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International Coalition’s moves in tension regions northeast of Syria… Will they lead to solutions?

Arab tribes and clans meet in Deir Ezzor province, northeastern Syria to demand the International Coalition's fulfillment of their demands - 4 September 2020 (Deir Ezzor 24)

Arab tribes and clans meet in Deir Ezzor province, northeastern Syria to demand the International Coalition's fulfillment of their demands - 4 September 2020 (Deir Ezzor 24)

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Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas 

On 13 October, the health authority of the “Deir Ezzor Civil Council,” affiliated to the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES),” oversaw the commencement of a rehabilitation project for “Abu Hamam” Hospital in Abu Hamam town in the al-Shitat area in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor province.

This project came a day after laying the foundation stone for the “Hajeen” Hospital’s rehabilitation project in Hajeen city, eastern Deir Ezzor.

The less than a week fast-moving service projects fall under the “Reconstruction Program” under the official supervision of the “International Coalition Forces (ICF)” and representatives of the US Department of Defense, as well as civilian, political, and military leaders from the region, and dignitaries from the clans of Deir Ezzor.

Last August, Arab tribal leaders called on US military forces in the region to fulfill their promises to improve the security, economic, and general service conditions of Deir Ezzor, amid mounting protests against the “Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF)” policy throughout the eastern Syrian region.

At the beginning of September, the “al­-Aqeedat” clan met with officers from the ICF to require the Arab regions’ administration in eastern Syria to be handed over to its residents. Previously, the clans established an office to follow up on the ICF’s fulfillment of their demands.

The office included 13 members representing the “al­-Aqeedat” tribe and other Arab clans in the region and was headed by Ibrahim Khalil al-Hafl, the al-Aqeedat tribe’s sheikh.

The developments in the region including the serious demands for forming a local Arab political administration and implementing service projects by the International Coalition come after increasing tension between the SDF and the region’s residents.

The tension between the SDF and the people of the region escalated after several assassinations against tribal elders, most prominent of which was the assassination of the “al-Baggara” clan’s sheikh Ali al-Weis, and the sheikh of the “al­-Aqeedat” tribe, Matshar al-Hafl, by unknown gunmen.

This security tension led to demonstrations condemning clan sheikhs’ assassinations and the security chaos in the governorate. These protests have not settled since the 2018 September announcement of the formation of the US-backed “Autonomous Administration,” controlling northeastern Syria in the town of Ayn Issa in al-Raqqa countryside, as the demonstrations against the AANES were renewed from time to time in several cities in eastern Syria.

Solutions to strengthen the presence of “Autonomous Administration” as an independent political body

The US administration has a consistent policy in Syria’s eastern region in the foreseeable future, at least until there is a political change in the Syrian public scene, according to what the Syrian researcher and political analyst Majed al-Aloush said to Enab Baladi.

Al-Aloush believes that the American policy differentiates between the AANES and the SDF and its military branches, considering the latter as a tool currently available to maintain the security of the “Autonomous Administration.”

According to al-Aloush, the SDF has many problems in the eastern region for known reasons, including dealing with the region’s population according to its ideology, which is far and different from the region’s culture.

Al-Aloush added the ICF leaders are trying to find solutions for maintaining the presence of the AANES regardless of its power, hence comes the service development in the region through previous and future projects.

These service projects are a proposed solution by the US-led International Coalition officers to stabilize security and reinforce the AANES as the administrative, security, and political structures in the region, al-Aloush said.

The American policy does not envisage the SDF and the AANES as one body, as both parties have different tasks within different periods.

A report by the US Department of Defense (Pentagon), released on 31 March, confirmed this notion because most Arab clans have negative views regarding the SDF and its associated civilian entities.

Due to these negative views, the US Department of Defense is reducing the SDF’s role in the region and directing it to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS) organization.

According to the US Department of Defense report, the IS organization is still maintaining a “low level” of operations within Syria’s eastern region and is able to take limited defensive actions in terms of range, operations number, and fighters’ number.

The report also mentioned that the US administration is concerned that the IS organization will be able to reconstitute itself in the Syrian Badia in a short time, “beyond the current US capabilities to neutralize it without real cooperation on the ground.”

The US Department of Defense is also concerned about the evolution of security tensions and the failure of the eastern region administration due to cultural and national differences, the same conditions that allowed the emergence of the IS organization, as its replication would give rise to a new appearance of the IS in the region.

Projects to appease the people of the region

The “Autonomous Administration” consists of several civilian councils that oversee the implementation of its plans in areas under its control. The “Deir Ezzor Civil Council” is the most of these councils criticized by the area’s population and has been accused of corruption charges.

The council includes 14 committees, namely the committees of woman, justice, reconciliation, youth, sport, organizations, and humanitarian affairs, services and municipalities, education, antiquities and culture, agriculture and livestock, finance, internal security, protection, the families of martyrs, and the organizing committee.

The “Deir Ezzor Civil Council” was established by dignitaries and clan sheikhs sponsored by the military governorate council and the SDF in September 2017, following a meeting in Abu Khashab village, northwestern Deir Ezzor.

Speaking to Enab Baladi, the Syrian researcher at the “Jusoor for Studies” center, Anas Shawakh said that the increased service projects in the eastern region aim, at different levels, to achieve “local security” and calm the anger of Arab clans in the region.

Shawakh added that the service projects are also intended to cut the road for the IS organization’s return to the region and discourage the region’s people from creating a new “popular base for the organization.”

The US State Department’s Reconstruction Program is structured according to its projects at each stage. The first project was called “The Euphrates,” then it became “Wiaam,” and later it was changed to “Injaz.” However, currently, all service projects fall under the name of “Basic Services Projects.”

The International Coalition adopted the service projects after local initiatives were launched by the eastern region people, who are often in opposition to the living and security situation there.

According to Shawakh, these local initiatives are effective because they force the International Coalition, the region’s actual authority, to respond to the residents’ demands.

The IS attacks and operations were concentrated in Deir Ezzor province and its surroundings, according to the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) against the IS organization in 2018.

While the frequent meetings during the past period between the head of the “Deir Ezzor Civil Council,” Ghassan al-Yousef, and the adviser of the International Coalition, US Ambassador William Roebuck, and his assistant Emily Brandt, are among the most significant indications of the ICF’s seriousness to change the dealing methods with the Arab component in northeastern Syria.

Serious initiatives by the people of Deir Ezzor and the international coalition leaders to change the security and service situation in the region remain subject to the existence of adequate mechanisms to impose security and stability and the prevention of any military intervention by any regional external party there.

The region’s situation is subject to how northeastern Syria is administrated according to mechanisms that conform to the community’s culture in the region.

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