>>>Dar’a: Reconciliation, Iranian Expansion and Civil Dissidence

Dar’a: Reconciliation, Iranian Expansion and Civil Dissidence

Dar’a, also referred to as “the cra­dle of the rev­o­lu­tion”,  has a sig­nif­i­cant geo­graph­i­cal impor­tance to Dam­as­cus pri­mar­i­ly because it holds the Syr­ia-Jor­dan Nasib[1] bor­der through which the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment aims to restore the country’s pre-war sta­tus quo and cut-off sup­plies com­ing to the rebels from the south. Ini­tial­ly, Dar’a was a part of pre­vi­ous rebel-held de-esca­la­tion zones in the country’s south[2]. In line with the government’s con­sis­tent vio­la­tions of oth­er de-esca­la­tion zones and frag­ment­ed rebel-held ter­ri­to­ries with a lack of coher­ent exter­nal sup­port, Dar’a was alarmed that the gov­ern­ment was will­ing to launch a full-scale mil­i­tary incur­sion as observed in mid-June 2018[3].

With that being said par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Russ­ian-spon­sored peace talks seemed the only ratio­nal option for the rebels.  In ear­ly June 2018, Rus­sia spon­sored talks between the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and rebel lead­ers head­ing armed groups oper­at­ing in Dar’a province to appeal to the cease of direct mil­i­tary con­fronta­tions and end the state of con­flict between the gov­ern­ment and its armed oppo­si­tion.

The war­ring par­ties reached an agree­ment in July that delin­eat­ed Dar’a’s polit­i­cal tran­si­tion between the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and the rebels. First­ly, the agree­ment addressed the nature of ties between Dam­as­cus and the local pop­u­la­tion in Dar’a (Rebels/Civilians) and, as a result, two de fac­to set­tings were formed. The first set­ting con­sists of civil­ians that were giv­en the choice to either rec­on­cile with the gov­ern­ment or to move to rebel-held areas in Idlib, Syria’s north­west­ern province. The sec­ond set­ting con­sists of rebels that were also giv­en the free­dom of either mov­ing to Idlib or rec­on­cil­ing with the gov­ern­ment and, there­fore, rein­te­grat­ed with­in Syria’s mil­i­tary appa­ra­tus, pri­mar­i­ly in the Russ­ian led 5th corps[4].

Sec­ond­ly, the agree­ment stip­u­lat­ed the evac­u­a­tion of all medi­um and heavy weapon­ry from Dar’a to the Russ­ian mil­i­tary police, who will oper­ate as an observ­er in the region to make sure that no vio­la­tions are tak­ing place. How­ev­er, the agree­ment, accord­ing to reports[5], lacks an explic­it ‘dead­line’ for the com­plete evac­u­a­tion of arms.

Third­ly, Dar’a’s civ­il admin­is­tra­tion returned to the Syr­i­an insti­tu­tions con­trol includ­ing con­trol over the Al-Nasib Bor­der cross­ing as well as the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al roads con­nect­ed with Dar’a.

Today, Dar’a’s post-con­flict sta­tus remains vague. Efforts are being made at dif­fer­ent lev­els with the pur­pose of sta­bi­liz­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the region. At the nation­al lev­el, the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment is con­sol­i­dat­ing state insti­tu­tions to resume their respon­si­bil­i­ties in the region. Dam­as­cus held local gov­ern­men­tal elec­tions in mid-Sep­tem­ber 2018 to regain legit­i­ma­cy with an absence of cam­paign slo­gans, amidst reluc­tant expec­ta­tions from the locals.      

At the miso lev­el, fam­i­lies and neigh­bors are col­lab­o­rat­ing in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices that vary from clean­ing the streets to assist­ing in dis­trib­ut­ing human­i­tar­i­an aid. Some pop­u­lar march­es were also made to show sup­port for the Syr­i­an leader Bashar Al-Assad.

