature of returns to Qusayr—a strategic base for Hezbollah—demonstrates the challenges to any future returns in the region (see Syria Update September 18–24). The displaced former residents of Qarra (many of whom are in Lebanon) are increasingly unlikely to be willing or able to negotiate return to Syria for the foreseeable future. Hezbollah is expected to retain its military presence in the Qalamoun, thereby narrowing the possibility for a post-conflict recovery in this region.

5. Government security forces crack down on pro-Government militias in Hama

Tal Salhab, Hama Governorate: On October 22, media sources indicated that Government of Syria security forces had encircled Tal Salhab—a predominantly Alawite community in western Hama—for at least a week, in an attempt to crack down on local pro-Government militias in the area. Clashes between government security forces and these militias have been recurrent throughout the reporting period, resulting in the death of several Government of Syria security forces. As per these media sources, the Government has circulated a list containing the names of 400 individuals wanted by the Government on suspicion of theft, kidnapping, and impersonation of military personnel. A considerable number of these individuals are already reportedly members of Government of Syria Air Intelligence units. The decision to encircle Salhab and crack down on these pro-Government combatants reportedly came after militia leaders threatened high-level Government military commanders.

Analysis: The Government of Syria has engaged in a crackdown on increasingly unaccountable pro-Government militias throughout Syria for at least the past six months; however, a crackdown on local militias in a predominantly Alawite area is particularly noteworthy. Alawites are a core constituency of the upper echelons of the Assad regime, and the Alawite community in general has been staunchly supportive of the Government of Syria since the start of the conflict—although this support has not necessarily won these communities  consistent, reciprocal attention from the Government. The Government’s crackdown on Alawite militias, and its reported rejection of mediation by Alawite community leadership, indicates its determination to pursue a policy of enforcing command and control at all costs. That said, while these efforts are ostensibly aimed at restoring centralized military control to government-held areas, curtailing local militias is also likely to disrupt war economy and patronage networks, which could ultimately further fuel unrest and lawlessness.

6. Government of Syria ramps up ‘civil charge’ detention campaigns in Rural Damascus

Rural Damascus: On October 19, media reports indicated that Government of Syria Military Security had detained at least 15 individuals from Saqba and Kafr Batna, in rural Damascus. These detentions were reportedly carried out under the pretext of both civil charges (individuals filing criminal cases against other individuals) and military conscription. Similar detention campaigns were reported in Al-Tall, Artouz, and Dhameer, on October 21. These large scale detention campaigns in Rural Damascus follow previous reports suggesting that the Government of Syria’s National Security Bureau had refused to accept the reconciliation of 3,250 individuals from Eastern Ghouta, as of October 14, on the basis of these individuals’ alleged ties to or communication with opposition groups, as well as civil charges filed against them (see Syria Update October 9–15).

Analysis:  The Government of Syria’s crackdown on reconciled communities under the pretext of outstanding civil charges suggests that it is now taking a systematic approach to resolving civil cases. Civil cases filed against reconciled individuals are thus becoming a defining feature of reconciled areas. In effect, reconciled individuals now regularly face criminal charges filed by other individuals in the community for actions taken when the area was under the control of the armed opposition, despite their reconciliation with the Government. Indeed, this could be presented as a form of transitional justice, in that it is an attempt to hold individuals to account for their actions during the conflict; however, considering that civil cases are filed with and enforced by the Government of Syria, the prosecution of civil cases should instead be viewed as a form of victor’s justice. For this reason, widespread detention campaigns are expected to remain a key feature of the Government’s policy vis-a-vis reconciled communities.

7. Security in southern Syria continues to deteriorate as clashes break out in As-Sanamayn

As-Sanamayn, Dar’a Governorate: On October 22, media sources reported that clashes took place in As-Sanamayn, in central Dar’a Governorate, between local Government of Syria forces and a local armed group, Thouwar As-Sanamayn. As a result of these clashes, all Government schools and public institutions were closed throughout the city.

Analysis: Violent unrest has been routine in southern Syria since the start of 2019; the recent events in As-Sanamayn are a further indication that this unrest shows no signs of abating. This unrest stems from the Government’s failure to meet the demands of much of the population in southern Syria with respect to detainees and the restoration of state services. Widespread detentions and regular armed confrontations between insurgent armed groups and Government forces remain relatively common, as do clashes between different pro-Government security forces; as central communities in Dar’a, As-Sanamayn and Dar‘a city have become the focal points of much of this instability. The Government of Syria remains heavily focused on ongoing events in northeast Syria and a potential military offensive in northwest Syria; the precarious security situation in southern Syria is thus only likely to deteriorate in the coming weeks.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Potential Models of Governance in Northeast Syria

Local Governance in Northeast Syria

20 October, 2019

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Excutive Summary

The ‘Spring of Peace’ military operation has seen the Turkish-backed National Army advance rapidly into northeast Syria, prompting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to enter into a military agreement with the Government of Syria. As a result, Government of Syria forces have returned to areas heretofore controlled by the SDF, and the Self Administration and the Government of Syria are currently involved in high-level negotiations mediated by Russia over the administrative future of northeast Syria.

Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing Turkish military operations in northeast Syria or the negotiations between the Syrian Government and the Self Administration, local governance in northeast Syria is poised to change dramatically. Exactly how and where these changes will manifest remains unclear. In this context, it is useful to examine past instances in which local governance has been transformed. Dramatic changes in governance have been a feature of the Syria conflict since at least 2017; the most notable such transitions have come in Turkish-controlled northern Aleppo and the reconciled areas now held by the Government in southern and central Syria. These experiences should be seen as models of transformation that can inform an understanding of the future of governance and administration in northeast Syria.

Given these experiences, three models are worth considering in the current context. The first is a ‘Turkish Model’ informed by the experiences of Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas in northern Aleppo; this model will likely be applied in some capacity in any areas that remain under the control of the Turkish-backed National Army. The second is the ‘Government Reconciliation Model’, informed by the experiences of reconciled areas, such as Eastern Ghouta, Northern Rural Homs, and southern Syria. The third is a ‘Hybrid Model’, informed by a consideration of the potential contours of an agreement to incorporate the Self Administration into the Government of Syria. Both the second and third models are likely scenarios in areas under the control of the Self Administration, and they will be subject to negotiations between the Government of Syria and the Self Administration.

The future of local governance is critically important for humanitarian and developmental programming. Ultimately, it is certain that the ongoing military operations and political negotiations in northeast Syria will alter the humanitarian and developmental response—perhaps drastically. However, a change in local governance does not necessarily mean the end of programming; nonetheless, new registrations will likely be required, and local partners, interlocutors, and procedures may fundamentally change. Preparing for potential scenarios of governmental and administrative transformation is thus critical to the future of programming in northeast Syria. Indeed, the Syria response must plan for and adapt to these new administrative realities as quickly as possible in order to avoid major shortfalls and service gaps in ongoing programming.

Turkish Model

The Turkish model is informed by the experiences of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in northern Aleppo. Indeed, Spring of Peace should be viewed as a continuation of these earlier, and still ongoing, projects. In Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, and now Spring of Peace, the Turkish Government directly supported the National Army to capture large swaths of territory. In the case of Euphrates Shield, this territory was captured from ISIS, and in the case of Olive Branch, territory was taken from the Self Administration in Afrin. Under the auspices of these operations, all existing governance bodies were dissolved and replaced by new bodies that were essentially selected by Turkey. Most importantly, the new local governance structures were also linked to Turkish provincial governments, state services were provided directly by Turkey, and humanitarian and development activities came under the purview of Turkish state approval and authorization processes. The experience of Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch projects has been compared to the creation of Turkish proto-states inside Syrian borders. The following is thus a likely set of developments for any areas within northeast Syria that come under the control of the Turkish-backed National Army; this is especially pertinent for areas such as Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad.

A woman receives an aid parcel from the Turkish Red Crescent in Tel Abiad. Image courtesy of AA.

Turkey will likely fully dissolve all existing governance bodies. Upon gaining control of communities in northern Aleppo, Turkey dismantled all existing governance bodies. In some cases, this was highly disruptive. In Afrin for example, the Self Administration had been generally effective at service provision, and was relatively popular. However, this policy of dismantling existing local governance was not limited to Self Administration or ISIS governance bodies. As part of Operation Euphrates Shield, even those administrative structures that were nominally linked to the armed opposition, such as local councils in Azaz, were dismantled and reconstituted under Turkish authority. In northeastern Syria, this will likely mean that all Self Administration civil councils and neighborhood-level governance bodies will be disbanded in areas newly controlled by Turkey.

Turkey will create a new set of local councils; the composition of these councils will be essentially dictated by Turkish authorities. Following Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, the areas that came under Turkish control were compelled to hold local council elections. Local councils are nominally elected by their constituent communities; however, these elections were closely supervised by Turkey, and in practice, Turkey essentially dictated the composition of these councils. It is likely that similar elections will take place in areas captured during Spring of Peace. Ultimately, these local governance bodies are accountable only to Turkish authorities, and Turkey wields sufficient influence among local stakeholders to ensure that its actions in this respect go largely unchallenged. In northeast Syria, Turkey will likely fill local councils with proxy members whom Turkish authorities consider to be local interlocutors; this will likely entail the selection of Turkmen and members of Arab tribes supported and courted by Turkey in Tell Abiad, Ras Al Ain, and Ein Issa. For example, Turkey has prioritized building relationships with tribal groups from this region, to include the Jiss Tribe1 in Tell Abiad and Ras Al Ain, the Al-Bu Jaber in Tell Abiad, the Adawan Tribe in Ras Al Ain, and the Bani Sa’eed Tribe in Menbij; thus, tribal leaders from these tribes are likely to become integral to new local governance bodies.

New local councils will be directly linked to Turkish Provincial Government authorities; in the case of northeast Syria, councils will likely be linked to Urfa province. Although local councils in northern Aleppo are politically linked and theoretically subordinate to the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), this is more of a theoretical relationship than a practical reality. Based on the previous experiences of northern Aleppo, local council bodies will be subject to the overarching authority of Turkish provincial governments, will receive executive orders directly from Turkey, and will be supervised by Turkish governance bodies. For example, in northern Aleppo, municipal governance bodies were linked to a Turkish Provincial Government authority, based in either Gaziantep or Kilis. Accordingly, the Turkish government also appointed a Turkish alderman-like figure attached to Kilis or Gaziantep to municipal councils to monitor and inform on council activities. In northeast Syria, it is likely that local governance bodies will be linked to a Turkish Provincial Government authority in Urfa province.

An element of demographic change in general and in governance bodies in particular, will occur. Demographic change has been a fundamental element of previous Turkish military operations and the implementation of Turkish governance structures, although it has taken different shapes in Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield areas. In Euphrates Shield, this has primarily been the result of IDP inflows, as the area has hosted IDPs from all over Syria at various stages of the conflict. This includes civilians fleeing ISIS control in eastern Syria, as well as SDF military operations there. More recently, evacuees from opposition-controlled enclaves in southern and central Syria have collected in the area, as have IDPs from elsewhere in northwest Syria.

In contrast to the demographic impact of Euphrates Shield, in 2018, operation Olive Branch resulted in the large-scale displacement of much of the local Kurdish population.2  IDPs, the large majority of whom were Arab, were then resettled in previously Kurdish residential areas of Afrin. The Turkish-affiliated local councils and armed groups did not implement or institutionalize direct anti-Kurdish regulations, but Kurds remaining in Afrin have suffered intermittent harassment, confiscation of properties, and other similar challenges by local armed groups. The sweeping labeling of Kurds as agents of YPG and PKK has also served as a deterrent for the potential return of those who have been displaced from the area.

Communities in northeast Syria that fall under a Turkish governance model are likely to witness both phenomena: the resettlement of numerous refugees from throughout Syria and the displacement of the Kurdish population.  These measures have already been stated as Turkish policy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the implementation of the Safe Zone agreement entails the resettlement of a total of three million refugees along the Syria-Turkey border. The resettlement of these refugees will naturally alter the present demographic character of the areas. Combined with the potential settlement of refugees in the areas, Kurdish residents will likely be compelled to evacuate from the area, either as de-jure policy, or de-facto reality.

