SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

The catastrophic war in Syria seems to have gotten nearer to a tragic conclusion, but the end of this war may herald the beginning of other regional conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. What began as peaceful protests against the Assad regime’s dictatorial rule, soon evolved into a proxy war between Iran on the one hand, and Turkey, Saudi, and other Gulf countries on the other—and took on increasingly sectarian tones. As Syria’s war reaches an unstable end, a looming question for regional security is what will happen to these proxy forces, and in particular the foreign militias?

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As the conflict in Syria enters its seventh year, it poses both new and old unanswered questions for US policy. The armed opposition is no longer a strategic threat to the Assad regime, and while international intervention would change that, it is unlikely. Fighting, which Assad is too weak to prevent, will continue in parts of the country, but Russia’s presence limits other states’ options to exploit the conflict. The regime could lose more territory, but its gains will be more important than its losses. The question is no longer “Who will win the war?” The opposition is losing, even if the ruined regime cannot meaningfully be described as ‘the winner.’ As new policy questions emerge, the Trump’s administration has yet to offer clear answers, despite heavy criticism of its predecessor’s policies.

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There are currently 656,000 Syrians registered with the UNHCR in Jordan, and the Jordanian government estimates the total number of Syrians in Jordan at 1.26 million. These estimates make Jordan one of the most refugee-dense host states per capita in the world. 

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Turkish-Russian relations have been poor for years because of conflicting agendas in Syria. The Russian decision to intervene in late September 2015 directly challenged Turkish interests. At the outset of the Russian military operation, the goal appeared to be point defense of core regime areas, including the Latakia coast and the road to Damascus. Turkey, in contrast, worked for years to expand opposition held territory out to the coast, as part of its broader effort to empower the opposition to challenge the regime. This sub-set of the broader Turkish proxy war sparked a major escalation with Russia, and in so doing, contributed to the Turkish defeat in Syria.

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Since 2014 there have been two loosely connected wars destroying the Syrian state and creating humanitarian and geopolitical disasters: the battle in western Syria between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad (aided by Iran and Russia) and a diverse collection of armed opposition groups; and the battle to the east between the so-called Islamic State and a coalition of forces led by the United States.  

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Below are remarks by Omar Shawaf and audio of the event on Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy hosted by the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council in Washington on March 21, 2017:

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In a little-noticed news item, on March 8, security forces in Beirut raided several money transfer shops accused of sending upward of $20 million to militant groups in Syria. Lebanese security forces arrested at least six Lebanese nationals and closed 16 stores in several neighborhoods throughout the city.

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Six years ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad betrayed his country by authorizing lethal fire on peaceful protesters. As war in Syria enters its seventh year, the price for the political preservation of one man, one family, and one entourage has been staggering, in Syria and far beyond. Observers numbed by the enormity of a humanitarian catastrophe are periodically jolted by new revelations, such as the regime bombing spree that deprived 5.5 million people in Damascus of running water: a likely war crime, per the United Nations Commission of Inquiry. Just how relevant is this murderous crew to the future of Syria?

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Statements from American officials about the possibility of an increase in US military presence in Syria escalated with talks of increasing special operations forces, fighter jets, and supplies for local combat forces. This comes as battles surrounding the city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh), draw closer. Reports indicate that 400 US Marines arrived in Syria early last week to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the battle to retake Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in Syria, and another 1,000 troops might yet be sent.

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Six years ago, I was in the US State Department, serving as a deputy to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell. Having met in late February and early March 2011 with President Bashar al-Assad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu respectively, I was advancing a Syrian-Israeli peace mediation that was gaining momentum and showing promise. It was a rare moment of cautious optimism in a career dominated by the Middle East and its relentless disappointments; a moment about to expire in a hail of gunfire. 

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