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IS weakens but war in Syria far from over
The Islamic State (IS) has suffered new setbacks this week. How long can it last? And what will happen if and when it is finally defeated in Syria and Iraq?
Syria's army has broken the Islamic State (IS) armed group’s siege on the enclave of Deir Ezzor in the east of the country. The group has already lost more than half of its nearby stronghold of Raqqa after attacks by US-backed forces.
“Deir Izzor is big news in a way because there will be attention for the about 92,000 people who have been living under siege,” says Rim Turkmani, a research fellow with the London School of Economics.
“But we fear that another war is going to happen now that the Americans and the Syrian army are going to be so close to each other and there is still no settlement at the horizon between the Russians and the Americans.
“Getting rid of Isis [IS] is not the end, certainly, because it is not one actor that is pushing Isis out. It is different actors and these actors themselves have deep conflicts between each other. So it is not clear what is going to happen when they push Isis out."
Millions of refugees
But reports of IS's increasing weakness fuel the discussion in surrounding countries as to what to do with the refugees.
Currently some six million people have fled the violence in Syria. Lebanon has taken in some 1.1 million and faces serious pressure on its economy as a result.
“It seems that everybody agrees that they should leave,” says professor Chahine Ghais, of Notre Dame University in Beirut.
But he points out that the debate has been politicised, with the pro-Syrian March 8 Alliance insisting that the process should be negotiated with the Syrian government.
“Which would mean an actual recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian regime,” according to Ghais.
The rival and more Western-oriented March 14 Alliance will not accept that.
“They have huge reservations on that and they are committed to basically applying positive neutrality in the Syrian conflict," Ghais points out.
Meanwhile, several rounds of talks in Geneva and Kazakhstan’s capital Astana have yielded some results, specifically the idea of implementing "deescalation zones" that was brokered between Iran, Turkey, Russia and Syria, seems to have borne some fruit.
The US did not play an active part in these talks and critics say that the plan could be a recipe for the break-up the country.
Turkmani argues that they are useful.
“In those areas there are no more barrel bombs and the daily killing rate did go down,” she says. “The different actors are trying to achieve local settlements here and there and local achievements. Deescalation is only part of it. You cannot reach deescalation in Syria without brokering ceasefire deals on a local level. I don’t think it is a recipe to break [up] Syria.
“It takes much more than that to break the country. Russia, which is the main sponsor of the deescalation zones is not in favour of divding the country."
US-Russia row adds to confusion
But the current spat between Russia and the US, the two main actors in the Syria theatre, doesn’t help calm the situation.
Russia and the US don’t see eye to eye over Crimea and the Ukraine, Moscow is angry about the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU and it thinks Washington is overreacting in its rhetoric against North Korea.
“The notion was that the election of Trump would provide a window of opportunity to allow for American-Russian coordination and cooperation on a faster solution for the Syrian conflict,” says Ghais.
“Unfortunately, that's not what happened and it is not happening right now. On the contrary, the American-Russian relations are escalating in a negative direction.
“But I believe the question of the Syrian problem depends on the basic interests aside from the direct diplomatic hassling between the Americans and the Russians."
A new round of Astana talks is set for 14 and 15 September.