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Opinion: Syria – Retrieving Land is Not Victory | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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shows the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River, around 50 kilometres north of the Iraqi city of Mosul. The risk of Iraq’s largest dam collapsing and unleashing a huge wave onto Mosul is affecting plans to retake the city from jihadists, an adviser to the premier’s office said on February 10, 2016. / AFP

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 another.