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