Joshua Landis writes: Syria will become increasingly fragmented in 2015. The Somalia-ization of the country is inevitable so long as the international community degrades all centers of power in Syria and the opposition fails to unite.
Who owns what?
The four strongest authorities in Syria are the Assad government, ISIS, Nusra, and the Kurds. They rule close to 95% of Syrian territory. The Assad government rules 45% of the land and perhaps 65% of the population, give or take. ISIS rules 35%, but controls less than 3 million people. Kurds may control about 8% or 9% of Syria and Nusra another 5%. This leaves the hundreds of additional militias controlling the remaining 5%, but in some areas “No FSA faction can operate without Nusra’s approval.” Jihadis prevailed in 2014.
All authorities will become weaker, with the possible exception of the Kurds. The United States is at war with all important Arab factions. It is actively bombing ISIS and Nusra, while sanctioning Assad. Although Washington has been funding a “train and equip” project to the tune of half a billion dollars, it appears to have neither urgency nor teeth. Coalition forces are divided on objectives. This means that all centers of authority in Syria are being degraded while none are being built up. It means no one can win. The Assad regime, ISIS, and Nusra are all likely to see their power diminish over the coming year. The FSA militias have become practically irrelevant and must take orders from the radicals. The educated and worldly activists who played such a vital role in launching the revolution have been pushed aside and are today without influence. One can interpret this either as: a) Liberals and democrats in Syria were such a small elite that they were quickly swept aside by the tide of sectarians, fascists, and Islamists; or B) Assad intentionally destroyed the liberals and moderates so that he would face only extremists, leaving the world to face an either-or choice: Assad or al-Qaida. The reality is probably a measure of both.
The Assad government strengthened its control over major cities, while losing control over rural areas. It gained ground in the Damascus suburbs, Kalamoun, Homs and Aleppo, but it lost territory in others, such as Idlib, the Golan, Deraa and the Jazira. This strategy reveals Assad’s urban bias. He believes he can regain the support of the urban middle classes who fear the radicalized and poorer country-folk. The Baath originally relied on rural support against the cities. But as it went bankrupt and turned away from subsidies and socialism toward neo-liberal policies mixed with a heavy dose of corruption, it turned its back on the urban poor and struggling countryside. Today the regime is trying to turn the rich against the poor in an effort to convince them that the revolution was a pipe-dream and that they must fight “terrorism.” Collapsing oil revenues in Iran and Russia mean that Assad will have to suffer with less money in 2015. But so too will the rebels because they are as reliant on oil money as the regime. All incomes will take a nosedive. Ninety percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, according to the UN. But poverty can get worse. [Continue reading…]