The collapse of the peace negotiation between the United States and Russia may have been disappointing to the international community but to the people of Syria, in particular, the Sunni opposition moderate or otherwise, the latest events were almost entirely expected.
The difficulty experienced by the super-powers to present a united front have been mirrored by the difficulty of the Sunni opposition groups to work together to defeat the hegemony of the Syrian leader, Bashar El Assad, who with the support of the Russians and the Iranians and Shia militias is becoming increasingly more powerful and emboldened.
The picture to the outside world is a battle between a tyrant who has used chemical weapons against his own people, has barrelled bombed and decimated populations in besieged mainly Sunni cities and beleaguered fighters from the Free Syrian Army who are fighting alongside more extreme opposition such as the Nusra Front. The ultra-extremists in the form of the Islamic State group has also sprung from the chaos and has now become a common enemy.
The plain truth is after 6 years of continual conflict, Syria is no closer to the end of the suffering for the displaced and the needy of the war-torn country.
To say that the Sunni leaders feel let down is a massive understatement.
Tribal leaders feel let down by the inactivity of the Americans and the reluctance to strike back at Syrian targets and the unwillingness for the international community particularly the UN to intervene to halt the bombardments and to negotiate peace, removing Assad and returning the country to its historical and cultural heritage.
Commentators assessing the progress of the uprising cannot fail to notice the fragmentation of the Sunni moderate and hardline opposition which has seen, at one point, more than 230 small groups vie for control of parts of Syria. The main group leading the fighting are the Nusrah Front, now calling itself the Fatah AsSham movement and the other is the Free Syria Army who to all observers are indistinguishable and fight alongside the Nusrah Front in the united common goal to repel Assad’s forces.
One researcher who has recently returned from Syria says the Sunni leaders are not saying it openly but they now accept that there is no way to return to a reunited nation – Syria is a divided country and Syria will divide!
The reality on the ground is Sunni leaders’ eager for a peace settlement will never been able to live side by side with Alawite neighbours, the Shia sect of Bashar Al Assad’s ruling regime. It is a fact that is not lost on the Alawites who depend on Assad’s survival for the survival of the minority Shia communities throughout that region. The extent of sectarianism supported and to a large extent driven by the powerful influence of Iran means religious fervour remains at the forefront over the struggle to control Syria.
Whether or not the peace negotiations are resumed, Sunnis face an uphill battle to bring its forces together and salvage some sort of political leverage in the new Syria to come. Pivotal in that future will be the Kurds and the deal that they are likely to strike with the help of the America in the Pentagon who have bankrolled its communities in exchange for its ‘boots on the ground’ offensive against the Islamic State group.
The Kurds cannot trust any of the groups that have a stake in the future of that region. Alawites are distrusted as much as Sunnis are but Russia’s cosy relationship with Syria and now with Turkey spells danger for the people who long for a united and autonomous Kurdistan. For Kurdish leaders ‘being in bed’ with the Americans is not a matter of choice but a ‘marriage of convenience.’
The fear is the Americas who are themselves divided between the desires of CIA and the requirement of the Pentagon might change the ball game by the New Year as the incumbent President gives way to a new commander in Chief. The policy of trying to work with the Russians has thrown up its limitations perhaps because of Russian concerns about the Sunni Muslim groups that lie and threaten its territory.
Sunni leaders are under no illusions that the Russian intervention has more to do with Russian interests in the region than a desire to assist the Assad regime. Moscow deems that the restitution of a secular, non-religious government in the region is a goal worth investing its bombs and military might in. Those same leaders are a little less sure about the American intervention or rather involvement, for what began as an attempt to have regime change in Syria to protect American and Israeli interests has refocused into a ‘destroy the Islamic State group’ at all cost war to revenge its bombing campaigns and beheading of Western lives.
Sunnis in Syria and those outside campaigning for victory are aware that events are undeniably out of their control. The death, carnage and suffering of Syrian people has gone beyond being a ‘tragedy’. Sadly, there’s the feeling that the crisis is turning into a ‘comedy,’ – why else would John Kerry say following the bombing of the aid convoy two weeks ago that ‘this is not a joke!’