Syria – Retrieving Land is Not Victory
20 March 2016
By Tariq Alhomayed
Talk in Syria right now focusses on the areas that the Assad regime has
retrieved with Russian aerial support and that of fighters from Shiite
militias on the ground, under Iranian leadership. Have the Russians succeeded?
Has Assad broken the ring altogether? Does this mean that the Russians and the
Iranians are establishing the rules of the game now? The answer is that all of
this is incorrect. Rather, it is a delusion.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime with stunning speed in 2003, Abu
Musab Al-Zarqawi appeared in Iraq in 2004. He led disgusting terrorist acts
there until he was killed in 2006. Some believed that terrorism in Iraq was
declining until Al-Qaeda returned and rose once again. Sunni Iraqi awakening
councils were set up in 2006 and the Americans appealed to them to expel Al-Qaeda
in Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh, the governorate of Salahuddin and even Baghdad. The
former US president George W Bush flew to meet the founder of the Awakening
councils at the time Abdul Sattar Abu Risha who was later assassinated on the
basis of his meeting with Bush, especially when the Maliki government thought
that it was able to break Al-Qaeda again.
What happened afterwards was the opposite, especially after the announcement
of the US withdrawal from Iraq after President Obama was elected. Since 2009
specifically, and some say before then, the features of ISIS began to form
until Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi officially appeared recently and Anbar and other
areas fell into the hands of ISIS which is now close to the capital Baghdad.
This was until the international coalition led by America bombed ISIS and
delayed its advance towards Baghdad. ISIS then reached Syria and occupied a
third of it and the rest of the story is well known. What is the point of
saying this here?
The point is this: the Russians, Iranians and with them Assad are able to
retrieve land from the opposition or ISIS in Syria. Retrieving land does not
mean victory as long as people are abandoned, killed, repressed, starved of
food and bombarded. As long as there are no real solutions to the source of
the crisis which is Bashar Al-Assad and Iran's support for him, there are no
solutions, and as happened in Iraq, the death of a terrorist means the
emergence of another unless a radical solution to the problem is found. The
repression of human beings and the consecration of sectarianism means that
there is no stability and it also means that everyone expects more extremists
with the passing of days and years, not to mention the refugee crisis.
Regaining land does not mean the regaining of hearts. The battle is quite
different and this is what the Russians do not keep in mind. The Americans do
not appreciate the consequences of this and of course Assad and Iran do not
care. Even some supporters of Assad in our region are heedless of this.
Hence, the lesson is not in the history books but in what we see and have seen
in Iraq which has turned into a sectarian quagmire and has not had a taste of
calm since 2003. This is due to the absence of radical solutions and this is
what will happen in Syria, whether Assad regains villages or even Aleppo.
Retrieving land is something, and reassuring hearts and convincing minds is
Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and
current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous
positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the
first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a
bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah.
He is based in London.