Assad is the big winner after the defeat of Isis
What next for Syria? The liberation of Raqqa by Us-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has completed the defeat of Isis, but that doesn’t mean peace is about to break out, said Pierre Haski in L’obs (Paris). After a six-year conflict in which 330,000 people have been killed, it is President Bashar al-assad – the man responsible for his country’s “descent into hell” – who has the upper hand. His forces control half the territory and two thirds of the population; the Kurds, the dominant force in the SDF, control barely a quarter. But though weak and fragmented, the rebels won’t disappear overnight.
Russia and Iran, both backers of Assad, have now brought together representatives of Assad’s regime and some opposition groups for a meeting in the Kazakh capital, Astana, said Al Jazeera (Dubai). The aim is to agree a plan to create four “de-escalation zones” across eight of Syria’s 14 provinces, and to get Assad to call a six-month halt to air raids in these areas. But Moscow’s plan for the next step – to hold a congress in the Russian city of Sochi and frame a new constitution, has already run into trouble, said Deutsche Welle (Bonn). The anti-assad opposition insists that any such talks should be held under the aegis of the UN in Geneva, while Turkey says that the invitation extended to the Kurdish YPG militia is unacceptable. The truth is that none of the major players seem prepared to settle, said Haski. Russia only wants to keep Assad in power; Iran is motivated by knee-jerk hostility to the rebel Sunni opposition; and the US has no coherent policy. As for Assad, the political winds are also blowing in his favour, said Le Point (Paris). But he may not have the money to rebuild his ravaged country; and he may find it hard to subjugate the Kurds, who have won a large degree of autonomy. But Western governments have backed down from their insistence on his departure as a precondition for peace. As security improves, relations could also start to improve with Jordan and Turkey, both desperate to see the Syrian refugees in their countries return home and to revive trade relations.
And in the meantime, Assad can use hunger as a weapon, said Carsten Kühntopp in Deutschlandfunk (Berlin), a strategy he has dubbed “Kneel down or die”. And already it seems to be working. In the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, where 400,000 people have been under siege since 2012, residents can no longer smuggle in food through tunnels, as Assad’s forces have sealed them. That deliberately starving civilians is a war crime doesn’t bother him, as long as it forces rebel enclaves to surrender. For Syria, it’s going to be a long, hard winter.