The ongoing peace-talks over the conflict in Syria were already shown to have their limits, as an ISIS-linked attack struck terror into the heart of the city of Damascus on Sunday, targeting a holy shrine for Shiite Muslims. Around 60 civilians were killed; including around 20 Shia militia fighters. Dozens were injured too. The shrine itself remained in tact.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held the view that it was clearly carried out to disrupt the attempts to form a political solution to the Syrian Civil War.
This has of course, shaken the confidence of those trying to patch over this disastrous conflict, which has taken the lives of around 250,000 people in Syria, and left around 11 million displaced. Occurring on the third day of the ongoing Geneva talks, the attack is symbolic of how the situation is escalating beyond the UN’s hands.
Constant warfare only results in more instability in the region, more destroyed communities, more displaced civilians, and subsequently an increased incentive for those affected to join rebel groups or extremist cults. The tough measures carried out by government forces, the US/NATO and Russia to end the hostilities has only added further fuel to the fire. A can of worms has indeed been opened, so to speak.
Tensions between both the government forces and the opposition have indeed elevated to a level which would be challenging to subdue. A significant attempt to bring peace was made two years ago, but any hopes of ending the growing hostilities were shattered, with both sides being unable to compromise, firing insults at each other. In this period, hostilities have increased further.
So far, in the recent talks, Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s UN ambassador and representative of the government criticized the opposition forces for not being serious about wanting peace. On the other side, an opposition group claimed that Assad was simply using the peace talks as an excuse to “buy more time” to kill more civilians.
Regardless of one’s own views on which side is in the right, and the legitimacy of the comments made by either side, it is hard to deny the fragmented situation that the UN has before it.
Not only that, the presence of Islamic State, and other groups such as the Al-Nusra Front entering the fray since the last attempts at talks show that the situation in Syria is becoming more and more entangled. If it were simply between two opposing sides, it would be easier to patch over. Sadly, this is not the case.
Earlier last year, Assad was very much on the back foot – leading a deteriorating force to halt the advance of rebel/Islamist sects. The power balance has somewhat shifted since then, with Russia’s notable intervention last September – bombing rebel targets, and helping the government forces to reclaim key parts of Syria.
This has clearly led to a more fractured region. Thousands more civilians have died; nearly 2000 alone have been killed by Russia since September. Western intervention against the Assad regime in 2013 has also arguably created further instability, in the sense that it has weakened the resistance to the rampancy of the rebel factions.
Kurdish forces however are arguably a vital tool in dispelling the Islamist forces. Indeed, their presence has been incorporated into the West’s strategy in the region – with the Peshmerga forces coordinating with the US and France to out Daesh from Sinjar, Iraq in November. As a more moderate voice, the Kurds should be given much consideration in any future decisions, in Iraq and Syria. Also, as the border between Iraq and Syria has faded largely, and with both regions plagued with sectarian conflict, it is absolutely necessary to include both of these countries in the peace talks for the security of the region.
With both the rebel groups and the Syrian regime having much incentive to fight on, and the power balance shifting repeatedly, perhaps it would be a wise idea to consider re-drawing boundaries in Iraq and Syria – to give fair representation to differing sides in the conflict. Kurdistan could be established, along with a Shia state, and a Sunni one. With so much opposition towards it, it appears as though the Assad dynasty no longer has a place in Syria.
While the idea of creating smaller sectarian states may not guarantee peace permanently, it could appease those who want autonomy, and self determination. Either that, or the conflict will have to rage on until all sides burn each other out. By that time, it is unsettling to think about how many more lives could be taken.