State services will be plugged into Turkey, and Turkey will dominate local development activity. As previously witnessed in Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas, Turkey will seek to provide basic services such as healthcare, electricity, water, and education. In northern Aleppo, all major cities have been integrated into the Turkish electrical grid; as such, communities in these areas are no longer reliant on the Syrian state electrical grid.3 Similarly, Turkey has connected water networks with Turkish water infrastructure, opened several branches of the Turkish National Post Office, and supported the establishment of Turkish telecoms infrastructure.  Moreover, Turkey placed education services under the supervision of the Syrian Interim Government Education Directorate,4 with close supervision from the Turkish Education Ministry.5

In northern Aleppo, Turkish nationals are now required on project staff lists, and layers of bureaucratic obstacles were implemented by numerous Turkish agencies, which meant that local aid actors were required to give detailed accounts of funding and beneficiaries that they seldom were able to provide. As a result, hundreds of organizations ceased operations or relocated elsewhere in between late 2017 and early 2018, leaving responsibility for the coordination and delivery of the aid response firmly in the hands of the Turkish authorities.6


  • The Government of Turkey will seek to consolidate aid work under its own relief and development framework, and aid activities will be closely controlled and monitored by the Government of Turkey. Registrations and permissions will be issued in Urfa, as opposed to locally. 
  • Organizations working in Turkish-controlled regions must be registered in Turkey, and will be obligated to partner with Turkish organizations, and work within sectors and projects determined and approved by the Turkish authorities. As such, organizations will likely be compelled to register with the Turkish provincial government, again likely in Urfa province.
  • Organizations that are not registered in Turkey, or that are unable to work with Turkish authorities, must consider mechanisms to hand over their programs to agencies based in Turkey or, if permission is secured, partner with Turkish organizations. 
  • Turkish organizations such as AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent, and Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) will likely become the main coordinators of aid activities in regions following the Turkish governance model.

Government Reconciliation Model

The Government Reconciliation Model is informed by the experiences of other reconciled areas, especially Eastern Ghouta and Northern Rural Homs. The Government of Syria’s military control over reconciled areas was associated with the complete dismantling of local governance bodies and the subsequent introduction of new pro-Government local actors, under the rubric of a reconciliation agreement. The reintegration of reconciled communities with the Government of Syria has had a massive impact on humanitarian actors and general civic space in these communities. Ultimately, this model of reimposing the state is likely the model that will be sought by the Government of Syria in any negotiations with the Self Administration. Conversely, this model will likely be unacceptable to the Self Administration, especially in predominantly Kurdish communities and regions. Thus, the Government reconciliation model should be viewed as a worst case scenario, in terms of impact, and is most likely to take place in predominantly Arab areas such as Ar-Raqqa (which the Self Administration is potentially more inclined to negotiate over), and in important cities (where the Government of Syria is likely to emphasize its control and sovereignty under any negotiated settlement).

Syrian Government forces enter Ain Arab (Kobane). Image Courtesy of Kurdistan 24.

The Government of Syria will dismantle all governance structures, and may conduct evacuations.  In reconciled areas such as Eastern Ghouta and Northern Rural Homs, the Government of Syria completely dismantled all existing local governance structures. In these areas, the Government of Syria then deferred to a diverse class of pre-selected trusted local intermediaries to act as decentralized local governance actors. Members of opposition governance bodies were in most cases evacuated, and in general were considered to be ‘irreconcilable’. In the case of communities in northeast Syria, an evacuation component will likely occur on a far smaller scale than in previous reconciliation agreements; however, individuals who have been engaged in or affiliated with any local administrative body (such as the commune), or who are deemed untrustworthy, may be forcibly evacuated to opposition-controlled northwest Syria, or potentially northern Iraq.

The Government of Syria will reestablish municipalities and appoint Executive Committees to administer reconciled communities until formal local elections are held. In the immediate period after reconciliation, the Government of Syria reestablishes municipal governments. As in any large reconciled area such as Eastern Ghouta or northern Homs, these provisional municipalities will be staffed by a series of Executive Committees, which will act as the de-facto local municipal government until formal elections have taken place. As such, the Executive Committee will be the primary form of local governance power until local council elections are conducted. Executive Committees formed immediately following reconciliation agreements are generally staffed by Government of Syria officials and trusted technocrats, and they implement local projects in coordination with security services and higher levels of the government bureaucracy.  As in other reconciled areas, it is likely that several members of the executive committee will run for office and will be elected to local councils after elections are held.

Based on the outcome of local elections, the Government of Syria will form a municipal government for each community. Municipal government bodies are comprised of two components: The Executive Committee and the Local Council.  As noted, Executive Committees are essentially state employees and technocrats, which are theoretically subordinate to the elected local council.  Local councils are led by elected officials; generally, they are comprised of a combination of government-affiliated businessmen, individuals with linkages to local security forces, Baath Party members, local notables, and technocrats linked to government ministries. The Government of Syria is likely to allow for a limited holdover of local elites trusted by the government. In other ‘reconciled’ areas, trusted intermediaries were inserted into local government structures or assigned informal governance duties, and prominent families were often given some representation in local government. In the case of northeast Syria, Arab tribal leadership figures will likely take a dominant role in reconciliation agreements.  The elected municipal governments are linked to and report to the Governorate council, which is chaired by the presidentially-appointed governor. Governors are the highest representatives of the central state authority, which per Law 107 grants them with the capacity to oversee the work of local councils and all agencies in the Governorate.7 In the case of northeast Syria, the current governor of Al-Hasakah, Jayez Hamoud Al-Mousa, is likely to remain in power.

‘Reconciliation Committees’ will function as proxies for the Government of Syria’s National Security Bureau.  In ‘reconciled’ areas, individual reconciliations are frequently negotiated exclusively through local reconciliation committees and offices. Reconciliation offices are established and function as offices where individuals can ‘reconcile’ and clear their individual statuses with Government of Syria security branches. Moreover, as a part of any ‘reconciliation’ agreement, the compulsory conscription for men of national military service age will begin within six months of any agreement.  As witnessed in other ‘reconciled’ areas, those seeking to return to communities will be obliged to secure approval from the Government of Syria’s National Security Bureau. In other ‘reconciled’ areas, those who obtained this approval and were permitted to return shared the common characteristic that they were considered likely to willingly or passively comply with Government of Syria policies.


  • The Government of Syria will attempt to control humanitarian and development programming. Reintegrated local administrations will wield increased autonomy over the management of any projects and will ultimately be positioned as important interlocutors for humanitarian and development actors. Consequently, government registration and engagement will become critical. 
  • Service Provision will be controlled by the Government of Syria through state provided services, SARC, government-registered NGOs, and UN agencies. Aid actors in northeast Syria must thus consider mechanisms to transfer programs to INGOs or NGOs registered with the Government of Syria.
  • Aid actors operating in a ‘reconciled’ northeast Syria will likely need to secure extensive permissions to undertake aid work, which has been deeply challenging in other ‘reconciled’ areas. Additionally, in ‘reconciled’ areas, alternative service providers, such as local council relief subcommittees and unregistered NGOs and CBOs were forced to drastically curtail their work or cease operations entirely. Existing partners in northeast will thus likely cease to exist, and new partnerships will need to be approved. 
  • In reconciled areas, humanitarian relief projects are largely dictated by the municipal government of a community or the governor’s council.  Individual project approvals will thus become extremely challenging to negotiate. In practice thus far, approved projects are often based on what the Government of Syria considers politically acceptable, not what is most needed in a particular community.

Hybrid Model

The Hybrid Model is a potential new model for local governance in northeast Syria, which blends a reconciliation-based model with some priorities of the Kurdish ethnic bloc in northeast Syria, namely legal rights, political representation, and the potential absorption of some organs of the Self Administration by the Syrian state. As a highly theoretical model, this cannot be solely informed by past examples from the Syria conflict, and it will be determined by the outcome of negotiations between the Self Administration and the Government of Syria. The most important factors shaping these negotiations are the pressure applied by Russia on the Government of Syria, and the potential for guarantees made to the SDF. Practically speaking, a hybrid model may be the most likely course for integrating the Self Administration with the Government of Syria, due to the fact that Russia and, to a lesser degree, the Syrian Government itself both appear inclined to grant some concessions to the Self Administration. Additionally, many Self Administration governance institutions already coordinate openly with Government of Syria institutions, albeit out of necessity. There are numerous potential avenues for the Self Administration’s incorporation (or absorption) into the state structure of the Government of Syria, yet a hybrid model will be most likely in Kurdish-majority areas, namely Al-Hasakeh Governorate.

Russian, Syrian, and Menbij Military Council flags flying over a building in Menbij. Image Courtesy of Al-Monitor.

The Government of Syria will appoint a new governor in Al-Hasakeh. As in all other governorates, the governor is presidentially-appointed. In order to facilitate the incorporation of the Self Administration into the Government of Syria, it will be crucial that the Government of Syria appoint a new governor of Al-Hasakah Governorate. Thus, as a concession to the Self Administration and the Kurdish community of northeastern Syria, it is highly likely that the new governor under this model will be Kurdish, and it is further possible that the figure will be selected from a major Kurdish political party, to include the Kurdish National Council (KNC), or the PYD.8 As in other areas, the governor will preside over subordinate administrative bodies, facilitate (or obstruct) access for international actors, and mediate between central authorities and local communities.

Local municipal structures in northeast Syria will be dissolved. The Government of Syria will dismantle all of the Self Administration’s local administrative and governance structures, and reintegrate the area into the Government of Syria service network and administrative hierarchies. These new municipal governments, like all municipal governments, will be subordinated to their respective governorate councils and governors. In many ways, this model is therefore similar to the Government Reconciliation Model, in that local municipal structures will be reintegrated into Government of Syria state apparatus. However, the defining difference between these two models will be the appointment of a new Kurdish governor. This is due to the fact that the governor is responsible for appointing Executive Committees. Thus, there is some chance that, in this model, the composition of Executive Committees may resemble the existing Self Administration local governance bodies.

Local councils will be created through local elections. Similar to the nation-wide local elections held in September 2018, the Government of Syria will hold future local elections. However, as part of an agreement with the Self Administration, the Government of Syria is highly likely to grant citizenship to Kurdish Syrians, as citizenship is likely to be a key demand of the Self Administration. Thus, Kurds will be eligible to run for local elections and, as a result, will exercise some local administrative control, at least in predominantly Kurdish areas. That being said, local elections are likely to be as constrained as they have been in other parts of Syria, in that candidates will be essentially pre-selected by the Government of Syria.

Self Administration ministries will merge with their respective Government of Syria ministries. To a certain degree, a blended governance or administrative model already exists throughout northeastern Syria. Government of Syria ministries already coordinate with their Self Administration counterparts when a project is implemented on the city level; this is especially true for electricity and basic services. Moreover, some Self Administration institutions are already essentially merged; the Self Administration’s Ministry of Economy directly cooperates with the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Oil to manage the oilfields, and every SDF-held oilfield has Government Oil Ministry staff members working with Self Administration officials.9 In other cases, the Self Administration and Government of Syria maintain parallel institutions, which may merge, or Government of Syria institutions may assume control over the physical or human infrastructure maintained by the Self Administration. For example, the Government of Syria civil registry, land and property registry, and other legal offices maintain offices in Quamishli. The Self Administration has parallel bodies, and most civilians conduct administrative procedures at both offices. Furthermore, in Quamishli city, civilians simultaneously abide by two parallel judicial systems, the Government of Syria’s Justice Palace and its Self Administration counterpart, the People’s Court. Thus, in some cases, the direct merger of some institutions is a realistic possibility. However, it is likely that the upper-level structures of the Self Administration, as well as the most local structures (such as neighbourhood-level communes), in northeast Syria will be dismantled.


