Monday, 25 April 2016

Partitioning Syria for the New Middle East ?

As the battle smoke in Syria and Iraq continues to cloud the sky, it is abundantly clear that the Syrian and Iraqi political landscapes are going to be forever changed. Five years of civil war has not just destroyed infrastructure and buildings but it has also created a series of societal divisions that were not in place in before the conflict began.

Sunni, Alawite, Shia, Druze, Yazdi and Kurd; many of these divisions between the groups in Syria were in existence but the society was not overwhelming divided along these lines. As the next wave of peaceful negotiations fall apart it is clear that the sheer multitude of groups that are now represented in the conflict in Syria will mean that the political system will need an overhaul.

It is a foregone conclusion that most regions of Syria will no longer tolerate Bashar Assad's political domination. The government’s formation of security forces that robbed, tortured and raped young men and women, as well as the bombing of opposition towns and cities instead of al-Nusra and ISIS over the past five years has eroded any legitimacy Assad had. This was demonstrated by the recent swathe of 104 anti-government protests around the country on March 4. Simply put, many people distrust the al-Assad regime. As one organiser of the protest in Aleppo commented,

“We came to confirm that our revolution is ongoing, no matter what happens. We are a resilient and determined people, and we will not back down from our demands: a free Syria for all Syrians and free of Assad and terrorism. Thousands of martyrs have fallen, which makes us more determined not to back off on our rightful and legitimate demands.”

So the question now becomes what will bring peace.

The Dream of Partition

According to the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, plan B for Syria if the peace talks failed is the partitioning of Syria along sectarian or ethnic divisions. Secretary Kerry stated to the US Foreign Relations Committee that ,

“this can get a lot uglier and Russia has to be sitting there evaluating that too. It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer”.

Although Secretary Kerry has not given details of how such a partition would be completed, the plan was previously outlined by Condoleeza Rice in 2006 as part of the United States Foreign Policy entitled The New Middle East Plan which had its roots in the Israeli foreign policy from the 1980sby Odid Yinon. The United States is said to have a plan to separate Syria into a federal system of states, like the United States, Russia or Australia. Thus the Alawites would have a state in the west near Lebanon, a Sunni Arab State would dominate the centre and the Kurds would control the north.

This may solve some issues. Firstly, many Alawites are concerned about a Sunni backlash against them due to the perception of the Assad regime being coterminous with the Alawite population. As a result they are seeking protection from the ethnic retribution of the Sunni based opposition groups. Secondly, it will cement the north, also known as Rojava now by the Kurds, into a functioning state which will calm their attempts to separate from Syria altogether.

The Reality

Unfortunately, this sort of partitioning is little more than a recipe for disaster. Firstly, it does not include many of the minority groups like the Druze, Yazdis or Armenians that have coexisted in Syria for generations. Furthermore, with interfaith and interethnic marriage occurring regularly it is hard to see how such a heterogeneous society would operate under a more homogenous rule.

In the current climate the separation also does not demonstrate how such a division will provide an equal amount of resources to all divisions in Syria. As the Alawite and Kurdish territories would control most of the arable land, water supplies and oil and gas fields this partitioning would mean that large portions of the Syrian population in the Sunni section would be left without ready access to arable land, oil and most importantly water. This could lead to further conflicts within the federal state system as resources and control over the government becomes an issue for the have-nots.

As Jacob Purcell from Global Risk Insights argues

A federal system like the one described above could simply set up the next wave of fighting as various ethnic groups contend with each other to control the central government and entrench themselves.

It should be noted that the argument for partitioning has been overruled by more than one participant in the war.

Lack of Syrian and Russian Support for Plan B

The Assad regime for one has stated they will not agree to anything that compromises the integrity of Syria as a whole. While the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, has echoed these sentiments when he stated that it is best to keep Syrian territorial borders unchanged and the people unified.

Syrian opposition coordinator Riad Hijab has stated that "any mention of federalism or something which might present a direction for dividing Syria is not acceptable at all".

The Winner is Kurdistan

One place that supports this plan is found in an autonomous Kurdistan. The civil conflict has allowed for the creation of large autonomously governed sections of Kurdish territory, which are now backed by organised and battle hardened militia and governing bodies. In March this year the Syrian Kurdish political party the Democratic Union Party or P.Y.D declared that it would be putting together a plan to unite the regions controlled by the Syrian Kurds into an autonomous region to operate within a federal based system. 

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