Syria Faces Brittle Future, Dominated by Russia and Iran

(New York Times) Vivian Yee - The Syria that the U.S. military is vacating is a Balkanized version of the country that plunged into a calamitous civil war nearly eight years ago. The most likely Syrian future, Middle East analysts project, is a far more brittle version of what existed before the war: President Assad leading a repressive government puppeteered by Russia and Iran. Defying the Syrian government's historic secularism, Iran and Hizbullah have infused parts of the country with a strikingly religious tint. Ali Rizk, a Beirut-based analyst, said Iran and Hizbullah have spread their Shiite beliefs among some of the Syrian forces. Moreover, some Syrian army soldiers have joined Iran-backed Shiite militias because their fighters receive better pay and more days off. Iran and Russia are already in competition, with Russia wanting a self-supporting Syrian government weaned from Russian military and financial help, and Iran preferring something weaker, analysts said. But neither can afford the cost of Syria's reconstruction. The Russians "want to find an exit from Syria basically, militarily, leaving in place their two bases and their own people within the security apparatus, and Russian companies to help with reconstruction," said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group. "They don't want to get bogged down militarily." Both patrons may find Syria's stability hard to re-establish under Assad. Already, peaceful protests against him have been staged in areas where he has reasserted control, analysts said. "The Russians are very keenly aware that Assad's position is fragile, the economy is totally destroyed, and politically it's a mess," said Alexander Bick, who oversaw Syria issues at the National Security Council under the Obama administration.

2018-12-27 00:00:00

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