  • The future of humanitarian and development programming in northeast Syria will still depend on local organisations’ ability to negotiate registrations with the Government of Syria Ministry of Social Affairs. Under a hybrid model however, it is likely that many local NGOs linked to the Self Administration could have their registrations transferred over. 
  • For large INGOs that are not registered with the Government of Syria, it will be highly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a physical presence in northeastern Syria. However, there may be space for the continuation of local partnerships, especially if existing partners have their registrations transferred over to the Government of Syria. Thus, while INGOs without Government of Syria registration may be forced to leave, remote local partnership may still be feasible.
  • The ability of individual programs to continue will largely depend on the degree to which they are dependent upon engagement with the Self Administration itself, or whether their continuity depends upon local governance bodies or interlocutors. The Self Administration in its current form is unlikely to continue to exist; however, local governance bodies may find space for a transition in some capacity.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Media Anthology: October 08 – October 14, 2019


Media Anthology

October 08 to 14, 2019

Critical and historical moments, the self-administration declares the general mobilization in north Syria ArabicAl HurraOctober 8, 2019Conflict and Military
The Turkish forces and factions loyal to them achieve a new advancement in Al-Raqqah countryside and take the control of large spaces of Sluk town under a cover of heavy firepowerEnglishSyrian Observatory For Human RightsOctober 13, 2014Conflict and Military
Averting an ISIS resurgence in Iraq and SyriaEnglishInternational Crisis GroupOctober 11, 2019Conflict and Military
12 hours. 4 Syrian hospitals bombed. One culprit: RussiaEnglishThe New York timesOctober 13, 2019Conflict and Military
The detention nightmare threatens three thousands people in Eastern Ghouta  ArabicNedaa SyriaOctober 14, 2019Conflict and Military
Trump makes 'insane' suggestion Kurds are deliberately freeing Isis prisoners, after hundreds escape during Turkey bombingEnglishThe IndependentOctober 14, 2019Conflict and Military
The deficit of the 2020 budget is around 35% and the fuel subsidies decline by 96%ArabicAl-7alOctober 7, 2019Economic
Privatization on the Syrian way: Qatirji a partner for the public sectorArabicAl modonOctober 9, 2019Economic
Nedaa Syria documenting the monopoly of Tahrir Al-Sham of trading specific goods in IdlebArabicNedaa SyriaOctober 9, 2019Economic
Syrian economy and monitoring the situation of the NW Syrian marketsEnglishSyria Response Coordinators October 10, 2019Economic
Damascus Chamber of Industry: No positive impact of opening Nasib and Abu Kamal crossings ArabicAl-IqtisadiOctober 13, 2019Economic
Decreasing the military service waiver: Extortion of regime loyalistsArabicAl modonSeptember 12, 2019Governance and Service Management
Regulatory plans for Wadi Barada, Joubar, Burza and Yarmouk CampArabicEnab BaladiOctober 10, 2019Governance and Service Management
Halting all activities of local councils and humanitarian organizations in east Euphrates ArabicJesr PressOctober 14, 2019Governance and Service Management
IDPs of Al-Qusayr in northern Syria are not invited to return to their hometownsArabicEnab BaladiOctober 6, 2019Social Dynamics
Imprisoned by the regime, and ostracised by societyEnglishSyria UntoldOctober 7, 2019Social Dynamics
Attempts to expel Daraya residents from Foah concurrently with local unrest ArabicEqtsadOctober 12, 2019Social Dynamics
No education for Syrians in Lebanon: Corruption or European evading?ArabicAl modonOctober 9, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Denmark against EU agreement to distribute refugees: ministerEnglishThe LocalOctober 8, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Northeast Syria: boys, men held in inhumane conditionsEnglishHuman Rights WatchOctober 8, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Flash update #4 Humanitarian impact of the military operation in northeastern Syria 13 October 2019EnglishUN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian AffairsOctober 13, 2019Humanitarian & Development
15 aid agencies warn of humanitarian crisis in  northeast SyriaEnglishOxfamOctober 10, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Field and humanitarian situation on north west SyriaEnglishSyria Response Coordinators GroupOctober 14, 2019Humanitarian & Development
A Russian mediation between Damascus and the Kurds to settle the conflict in northeast SyriaArabicNorth Press AgencyOctober 9, 2019International Intervention
Washington and Moscow refusing the condemnation of Peace Spring in the Security CouncilArabicShaam NetworkOctober 10, 2019International Intervention
What you need to know about Trump’s Syria decisionEnglishThe Century Foundation October 7, 2019International Intervention
After Trump's betrayal, Syrian Kurds face tough choicesEngishMiddle East EyeOctober 10, 2019International Intervention
Beyond counterterrorism: defeating the Salafi-Jihadi movementEnglishCritical ThreatsOctober 8, 2019Other
A division inside the Negotiation Committee over Peace Spring Operation in east EuphratesArabicEnab BaladiOctober 10, 2019Other

Media Anthology: October 01 – October 07, 2019


Media Anthology

October 01 to 07, 2019

Resources reported that Turkey ordered to opposition factions to prepare for a military operation in IdlebArabicWaseela TVSeptember 28, 2019Conflict and Military
Biri family vows to fight and eradicate Iranian militiasArabicStep News AgencySeptember 30, 2019Conflict and Military
Three security axes for The Syrian regime in the east of EuphratesEnglishEnab BaladiSeptember 30, 2019Conflict and Military
Bait Jan: Sa'sa' branch detaining dozens and the reconciliation is collapsingArabicAl modonOctober 1, 2019Conflict and Military
Syrian rebel groups merge as Turkish offensive loomsEnglishMiddle East EyeOctober 4, 2019Conflict and Military
Syria’s Al Hol camp could fall to ISIS, says Kurdish generalEnglishThe NationalOctober 5, 2019Conflict and Military
Trump withdraws US troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkish offensiveEnglishMiddle East EyeOctober 7, 2019Conflict and Military
Military sources explains the details of the military operation in east of Euphrates ArabicQasiounOctober 7, 2019Conflict and Military
Officially, the opening of Abu Kamal-Qa'im crossing for goods and individuals ArabicAl-7alSeptember 30, 2019Economic
Ramak, another company of Rami Makhlouf was confiscated by AssadArabicJorf NewsOctober 2, 2019Economic
Iran announces its plans to invest in the Boksit sector in SyriaArabicErem NewsOctober 5, 2019Economic
Through Suez, the regime received 2.8 million fuel barrels from Iran in September  ArabicSyria TVOctober 7, 2019Economic
The Syrian regime shutting 200 educational facilities in HomsArabicSmart NewsOctober 1, 2019Governance and Service Management
The services in south Damascus are provided on a sectarian basis and the Iranian expansion continuesArabicJesr PressOctober 5, 2019Governance and Service Management
A new group of IDPs was approved to return to Al-Qusayr and Hezbollah bans the return to Falita and Bakha'ArabicAl modonOctober 1, 2019Social Dynamics
The Syrian regime urges reconciliation committees in Deir-ez-Zor to attract wanted peopleArabicShaam NetworkOctober 6, 2019Social Dynamics
Russia announcing the failure of Al-Rukban camp dismantling planArabicEnab BaladiOctober 1, 2019Humanitarian & Development
The deterioration of education in the north of SyriaArabicAl JumhuriyaSeptember 30, 2019Humanitarian & Development
Iranian-Russian sponsorship to open a strategic passage between Syria and IraqArabicAsharq Al AwsatOctober 1, 2019International Intervention
The main components of the internal regulation for the Constitutional CommitteeArabicAl modonSeptember 28, 2019International Intervention
The International Coalition: Role and impact in rural Deir-ez-ZorArbicJesr PressOctober 2, 2019International Intervention
Anti-imperialism: its contested relevance for Syria solidarityEnglihCrisis Magazine October 1, 2019International Intervention
The establishment of the Constitutional Committee triggers the 'normalization war' with the Damascus ArabicAsharq Al AwsatOctober 6, 2019International Intervention
The war in Syria is far from over, but its nature is changingEnglishMiddle East InstituteOctober 2, 2019Other

Syria Update: October 09 – October 15, 2019

Syria Update

October 09 to October 15, 2019

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria. The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

Facing Turkish Pressure, Self Administration Cuts Deal with Damascus

In Depth Analysis

Syrian Government forces enter Ein Issa. Image courtesy of Al-Jazeera.

On October 13, in the face of rapid advances into northeast Syria by the Turkish-backed National Army, the Syrian Democratic Forces reached a military pact with the Government of Syria, paving the way for the return of Government forces to Self-Administration areas, and opening the door to eventual administrative reconciliation between Damascus and the Self Administration in northeast Syria. The agreement, brokered by Russia, comes as a bid by the embattled SDF “to repel this aggression and liberate the areas” captured by Turkey since the launch of the ‘Spring of Peace’ military operation on October 9.

Within days of launching ‘Spring of Peace’, the National Army, supported by Turkish airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardment, took control of the majority of Tell Abiad and Ras Al-Ain, seized a portion of the M4 highway, and advanced toward the strategic communities of Ein Issa and Tel Tamer. However, under the auspices of the new military agreement between the Government of Syria and the Self Administration, on October 14 Syrian Arab Army troops deployed to Ein Issa and Tel Tamer, as well as other strategically significant locations held by the SDF, including Ar-Raqqa city, At-Thawra, and rural Menbij, where they have effectively created a buffer to insulate Menbij from increasingly tense frontlines with the National Army. Meanwhile, on October 13 U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the increased likelihood of U.S. troops becoming “caught between two opposing advancing armies” had forced the U.S. to initiate a “deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”

The rapidly developing situation in northeast Syria is nothing short of a paradigmatic shift in the trajectory of the Syria conflict. The U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria (now underway, but by no means complete) will have a profound impact on wider regional dynamics; however, in the local context, its most profound and immediate effect has been to force the shotgun wedding between the SDF and the Government of Syria. The result is a potentially formidable military bloc that enjoys significant Russian support. Although the agreement has been met with ambivalence and a high degree of uncertainty on the local level, it is widely seen as a necessary step toward reversing Turkey’s military advances into northeast Syria. Now, wider clashes between the National Army and the newly aligned SDF and Syrian Government across northern Syria appear to be contained only by Russian mediation.

This new military partnership naturally raises important questions regarding the future administrative relationship between the Self Administration and the Government of Syria. On October 14, the Self-Administration released a statement clarifying that its deal with Damascus is, for now, only military in nature—its administrative entities “have not changed in any way, and the developments befit the stage through which we are now passing.” To that end, the contours of civil and administrative integration between the Self Administration and the Government of Syria will reportedly be defined in a meeting to take place in the coming days. That said, the conflict dynamics of northeast Syria are now taking on a new shape.  Practically, the area covered by the potential Turkish ‘safe zone’ can be divided into three distinct areas, based on armed actor control, demographics, and strategic priorities; these areas have now been set on radically divergent trajectories. These three sectors are: the Ras Al Ain–Tell Abiad area, which is now almost entirely under Turkish control; Ain al Arab (Kobani), and the communities in the vicinity of Menbij; and the eastern Syria–Turkey border areas, to include Amuda and Quamishli.

Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad

The Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad region was a natural location for the start of the Spring of Peace offensive, and is likely to be the heart of any Turkish ‘safe zone’ that materializes in northeastern Syria; securing this area is thus the primary Turkish priority in the coming weeks.  This is due to the fact that the Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad region is predominantly Arab and tribal in nature, with a minimal Kurdish population. To that end, Turkey has prioritized building relationships with tribal groups from this region, such as the Jiss, and components of the National Army are comprised of combatants from this region who were displaced to northern Aleppo; the fact that there is also a historic Turkman population in this region is of considerable importance to Turkey. Additionally, should the National Army continue to advance and secure the town of Ein Issa, it would further sever the M4 highway, and divide the Self Administration territorially.

Turkey’s intentions in this region must also be understood in light of the country’s two previous northern Syria military operations. The first, Euphrates Shield, brought the Aleppo northern corridor under Turkey’s total control militarily, and Turkey has since developed this region economically and administratively to the point that it is now essentially a Turkish protectorate inside Syrian borders. The second, Operation Olive Branch, captured Afrin, a historical stronghold of the PKK, and placed it under the control of the armed opposition, expelling Kurdish fighters and residents in large numbers. Now, Turkey’s intentions in northeast Syria represent some merger of these operations in the long term. In this way, Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad should be considered as analogous to Jarablus in northern Aleppo, as the beachhead of a new Turkish state building initiative east of the Euphrates River.

Ain al Arab and Menbij

Ain al Arab (Kobani) and Menbij are likely to become the major flashpoint communities in the Spring of Peace offensive. Control over this area, straddling the Euphrates River, is essential in order to link Tell Abiad to the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas. Additionally, Menbij is of particular importance to Turkey, considering that Turkey has also engaged in considerable tribal outreach with Arab tribes in Menbij, and again, many combatants in the National Army are originally from Menbij. However, these communities are also central to the SDF in terms of crossline trade, and Ain al Arab has particular symbolic significance due to its predominantly Kurdish population and its hard-won liberation from ISIS in 2015. Indeed, with Operation Olive Branch in Afrin as precedent, there is a widespread understanding that, should the National Army take control of Ain al Arab, the local Kurdish population will be forced to displace in large numbers and will likely be unable to return.

To that end, maintaining control of Ain al Arab and Menbij is likely to be the chief priority of the SDF and the Government of Syria. Consequently, Government forces have reportedly reinforced tense SDF frontlines with Turkish-backed armed opposition groups in northern and western Menbij.  Reportedly, clashes in Menbij are ongoing, and on October 14, unconfirmed media reports stated that Turkish aircraft had bombed Syrian Government positions near that frontline. Thus, given the strategic value of the Menbij–Ain al Arab area, control over the communities may well be the critical factor setting the course for the whole of Turkey’s nascent military operations in northeast Syria.

Amuda and Quamishli

The area stretching from Amuda and Quamishli to the Syria–Iraq border now constitutes the area of least priority to Spring of Peace operations. Throughout the conflict, the Government of Syria has maintained a presence in the Quamishli ‘security square’; now, under the terms of the agreement with the SDF, Government forces have retrenched in the border town, which serves as the Government’s strongest outpost in northeastern Syria. The strip of communities east of Quamishli is also critical to the power base of the SDF and the Self Administration in Syria, and is therefore an attractive target for Turkey; however, the area’s isolation and the robust Government presence in Quamishli are likely to dissuade Turkey from launching attacks in this region until its forces are capable of first securing the Tell Abiad-Ras Al Ain and Menbij-Ain al Arab border areas.

