In the immediate aftermath of the Bashar al Assad’s Regime, Syria will likely undergo an extremely violent and unstable alternative. The entire Syrian Army and national security elements will likely be disbanded forthright and replaced with a shaky coalition.
The loss of a phased-out security option will likely increase the growing instabilities that are to inevitably follow. This will be done more out yielding to popular demand or the regime’s religious heresy than out of sound decision making or security efficiency.
At no time is there likely to be a strong centralized force that emerges nationally. Victory will have been tenuous and spurious. The various fractured rebel groups that managed to seize territory during the civil war will control random cities and regions spread out across the country.
Rebels will not be united as they often independently formalize local security services from rugged militias. As they advance in the civil war and hold ground over a given populace, it is the rebel group with the biggest arsenal that will call the shots. Best administrative practices will be diverse and charitable politicization of popular support may derive just as much from religious extremists as secularist or moderate forces.
Foreign sponsored militancy will continue to pour in the country. Any national political conventions will be highly contentious as they are ruling an undisclosed location in Turkey toward the end of the war.
The political factions that secure Damascus will challenge for the greatest legitimacy for something akin to a national and central rule. This will be more of a claim than an actual reality, but may strike the heart of any coalition.
The leadership of other large cities will desire greater power as well and partnerships and deals will be the second matter of business that pervade.
Turkey will continue to push out from the North to establish a buffer. Other border states will pressure or attempt to contain.
Internal fragmentation of the Kurdish Northeast possible.
Spill-over will occur in weak border states, like Lebanon and Iraq, where the membrane of containment ruptures.
A large flow of returning refugees will add to greater social difficulties for the new government(s).
This will be the breaking point and the real test for any new Syria.
If a central rule does emerge from the fog of warring militants, it is likely to be extremely weak.
Candidates for a post Syrian regime
The Syrian Opposition is composed of many formal and informal groups alike. Some are religious extremists, many are moderates and some are even secular. There are protestors, repressed groups, defectors, national foreigners and terrorists within the ranks. A unified command and control structure is fractured among various entities and also separated from Turkey, to the North, and the greater rebel activity taking place within Syria to the South.
The Opposition has already seen leadership transition as well as division. The Syrian National Council was largely recognized as the government of Syria in exile before merging and formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (or Syrian National Coalition). The Coalition is an attempt to organize various groups under central authority. It recently created an interim government last March.
Localized elements in Syria have recognized the Coalition and many do so for weapons and supplies. But not everyone is okay with what conspires in Turkey and the sophistication of foreign organizing efforts. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is composed of mainly composed of Syrian military defectors and operates using guerilla style tactics.
FSA leadership is reported to be over 60 percent derived from the moderate Islamist Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Their search for stronger support and leadership has led them to pledge greater loyalties to the Syrian National Coalition efforts and local leaders have expressed their support (e.g. Aleppo Military Council). They claim upwards of 50,000 troops.
On the other side of the spectrum, Al Qaeda affiliates are moving within the ranks of the Opposition in Syria and could be as high as 9 percent. That number is likely to increase, according to estimates by the FSA.
Jabhut al-Nusra (or the Al-Nusra Front) has ties to al Qaeda in Iraq with an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 fighters. The group has carried out suicide bombings and utilized heavy terrorist tactics and refuses any direction or claim to leadership from the Syrian National Coalition.
Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Souriya al-Islamiya is one of the largest salfist (Sunni Muslim radical extremists) militant groups operating in Syria. It has some 37,000 fighters. Like other extreme jihadist groups, it has the backing of Saudi Arabia, believes many of the same orthodox principles that al Qaeda splinters believe, but does not openly advertise any special affiliation with them.
Qatar funds a group called Ahfad al-Rasoul, which boasts 15,000 militants.
Obviously, some groups see their roles as more “revolutionary” than others.
All such forces compete in motive politically and very soon will likely compete militarily.
Post-Civil War Strategy
The previous strategies relied on garnering foreign support, wearing down the Assad regime with guerilla methods, protecting the civilian populace; receiving high recruitment numbers and defections, and wartime information operations. One can easily see the results of the Opposition from Turkey, as it secures the border cities and advances South.
FSA and other fighters involved share one overarching objective strategy to take down the regime but they share no post-conflict plan. What little central control of Syria that is achieved will depend on the effectiveness of power-brokerage amidst the local victors.
Widespread counter-revolutionary activity will stem from Sunni moderate versus extremist tensions, as well as lingering Sunni Shia strife. If a political solution fails to unite the divided parties, the in-fighting breaks the country up into regions or districts where a warlord state pervades. This means an end of Assad but new Syria state prolonging the conditions of civil war compounded with loud terrorism.
If post-Assad negotiations succeed among Opposition parties will have compromised and united against the most unruly extremists and foreign Shia. Integration of disparate groups will be based on promises of moderation and greater tolerance which may lead to a Lebanese style compromise, but not before a drawn out condition of civil strife. It may also lead to a deposed moderate rule as militants turn against what they see as an illegitimate Western backed puppet.
