With the Iranians and the Russians fully backing Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, it’s clear that the chances of regime change anytime soon are zero. Assuming that Raqqa will be liberated in the early days of the next administration, what happens next? asks Henri J. Barkey, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
The coming defeat of ISIS should be used to launch a new initiative, he writes for The American Interest:
Admittedly, the main cities and more habitable lands are in the government-controlled western parts of Syria. Still, the opposition-controlled regions are quite extensive, commanding the Euphrates River and the area near the Mosul Dam; this territory’s borders with Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan provide anti-regime forces access to the rest of the world.
In effect, this is a call for a de facto, but temporary, partition of Syria. The hope is that, as the liberated areas are consolidated, rebuilt, and protected, some Syrians abroad will start returning, thus relieving the pressure on countries with large refugee populations. In some parts of Syria, there is already an incipient infrastructure in the form of local councils organized to deal with problems from trash collection to education and even economic development.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former American ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, warned in a recent article in The National Interest that there was a “danger of a war [between Turkey and Iraq] within a war that could damage the prospects for retaking and stabilizing Mosul.”
A successful campaign in Mosul has the potential to be an important milestone in the process of reconciliation, but only if the post-campaign period is given due attention, including issues of local governance, argued Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.
While the Gulf states are alarmed at the real hegemony of Iran, they also worry about the potential hegemony of a neo-Ottoman Turkey, argues Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. The only way to protect the Gulf states’ interests in Iraq is for these countries to play as strong of a strategic, albeit indirect, role in the liberation and post-conflict stabilization of Mosul as possible, he contends.
It is time to think about a solution—one that freezes the fighting, creates structures allowing for displaced civilians eventually to return home, and provides an opportunity to negotiate a long-term solution, Barkey suggests. RTWT