Fighting Over Syria's Ruins

Jabhat al-Nusra, the Salafist faction of the Syrian insurgency that was recently labeled a terrorist organzation by the United States government, recently launched a failed attack against the town of Sere Kaniye in Syrian Kurdistan.

My pal Jonathan Spyer, who has been following the Syrian war as closely as anyone and is now writing a book about it, has this to say in the Jerusalem Post:

The Sere Kaniye fighting is an indication of the increasing transformation of Syria’s civil war from an insurgency against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad into a many-sided conflict in which the various ethnic and sectarian communities of Syria fight over the country’s ruins.


[I]t is now mistaken to think of the Syrian civil war as a single conflict, pitting the Assad dictatorship against a popular insurgency.

The Assads, for all their many faults, grasped a certain truth – that Syria, a state established by British and French colonialism – lacked any real binding identity and could be held together only by force. The force of the dictatorship is now gradually receding and fading. As it does so, the incompatible component parts that it held together are beginning to separate.

The regime itself is turning into a structure operating on behalf of the Alawi minority. The Sunni Arab insurgency is also divided along ideological and tribal lines. The Kurds in northeast Syria, meanwhile, are making clear that they want no part of either the Sunni Islamist rebellion or the reduced dictatorship. In a manner similar to their compatriots in Iraqi Kurdistan, they are seeking to create a defensible haven for themselves. The Islamist rebels are trying – so far without great success – to force their way into this haven.

The war-within-a-war in northeast Syria thus offers stark evidence of the extent to which “Syria,” as a unified state, no longer really exists.

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