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A new administration in northeast Syria?


The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) this week announced a new administration for areas in north and eastern Syria. The newly-established administration will function as a coordinating body between local councils in Arab-majority areas liberated from ISIS and other Kurdish-majority areas in the northeast, according to an SDC statement.

For the first time, the entire province of Raqqa and liberated areas of the nearby eastern province of Deir Ezzor have been included in the Kurdish-led administration.

The SDC has been discussing this move for a while. During its third convention in July, which was held in the town of Tabqa (40 miles west of Raqqa), the SDC concluded that newly-liberated areas in Raqqa and elsewhere would have a unified governing body which eventually would help improve the provision of services to the local populace in these areas.

While the SDC, the political wing of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), hasn’t explicitly laid out its plans in this regard, it is clear that the intention here is to merge these areas with the traditional Kurdish heartland to the north.

the intention here is to merge these areas with the traditional Kurdish heartland to the north

Sources in the SDC confirmed to me that the ultimate objective is to form an inclusive, autonomous governing body under the name of “the Government of Northern Syria.” This could happen as early as January 2019.

Since the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS in November 2017, the U.S. has been pushing for a new administration in eastern Syria; an administration that would be effective in providing good governance and adequate services to communities in a post-ISIS eastern Syria.

Thus, large amounts of funds have been pouring in through various U.S. development programs that aim to stabilize the region politically and economically. The objective is simply is to turn Raqqa and other recently liberated areas into success stories.

But the U.S. plan for Raqqa and other areas east of the Euphrates won’t be successful without having an effective partner on the ground to carry out implementation of this strategy. And Washington already has realized this partner is undoubtedly the SDF and its affiliates.

The plan is to allow the Kurds to be in charge of these areas without having an absolute Kurdish rule. In other words, the U.S. wants to Kurds to run these areas because of their proven effectiveness and commitment, but at the same time allow local Arabs to run their affairs through a localized system of governance which would still leave the Kurds with substantial role in the decision-making process.

The U.S. allegedly has presented this proposal to Russia, hoping that Moscow will use its leverage to convince Damascus to steer clear to Washington’s plans for eastern Syria.

Suspicious of anything coming from America, Russia initially rejected the proposal. But then the Russians realized that this U.S. proposal actually is largely in line with what Mr. Putin’s government envisions for a post-war Syria: economically stable regions across Syria.

So Russia has come to believe that, in a way, if the U.S. proposal for eastern Syria proceeded, it would help Russia’s ally, Bashar Assad, in the sense that his regime wouldn’t have to worry about the stability of that region – at least for now while things are still challenging elsewhere.

It could be argued that the Trump administration still doesn’t have a clear strategy vis-a-vie Syria, but it is certainly clear that it has a vision of how eastern Syria should look like for the next phase.

The SDC move to declare such a new administration in east and north of Syria could be a preemptive measure on their end.

The SDC move to declare such a new administration in east and north of Syria could be a preemptive measure on their end. It is certainly one that would at some point down the road be used as a bargain chip for any future negotiations with Damascus.

The looming battle for Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib will be the last military challenge ahead of Assad before he turns to the Kurds. If and when that happens, Syrian Kurds know they should be prepared for all possibilities.

One thing, though, could still be advantageous for the Syrian Kurds is the U.S. military presence – something we now know will be around for some time.

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