Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadists. The strategy was in evidence recently with the Syrian army’s retreat from the ancient central city of Palmyra after an advance by the Islamic State group. It seemed that the division of Syria is inevitable or it’s actually has happened. What is happening is not only the end of Bashar al-Assad regime but the demise of Syria. Not only is Assad’s fate hard to predict; it is also unclear whether Syria will live to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2018. Assad’s shift to a defensive posture, and his apparent willingness to break up Syria, may be attributed to the dwindling forces available to the regime. Under a divided Syria, Damascus government plans to devote its military resources to defending the strategically important territory and core area under its control. The consistent advances of extremist organizations in Syria have now pushed embattled President Bashar Al Assad to the point where military pressure on his regime is the heaviest since the beginning of the civil war, four years ago. The Syrian army today has become a praetorian guard that is charged with protecting the regime’s strongholds and not the whole country.
The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus and may be major portion of once a commercial hub of Syria Aleppo. The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartus. Syria essentially breaks up into a set of de facto mini-states:-
1) Alawite state, run by the Assad regime and defended by the Syrian army and its National Defence Force militias, would emerge on the Mediterranean coast with control of Damascus; it also would likely control a corridor from Damascus to the Alawite provinces on the Mediterranean coast, perhaps including parts or all of the cities of Homs and Hama.
2) A Kurdish state let would emerge in the far northeast. Defended by Kurdish militias.
3) Moderate Sunni Islamist entity would control much of southern Syria, including some of the eastern Damascus suburbs and most of the area between Damascus and the Golan Heights. This entity would also control parts of the area along the Lebanese border and most of Homs province. This may be run by moderate rebels.
4) Salafi-jihadist emirate, run by ISIS (with some areas controlled by the al Qaeda–affiliated al-Nusrah Front), would occupy most of northern Syria (including eastern parts of Aleppo) and virtually all of Ar Raqqah and Dayr Az Zawr provinces in eastern Syria.
Let’s see the division of Syria according to its demography. Syria’s 22 million people today (many of whom have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon), are a collection of communities under the control of armed militias. The majority of Syrians, about 12 million (60 percent of Syria), are Sunni Muslims and still subject to the rule of Assad. But from among them arose the main rebel groups led by the Nusra Front and Islamic State which are aiming to establish an Islamic government based on the version of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Another Sunni Muslim community, some two million Kurds, are concentrated in north-eastern Syria, where they fight against the rebels of the Islamic State. The Alawites, who originate from Shia Islam, make up three million people and are concentrated in northwest Syria and coast. Its members, form the backbone of the Syrian army and government backed militias are staunch supporters of Assad regime since the ascension of Hafez al-Assad 45 years ago. Their Shiite background ties them to the Shiite regional power, Iran, and the Shiite community in Lebanon – that country’s largest. The control by Assad and his Alawites also relies on other minority communities, namely the Christians (nearly three million), and close to one million Druze who are concentrated in southern Syria. Syria, then, is being distributed among the various players. The Alawite regime gets the northern coastal strip with connections to its allies, the Shiites and Hezbollah in Lebanon; the Kurds get an independent entity in the northeast, with connections to the Kurdish communities in Iraq and Turkey; the Druze in the south get a measure of autonomy; the Christians are leaving the country in growing numbers.
We have to recognize that Syria is now a broken, fragmented, divided state. It is going to a very long time and a hell of a job for Syrians to put their country back together, even if Assad goes. Syria must be preserved so that it can once again be a state for all of its citizens, however distant that prospect. In terms of sheer devastation, Syria today is worse off than Germany at the end of World War II. An UN-backed treaty similar to the Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war could be way to again reunite the Syria. In this type of arrangement meditated by the United Nations. A democratic form of government should have representations from Syria’s many communities and preoccupied with its own internal security and national character.