Does Idlib Have A Promising Future?

Abstract

Idlib is a city faces intense and serious consequences of the civil war of Syria. The number of actors and non-actors involved in the city and around making the situation more horrible for those who are living there. Movements are always gauged cautiously and those who stay at home, even they are not immune to the bloodshed caused by the fighting forces as that pro-Assad versus Anti-Assad forces. As of today, Idlib awaits to see ending the brutal war and live a peaceful life. The increasing number of players for getting control of the city and around is not only causing more damages to the famous sites of the city but also costing precious and innocent lives there.

Keywords: HTS, Syria, Assad, Idlib, IS.

Idlib is one of the fourteen governorates of Syria situated in northwestern Syria, bordering Turkey. The provincial capital of Idlib governorate is Idlib City. Idlib city lies in the southwest of Aleppo, one of the most ruined city due to the Syrian Civil War of 2011. When the protests started against the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, Homs was known as the capital of the revolution among the Syrians, a revolution which did never take place, and Idlib city was declared the capital of Syrian rebels when the civil war erupted. This article is about the center of the insurgents and environs.

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Idlib Province

It was the morning of 18th December 2010, when Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. This Tunisian man is credited for igniting the revolutions in the Arab World. Protests that followed after Bouazizi’s death, caused the Tunisian president Abidin Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Libya’s president, Muammar Qaddafi was dragged in the streets and then killed by his people. Many other Arab states adopted flexible policies and promised certain changes to avoid any unrest in their states.

People in Syria also desired to have a democratic country. Soon they were in streets demanding the resignation of the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. But Assad was not the one to be ousted. He made the Syrian forces to fire against their people, but it did not work. People took arms. For instance, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was among the first militia who realized that ousting Assad without weapons is not as simple as ABC. Though insurgencies raised from every corner of Syria, but Idlib became the center of rebels causing maximum serious damages to the civilian lives and the infrastructure of the city and its environs.

During 2012 and 2014, Al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and hardline group Ahrar Al-Sham found stable grounds in the province beating Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) and Assad’s forces. These two groups became the leading factions, other factions included. Jund al-Aqsa, Ajnad al-Sham, Liwa al-Haqq, Jaish al-Sunnah, and Failaq al-Sham. Jasih al-Fatah and Jisr al-Shughour also fought for gaining control of the city.

The tides in Idlib swirled more quickly when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president joined hands with Assad. Pro-Assad forces and Russia had clear intentions of crushing the insurgencies by hook or by crook. And if Russia had a part to play, how could America sit on the back seat and watch the show. Therefore, US started supporting anti-Assad forces in Syria generally and in Idlib particularly. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar also jumped in to play a hand and they also back rebel groups in the city and around. Though Iran was the first state which showed supporting gesture towards the Syrian president but its hasty strategies were noticed since the episode of capturing the city of Idlib by various foreign-backed insurgencies.

As the background is clear now, therefore the following paragraphs will argue on the question, Does Idlib (Province generally and city specifically) have a promising future?

It is good to start by discussing Hayat Tehrir-al-Sham (HTS), an extremist group that is the merger of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Ansar al-Din Front, Jaish al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq, and the Nour al-Din-al-Zenki movement. This group was founded in early 2017. HTS controls the Idlib city and Bab Al-Hawa. It also resists pro-Assad forces on almost all frontlines. Since its foundation, civilian causalities have multiplied.

Turkestan Islamic Party, Huras al-Din, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, Ansar al-Tawhid, and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari, though none of these groups can match HTS in terms of military power or administrative control, still they possess a continuous terror in Idlib and around. The situation in Idlib is so bad that the word fitna(confusion in which many others including blood relations fight against each other or one another) can easily be understood after witnessing the mess in Idlib. There are several factions, groups, and forces opposing or supporting one another.

The next mightiest presence in the city and its environs was the so-called Islamic State, but since the formation of HTS, it kept losing hold in Idlib and around at a greater pace. HTS is a bigger resistor of IS in Idlib than the pro-Assad Forces. HTS has always made a claim that IS was never friendly toward the civilian lives anywhere including Syria, and Raqqa (the once declared capital of IS in Syria) is a clear example in this regard. But surprisingly, US authorities claim of killing the IS leader Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi in Barisha, a village under the administrative part of Harem district in the Idlib governorate. This area is under the control of Huras al-Din and still, no evidence is found that Baghdadi had received protection from it. This makes the ground realities more complex in Idlib as no agency knows who is on which side.

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The Syrian regime undoubtedly intends to retake Idlib and its environs in their entirety. Such intentions not only are in keeping with the oft-stated goal of reasserting the sovereignty of the Syrian state over the entirety of Syrian territory, but also could have economic benefits for the Syrian regime. Such benefits could include regaining control of the important M5 highway that runs from Damascus to Aleppo, passing through insurgent-held areas of Idlib. Indeed, Idlib is seen as the main military priority at present. As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said during an October 2019 visit to the Idlib area, “The battle of Idlib is the basis for resolving chaos and terrorism in all other areas of Syria.” This statement makes the situation more severe, as there are so many actors and non-actors are involved in Idlib that its fate seems completely blue and vague.

Talking about the causalities and infrastructure, normal life has said a badbye to the city and its environs. Civilians are spending their lives under continuous sounds of missiles, guns, air jets and alike. Whether the division and fictions in Syria are designed or not, but even if the situation is choreographed, so it must be admitted that it is not choreographed rightly. Idlib, the capital of insurgencies in the region is in a dire need to meet a positive end, which seems extremely tough so far.

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A helpless Syrian showing the ruins after a Russian airstrike in Idlib (Picture courtesy: AFP)

To conclude, Idlib does not have a promising future. The children growing under intense fear and anxiety will be easy to be steered against or in favor of some agency, unemployed youth will find weapons the only source of income (For example, one contact for the September 2019 recruitment campaign reported the monthly salary to be 45,000 Syrian pounds (about $41–$45, according to January 2020 exchange rates) for a married person and 38,000 Syrian pounds (about $35–$38) for a single person.) and aged ones will keep waiting to see Syria once they knew.

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