Whole of Syria Review

1. 194,000 IDPs Flee ‘Spring of Peace’, Many Remain in Turkey’s Path

Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad, Northeast Syria: As of October 15, UN and local NGO partners reported that approximately 194,522 people had been displaced throughout northeast Syria since the beginning of Turkey’s ‘Spring of Peace’ military offensive, on October 9. Thus far, the most deeply affected communities all fall within a band of territory between Ras Al Ain and Tell Abiad, much of which has been captured by Turkish forces. Most of the IDPs are reported to have settled with relatives in communities primarily in Al-Hasakeh Governorate, although large numbers of IDPs have also settled in northern Ar-Raqqa and eastern Aleppo governorates. The subdistricts now hosting the largest numbers of IDPs are Al-Hasakeh (88,346), Sarin (19,300), Ain al Arab (15,162), and Ar-Raqqa (12,278). Notably, on October 11 and 12, an estimated 5,033 residents of Mabruka camp (southwest of Ras Al Ain) evacuated to Areesheh camp.

Analysis: The possibility that SDF and Syrian Government forces will launch a counteroffensive to undo Turkish advances is worrying in its own right; however, this possibility is particularly concerning given the significantly reduced capacity of the humanitarian response. Several factors are critical in this respect. First, most humanitarian programming in the vicinity of the Syria–Turkey border was suspended in anticipation of Turkey’s ‘Spring of Peace’ offensive. Second, many INGOs have evacuated international staff, while local staff have in many cases have been displaced. Third, Turkish forces have seized control over a portion of the strategic M4 highway, which links Menbij to Erbil, effectively severing the cross-border supply line into northeast Syria. Many communities to which IDPs have been displaced are also likely targets of further military operations by Turkey—these potential targets include Ain al Arab, Tal Tamer, and Sarin (see In-Depth Analysis section above). Furthermore, Turkish bombardment has also disabled the Allouk water-pumping station, which supplies 80 percent of water in Al-Hasakeh Governorate, which has received the vast majority of the IDPs. These threats are likely to abate if Russia succeeds in brokering  deconfliction between Turkish forces and the joint forces of the SDF and the Syrian Government; however, concerns over Areesheh camp will compound with time. Indeed, a reservoir near Areesheh has long posed a threat to the camp, given regular flooding and the possibility that the dam may collapse, while all previous efforts to evacuate Areesheh and close the camp have failed. If newly displaced IDPs remain in Areesheh into winter, they too will be exposed to these dangers.

2. Turkish Attacks Fuel Rumors of ISIS Resurgence

Al-Quamishli, Al-Hasakeh Governorate: On October 13, media sources reported that 785 individuals affiliated to some degree with ISIS had left Ein Issa camp as a consequence of Turkish shelling in the vicinity of the camp. Beginning October 9, Syrian Democratic Forces issued multiple statements accusing the Government of Turkey of targeting sites where ISIS-linked prisoners or their families are being held, including: Jirkeen prison (near Quamishli), the Ein Issa and Mabrouka camps, and Gurian prison. However, local sources denied any direct link between Turkish attacks and the freeing of ISIS affiliates from Gurian, and they rejected claims that Jirkeen prison and Mabrouka camp had been housing ISIS members when the Turkish offensive began. Nevertheless, with the onset of Spring of Peace operations, local rumors concerning the movements of ISIS-linked actors continue to circulate widely.

Analysis: Though ISIS is on the back foot and geographically constrained, the group—or elements loyal to it—remain a persistent threat in northeast Syria, and the unrest sown by the latest Turkish invasion may furnish the necessary conditions for its resurgence. Nonetheless, local sources cast significant doubt on widespread reports of ISIS attacks and rumors concerning the release of ISIS prisoners by overwhelmed and beleaguered SDF guards. For example, on October 9, media reports widely circulated by the SDF raised the alarm over a complex attack by ISIS cells in Ar-Raqqa city, in concert with the onset of the Turkish Spring of Peace operations. Although differing over the exact scale of the attack, later media reports indicated the incident had been limited to IEDs and resulted in no casualties. In the same vein, IDPs fleeing from Ein Issa camp, including young children, have routinely been labeled ‘ISIS sympathizers’ or ‘ISIS families’. It is imperative to note that such labels are highly problematic and, in many cases, outright incorrect, especially given the limited agency of the children in question. Concerning the trajectory of the conflict in northeast Syria, further clashes and shelling are almost certain to occur, as are further attacks that are likely to be attributed to or claimed by ISIS. Nonetheless, rumors concerning ‘ISIS’ activity in northeast Syria should be read with caution, now more than ever.

3. Government Makes Fresh Guarantees for Constitutional Committee Safety

Damascus: On October 10, local media reported that the Government of Syria had lifted security restrictions for members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, effectively guaranteeing their safety—allowing them to freely enter and exit Syria and to conduct meetings inside the country without interference. Nominally, the decision implements Article 6 of the Constitutional Committee’s Rules of Procedure and Terms of Reference, which guarantees the safety of committee members. Already, these guarantees have been cast into doubt. On October 8, Muhammad Ali Sayigh, a member of the Constitutional Committee’s opposition list, was briefly detained by Military Security at the Lebanon–Syria border, reportedly while en route to Saudi Arabia. As of October 11, four members of the Constitutional Committee’s civil society list had announced their resignation; three of them cited cited security concerns for themselves and their families as the reason for their decision. (For further information on the membership of the Constitutional Committee, see: Syrian Constitutional Committee: Preliminary Background Note.)

Analysis: Lifting security restrictions on members of the Constitutional Committee is a fundamental first step in the nascent Syrian peace process. The detention of Sayigh and the announced resignation of four committee members over personal security concerns has raised doubts about the credibility of the process. Moreover, these developments threaten to derail the committee’s work indefinitely; its first session, scheduled for October 30, in Geneva, cannot proceed without a full slate of members. Government measures to guarantee the security of committee members are almost certainly intended to halt these mounting challenges. Although cautious skepticism regarding the Government’s ability to enforce these guarantees is warranted, the move is likely to assuage some of the rising concerns. This is especially true given the considerable emphasis the Syrian Government—and Russia—have placed on ensuring the success of the Constitutional Committee, which is a crucial step toward constitutional reform, and rehabilitation of the Government’s image both domestically and among the international community.

4.Qudsiya Assassination Presages Possibility Of Widening
Attacks On Public Sector Figures

Aleppo City, Aleppo Governorate: On October 10, media sources reported that the Government of Syria had contracted Qaterji Group for the rehabilitation of Msalamiyeh Cement Factories, located in the vicinity of Aleppo city. The director of the General Establishment for Cement and Building Material, Ayman Nabhan, stated that the contract required the Qaterji Group to inject a total of 200 billion SYP (317 million USD at current market rates) into the venture, in return for an unspecified share of its profits. Nabhan did not disclose further details regarding the future management of the facilities or the timeframe for the contract. The site is said to have the capacity to produce 3 million tons of cement annually. Relatedly, further media reports indicated that Qaterji Group is currently negotiating to establish a 100-hectare real estate development zone in Sheikh Said, in southern Aleppo city.

Analysis: To date, public–private partnerships (PPPs) have been a key investment vehicle in Syria for large developmental projects, yet their use in the industrial sector has generally been limited. Perhaps the most notable implementations of PPP Law 5 (2016) have been in real estate, specifically the Marota City project (see the recent EUI study Phantoms of Marota City). However, writ large, the law is expected to enable the Syrian Government to undertake industrial and infrastructural rehabilitation on a broad scale and at limited direct cost. Notably, Syria’s PPP model is highly attractive for private capital investment as it is decisively tilted in the interest of private partners, who receive a lion’s share of profits, while influence exerted by the public sector party is limited. As such, the use of a PPP model to rehabilitate Msalamiyeh Cement Factories is noteworthy, especially given expectations that the reconstruction of Aleppo will create soaring demand for concrete. The involvement of the Qaterji Group is also notable, both due to the group’s intentions to usher in new developments in Aleppo and because of their place in the constellation of elite Syrian businessmen. In the past two months, Syria’s business community has been rocked by uncertainty, which is most pointedly illustrated by the fall from grace of Rami Makhoulf, in early August; Makhlouf had previously been considered an untouchable confidant of President Al-Assad, and Syria’s most powerful single business figure. Now, few businessmen enjoy seemingly stable relations with the Syrian regime; the Qaterji brothers—who have a growing investment portfolio and a seat at the table in the Syrian Constitutional Committee—are an exception. As such, the Qaterji Group will likely exercise considerable influence over the future course not only of Aleppo but of Syria itself.

5. National Security Bureau Denies Reconciliation to 3,250 in Eastern Ghouta

Eastern Ghouta, Rural Damascus Governorate: On October 14, media sources reported that the Government of Syria National Security Bureau had denied reconciliation to approximately 3,250 males from Eastern Ghouta since the beginning of October. Reportedly, 3,000 of the affected individuals are from Duma city. The Government has variously justified its refusal to reconcile the individuals on the basis of several factors, including: ongoing communication with former opposition leadership evacuated to northern Syria; involvement in plotting ‘terrorist operations’; and the existence of pending civil charges against them over alleged involvement in the deaths of Government combatants during the period of opposition control over Eastern Ghouta. The affected individuals have reportedly been ordered to turn themselves over to local security branches. Notably, these events come amid the Government’s continued detention campaign across communities in Eastern Ghouta.

Analysis: On an individual basis, a variety of legal grounds have been used as pretext for detentions, prosecutions, and even executions targeting reconciled former opposition members in Syria, especially in recent months (see Syria Update September 18–24). However, the use of potential civil charges as a pretext for denying reconciliation raises several worrying and new prospects. Thus far, the Government’s involvement in civil cases against former opposition fighters has been restricted to passive tolerance. Now, however, by denying reconciliation on the grounds that such charges are pending, the Government has effectively taken an active, direct role in this process. This move suggests that in the future, such cases may proceed on a more expansive, systematic basis, or be driven more overtly by the Government itself. Moreover, the massive scale of the denial of reconciliation demonstrates the broad brush with which the Government has singled out former opposition strongholds—bypassing them for minimal restoration, enacting selective service provision, and punishing their populations. To this end, it should be noted that with reconciliation denied, the affected individuals have no meaningful recourse, and handing themselves in to local security branches is likely to be seen as tantamount to accepting detention.

6. Meager Abu Kamal Border Traffic Highlights Trader-Manufacturer Tensions

Abu Kamal City, Deir-ez-Zor Governorate: On October 13, the treasurer of the Damascus and Rural Damascus Chamber of Industry, Maher Al-Zayyat, stated that the reopening of key Syrian border crossings—with Iraq at Abu Kamal and with Jordan at Nassib—has not yet had any positive impact on Syrian exports, or on the national economy more generally. Al-Zayyat noted that infrastructural damage to crucial Syrian industrial areas and high tariffs and import restrictions imposed by neighboring nations had blunted the anticipated benefits of restored commercial trade between Syria and its neighbors. The head of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry stated, separately, that Syria’s decimated electricity provision networks had had the greatest negative impact. Additionally, Jordan has enacted measures to bar the entry of 150 categories of Syrian products, including clothing, which has historically been an important Syrian export to Jordan.

Analysis: Although the opening of the Abu Kamal border crossing, on September 30, buoyed expectations for cross-border trade with Iraq and the revitalization of the domestic economy (see Syria Update September 25 – October 1), it is increasingly evident that the crossing’s reopening, in itself, is unlikely to be a productive step in this regard—primarily due to two main issues in key Syrian sectors. First: the manufacturing sector has been gutted by the conflict, which has caused widespread infrastructural damage, capital flight, and difficulties accessing inputs and credit. Second: the international trade sector has been adversely affected by the Syrian Government’s own direct interventions to shore up the manufacturing sector. Given the precarious state of domestic production, the Government of Syria has maintained high tariffs and tight import regulations; in effect, these protectionist measures on the trade through the Nasib crossing triggered retaliatory measures by the Jordanian government, which have further affected both Syrian traders and manufacturers. As such, Syria’s deep economic isolation is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, especially given that the Syrian Government is unlikely to remove these barriers.

7. Farmers’ Union Challenges Government Decision
Over Closure of Sugar Beet Factory in Hama

Dar‘a Governorate: Between October 9 and 14, local sources reported that a series of civilian demonstrations took place in Jasim against the Government of Syria amid tightening security measures in southern Syria. Demonstrations reportedly spilled over into Dar‘a city and As-Sanamayn, where local sources reported that a local opposition group, Thouwar Al-Sanamayn, attacked the Criminal Security Headquarters and a checkpoint in the city, triggering clashes with Government forces in the area. These clashes reportedly resulted in the injury and death of several individuals. Subsequently, dozens of civilians reportedly protested in Dar‘a city, calling for the release of detainees and the fall of the regime. There, local sources report that demonstrators raided an office used by local Air Intelligence, and the commanders were forced to negotiate with leaders of the demonstration. Finally, civilians in Yarmouk have also threatened the local Security Committee with demonstrations, if the Government fails to halt arbitrary detentions and release detainees. Meanwhile, security incidents including IED attacks and targeted killings were reported in conjunction with the rising unrest in the governorate.

