SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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Since this story was first reported in April 2018, further updates have come out on Raqqa’s mass graves, highlighting the challenges of collecting bodies and identifying missing people. This is an analysis with eyewitness stories from people who have gone back to Raqqa.

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The final offensive in Idlib has been an ongoing discussion among Syria analysts for years. Idlib province contains opposition fighters, activists, and civilians displaced from Homs, Aleppo, Hama, and various parts of Damascus. A once tiny area with a 2011 population of 1.5 million now holds an estimated 2.6 million people that fled or were forced into Idlib as part of reconciliation agreements with the regime. Because of the regime-imposed consolidation of opposition fighters in Idlib, analysts speculated that Idlib would be the next great battle. Major battle fronts in opposition held areas—namely Homs, Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta, among others—have succumbed to the regime’s brutal war tactics of bombardment and siege. Idlib now remains the last major opposition territory for the regime to control, but it is not without its complications.

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The short answer is “No.” A family and an entourage that placed itself at the disposal of Iran while burning much of Syria to the ground will not prevail, provided the United States and its partners begin to push back. Yet termites are at work, and the fulfillment of this proviso is far from certain.

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Moscow’s sudden interest in expediting the return of Syrian refugees to their homes is not prompted by humanitarian concerns. Neither is it motivated by a desire to promote political conditions inside Syria that would encourage people to return to the country from which they fled. It is about pressuring the West into fixing a country broken by Russia, Iran, and their client Assad regime. It is a kinder, gentler form of blackmail: either lavish reconstruction funding on the regime, or refugees won’t go home; indeed, there may be more of them arriving on your doorstep.

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Eight years and many conferences into the Syria conflict, Syrian women still struggle to have their voices heard in decision making forums that directly impact them as citizens, and as political, economic, and civil society actors. Syrian women present at the western male-dominated EU-UN conference, Supporting Syria and the Region—known as Brussels II—in April 2018, explicitly spoke to the political processes that failed to include them, and to an aid industry that did not address their needs, including in protection from violence. 

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On July 22, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed an audience that included many members of the Iranian diaspora. The speech focused on the Iranian regime as a danger to its own people and to US interests—kleptocratic, terroristic, and totalitarian. The accusations were specific and the language was strong which could indicate a harsh new anti-Iran policy, especially given the broader context of the US administration’s belligerence toward Iran. Secretary Pompeo’s speech was followed shortly by US President Donald Trump’s social media threats directed at the Iranian leadership.

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The Alawite community, a Muslim sect from which the Assad family originates, has long been a major support base for both Hafez and Bashar al-Assad. Current estimates of the Alawite population place the group around 10 percent of the 22 million population. The regime historically favored Alawites giving them military and security positions within the government which granted them unspoken powers of influence across the state.

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A July 17, 2018 hearing in the United States House of Representatives considered the possibility of Washington recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. The hearing took up this issue months after it was first tabled by Republican Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida. At least one cabinet member of Israel’s government is calling on President Trump to follow up on his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. If Mr. Trump takes this advice, he would inadvertently hand an unearned victory to Iran, the Assad regime, and Russia.

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Whatever they may have discussed privately, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump did not announce a grand bargain over Syria at their joint press conference in Helsinki. They indicated agreement on several issues: Israel’s security, increased humanitarian assistance, the need to finish off ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State), and the soundness of Russian-American military deconfliction. They seemed to be leaving it to subordinates to try to flesh out a broad, operational agreement.

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Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Syrian women have been involved in all aspects of the conflict: from fighting, demonstrating and documenting war crimes to providing humanitarian relief and local politics.

Syrian women, who make up more than 50 percent of the Syrian population, are also taking on a more active role in local negotiations to end the conflict that has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more, including tens of thousands of females. However, women remain grossly underrepresented in international peace negotiations.

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