The defeat of ISIL is inevitable since every arrow is directed at it. But “western boots” are necessary to quash it effectively and as soon as possible. But it is equally important to solve other tribulations including causes of the Arab Spring and radicalization, write Leulseged Girma
Once an Islamic Caliphate, Syria is home to various ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shia and Arab Sunnis. Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946, but has lived through successive periods of political instability driven by the conflicting interests of these various groups and external forces. Following the 2011 Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, there are now extremely tense civil and proxy wars in the country. The world’s top military spenders (the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, France and others) are thrashing Syrian soils in the name of destroying the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) and establishing a democratic regime.
Syria has seen Bashar al-Assad’s vindictiveness, strong protests, defections, sanctions, recognition of opposition groups by the West and some Middle Eastern countries, rise of radical Islamist groups, ISIL’s atrocious actions, internal and external displacements and most recently the official involvement of Russia in favor of Assad and against Islamists and moderate oppositions. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the five years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced to leave their homes and have traveled to Europe for shelter and security reasons. The civil war has been underpinned by a complex pattern of alliances and enmities. The Assad regime and its local opponents are backed by military powers from near and far in varying degrees and in different configuration. On September 30, 2015, Russia launched airstrikes against groups fighting Assad after building a military presence in his western strongholds. A US-led coalition has used regional bases to launch its own airstrikes against predominantly Islamic State targets since June 2014. Syria is roughly divided between four groups: regime forces supported by Hezbollah; ISIL; other Islamist groups; and more moderate opposition groups. Kurdish militias separately control areas in the north of the country.
Analysts relate Syria’s ongoing conflict to nation-building trajectory starting in the beginning of the twentieth century. Like many European creations that would eventually crumble into violent disorder, the country felt more like a concept, created from a few stray thoughts left over from some big colonial ideas. It has slipped into civil war since the Arab Spring and the world has been glued to the tragedy since that time. Although there is a common understanding to fight ISIL until it evaporates, the crisis in Syria reached to a level that seems to be a fight between Russia on one side along with the Iranians and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members on the other side.
In his book THE NEW MIDDLE EAST, 2013, Paul Danahar narrated that in July 2012 the Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was saying that the Syrian state should be wiped off the map. He also called for applying the Sharia, uniting the ummah—Islamic community—by demolishing the borders implemented by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, eradicating filthily nationalism and hated patriotism, and bringing back the Islamic State, the state that does not believe in any nationalism other than Islam. This shows that how the Syrian civil war has become a fertile ground for the emergence of ISIL.
The Islamic world is facing a multitude of encounters particularly as more and more youth, mainly Muslim run to join ISIL. It has been identified that many youth Muslims and converted youth Muslims in the West have signed up to join ISIL. ISIL has carefully designed the trap to cuddle many youth and use them as instruments for its malevolent agenda. What’s tempting young people to the militant group and what can be done to stop it from happening should be the prime agenda of the international community in order to curtail the further growth of the cancerous radicalization of the youth, the very vulnerable group of any society that can be an asset or poison if not handled properly .
There are different perspectives on factors for youth radicalization starting from doctrinal differences between the many sectarian divisions in Islam that fuel detestation towards “others” to radicalization steaming from poverty to a lack of education to brainwashing by the so-called Islamic scholars, from alienation and discrimination to lack of positive support at home to channel the youth’s needs and frustrations. Regardless of the factors and differences of the issues between different religions, all Muslim societies must strive for tolerance and kindness towards each other and extend the same sentiments to the rest of the world. The radicalization of the youth has been a fueling factor for the extension of the Syrian crises and increment of the life span of ISIL.
Syria’s flux has been accompanied by various narratives and geopolitical interests which are promoted by international, regional and national actors with diverse positions and weights. It is not difficult to name few of these major state and non-state actors. The US, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and ISIL are among the main shapers of Syria’s conflict pattern. These and other actors provide different and incompatible as well as complex narratives to the Syrian conflict. This makes Syrian conflict the worst of all at the global level. It can be observed that Russians and Iranians support the Syrian state and oppose anti-regime groups and ISIL. The United States of America backs moderate rebels and Kurdish forces and is against the Syrian state, ISIL and Islamist groups. United Kingdom and France assist moderate rebels and are in opposition to the Syrian state, ISIL and Islamist groups. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan sponsor Islamist and moderate Syrian opposition groups and challenge the Syrian state and ISIL. Turkey helps out rebels and Syrian Turkmen and confronts ISL. These different and complex narratives will not bring any viable solution to the Syrians.