At the micro lev­el, the secu­ri­ty of indi­vid­u­als seems to be jeop­ar­dized because of state-led arrests in Dar’a. Indi­vid­u­als are anx­ious about their secu­ri­ty while sev­er­al casu­al­ties were report­ed as a result of undet­o­nat­ed mines left over from the war. Notably, inter­nal chal­lenges are not the local population’s only con­cern, and arguably, can be oppor­tunis­tic for for­eign actors to con­sti­tute the post-con­flict polit­i­cal and socioe­co­nom­ic con­di­tions. Recent­ly, Dar’a wit­nessed the arrival of Iran­ian and Iran-backed mili­tia con­voys aim­ing to exploit the region’s vul­ner­a­ble sta­tus. This is seen through the vis­it made by Abu Fadl Al-Tabatabai to Dar’a in late Octo­ber, 2018. Tabatabai is a senior Iran­ian cler­ic that was com­mis­sioned by Iran’s supreme leader to entrench Iran’s cul­tur­al and reli­gious sta­tus in Syr­ia. He was host­ed by Dar’a’s gov­er­nor along with sev­er­al senior Baath offi­cials from the province upon his arrival.

Tabatabai’s vis­it came in a con­text of rapid Iran­ian expan­sion in Syria’s south­ern periph­ery. For Tehran, Dar’a’s key geo­graph­i­cal posi­tion, falling in adja­cen­cy with Jor­dan and in prox­im­i­ty with Israel, makes guar­an­tee­ing a foothold a fun­da­men­tal goal for Iran. Tehran’s pres­ence in Dar’a will facil­i­tate the flow of Iran­ian sup­port to Lebanon’s Hezbol­lah and strength­en its posi­tion in con­tem­po­rary Syr­ia. As a first step, Iran aims to strength­en its sphere of influ­ence in the South through estab­lish­ing ‘Hus­seiniy­at’ (Shia halls for cel­e­bra­tion and com­mem­o­ra­tions), sim­i­lar to what they cre­at­ed in Sai­da, Kahil, and Sheikh Meskin. Under the cur­rent neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, these reli­gious insti­tu­tions are a con­ve­nient method for local recruit­ment. Notably, Tehran acknowl­edges that estab­lish­ing mil­i­tary pres­ence in the south will pave a way for haz­ardous reper­cus­sions. Hence, Iran uti­lizes the Hus­seiniy­at to offer attrac­tive salaries reach­ing up to $300[6] per indi­vid­ual for join­ing their forces. These forces are usu­al­ly inte­grat­ed with­in orga­ni­za­tions that do not car­ry Iran-affil­i­at­ed names. Some reports sug­gest that Iran wants to increase its lever­age in the 5th corps through pro­vid­ing high­er finan­cial incen­tives com­pared to what the Rus­sians offer[7]. Tak­en togeth­er, the region­al con­text raised sev­er­al ques­tions regard­ing Iran’s ambi­tions with send­ing Tabatabai to Dar’a. Iran’s actions received ambiva­lent reac­tions in the south, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in the local pop­u­la­tion of Dar’a. Amid the new emerg­ing post-rebel­lion polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment, civil­ians in Dar’a are not mere observers. In fact, evi­dence sug­gest that the local pop­u­la­tion did not wel­come Tabatabai’s vis­it and per­ceived it as a sign of hin­der­ing region­al sta­bil­i­ty that would re-exac­er­bate dis­sen­sions and tur­moil. This trig­gered civ­il move­ments inside Dar’a to reflect the city’s defi­ance of Iran­ian ambi­tions in the region through car­ry­ing out march­es that denounced the vis­it of Al-Tabatabai and the pres­ence of Iran­ian-backed mili­tias.



[1] See also http://arabcenterdc.org/policy_analyses/controlling-the-nasib-crossing-is-a-game-changer-for-the-syrian-regime/

[2] For more infor­ma­tion on the de-esca­la­tion zones, vis­it https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/syria-de-escalation-zones-explained-170506050208636.html

[3] Ini­tial talks did not prove suc­cess­ful. As a result, Assad’s forces, backed by Rus­sia and Iran, con­duct­ed mil­i­tary strikes in Dar’a that influ­enced to the out­come of the agree­ment. See https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2018–07-23/fall-daraa

[4] For more infor­ma­tion on the 5th corps, see https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2017/01/11/analysis-the-fifth-corps-and-the-state-of-the-syrian-army

[5] https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/239594

[6] Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights SOHR. http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=105153

[7] https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/259840

2018-11-30T16:27:16+00:00November 30th, 2018|Research|