“Fragile” security situation in Deir Ezzor threatens unsolvable chaos

Members of the "Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)" participate in the funeral memorial of one of the SDF fighters in Deir Ezzor province, northeastern Syria - 10 April 2019 (AFP)

Members of the "Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)" participate in the funeral memorial of one of the SDF fighters in Deir Ezzor province, northeastern Syria - 10 April 2019 (AFP)


Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas 

In 2019, the “Syria Democratic Council,” the political arm of the “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” convened a conference for Arab clans in the town of Ayn Issa, northern al­­­-Raqqa countryside.

The conference was held under the title “Syrian clans protect Syrian society and preserve its social contract.” Tribal sheikhs from the eastern region of Syria, former co-president of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Saleh Muslim, and officials from the “Syria Democratic Council” headed by Ilham Ahmed attended the conference.

The conference came at a time when areas of Deir Ezzor’s countryside were witnessing tensions and demonstrations against the practices and violations of the SDF against civilians amid security tensions.

It also coincided with Turkish arrangements to create a “safe zone” along the Syrian-Turkish borders to end the existence of the so­-called “Islamic State (IS)” organization in the region.

A year after the conference, security tensions continued through the killings of tribal figures in Deir Ezzor in last August, which caused tension between the SDF and the area’s residents.

Foremost among those assassinations was the killing of the “al-Baggara” clan’s sheikh Ali al-Weis, and the sheikh of the “al­-Aqeedat” tribe, Matshar al-Hafl, by unknown gunmen.

On 4 August, civilians in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside organized demonstrations condemning the assassinations of tribal sheikhs and the province’s security chaos.

The condemnation reached the social media platforms as people criticized the “fragility” of the region’s security situation; meanwhile, the assassinations of tribal elders continued to take place.

Syrian expert on security and governance dynamics in northeast Syria, Omar Abu Leyla published several tweets on his “Twitter” account saying that “there is no serious intention” to establish security and stability in Deir Ezzor by the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES)” operating in the region, in addition to “security breaches” warning that the IS could return to the region through “sleeper cells.” 

Establishing security is the aim of every authority… but it is up to the execution  

Regardless of its intentions and political, military, or administrative structure, any authority seeks to achieve stability and a state of calmness by imposing itself, whether with popular acceptance or by force.

The Syrian political researcher Majed al-Aloush said to Enab Baladi that establishing security is a condition to move from mere control to managing the region’s centers and institutions. Al-Aloush added that the SDF, the military arm of the NES, “failed as a dominant force in managing the region and stabilizing the situation there.” 

Al-Aloush explained that “the SDF did not fail on purpose,” but its management ways did not convince the residents.” The SDF’s management methods were “backward and underdeveloped,” al-Aloush said.

According to al-Aloush, managing a region requires controlling all the sides and common general characteristics of societies built on “patronage, lack of experience, the prevalence of ideology, voluntary subordination to power, corruption, and a tendency to control by all means, including naked power.”

The region is experiencing an internal tension, owing to the contrast between the SDF’s ideology, tools, aspirations, and goals, on the one hand, and the social and cultural reality of the region, on the other hand, according to al-Aloush.

Moreover, the IS organization’s sleeper cells play a role in the internal security tension of Deir Ezzor through the execution of numerous security operations and campaigns.

These cells are still active in the region, carrying out assassinations against civilians, clans’ figures, and NES members.

A feverish race to win the Syrian clans causes the area to lose its security

The community in Deir Ezzor and its countryside were not satisfied with any political or security changes in the region since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011 up till now, al-Aloush said.

This dissatisfaction benefited several political parties, to attract the tribal groups in Deir Ezzor for their interest, including the Syrian regime, according to al-Aloush.

He added, in the past four years, the area witnessed interesting moves and a feverish race by influential Syrian parties to gain the clans’ card, turning the province into a chaotic battlefield.

Therefore, it is difficult to control the security situation in light of the violent conflict between the local, regional, and international forces over the region.

In addition to “outside forces,” which have no means of influencing the area except through raising chaos, for they lack international acceptance within the political front.

The “Arab Democratic Alliance in the al-Jazeerah and the Euphrates” issued a warning against the consequences of the SDF’s policies in the eastern regions, especially after the two clan sheikhs’ assassination, considering that this brings the developments in the eastern region to a “non-containment” stage.

This warning comes after the SDF besieged the towns of Thiban, al-Shuhail, and al-Hawaij, and a number of villages east of Deir Ezzor or the so-called “al­-Jazeerah line” and the al­-Aqeedat area.

The SDF imposed a complete curfew, prevented people from leaving their houses, and set additional barriers in the area following the demonstrations.

Between the denial of the NES and the accusations directed towards it by several parties, including the Syrian opposition, the responsible party, which is to benefit from these continuing assassinations, remains unknown.

The solution is to create an autonomous social security

Al-Aloush explained to Enab Baladi that Syria’s eastern region is a strategic target for all political parties due to its natural wealth and internal fragility resulting from certain circumstances of a historical dimension; therefore, it is challenging to establish security through traditional means by dominant forces from outside.

He added that autonomous social security is the solution when there is a lack of effective and acceptable central power, as in Syria’s eastern region. This autonomous social security should be convincing to people so that it does not turn to chaos and violations.

According to al-Aloush, autonomous social security requires an overlapping political and social awareness, which “is clearly absent in the region within the ethnic-rooted social fragmentation and attempts to market and use religious extremism as a tool to undermine security by many parties.”

Deir Ezzor lacks the leadership that puts the region’s interest at the top of its priorities, al-Aloush said. He added that regional and international parties’ recruitment operations to undermine stability and raise chaos to reach a security breach and establish a foothold in the area are factors contributing to the current tragic situation in Deir Ezzor.

In addition to creating autonomous social security, there must be an explicit and firm position towards the US-led International Coalition Forces (ICF), supporting the NES to ensure the region’s external security. This would provide people a certain level of reassurance and push towards a military action away from the region to avoid paying a high price for security, according to al-Aloush.

Al-Aloush believes that Syria’s eastern region needs to set its social divisions aside to create a powerful local force that can restructure the region’s governance at all levels, mainly politically, to be more present and independent on the ground, and to express social and cultural structures far from “foreign-interest bargains.”

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