The world is in a state of being multipolar. This move by the younger would-be-polars versus the United States of America has its own repercussions on Syria as we are witnessing the political and socio-economic dynamics in broad daylight. This is a competition between a slightly declining hegemony of the US and revisionists (game changers) who aspire to be hegemons (influencers). This competition is being felt in the United Nations Security Council and it is directly affecting Syria. The superpowers vetoed the UNSC resolutions that were meant to bring the state of accountability and dialogue in Syria. Rather they encouraged impunity and more conflict.
The Saudi-Iranian estrangement (Sunnis versus Shiite) is imprinting its own legacy on the state of peace and security of Syria. Iran’s major rival in the 1980s, Iraq, has been hugely weakened by the US-led military operations and its unwise and immature withdrawal in 2011 and sectarian strife. Nuclear talks with P5+1 and ease of sanctions have made Iran to be placed in a better position. Saudi Arabia and regional allies expressed their concern over this development. This has taken the contestation for regional dominance at its peak. Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s financial backing and weapons delivery for the Assad regime and its adversaries have turned Syria into hell.
The Syrian Refugee Crisis has been a puzzle not only to Syria but also for other regions that are accepting refugee and giving asylums. When observing the dynamics in handling refugee crisis, the Turkey –EU deal for Turkey to embrace Syrian refugees in an exchange of facilitation by the EU for Turkeys incorporation to the EU, US Republican presidential race frontrunner Donald Trump’s “You can’t come here” notion for security reasons and European countries like Germany accepting the Syrian refugees with open arms clearly indicates huge difference in not only handling refugee crisis but also understanding the long term repercussion of what it would mean to help the refugees at time of their needs or disappointing the unfortunate refuges.
The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria has reached 13.5 million. There is a call from the international community for the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the protection of civilians, especially children and women, and condemns all indiscriminate attacks on civilians by all parties of the conflict. There is also a call for all parties to the conflict to allow unhindered humanitarian access, across conflict lines as well as borders, to ensure safe delivery of humanitarian aid and medical care to all people in need.
The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against President Assad. It has come by sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority (74 percent) against the president’s Shia Alawite sect, and drawn in neighboring countries and super powers. The rise of the jihadist groups, including Islamic State, has added another dimension to the conflict. A UN commission of inquiry, investigating alleged human rights violations since March 2011, has evidence that those on both sides of the conflict have committed war crimes – including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused by investigators of using civilian suffering – such as blocking access to food, water and health services to gain victory over the other. It is very difficult to assemble the various narratives of international, regional and national forces in Syria.
China and Russia must stop vetoing paths to democratic transition and accountability. For that matter, it is the right time to think about reforming the United Nations and its Security Council. It should be a house for all. There must be a controlling mechanism. The world should not allow a vote that obstructs peace and security. West and East camps must work together for the betterment of human life.
Middle Easterner countries should come together and discuss on how to manage their religious and political diversity. The 21st century, for that matter nature itself, does not allow uniformity. They should also facilitate the establishment of Arab type democracy which is totally different from the current authoritarian leadership of the Arab world. Arab uprisings are still latent conflicts and it needs a lot to address it. The Arab League and other establishments should work on such burning issues.
Syrians should not allow sectarian strife that takes away their lives in a persistent way. They should not allow poverty to prevail in their country. They should continue their fight against the Assad regime which does not allow self determination for the majority of the Syrians. Majority rule, democracy, must be installed. Assad is not a necessary evil in the room. He must go away. He is against the proposed political transition leading to democracy and pluralism, cessation of hostilities and delivery of humanitarian assistance. He knows that he cannot be a profiteer from a tranquil environment. He benefits from chaotic situations where he can use various tactics to banish his supposed enemies from the scene. He is also contributing to China’s and Russia’s global contestation of US dominance in the Middle East region.
The defeat of ISIL is inevitable since every arrow is directed at it. But “western boots” are necessary to quash it effectively and as soon as possible. But it is equally important to solve other tribulations including causes of the Arab Spring and radicalization. Shelter and security (resettlement) for refugees and humanitarian aid inside Syria is the prime responsibility of the world. The Super Powers, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Turkey, Iraq, the Assad regime and other relevant stakeholders should set aside their international and regional ambitions and work for Syrians.
According to Professor Tim Murithi of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, intra-state and inter-state conflicts have regional implications/spillover effects; hence regional reconciliation is of paramount importance. It is therefore indispensable to approach peace in the Middle East and North Africa from a “regional framework/perspective”. Unless the leaders and governments as well as peoples of the MENA region seat for peace talks through UN and their own regional organization, the Arab League, peace in Syria and the whole region will be missed forever. It is through regional reconciliation that the world can avert the coming worst scenarios in Syria and beyond and get rid of “stable autocracy”.
Ed.’s Note: Leulseged Girma (MA in Middle Eastern Geopolitics) can be reached at [email protected]. Michael Melaku (MA in Global Studies with special emphasis on Peace and Security in Africa) can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Contributed by Leulseged Girma