Thursday, June 27, 2019

The War is Dead, Long Live the War

Is the Syrian multi-war going to evolve again and flare up?

This development in Syria is interesting:

The Assad government has rebuilt its military but not its national police and ability to administer local affairs. Local security and administration has been left to “local councils” that are elected locals or, increasingly, officials selected by local militia leaders. The local militias [and] councils are legal but only loosely monitored and supervised by the central government.

These are essentially local fiefdoms. How far does Assad's direct control extend? Is it just the Damascus region or does his authority also encompass the areas extending to the sea that were not challenged by rebels?

I've noted the rebuilding of the military, which is greatly reduced from a pre-civil war 450,000 to just 100,000 bolstered by local militias and foreign fighters, many controlled by Iran. The formal Syrian military seems more like an advise and assist force, as I note in the post.

And the rise of the local security and civilian administration apart from the state was also visible several years ago:

Basically, the Syrian army's army divisions had--prior to the war--evolved into virtual feudal realms that exercised political and economic power in regions they were responsible for. As the infantry died in the civil war and was replaced by militias as the infantry component, the divisions became the technical backbone (firepower, armor, combat support, and air power) of military efforts that suffered fewer casualties. The lines of economic, military, and social power that extended throughout the region that existed parallel to the chain of command up to Damascus allowed the Assad regime to essentially subcontract control to regional power centers that are more allied to Assad than they are subordinate to Assad.

Interestingly, Russia provides support through the formal military channels while the Iranians directly support the militias.

As virtual fiefdoms, these regionally based sub-state powers rely on local resources extracted from the population that lives there rather than relying on Damascus for support. Assad is transitioning from an autocrat who rules to a figurehead who reigns over the locals he cannot control with the relative power.

The funny thing is that while Assad has defeated the rebellion (which evolved into a civil war and then a multi-war of various powers--the global jihad, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the American-led Coalition, using Syria as a battleground), excepting those in Idlib who are contained and somewhat protected by Turkey, he has nonetheless lost much of his country. Not only Idlib and the Kurdish-controlled areas in the east, but much of what is considered "pro-government" territory.

At high cost.

Will the fiefdoms abandon their powers and their ability to loot their territory by submitting to direct control by Assad? Or will a new war to bring the fiefdoms under Assad's control begin once Assad regains Idlib and cuts a deal with the Kurds for their autonomy within Syria?