Analysis: The continuing popular unrest in southern Syria, along with the Syrian Government’s apparent inability to restore meaningful control, suggests that increasingly provocative, widespread, and potentially unified challenges to the Government of Syria in Dar‘a Governorate are likely. In fact, the snowballing impact of the events in Jasim indicates a growing solidarity in the area and the very real possibility of greater coordination among otherwise disparate local armed groups that remain deeply hostile to the Government of Syria. Meanwhile, the Government of Syria’s most recent appointment of new security officers in Dar‘a (see Syria Update October 2–8) has shown itself to be a counterproductive means of clamping down on the opposition and asserting control. More to the point, the measure joins a host of previous Government efforts to assert firmer security control in the south notwithstanding that it continues to pay lip service to the demands of local communities with regard to detainees, services, and rehabilitation. Neither prong of this initiative has been effective. Fifteen months since the capture of southern Syria, the area remains decidedly outside the Government’s grasp, and current conditions suggest that popular opposition to Government is only likely to grow.

8. As IDPs Protest Salvation Government Eviction Notices, HLP Concerns Rise

Idleb City, Idleb Governorate: On October 8, media and local sources reported that Eastern Ghouta IDPs living in Idleb city had protested against the Salvation Government over its decision to evict the IDPs and their families from residential compounds where units have come under the ownership of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham affiliates. The Salvation Government had reportedly given the families eviction notices one week earlier, while HTS is said to have detained a member of the Eastern Ghouta IDP Council whose family refused to evacuate the building. The Salvation Government justified its decision to evict the IDPs on the basis of legal claims raised by apartment owners. To this end, it should be noted that the buildings in question had been erected by the Government of Syria as a public housing project, but were left incomplete and had reportedly been outfitted with basic services by humanitarian organizations; later, the buildings were claimed and sold by the Salvation Government to private individuals when, according to local sources, at least 100 IDP families were forced to sign nine-month rental contracts, without knowing who the new owners were.

Analysis: Armed actor interference, confiscations, and HLP have been serial issues throughout the Syria conflict, both in Government- and opposition-held areas. However, these concerns are particularly acute in northwest Syria. This is a result both of the concentration of donor-supported programming in the area and the massive, serial displacement and targeted bombardment that has destroyed significant housing stock, aggravating shelter needs. The recent evictions underscore the acute compliance concerns that exist for programmatic actors. In the present case, it is unlikely that the Eastern Ghouta IDPs will succeed in forcing the Salvation Government to give up its attempts to evict them, given that the competitive housing market in northwest Syria amplifies the strong interests at stake. Ultimately, such measures are likely to further undermine the Salvation Government’s persistent efforts to achieve meaningful community support.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Constitutional Committee: Preliminary Background Note

Syria Constitutional Committee: Preliminary Background Note

11 October, 2019

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On September 23 the UN announced the formation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which is scheduled to convene its first session on October 30.  The Constitutional Committee will be responsible for approving a new Syrian constitution, a critical step toward a theoretical political transition in Syria and a settlement of the protracted Syria crisis more generally.  For that reason, the formation of the Constitutional Committee has been one of the most important—and contentious—aspects of the Syrian peace process. The Constitutional Committee itself is comprised of 150 members, divided equally among three blocs: the Government of Syria, the opposition, and civil society.  To that end, it is important to examine the profiles of the individual committee members, who in effect represent the various factions and interest groups within with committee.

Each of the three 50-member blocs within the Constitutional Committee can effectively be divided among various factions that represent core constituencies and external supporters.  For example, the Government of Syria bloc is unified in that its members are all openly supportive of the Al-Assad regime; nonetheless, individuals on the Government list can be divided between two sub-groups, or informal factions.  The first consists of ‘technocrats’ with long histories of working within the Syrian state; this faction will constitute the backbone of the Syrian Government’s legal, administrative, and political interests in negotiations. The second faction includes a diverse list of members apparently chosen on the basis of personal and professional connections; as such, they represent the business and sociopolitical interests of the Government of Syria.  In comparison to the Government bloc, the opposition members list is highly fractured. Individuals on this list represent a multitude of Syrian political opposition bodies and frameworks that have been created throughout the conflict; the largest of these is the Syrian National Coalition, although this body itself is divided among numerous interest groups. The civil society bloc was the most contentious issue in the formation of the Constitutional Committee, as this list is intended to be impartial.  The membership of the civil society list is highly atomized, and members have a high degree of independence. Collectively, the individuals on this list range from technocrats to prominent activists and NGO professionals; essentially, they will represent their own areas of technical expertise, activist projects, or the interests of narrow constituencies. The list can be divided geographically, between members who are based outside Syria, and those who remain inside the country. This division will impact both the perspectives of the members vis-a-vis the process, and the members’ personal security.  Indeed, as of October 11, four members of the civil society list have announced their resignation from the committee. Three of these members cited security concerns.

As a whole, the Constitutional Committee is highly diverse, and it is generally representative of Syria’s basic geographies, ethnic demographics, and political tendencies. However, as important as the committee’s composition is what it lacks: namely, any individuals representing the Self-Administration in northeast Syria, which controls nearly one-third of the country. Additionally, the various blocs are, to a large degree, diametrically opposed, and the procedures are structured in such a way that broad consensus is needed to approve any amendments or ratify a new constitution. For that reason, the constitutional reform process is likely to be gridlocked. Furthermore, resignation of members means that, as of this writing, the committee is not fully constituted; it is possible additional members may resign, further delaying the already long-running Syria peace process.

Key Conclusions and Significance

Considering a preliminary assessment of the newly finalized Constitutional Committee list, five key conclusions are apparent:

  • The Constitutional Committee has not yet technically formed.  As of October 11, four members of the civil society list have announced their resignation from the committee, three of whom cited concerns for the safety of their family members inside Syria.  For this reason, four new members must be identified to fill these seats. Considering the extreme sensitivity of the composition of the civil society list in particular, filling these seats could take weeks, or even months, to finalize.  Moreover, further changes are distinctly possible.
  • The Committee itself is broadly diverse and non-sectarian. The individuals selected for the committee are highly diverse, and no sectarian ‘quotas’ appear to have informed the selection.  Indeed, the selection criteria appear to have been based primarily on areas of geographic origin, professional expertise, political orientation, or ethnic backgrounds; essentially, initial fears that Alawites would be heavily overrepresented in the Government of Syria’s list appear to have been unfounded. 
  • A considerable disparity exists between women’s inclusion in the civil society bloc and the member lists of the other two blocs.  In total, women currently account for 26% of the Constitutional Committee.  Women hold 20 seats in the civil society bloc, accounting for 40% of the list.  By comparison, there are 12 women on the Government list, accounting for 24% of the bloc’s members.  The opposition list has the lowest proportion of women, seven in total, accounting for only 14% of the list.  While women’s inclusion should not automatically be seen as a proxy for advocacy of gender issues more broadly, it is important to note that the disparity in women’s representation among blocs makes it highly likely that the civil society bloc will place greater emphasis on gender-related issues during negotiations.
  • Two important factions have been effectively excluded from the Committee: the Self-Administration, and the Sheyoukh Al-Karama.  The Self-Administration is a major party to the conflict, and it controls approximately one-third of Syria itself (more than the armed opposition).  There is Kurdish representation to the Constitutional Committee through members of the Kurdish National Council in the opposition list; however, the dominant political faction within the Self-Administration, the PYD, is at odds with the KNC, and has no representation whatsoever.  Similarly, the Sheyoukh Al-Karama, the most prominent Druze political and military entity in As-Sweida, also has no obvious representation. Effectively, some of the most important on-the-ground political groups in four Syrian governorates have no overt representation in the formation of Syria’s new constitution.
  • The drafting or amendment of a new constitution is likely to be gridlocked for the foreseeable future. The constitution formation process is, by design, intended to ensure broad consensus, with 75% of participants needing to approve amendments in both the whole body and in the small group.  Thus, it is likely to be extraordinarily challenging to approve even minor changes, considering the extreme divergence in the objectives of the constituent members of the Constitutional Committee; indeed, members of the Government of Syria’s list likely intend to submit a constitution that is essentially unchanged, while the opposition factions have thus far signaled their intention to push for wholesale redrafting of the constitution.  As such, the process is subject to intense gridlock, and major changes to on-the-ground realities of the Syria conflict itself will likely be necessary before extensive political progress can be made.

What is the Role of the Constitutional Committee?

In the letter issued by the UN Security Council on September 27 specifying the Terms of References and Core Rules of Procedure for the Constitutional Committee, the UN specifies that the role of the Constitutional Committee is to, “within the context of the UN-facilitated Geneva process, prepare and draft for popular approval a constitutional reform, as a contribution to the political settlement in Syria, and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254”.  It also stipulates that the committee “may review the 2012 Constitution, including in the context of other Syrian constitutional experiences and amend the current constitution, or draft a new constitution.” Critically, the Terms and References specify no timeframe or deadline for the constitution to be approved.

UNSCR 2254, issued in 2015, is the foundational resolution that, among other items, calls for transitional government, a new constitution, and internationally supervised elections.  However, the legal framework that would govern this theoretical transitional government is unclear, and is ultimately one of the main points of contention. UNSCR 2254 called for “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”, before beginning a constitutional drafting process. It can therefore be argued that the formation of a Constitutional Committee is a deviation from 2254, in that a constitution is being drafted in absence of a transitional government.  For that reason, the role of the constitution in the transitional period is interpreted differently between the opposition and the Government of Syria. Essentially, much of the opposition contends that UNSCR 2254 stipulates that Bashar Al-Assad must relinquish all his presidential powers during the transitional period; conversely, the Government of Syria contends that any transitional body may include representatives of the opposition, while still maintaining the general status quo within the Syrian state, and keeping in place President Al-Assad as the leader of the country.

What is the Constitutional Committee Structure?

The Constitutional Committee is comprised of a total of 150 members divided between three blocs, namely: the Government of Syria, the opposition, and civil society, with each bloc consisting of a list of 50 individuals.  The committee is to be co-chaired by one representative from the Government of Syria list, and another from the opposition list; the role of the co-chairs is to coordinate and communicate the conclusions and progress of the committee with the UN, and ratify the decisions of the committee.

However, the actual center of gravity within the committee will be a 45-member “small body” composed equally of candidates selected by the Government of Syria, the Syrian opposition, and Syrian civil society.  This small body will draft and adopt constitutional proposals which will then be voted on by the full 150-member committee. Proposals will require a three-quarter voting majority in both the entire body, and the small committee, to be adopted (113 votes in the large committee, and 34 in the small group).  Essentially, the committee is designed in such a way that it requires broad approval to adopt constitutional proposals; to that end, the actual drafting of a new constitution will likely be a long process even if there were consensus among the members of the committee.

Committee Composition: Three Blocs

The individuals on the committee, by design, represent the different factions and interests in the Syria conflict and Syrian society.  However, even within the three blocs, individual members also represent a multitude of interest groups, factions, and ultimate objectives.  The following is an attempt to identify these different factions and interest groups by mapping the personal profiles and political orientations of some of the prominent individuals involved in the Constitutional Committee.

Government List

Syrian President Al-Assad meets with Russian Envoy Lavantiev in September 2019.  Image Courtesy of Xinhua.

The Government list is uniquely unified, largely due to the fact that its members have all been chosen on the basis of their open support for the Government of Syria.  Most members of the Government of Syria’s list are current or former members of the Syrian Parliament; many, but not all, are members of the Baath Party. There are two points of note on the Government of Syria list: first, it appears to be entirely devoid of any individuals that are clearly associated with the security services or military; second, the large majority of the individuals on the list were educated abroad.

It is almost certain that the members of the Government list will largely maintain a coherent and unified message throughout the process.  It is also likely the Government’s chief priorities will be to preserve Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as to limit any amendments that would potentially curtail the powers of the Syrian presidency, specifically in matters related to oversight of courts, security agencies, and the military. To that end, the Government of Syria bloc is expected to push against the drafting of an entirely new constitution, and will likely call instead for limited amendments to the 2012 constitution.

Despite the fact that the Government of Syria’s list is broadly unified, it is still divisible into two groups, both of which represent the interests of the Syrian Government and the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, albeit in different ways.  The first is a ‘technocratic’ list, and the second is a list based on personal profile and professional interests. In general, there is a fairly even split between these two groups; on a preliminary analysis, there are 23 individuals who could be considered technocratic, and 27 individuals that appear to have been chosen based on personal profile or professional connections.

