The Deadline for Syria’s Idlib Is Syria’s Civil War Biggest Turning Point Yet
Idlib is the last rebel-held stronghold with 90,000 rebels, out of which there are 20,000 extremist jihadis. Due to the conflict of the civil war, a large proportion of the population has been displaced - so Idlib has become home to 3 million civilian people. Currently, the area of Idlib is protected by Russia’s and Turkey’s agreement to establish a demilitarised zone around the province in hopes that the rebel forces would leave. On the 17th of September, Russia, Iran, and Turkey set up the Idlib buffer zone to protect civilians for a month with the intention of avoiding further conflict. The deadline has passed, but this is a pivotal moment in the civil war as it could lead to either progress or deterioration.
A turning point for peace?
Idlib could come to symbolise the end of the war, as the rebel forces are moving out.
In addition, the Turkish (aligned rebel faction the National Liberation Front) have already expressed their support for the agreement. The war began as a result of the need that the Syrian people had for democracy. The demilitarisation of the zone would lead to an increase of Assad’s control over the area. It could end with Assad still being in power – but no civil war occurring.
A turning point for the worst?
Bassem Mroue, a writer for the Washington Post, argues that rebel infighting could occur in the region of Idlib. As at least two jihadi groups have rejected the agreement, but most of their positions are deep inside the Idlib region – far from the front lines with government forces. The tension between rebels who support or oppose the agreement could lead to greater instability in the region.
Foreign Minister of Syria Walid al-Moualem, said the government’s next target after recovering Idlib from rebel forces would be the area east of the Euphrates - territory held by the Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Syrian government has implied that they will try to seize control of the area of Idlib. If Assad decides to invade it, taking back control over the whole country, it could turn into the deadliest struggle of the civil war. The highest amount of chemical weapons attacks has been in the region of Idlib. It is highly likely that the Assad regime will use chemical weapons if they attack the region. If Assad does take back control, the original aims of the insurgency group’s search for democracy will not be achieved; causing many people to question whether the civil war would have been worth it.
The original search for democracy that led to the civil war has been neglected, and the future of the civilians in the Idlib region remains ambiguous. The region is far from simple, and the international dynamics will remain. But at present, the civil war is at a turning point.