Friday, 11 December 2015

Is a Negotiated Peace Possible in Syria?

Recently, Syrian opposition groups met in Saudi Arabia to discuss prospects for a peaceful settlement of the country's four year old civil war.  These groups hardly present a united front, for although they all seek to depose dictator Bashar Al-Assad, they each have their own agenda and their own vision for the war-torn country, as do their external supporters throughout the international community.  Iran and Russia support President Assad, while the West, Saudi Arabia and most other Sunni Arab states as well as Turkey support the groups fighting to overthrow him.  With so many conflicting interests, it's hard to imagine a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  I believe, however, that a peace agreement may still be possible and I think I also have a good idea of what such an arrangement would look like.

A Two-State Solution for Syria?

The question of whether President Assad stays or goes is not the only impediment to peace in Syria, though I believe it is probably the biggest one.  My thinking is that a compromise arrangement is possible whereby Assad would be removed as Syria's president, but would be the leader of a newly independent Latakia.  Latakia is Syria's coastal region and the area in which the Alawite Muslim sect forms the overwhelming majority of the population.  Assad himself is an Alawite Muslim and the bulk of his support and power base comes from his co-religionists in Latakia.  The region is also home to the Russian naval base that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin wants to retain at all costs.  By allowing Latakia to break away from the rest of Syria, it may be possible to placate the demands and interests of Russia and Iran, because Russia would get to keep the naval base and Iran would maintain its foothold in the region.  At the same time, what remains of Syria would be free of Bashar Al-Assad and his Alawite-led regime.

Now of course, simply removing Assad and giving him a new state in Latakia to rule wouldn't resolve the Syrian conflict entirely.  As I've already said, the myriad of opposition groups in the country all have their own agendas and axes to grind.  There are so-called moderate opposition groups, like the Free Syrian Army and ethnically-based opposition groups, such as the Kurds in Syria's northeast.  Then there are the Islamist movements, the most prominent of which is of course the so-called Islamic State.  No one in the international community wants to hand power in Syria to the Islamic State or any other Islamist terrorist group, though just to be fair, leaders in the Sunni Arab states and Turkey are widely suspected of clandestinely supporting Islamists as part of their efforts to depose President Assad.  You know the old saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  I think, however, that once the issue of Assad is removed, the leaders of the Middle East region will concentrate on making Syria stable again by supporting the more moderate groups against the Islamists led by the Islamic State.  With international support, these moderate forces will be able to form a stable government in Damascus that can exercise control of the country.

Key to maintaining this control will be the Kurds in the country's northeast.  The Kurds have had the greatest success in holding back the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.  Hence, if Syria minus Latakia wants to keep existing as a country, its new leaders will have to accept Kurdish autonomy in exchange for their help in keeping the Islamic State in check.

Now just to be clear, although I've written here about what I think a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war may look like, I don't believe that it is the ideal outcome.  Indeed, if it were up to me, Latakia would be a separate state, but not with Assad as its leader.  The only place that I believe Assad belongs is in the docket of the International Criminal Court.

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