Brutal retribution against officials of the old regime is highly anticipated in response to heavy handed indiscriminant attacks, chemical warfare, abductions or death squads. Some of emotional hatred will have subsided through acts of terrorism, reprisals and extra-judicial killings.
Post-conflict trials and executions may offer a temporary moment of solidarity between the Syrian rebels. This will happen in the capital or another location by whichever group finds Assad first. The effect on the Syrian people will be one of celebration and fear. This will not last long if at all.
Again, the biggest obstacle will be not only controlling the most radical elements of the militias but reconciling the vast differences of the Coalition. Deal-making might be extended even to groups labeled as terrorists by the West.
A new order will be imposed first at the local levels and a confederate distribution of power may exist if one or three things transpire: 1) The interim Syrian government located in Turkey ultimately fails to gain the legitimacy of the Syrian people; 2) Foreign Shia sectarian elements continue to flow in with greater intensity; and 3) Sunni extremists are not reconciled politically and wage a large-scale terrorism against the Coalition.
Any jihadists will overturn the previous socio-political environment of the former secular dictatorship, replacing it with a variant of Islamist Sharia.
Debate over the level of Sharia and Arab versus Syrian traditions and culture will be exacerbated at this time from Muslim Brotherhood participants to more extremist religious systems. Other ethnicities like the Kurds in the Northeast will want greater separation and autonomy. The Christians and Druid minorities will want immunity to any Islamist impositions.
Foreign influence will not cease and will continue from all directions.
The end of the civil war against Assad is likely to trigger a sectarian civil war.
International and Regional Reactions
No Western government will accept the status of an Islamist government with ties to al Qaeda affiliates or a state that supports or harbors such groups now placed on their terrorist watch lists. Yet, if such groups became so effective in the war that they find a place of power among the people or infiltrate the FSA, they could find themselves embedded in positions of strength during the aftermath. Such a placement might force some compromise or they will go underground as sleepers and remerge later. They will increasingly utilize methods and tactics that will disrupt any non-extremist new government or control it. When this happens, the West will with regional allies be forced to reconsider a more active “liberate” Syria role altogether.
Turkey and Jordan will have increased fears based on the swirling networks that will continue to develop deep within “New Syria.” The relatively moderate Egyptian Islamists who may initially celebrate a jihadist victory over another dictator will soon come to see the regional consequences.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is highly prominent among the people and the largely represented by the interim government but they are not supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah and Iran will continue to bombard the Sunni interests in Syria.
Lebanon and Iraq present to possible containment breaches and aggravated crisis conditions. The spill-over instability and pre-existing cross support networks through those states will cause larger sectarian divides. Lebanon’s growing refugee crisis will spark another forced-entry, not unlike the Palestinians in the South that led to the 1975 Civil War.
Iraq is the biggest loser. Red levels of terrorism and sectarian violence are already a major debilitating issue that threatens to destroy or erode a unified Iraq. After Assad’s overthrow, Baghdad may likely experience a similar civil war which will have spread across three states based on political and religious affiliations.
Russia will hold the position of an “I told you so,” attitude to the West. They will have lost their only warm water port in Latakia, Syria port; effectively eliminating their access to the Mediterranean. Moscow will likely be out of the game at this point, having no assurances of regaining its losses. Russian military advisers may however attempt to punish any new regime or its benefactors and there will be the matter of safe-guarding some 30,000 Russian civilians.
The US and Europe will most likely not have accurately anticipated the timing of the fallen dictator. Having missed another crucial phase at the conclusion of the war, the West will condemn the executions and raise the alarms of local insubordination to the recognized provisional government.
Any new Syrian government will not necessarily be working with the West; nor will they be willing participants of diplomacy. After the Arab League and especially Qatar are finished with the “common enemy” they will back moderates who are largely anti-Western. It matters little that the CIA and other agencies were backing any members of the opposition.
Such a scenario would mean that a gradual take-over of moderate elements within the Opposition were substantially replaced by more radical Sunni extremists securing key positions. They would have lost their internally placed secular candidates. The West would be obligated to funnel diplomatic efforts through third-parties like Turkey and Iraq, but even those states are bound to get shunned by the jihadists for their lack of cultivating “pure” Islamic states.
On the other hand, if the downfall of the Assad regime occurs before Summer’s end, they can hope for a deeper relationship with larger body of installments and moderate Islamists with whom to work with.
Least likely is that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad surrenders. Assad and ruling faction will eventually will likely hide or attempt escape and evasion from death.
Least likely, is a civil war within a civil war. This is a condition in which moderates and extremists of the same sect cannot wait until wars end when their common enemy is defeated and begin to target each other as a priority. This happens on a small scale now but could evaporate progress prematurely if it becomes an excessive trait.
It might happen, for example, as the FSA takes Damascus or an extremist group takes a large city of importance and war between them intensifies to wrest control. Moreover, other groups spontaneous local groups not in the fight now might latter seize control to protect their interests.
Any aftermath is unfortunately not a condition of lasting peace but long-term struggle. The worst future is a possible triple state of religious civil war spreading into Lebanon and Iraq.