‘Technocratic’ List

The technocratic list is comprised of individuals who constitute or represent the backbone of the Syrian Government’s legal, administrative, and political interests.  They are generally lawyers, state administrators, or ministerial employees. Essentially, technocrats here are defined as individuals that are educated or working in a field that is specifically relevant to the drafting of a constitution, such as governance or law.    These figures include:

Ahmad Nabil Mohamad Rafiq Al-Kezbari

Al-Kezbari has been a member of the Parliament since 2012, and he is the head of the Parliamentary Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee.  He has also been a member of the Lawyers Union in Damascus, the Syrian Jurists Association, and the International Lawyers Association in France and the UK.  Al-Kezbari also participated in the constitutional amendment process in 2012, as he was a member of the National Committee for Drafting the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic in 2011 and 2012.  Al-Kezbari is also founder of and partner in Al-Sharq Bank and Al-Sham Bank.

Ahmad Mohamad Farouq Arnous

Arnous is a longtime employee in the Government of Syria Foreign Ministry; he is the personal legal consultant to Bashar Jaafari, the head of the Foreign Ministry.  Arnous has regularly accompanied Government of Syria delegations to both Sochi and Geneva, although he has consistently maintained a limited public profile. Notably, prior to his role as a legal consultant, Arnous was also Syrian Ambassador to Canada.

Nizar Ali Skeif

Skeif is the President of the Bar Association of Syria Arab Republic.  He is also a member of the Baath Party, and is currently a member of the Syrian Parliament.  Within the Parliament, Skeif is the head of the Freedom and Human Rights Committee. Skeif also was a member of the Government of Syria’s delegation to the Sochi conference.

Taleb Mohamad Qadi Amin

Amin is a journalist and the head of the Syrian National Committee to Change Publication Law, a Governmental body which is tasked with creating the Government of Syria’s media control laws and policies.  Previously, Amin worked at the Ministry of Communications. Amin is also part owner of Medditerranean for Commercial, an import-export company, and is known to be a personal friend to President Bashar Al-Assad.

Amal Fouad Yaziji

Yaziji is an academic.  She is the head of the Department of  International Law in Damascus University, and is originally from Homs governorate.  The Yaziji family is a prominent, wealthy Christian family. Her father, Fouad Yaziji, was a famous novelist, and a relative, Bishr Yaziji, was formerly the Minister of Tourism.

Personal Profile / Professional Connections List

The second group within the Government bloc consists of individuals who were apparently chosen on the basis of their personal profiles and professional connections; as such, to some degree they represent the business and sociopolitical interests of the Syrian regime.  These individuals are also largely members of the Parliament, although they are distributed between the Baath Party and ‘independent’ seats. Many are also public figures, or represent individual interest groups or constituencies within the Government of Syria. Examples include:

Muhammad Biraa Qaterji

Qaterji is a notable (and internationally sanctioned) businessman, and the brother of Hossam Qaterji, an extremely prominent oil and cereals trader whose substantial family enterprise is extremely close to the Al-Assad regime.  He is involved on some level in every one of the Qaterji companies. By education, Qaterji is an electrical engineer. Qaterji is originally from Ar-Raqqa, though he has spent the majority of the conflict in Aleppo, where he has represented his family’s business interests.

Anisa Aboud

Aboud is an agricultural engineer by education, although she is best-known as a poet and novelist. Her son, Aozina Al-Ali, is also a well known public personality and is a popular Syrian pop singer. Aboud’s long deceased husband was a high ranking officer in the Syrian Arab Army  Aboud is an Alawte, originally from Lattakia.

Tarif Qotorsh

Qotorsh is a current member of the Parliament.  However, he is more well known as a public personality; he was a former professional basketball player in Syria, and he hosts a television program about basketball.  Qotorsh is originally from Damascus, and the Qotrosh family is a relatively prominent Kurdish Sunni family in Damascus.

Raeda Yasin Waqqaf

Waqqaf is the director of Syria Drama TV, a popular Syrian television channel. Her mother is Maria Deeb, the first female new presenter in Syria, and her father was Muhammad Ali, a prominent Republican Guard commander.  Waqqaf is an Alawite from Tartous, although she is now based in Damascus.

Opposition Bloc

Turkish President Erdogan, Russian President Putin, and Iranian President Rouhani announces the imminent formation of the Constitutional Committee in September 2019.  Image courtesy of Middle East Eye.

In comparison to the government bloc, the opposition bloc represented by the High Negotiations Commission is highly fractured.  External actors including Russia and Saudi Arabia exercise considerable influence over its various factions; however, Turkey’s centrality to the political and military platforms of the Syrian National Coalition all but guarantees that Turkish influence will drive the priorities of the most powerful opposition actors.  Although there is a high degree of ideological disagreement between the different platforms within the opposition bloc, in general its priorities include the curbing of the powers of the Syrian presidency and high-ranking state figures, and the creation of an inclusive transitional governance authority (with or without the participation of the Syrian regime). Members of the bloc are also likely to use the committee as a platform to advance the political objectives of the wider opposition, specifically the issue of detainees.

The opposition bloc was created at the Riyadh conference in 2015 and is represented by four basic ‘platforms’: the first is the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Etilaf), which is the largest and most central platform, highly diverse, and strongly influenced by Turkey; the second is the Russia-influenced Moscow platform; the third consists of traditional internal opposition figures under the National Coordination Committee for the Syrian Revolution; and the fourth is the Cairo platform, consisting of nominally independent individual opposition figures.

Members of the opposition bloc meet on October 10, 2019 in Riyadh to discuss the composition of the small group in the Constitution Committee.  Image courtesy of Rozana.

The National Coalition For Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Etilaf)

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (i.e. the Syrian National Coalition) is considered the core opposition platform; it calls for Al-Assad’s removal from office and the regime’s exclusion from any transitional governance authority.  As the primary representatives of the armed and political opposition inside Syria, the Syrian Interim Government and its National Army are the most powerful interests within the Syrian National Coalition; these are heavily influenced by Turkey, as are other crucial member groups of the Syrian National Coalition, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Kurdish National Council.  However, as a ‘big tent’ platform, the Syrian National Coalition includes myriad sub-factions, including democrats, nominal independents, and military defectors, who are influenced to various degrees by other international actors including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Although these sub-factions are not all directly represented on the Constitutional Committee, they are expected to influence proceedings through other members.

Hadi El-Bahra

El-Bahra is an industrial engineer from Damascus, with a history of work in Saudi Arabia.  He joined the Syrian National Coalition in 2013, and he was named as a lead negotiator in the Geneva peace conference in 2014.  For one term in 2014 he was named as the head of the Syrian National Coalition, and he was then appointed as a member of the Syrian National Coalition political committee.  El-Bahra also takes part in numerous negotiations workshops and training in Geneva. El-Bahra is reportedly close to Saudi Arabia; rumors indicate that El-Bahra is the leading figure in the opposition Constitutional Committee list.

Abdul Ahed Istifu

Istifu is an Assyrian from Quamishli, in Al-Hasakeh governorate; he is currently based in Istanbul. He is a co-founder of the Syrian National Coalition, and he was formerly the vice president of the Syrian National Coalition in 2016, and was a member of the Negotiations Committee in Geneva 2014-2017.  He is currently the head of the Foreign Affairs office in the Syrian National Coalition. He has regularly participated in conferences in Brussels since before the conflict, specifically in the topics of human rights and minority rights. He holds a masters degree in history.

Ibrahim Jabawi

Jabawi is a former Syrian police general from Dar’a who defected in 2012.  Subsequently, Jabawi became a member of the High Council for the Syrian Revolution, based in Jordan.  He was closely linked to the Southern Front, and he was a founder of the Syrian Revolution Network, a (now defunct) opposition media office in Jordan. He is also a member of the Syrian National Coalition.  Jabawi currently lives in Jordan.

Anas Al-Abdeh

Al-Abdeh is a geologist from Damascus.   He is based in London, and has been an opposition figure since before the conflict; in 2006, he was one of the founders of the Movement for Justice and Development in Syria, an opposition movement based in London.  At the start of the Syria conflict, he was a co-founder of the Syrian National Council, the progenitor organization of the Syrian National Coalition. Al-Abdeh was then elected as the president of the Syrian National Coalition from March 2016 to May 2017. Al-Abdeh is perceived to be symapthetic to and linked with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

Moscow Platform

The Moscow platfrom is essentially a ‘controlled’ opposition platform, whose political power mostly stems from its close ties to Moscow; the platform is sympathetic to the Government of Syria and the Government of Russia, and members openly use anti-terrorism rhetoric and call for Al-Assad to remain in office during the transition period, in contradiction with the Syrian National Coalition and the majority of the HNC.  The Moscow Platform is closely linked to a Syrian political party known as the People’s Will (Al-Irada Al-Shaabiya) party, which was a leftist political party created by Qadri Jamil in 2012. Members of the People’s Will Party were actually a part of the Syrian Parliament between 2012 and 2014; however, in 2014, the party openly declared itself as opposition.

Sami Beitenjani

Sami Beitenjani is a businessman from Damascus; the Beitenjani family is a prominent and wealthy Christian business family.  Beitinjani is educated as a lawyer, and is a leading figure within the People’s Will party. Beitenjani is known to be close to the Government of Russia, and is based in Moscow.

Mohanad Dleqan

Dleqan is a member of the People’s Will Party.  He is originally from As-Sweida, and is a Syrian Druze.  Dleqan is based in Moscow, and was the head of negotiations for the Moscow platform. He studied business administration at the University of Damascus.  Dleqan is personally close to Qadri Jamil, the head of the People’s Will Party, and reportedly has close linkages to the Government of Russia.

National Coordination Committee for the Syrian Revolution

The National Coordination Committee for the Syrian Revolution represents the traditional leftist opposition which has opposed the Al-Assad regime from inside Syria since the 1970s, primarily through traditional opposition parties, to include the Nasserite Party and the Democratic Union Party (not to be confused with the PYD in northeast Syria).  Although these actors have frequently been arrested and detained by the Government, they also constitute an important internal opposition that the Syrian Government has, to a degree, tolerated. The platform generally opposes foreign intervention in Syria, but calls for changes to the structure of the Syrian regime.

Alice Mufarraj

Mufarraj is a noted activist and former relief worker who joined the nascent uprising in 2011 and was arrested and detained multiple times before leaving Syria for Lebanon, and ultimately Germany, in 2013. Mufarraj was a delegate at Geneva 3, and served as deputy head of Geneva 4, despite a relatively modest public profile. A former Arabic instructor, Mufarraj is originally from Sultan Pasha Al-Atrash village in As-Sweida, but lived in Jaramana before leaving Syria for Germany.

Muhammad Ali Sayigh

Sayigh is a Damascus-based lawyer who was active in the opposition prior to the conflict, and in 2005, Sayigh was arrested for being a signatory to the Damascus Declaration.  On October 8, Sayigh was briefly detained by Military Security at the Lebanon-Syria border, reportedly while en route to Saudi Arabia.

Cairo Platform

The Cairo platform consists of traditional liberal opposition figures and defectors; like the National Coordination Committee for the Syrian Revolution, it is nominally independent of foreign affiliations, however its membership differs in that they are generally independent of influence from traditional political parties.  The Cairo platform opposes foreign intervention in Syria; notably, although the group calls for independent elections, it does not demand the removal of President Al-Assad from power.

Firas Al-Khalde

Al-Khalde is the nominal leader of the Cairo platform.  He is a medical doctor based in Washington D.C., but is originally from Damascus.  Al-Khalde is a longstanding member of Al-Ghad, a traditional opposition party in Syria. However, Al-Khalde does not represent Al-Ghad in his capacity as a Constitutional Committee member, and he was not nominated by the Al-Ghad party.

Jamal Sleiman

Sleiman was a famous Syrian actor prior to the conflict, and is originally from Damascus.  At the outset of the Syria conflict, Sleiman prominently aligned himself with the Syrian opposition, and was forced to flee Syria.  He is based in Cairo, but travels extensively. Sleiman joined the Syrian National Coalition, in 2014, but quit the coalition after only two months; he now declares himself as an ‘independent’.  He is not known to be closely aligned to any faction within the Syrian opposition.

Civil Society Bloc

UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen meets with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem to discuss the Constitutional Committee in September 2019.  Image courtesy of The National.

The composition of the civil society bloc was the most contentious element in the formation of the Constitutional Committee, as this list was intended to be the most ‘impartial’.  Additionally, as noted above, on October 9 and 11, four members of the civil society list resigned citing security concerns, and they must now be replaced. To an even greater degree than the opposition list, the membership of the civil society list is highly atomized.  Individual members operate with a high degree of independence, and they effectively represent their own interests, or those of their narrow constituencies. Therefore, it is difficult to group the civil society list into factions; however, the membership the civil society list primarily consists of skilled technocrats; activists and NGO professionals; and notables representing specific interest groups.  Critically, perhaps the most important categorizable ‘division’ within the list is where its members are based: the civil society list is broadly divided between individuals who are present inside Syria, and individuals who are now part of the Syrian diaspora.

