Security Archipelago: Security Fragmentation in Dar'a

03 December 2019

Throughout 2019, Dar‘a governorate has become one of the most violent regions of Syria. In contrast to other reconciled areas, southern Syria continues to witness regular mass demonstrations, protests, and targeted violence. In large part, this is likely a consequence of the specific ways in which the southern Syria reconciliation differed from that of other reconciled areas. In contrast to other reconciled areas, southern Syria was reconciled under a ‘patchwork’ framework, with parallel reconciliation negotiations led either by Russia or the Government of Syria. As a result, almost immediately following the reconciliation agreement in July 2018, armed opposition combatants were quickly remobilized into a multitude of  pro-Government military and security groups that fell into an increasingly open contest for political, economic, and military primacy.

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This paper is an attempt to understand the contours of the current security landscape of southern Syria, in particular the ways in which the region’s unique reconciliation framework has set the course for the persistent violence that continues to define it. Primary research was conducted between August and September 2019; upon examination, it is clear that a majority of communities within Dar‘a governorate host myriad security actors that are in open competition with one another, and are distributed seemingly at random throughout the region, with no clear-cut patterns of influence or control. Only a handful of relatively circumscribed regions are controlled by a single pro-Government armed group. Consequently, southern Syria is best seen not as a collection of coherent ‘zones of influence’, but as a ‘security archipelago’, where the presence and influence of armed groups changes from community to community. Dar‘a governorate is by no means the only part of Syria where pro-Government military and security actors are fragmented or in open competition; indeed, many Syria analysts have rightly pointed to southern Syria as a potential ‘model’ by which to examine the state of the country as a whole. It is therefore hoped that this paper will prompt further consideration of security conditions in a post-reconciliation context. However, the findings of this paper should not be taken as static or deterministic. Considering the fluidity of events in Dar‘a, the presence and influence of pro-Government armed groups is subject to change. That said, with no single actor capable of fully securing control of the governorate, and no clear authority capable of unifying these actors, the general status quo is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

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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.

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