ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Echoing worries about the administration of Mosul after ISIS, Syrian politicians and experts are concerned about the agenda of international and regional actors in shaping the future of Syria, and they suggest there should be a political solution for country before the liberation of Raqqa.
“Syria won’t revive again except through launching a Syrian national, multi and open project and system,” said Maaz Khateeb, former president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, speaking on a panel at the Kurdistan after Mosul and Raqqa Operation conference that was hosted in Erbil by the Rudaw Research Center last week.
“If we cannot avoid outside powers’ agendas, we will stay as their followers forever,” he added, stressing “We should not allow a new Sykes-Picot to happen.”
There are currently four main outside actors in Syria, speakers at the conference said: the two regional powers of Iran and Turkey, and the two global powers Russia and the United States.
And those powers are competing against each other for regional influence. “Turkey’s interest and concern in Syria is because of the Iranian dominance,” Khateeb said.
The Syrian opposition leader said that Turkey is looking for a new partner in the region, but he warned that expansions of Turkey’s military operation in Syria would have negative consequences for Ankara.
“Turkey is looking for a new partner in the region after the coup attempt,” he said. “Turkish military expansion in Syria will be worse for Turkey itself.”
As for Iran, Khateeb described it as an “occupying country” and said Tehran had made a deadly mistake in backing the oppressive Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Other speakers warned that outside powers in Syria are being driven by their own interests.
“The international and regional actors are involved in Syria for their own interests,” said Bashir Ishaq, head of the Assyrian Democratic Organization in Syria.
Ishaq blamed the US for promising and encouraging Syrian opposition groups to fight against the regime, but then not giving them support.
“The US has encouraged the opposition against the regime, but then did not commit to their promise,” he said. “All the Syrian agreements and deals played into the hands of US, Russia, and others, with the absence of Syrians.”
A Syrian Kurdish opposition leader also criticized the American’s position in Syria, saying they have engaged with different actors that have tensions between each other.
“The US has engaged with different conflicting actors in Syria such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the opposition and Turkey. So this policy has to change,” said Ibrahim Biro, head of the Kurdish National Council (KNC, ENKS).
Biro said that Kurds are seeking a political solution in Syria and a federal system for its future, but the problem is that armed groups have become stronger than political factions.
“Another issue now in Syria is that military actors are stronger than the political ones and they are imposing their agenda on politicians,” Biro said.
Syria’s internal conflicts, combined with regional and international actors’ disputes are significant challenges to surmount when trying to reach a political agreement for Syria as each party wants the Syrian case solved according to their own terms and desires.
Russia is one of the main players in Syria, returning to the Middle East after a 30 year absence, generating concerns about its goals in the region.
“After 30 years, Russia is back in the region, first to contain terrorists, and second to expand its influence in the region,” said Dr. Jahangir Karami, head of Russian and Eurasian studies at the University of Tehran.
“Russia believes expanding Iran and Saudi Arabia’s role will diminish their role in the region,” he added, stating that Russia is looking for other allies in the area.
“Russia is looking for non-state actors in the region like the Kurds in Syria in case Assad leaves or is collapses,” he said. “But Russia won’t exchange Assad for the Kurds.”
Though, unlike Mosul, there are no sectarian problems in Raqqa, Syrian politicians and analysts believe that the myriad of actors in Syria and the disputes between them will lead to problems if a political solution for the country is not reached before Raqqa is liberated.
“If Mosul is liberated, it will go back to its people. But Raqqa is different. If it is liberated, who will rule it then?” Bashir Ishaq asked.