The members of the list are expected to have two main influences on the constitutional process.  First, many members of the civil society list are generally highly experienced professionals and technical experts, and are therefore expected to bring high-level technical expertise to the process.   Second, many of the activists and experts on the civil society list have a strong relations with various governments, donor agencies, UN bodies, and humanitarian and development organizations, whose recognition of the political process will be critical to securing buy-in for continued financial aid and future development and humanitarian programming.

The members on the civil society list are expected to call for a wide range of different proposals and amendments to the new constitution, to include: abolishing the Syrian antiterrorism laws and courts; advocating for HLP rights, detainees, and the disappeared; advocating for the concerns of specific interest groups or ethnic communities; dismantling the security state; abolishing presidential oversight over judicial, executive, and representative bodies; facilitating humanitarian access and civil society organization registrations; and creating new civil registry codes.

Inside Syria

Those members of the civil society list that remain inside Syria have an important role in the constitutional process, in that they are closely connected to the on-the-ground realities of Syrian communities.  Many also have open channels with the Government of Syria due to the fact that they remain within Government-controlled areas. They are therefore able to negotiate with the government on different terms than the opposition; however, this also means that they are subject to the risks inherent in living within the Syrian security state.

Abod Al-Saraj

Al-Saraj is a legal expert and academic.  He was the dean of the Damascus Law University between 1999 and 2003.  He regularly teaches and consults at police academies throughout the Arab world, primarily in the Gulf.  He currently works as an advisor and consultant on legal issues and international law, and he has worked with in the past with the UN and the Arab League.  Al-Saraj is based in Damascus, and is from Deir-ez-Zor. Al-Saraj holds a PhD from the Sorbonne university.

Ibrahim Al-Darraji

Al-Darraji holds a PhD in international law, and is currently a lecturer at the University of Damascus.  He is a well known and well respected researcher and political analyst. He was reportedly investigated by the Government of Syria in 2015, due to the fact that he has been critical of the Government of Syria; that said, Al-Darraji is generally perceived as an independent technocrat who is not affiliated with the political opposition.

Issam Al-Zibaq

Al-Zibaq is the head of the Damascus Craftsman’s Union.  The Craftsman’s Union is the primary union for carpenters, glassworkers, and other specialist craftsmen; Al-Zibaq is himself an engineer and ironworker.  Al-Zibaq is a member of the Baath Party from Damascus; however, Al-Zibaq has been largely apolitical throughout the conflict, although he is regularly interviewed on Syrian television to discuss the economic challenges facing Syria’s craftsmen and business community.

Fahed Huwaiji

Fahed Huwaiji is a prominent human rights lawyer and the head of Syrian Equal Citizenship Center, an advocacy and legal assistance organization based in Damascus.  He was a critic of the Government of Syria prior to the outbreak of the conflict. He has been arrested on numerous occasions both before and during the conflict due to his advocacy for human rights and the rights of detainees; however, due to his prominence, he has always been released.

Outside Syria

Those members of the civil society list that are outside Syria are, in general, extremely competent technocrats and activists; many have been working on Syria from abroad since the start of the conflict, primarily with UN bodies, governments, and NGOs.  Many are perceived as being linked in some way to the opposition, due to the fact that they are not in Syria; however, this is likely misleading, as most appear to be largely independent, and largely focused specifically on technical issues.

Former UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and Iranian foreign Minister Zarif on forming a constitutional committee in December 2018.  Image courtesy of VOA.

Mazen Gharibah

Gharibeh is an economist from Homs city who is now based in the UK.  Gharibeh regularly consults for INGOs, institutional donors, and the UN.  He is also an academic at the London School of Economics, specifically researching economic issues in Syria.  Gharibeh is perceived as being close to the political opposition, although he has no membership in any opposition body.

Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj

Hallaj is a well known technocrat and researcher, and is by training an architect; he was the head of Syria Trust from 2008 to 2012.  Hallaj is a recognized expert in HLP issues, urban development, local governance, dialogue, and civil society; he regularly works with or consults for various UN bodies, institutional donors, and INGOs.  He is also the co-coordinator of the Syria project at the Common Space Initiative. He has been awarded by UNESCO for his past work in Yemen, and is based in Beirut. Hallaj has no overt political affiliation.

Sabbah Hallaq

Hallaq is a lawyer and a prominent feminist activist based in Beirut.  Hallaq was formerly the head of the Syrian Citizenship League. Hallaq regularly consults for various INGOs, UN bodies, and institutional donors, and is a known expert on gender issues and human rights issues in Syria.  Hallaq is a member of the Syrian Feminist League, and is the founder of Syrian Women for Democracy.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Syria Update: October 02 – October 08, 2019

Syria Update

October 02 - October 08

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria. The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

Spring of Peace: Turkey Moves Closer to Northeast Syria Offensive

In Depth Analysis

On October 6, following a telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House released a statement indicating that Turkey will “soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation in Northern Syria.” Although the statement specified that U.S. forces “will not support or be involved in the operation,” it added that American troops will not be present “in the immediate area”—in effect, giving the green light for Turkey to undertake a long-anticipated military offensive east of the Euphrates River. The statement triggered a series of significant developments that have the potential to dramatically shape the military, political, and humanitarian contours of northeast Syria. On October 8, Turkey announced that its operations would begin “shortly,” and the situation on the ground continues to develop rapidly. U.S. forces have reportedly withdrawn from areas in Syria bordering Turkey, and Turkish troops are positioned in force on the northern side of the border between Tell Abiad and Ras Al Ain, the latter of which has reportedly been shelled by Turkish artillery. The anticipated military incursion has already had a deep impact in northeast Syria: local sources indicate that small numbers of residents of vulnerable communities, including Menbij, Tell Abiad, and Ras Al Ain, have already preemptively moved to Ar-Raqqa and Al-Hasakeh cities, and SARC and various NGOs have halted programming in border areas.

To date, analyses concerning Turkish military operations and Turkey’s adamant, repeated demands for a ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria have been dominated by skepticism over the feasibility of such undertakings. Although a high degree of uncertainty over the exact shape of potential Turkish operations does remain, a military incursion of some kind in northeast Syria is more than plausible. President Erdogan has made repeated and escalating threats of a military incursion in northeast Syria since December 2018; what distinguishes the present context is that U.S. forces have now reportedly withdrawn from border areas. In effect, the draw-down opens the door to a Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria for the first time. Concerning the establishment of the ‘safe zone’ itself: throughout the Syria conflict, Turkey has mounted a coordinated campaign to build influence in border areas through expansive outreach to Sunni Arab tribesmen. Although this campaign has received far less attention than the tribal outreach Iran has undertaken in Kurdish-controlled areas of southern Deir-ez-Zor, it has been key to Turkey’s overall strategy in northeast Syria. To that end, Turkey has already built deep relations with tribal stakeholders in nearly every community along the Syria-Turkey border as a matter of coordinated policy, with the intention of paving the way for a ‘safe zone’ to be created. (This is explored in depth, on a community level, in the recent COAR report Tribal Tribulations: Tribal Mapping and State Actor Influence in Northeastern Syria.)

Naturally, the exact parameters of any ‘safe zone’ implemented by Turkey are a foremost concern; however, it is equally important to understand that Turkey’s overt objectives in northeast Syria may amount, in effect, to a form of political-demographic change, in order to contain what it views as the national security threat posed by the emergent Kurdish polity. The first such objective is the removal of YPG combatants from border areas. While it is true that many high-ranking SDF commanders have linkages to the YPG/PKK, as Turkey claims (indeed, some cases commanders are Kurds of Turkish, rather than Syrian origin), the SDF is nonetheless an important vehicle of local self-defense; regional military councils are ostensibly localized and responsive to community needs. However, more troubling is President Erdogan’s stated ambition to resettle as many as 3 million Syrian refugees in the ‘safe zone’ (see Syria Update September 12–17). Indeed, Turkey has publicized a plan to develop the safe zone into an industrial hub and economic enclave, along the lines of its development scheme now in effect in ‘Euphrates Shield’ areas. This plan is linked to Erdogan’s hopes of repatriating predominantly Arab Syrians currently living in Turkey to this ‘safe zone’ area. The explicit objective in so doing is to build out a putatively neutral buffer against the Kurdish areas of northeast Syria, and to dilute the influence of the Kurdish population.

To a large extent, the greatest uncertainty now concerns the SDF’s response to the anticipated incursion by Turkey. Already, the long-standing U.S.-SDF partnership is almost certain to unravel, perhaps beyond repair. On October 8, the SDF stated that “Washington stabbed us in the back by withdrawing from the border.” Most concerning for the northeast Syria–based international response is the possibility that the SDF and its political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, will have no exit strategy to prevent the incursion except for reconciliation with Damascus. Indeed, a Turkish invasion of northeast Syria would almost certainly lead to protracted and multi-front conflict, including the possibility of offensives by Government forces and Turkish-supported armed opposition groups in Menbij, and by Syrian Government- or Iranian-linked militias in southern Deir-ez-Zor. To that end, on October 8, SDF commander Mazlum Abdi stated, “We are considering a partnership with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, with the aim of fighting Turkish forces.” Such a reconciliation was the subject of months of shuttle diplomacy between Quamishli and Damascus, until negotiations collapsed in late summer, partly due to American pressure; now, a detente between Quamishli and Damascus may be inevitable.

Finally, should Turkey succeed in militarily capturing portions of northeast Syria, the immediate impact on the Syria-based humanitarian response may be catastrophic. Access to areas captured by Turkey will almost certainly come under Turkish administrative control; as in the ‘Euphrates Shield’ region, access inside any ‘safe zone’ area will likely be restricted to organizations capable of working from Turkey, and organizations without Turkish registration will almost certainly be barred from entry. However, conditions may be dramatically more complicated if the SDC is compelled to negotiate a reunion with the Syrian Government. In that case, it is probable that access will become conditional upon Damascus registration—not only in border ‘safe zone’ areas, but throughout all of northeast Syria. Potential restrictions on humanitarian access, at this time, are particularly concerning; a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria will likely cause widespread displacement,  drastically deteriorating humanitarian conditions, at least in the short term.

Whole of Syria Review

1. SIG Merges National Liberation Front and National Army

Northwest Syria: On October 4, Syrian Interim Government Prime Minister Abd Al-Rahman Mostafa announced the merger of the two armed opposition platforms supported by Turkey in northern and northwestern Syria: the National Liberation Front (NLF), based in Idleb Governorate, and the National Army, based in the ‘Euphrates Shield’ and ‘Olive Branch’ areas of northern Aleppo Governorate. Accordingly, NLF factions will be reorganized under the command of the National Army, although the merger has yet to be implemented. To date, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, the armed group that exercises effective military control over the majority of Idleb Governorate, has not commented on the merger. However, local sources report that historically fraught tensions between HTS and NLF factions are rising. Accordingly, HTS has heightened its screening of non-HTS combatants at all checkpoints in areas it controls; the group has also shortened the duration of military deployments to frontlines with Government forces for fighters who are not members of HTS—from several months to a maximum of seven days—effectively barring them from all but brief surge capacity support. Meanwhile, local sources reported that anti-HTS demonstrations took place in Atareb, Kafr Takharim, and Ma’aret An Nu’man on October 4.

Analysis: The merger of the NLF with the National Army coincides with two important developments that are of critical importance to the trajectory of northwest Syria. The first concerns the statements made by U.S. President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan regarding the increasing likelihood of Turkish military operations in northeast Syria (see In-Depth Analysis above). The second event took place on October 4, when Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated that “large-scale combat operations [in Syria] are over” and it will be “impossible” to resolve the Syria conflict through military actions. Given this statement, major military offensives by Russia and the Government of Syria in northwest Syria are, for the time being, unlikely. To that end, it is increasingly possible that HTS will seize the opportunity to launch a preemptive assault on armed groups backed by Turkey in northwestern Syria. The NLF has long been viewed as the likeliest means by which Turkey could check the influence and expansion of HTS in northwest Syria; merging the NLF factions with the National Army may thus be a critical first step toward unifying armed opposition groups against HTS, which remains by far the most cohesive and formidable force in the area. Meanwhile, popular unrest in key communities in northwest Syria only increases the pressures mounting against HTS, as the group’s nominal control over northwest Syria remains fixed as the key impediment to politically or militarily resolving the status of the area.

2. Self-Administration Clamps Down on Public Employees, NGOs

Quamishli City, Al-Hasakeh Governorate: On October 1, the Self-Administration Executive Council issued a directive to humanitarian organizations prohibiting them from employing, in any capacity, individuals who already work for the Self-Administration, under the threat of revoking the organizations’ licenses to operate in northeast Syria. In parallel, the council also issued a directive prohibiting employees of entities linked to the Self-Administration from taking on any work or receiving financial compensation outside the scope of their contracts with the Self-Administration. Employees who are caught violating these conditions will be prevented from working with the administration in the future, and will be subject to relevant “legal procedures.”

