Today in Istanbul, four governments—Turkey, Russia, Germany, and France—are meeting for a summit over Syria, attempting to consolidate the Sochi Agreement signed by Russia and Turkey over Idlib, and re-invigorate the international political process. There is little reason to think that these talks can succeed on either front.
Turkey was drawn into the “Astana process” with Russia and Iran at the end of 2016. One of the key aspects of this political track was the creation of four “de-escalation” zones, three of which were then systematically liquidated by the Bashar al-Assad regime and its backers in Iran and Russia. By July of this year, only the Idlib de-escalation zone, the last province in insurgent hands, remained. The pro-Assad forces gave clear indications that Idlib was next and this assumption took hold. Having destroyed or humbled nationalist rebels across the country, and deported jihadist insurgents to Idlib, packing them in among a desperate, displaced population, the regime coalition was able to frame the apparently imminent offensive in “war on terror” terms.
On 17 September, a deal between Turkey and Russia was reached in Sochi as part of the Astana process that called off the pro-Assad offensive, for now, and created a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Idlib. The zone cut ten miles into the insurgent zone, where Turkey has “observation posts”, and leaves the Assad-Iran forces surrounding Idlib. The responsibility was put on Turkey to clear the DMZ of heavy weapons by 10 October and by 15 October to remove the “radical terrorist groups”—namely Tandheem Hurras al-Deen, al-Qaeda’s new faction in Syria; Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s former branch in Syria and the predominant insurgent force in the province; and the smaller jihadist groups that are dependent on HTS like the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP).
It was unclear that HTS would comply with this arrangement, though they did through an ambiguously-worded eleventh-hour statement. HTS announced that it was taking a “balanced” approach that prevented a sanguinary offensive by the regime coalition, yet at the same time they were not going to be dragged into a political process dominated by the regime’s allies.
Read the rest at The New Turkey