Idlib: Syria’s Last War Zone

Photo source: Washington Post

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront


Russia recently signed a peace deal with Turkey, which averted the danger of the assault in the Idlib province, which hosts around three million people.

The deal, known as Sochi agreement, has decided on a buffer zone, 10-15 km deep in rebel-held territories, that has to be established by October 15, 2018, where fighters have to withdraw to allow Russian - Turkish patrols, backed by drones. By the end of the year, it seems, highways controlled by rebels, the Aleppo-Latakia highway and Aleppo-Hama highway would be cut open to traffic.

It seems that there will be no fighting, at least for the time being, but the war is certainly not over. The fighters will have to surrender all their weapons, artillery, tanks and mortars and leave Idlib. But many analysts believe that hardcore radicals will not likely surrender.

In Syria, there are people who support Assad vehemently and people who hate him and want an end to his rule. As per inputs by Christopher Bolan, Assad might again use chemical weapons, this time on refugees, but it might propel, an even bigger response by the United States and its allies.

Throughout the conflict, the collateral damage of civilians in this conflict has been brutal. In Idlib, there have been civilian protests lately, against Assad regime, where they have demanded freedom for detainees by holding family portraits and placards in crowds. Currently, more than 50 per cent of medical centres in Idlib are not functioning.

The truce, although, has come as a respite, as many farmers have been reported of buying seeds and fertilisers. Trade also has resumed within the local merchants, and some refugees have even started to come back, mostly to southern Idlib. Parents are sending their kids to school again.

A region of fertile soil, it hosts several warehouses which store chickpeas and fig harvest. These warehouses now want to reestablish contacts. Potato chip factories want to restart as well. During the war, the pischatio farms in Idlib produced low yields.

In the eighth year of the war, around 360,000 have been dead in the Syrian Civil War. The United Nations agency will be monitoring the future months closely, as commented by Mr Filippo Grandi, the UN commissioner for refugees, as more bloodshed, he warned, could propel more displacement.

Turkey has mainly supported extremist groups, such as the Free Syrian Army and Sham Legion, close to its southern border, with an intent to largely disintegrate Syria. Russia and Iran, on the other hand, have provided military support to Syria. If there is more battle in Idlib, there would be more refugees pouring through the Turkish borders.

It was in Idlib, where first firefights of the Syrian war happened, near the western city of Jisr-al-Shugur. People of the province have been trying to sell their homes, property, and furniture for their escape. They could only carry, what was deemed fit in the motorcycle or car, as they heard fighter jets screeching the Idlib skies.

Around 12,000 fighters of the al-Nusra front, a splinter group of al Qaida, that later changed their name to Hay’at Tahir al-Sham, had aims to turn Idlib into an Islamic State. The group comprised of Chechen, Tunisian and German Muslims, responsible for various kidnappings and murder of businessmen of doctors.

Ever since the conflict escalated, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel and the United States have been the main players in the war. The United States has lacked resources, diplomatic capacity and political acumen to reshape a peaceful future in the region. It has around two thousand troops stationed in eastern Syria, working alongside Kurds and Arabs under Syrian Democratic Forces, although it has lost support for its humanitarian campaign back home and abroad. One of the US aims, before, had been to topple Assad, but right now, it has been concentrating to dismantle the Islamic State instead.

Turkey, on the other hand, installed several observational posts in Idlib and about 1300 of its troops. It had aimed to control Syria’s airspace, in the past, which is currently controlled by Russia, who have bombed Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, as Assad’s proxies. Israel, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the war and has launched hundreds of airstrikes against Syria, to stop the movement of weapons into Lebanon. Israel also supported a counterinsurgent Islamic force in Golan Heights, to prevent Iranian aggression.

The Syrian war has leaned in favour of Assad’s regime, since its inception for a reason. Retaking Idlib would be under his main plan to keep on reunifying the country, although Assad can’t afford to attack Kurdish Syria, a US ally, because it will further complicate the situation. The Americans want Iran military personnel’s out, but Russia wants American departure from Syria’s east.

Right now, Assad’s democratic opposition is meaningless, fragmented and ineffectual.

According to an article by Christoph Reuter in Speigel Online, “The military victories Assad has been chalking up since 2015 aren't thanks to his shriveled army. His successes were made possible, rather, by the Russian air force, tens of thousands of Hezbollah fighters following orders from Iran, along with Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani militias under Iranian command.”

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