Analysis: Staffing has been a persistent locally contentious issue for humanitarian organizations operating in Syria. Indeed, as a result of the relatively high salaries they offer, international organizations have routinely been accused of ‘poaching’ experienced staff from local NGOs, as well as local councils and other governance and administrative bodies; anecdotally, many currently active public sector workers in Syria are said to also work in some capacity for international organizations. Although it is impossible to verify the extent to which public employees in northeast Syria are ‘moonlighting’ for NGOs, the timing of the Self-Administration’s directives to clamp down on humanitarian organizations is of particular concern. The threat of Turkish military operations has already triggered limited displacement in northern Ar-Raqqa Governorate; if Turkey does initiate a military offensive in northeast Syria, massive displacement throughout border areas can be expected, and open conflict is likely. As such, northeast Syria may now be on the verge of the most extensive fighting to touch the region since the capture of Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor cities from ISIS, in late 2017. The possibility that humanitarian organizations may now lose staff as a result of the Self-Administration’s directives poses a considerable operational challenge, whereas the  threat of de-registration for those organizations threatens deep consequences for the humanitarian response as a whole. In accordance with the Self-Administration’s directives, increased vetting of local partners and staff can be expected, and some loss of local staff and implementing partners is likely.

3. Syrian State to Seize Properties Frozen Under Antiterror Law 19

Damascus: On October 3, the Syrian General Directorate for Real Estate ordered the Syrian Minister of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform to urgently implement a September 24 order for the state seizure of assets frozen under Law 19. In effect, the order transfers to the Government of Syria the ownership of assets frozen under Syria’s sweeping antiterror law. Relatedly, local sources provided a circular issued by the Baath Party Branch in Suran, Hama Governorate, urging party members to report to the party all cases in which property owners are unknown, or have been identified, according to the language of the directive, as “terrorists and combatants supportive of terrorism.” As per the document, the party branch will then communicate all information to “relevant entities” for use by “the committee for supporting families of martyrs.”

Analysis: The terms of various antiterrorism laws constitute perhaps the most serious HLP challenge in Syria. As a crucial mechanism used by the Government of Syria to target the armed and political opposition, antiterror legislation poses significant consequences not only for individuals’ legal status but also for key issues of wider concern, including returns, the implementation of donor programming, and, ultimately, reconstruction. Despite the impact of these laws, however, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the scale and scope of Syria’s wide-reaching antiterror legislation. Most concerning, however, is that individuals are not necessarily aware they have been targeted under the provisions of Law 19, and no meaningful due process is available to contest one’s legal status. Perhaps the most pertinent concern in the new seizure order is that the transfer of assets to the state is most likely irreversible. As such, the new orders may suggest that the Syria conflict is crossing a worrying threshold by aggressively implementing antiterror laws that were previously largely abstract.

4. Turkey Plans ‘Massive’ Industrial Zone, University Expansion in Northern Syria

Aleppo, Aleppo Governorate: On October 4, media sources reported that the Government of Turkey plans to establish a “massive” 15-hectare industrial zone in ‘Euphrates Shield’ areas of northern Aleppo. The planned project is said to encompass 700 factories producing myriad goods including plastics, textiles, shoes, and iron, and generating 7,000 jobs. Reportedly, the Government of Turkey plans to implement a similar industrial project in the ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria. Additionally, on October 4, media sources reported that Gaziantep University will open three faculties in northern Syria: Islamic studies in A’zaz, education in Afrin, and economics and administrative studies in Al-Bab.

Analysis: Although Turkey’s plans to create a manufacturing hub in northern Syria are in some sense a continuation of previous Turkish efforts in the area, the massive scale of the undertakings now being proposed signals the realistic possibility that Turkish intervention will irreversibly alter the economic balance of northern Syria—in part by effectively isolating Aleppo city. In general, Turkey has sought to control local administration, military factions, and—to a large extent—the humanitarian response in ‘Euphrates Shield’ areas. Consequently, in a number of crucial respects, communities such as Al-Bab, Jarablus and A’zaz now function as Turkish communities. Turkey’s plans to tighten its economic dominion over northern Syria will further this objective. However, among the most significant consequences of the Turkish intervention in northern Syria is the likelihood that it will dramatically undercut Aleppo city, the traditional commercial and manufacturing hub of northern Syria, and an economic engine for Syria as a whole. On the local level, such changes would inevitably slow the economic and physical rehabilitation of Aleppo; at the national level, in the long term, they would be certain to blunt Syria’s post-conflict recovery more generally.

5. High-Level Security Reshuffling in Dar’a Raises Fears of Crackdown

Dar’a City, Dar’a Governorate: On October 1, local and media sources reported that the Government of Syria had reshuffled two top-level security offices in southern Syria. Reportedly, Qahtan Khalil, a former deputy head of Air Intelligence, has been appointed as head of the Security Committee in southern Syria, while General Khardal Dyoub will serve as head of the Air Intelligence unit in Dar‘a Governorate. Khalil is noted for his involvement in Government military operations in Darayya in 2012, and is implicated in the deaths of prisoners at the hands of the Air Intelligence Investigation Branch at Mazzeh Airport.  Meanwhile, Dyoub reportedly played a direct role in the chemical attacks carried out by the Government during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. Local sources indicate that the appointments have triggered widespread local concerns that the Government intends to crack down through stricter security measures and, potentially, military operations in southern Syria. Meanwhile, local sources report that between October 1 and 6, eight assassinations took place in Dar‘a Governorate, continuing the pattern of attacks targeting Government affiliates, reconciled combatants, and members of local municipalities.

Analysis:  The appointment of military-security figures with reputations for a willingness to use extreme force to quash the armed opposition underscores the Government’s willingness to respond aggressively to rising lawlessness in southern Syria. Indeed, from the perspective of the Government, the conditions prevailing in Dar‘a all but necessitate a highly symbolic reshuffling of top-level security apparatus figures, as it seeks to re-establish some control over the restive area. Such measures, however, will do little to address the key drivers of popular unrest in southern Syria: the Government is likely incapable of restoring services, and state authorities have repeatedly rebuffed local demands concerning the status of detainees. The most recent Government initiative addressing the issue, the presidential amnesty in Decree 20, has made no progress on the highly sensitive detainee file (see Syria Update September 12–17). As such, there is no clear end in sight to the escalating tensions; should the Government continue its provocative attempts to assert authority, it is all but certain to fuel further discontent.

6. Deficit Looms as Government Issues 2020 Budget

Damascus: On October 7, various media sources began to circulate details of the Government of Syria’s draft 2020 budget. The most consequential detail to emerge concerns a ministerial decision issued by Prime Minister Imad Khamis specifying that the budget be calculated at a rate of SYP 435 to the dollar (the same exchange rate used in the 2019 budget), despite the fact that the black market exchange rate has since climbed precipitously to SYP 649 per USD. According to statements by the Ministry of Planning, the 2020 draft budget weighs in at SYP 4 trillion ($6.16 billion at current market exchange rates), with a deficit of SYP 1.4 trillion ($2.16 billion). The largest single allocation disclosed thus far is for electricity support, totaling SYP 711 billion ($1.09 billion), while a further SYP 333 billion ($513 million) has been allocated to stabilize consumer prices. Notably, the budget slashes allocations for fuel and gas from SYP 343 billion to SYP 11 billion ($17 million).

Analysis: While individual allocations are indeed important signals of the Syrian Government’s political priorities, by far the most significant aspect of the 2020 budget is its rapidly declining size in real dollars. Despite the nominal budget increase (in lira) of approximately 3 percent as compared with 2019, the actual size of the Syrian state budget, approximately $6.16 billion, represents a massive decline from the $8.34 billion budget of 2019. This is primarily due to the declining value of the Syrian lira. To grasp the true extent of this rapidly accelerating problem, one need only consider that inflationary pressures were already a concern when the 2019 budget emerged; at that time, the lira traded at approximately SYP 465/USD (see Syria Update October 18–24, 2018). Holistically, the 2020 budget is indicative of the dire fiscal status of the Syrian state and its increasingly limited capacity to prop up vital sectors. The most notable decline is the shrinking allocation for fuel and gas support. It should be noted that 2019 witnessed the suspension of the Iranian credit line for fuel purchases; the Syrian Government may now be passing the costs of this shortfall onto the Syrian public. However, it is also important to bear in mind that, due to the declining value of the lira, the actual value of state support is declining in all sectors. Ultimately, the greatest consequence of the shrinking Syrian budget will be to push the burden of rising costs further onto Syrian households.

7. As Iran Eyes Syrian Bauxite Mines, Two-Pronged Investment Strategy Takes Shape

Qalamoun Mountains: On October 7, local media sources, citing Iranian state media, reported that the Government of Iran intends to invest in Syria’s reserves of bauxite, an ore crucial for aluminum production. According to local sources, the investments are likely to target mines in Qalamoun, in Syria’s eastern coastal mountains. Iran is reportedly “facing a crisis in the aluminum industry” due to a shortage of bauxite, which has crippled Iran’s domestic manufacturing and automobile industry. In mid-September, Syrian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Suleiman Ghanem traveled to Tehran to discuss Iranian investment in multiple sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, petroleum, and minerals. At that time, Iranian Industry, Mining and Trade Minister Reza Rahmani stated that Syria had “about 20 billion tons of mineral reserves,” adding that the robust framework for bilateral economic cooperation between Iran and Syria—involving Iranian technology, technical assistance, and direct investment—augurs the potential for “vast cooperation,” including in the mining sector.

Analysis: Iran’s investment agenda for post-conflict Syria is taking shape around two core principles: satisfying Iran’s own domestic needs and building its power base inside Syria. To date, large-scale Iranian investment in Syria has aimed to satisfy Iran’s own resource and logistical needs. These have included agreements to rehabilitate or create rail networks, seaports, and cross-border facilities, which it requires in order to export Iranian goods not only to Syria but to the wider Mediterranean (for more on Iranian investments in rail, seaports, and the Abu Kamal border crossing, see Syria Updates for July 4-10, August 8-21, and September 25-October 1 respectively). Investment in bauxite underscores this trend and highlights that, as it is currently configured, foreign investment in Syria (particularly on the part of Russia and Iran) will not rehabilitate Syria’s most vital economic sectors or stabilize the flagging economy. Indeed, the second pillar of Iran’s post-conflict Syria investment strategy depends, to a certain extent, on the continuing weakness of the Syrian economy—specifically, the Syrian state’s inability to meet the needs of remote communities. Through targeted direct service provision, micro-finance, religious outreach, and military recruitment, Iran has sown influence among the most marginalized Syrian communities, especially in rural Deir-ez-Zor but also in southern Syria, Rural Damascus, and Aleppo. Given the weaknesses of the Syrian economy, and the chronic shortfalls in service provision, especially in peripheral areas, Iran is likely to continue to pursue both pillars of its economic agenda in Syria for the foreseeable future.

8. Rural Damascus Allocates 5 Billion SYP for Reconstruction, 3 Billion to Maliha

Maliha Town, Rural Damascus: On September 21, media sources reported that the Governorate of Damascus had allocated SYP 3 billion ($4.6 million) for the reconstruction of Maliha subdistrict, out of a total of SYP 5 billion ($7.7 million) allocated for the reconstruction of Rural Damascus areas as a whole. SYP 200 million ($308,000) was reportedly allocated for the rehabilitation of services in Maliha town. These allocations were announced during a visit to the area by Governor of Damascus Alaa Mounir and various representatives of the Governorate Council, as well as Minister of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform, Ahmad Al-Qaderi. Notably, the Government of Syria previously estimated the cost of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Eastern Ghouta communities at SYP 450 billion ($693 million).

Analysis: The selection of Maliha for rehabilitation over other communities of greater strategic importance to the holistic revitalization of Eastern Ghouta naturally calls attention to the nebulous selection criteria that govern the Syrian state’s approach to post-conflict recovery. In the case of Maliha, it is important to note that the community has already benefited from high-level intermediary intervention, which overturned arbitrary security policies barring return (see COAR’s recent thematic report Intermediaries of Return). Consequently, although the specific drivers of the Government of Syria’s decisions on returns are surely multifaceted, it is likely that, in many instances, these decisions depend upon personal connections, business relationships, and the possibility of negotiations brokered by key intermediaries connected to both the communities and the state. More generally, however, it is important to note that the Government’s allocation for rehabilitation in Maliha falls far short of local needs, to say nothing of the needs of Eastern Ghouta as a whole. While it is generally understood that selective resource distribution by the state is likely to be a key driver of intercommunity conflict in the future, it is unlikely that targeted rehabilitation investments will actually be effective in achieving their purposes if they are isolated from wider, more systematic interventions.

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.