A new map of control in Daraa following Russian-brokered agreement

Russian Military Police in the al-Arbaeen neighbourhood (Horan Free League)

Russian Military Police in the al-Arbaeen neighbourhood (Horan Free League)

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Enab Baladi-Amal Rantisi

There have been several changes in Syria’s southern governorate of Daraa after the Russian-brokered agreement was finalized between the Syrian regime forces and the Security Committees, which negotiated on behalf of the residents and former opposition fighters. The agreement states that, among other things, residents and former opposition fighters have to surrender their weapons to the Syrian regime forces. 

The settlement agreement was first applied in Daraa al-Balad in September, then in the towns of the western and northern countryside of Daraa, and finally in the towns of the eastern countryside; the agreement covered all the villages of Lajat, except for the city of Busra al-Sham, Maaraba, Smad, Jamrin, and all the villages adjacent to Busra al-Sham, which are the main strongholds of the Eight Brigade of the Russia-back Fifth Corps. 

Changes in the control map

  On 4 November, the Syrian regime repositioned its forces in the southern part of Syria. Columns of 15th Special Forces Divisions withdrew from the city of Daraa, returning to their positions in As-Suwayda. Also, the Syrian regime replaced its political security agents with soldiers, placing checkpoints at the Nasib Border Crossing. 

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa reported, quoting a former opposition commander, that new arrangements are underway for regime forces to exert influence and to distribute control areas and fill the void left by the 4th Armored Division’s withdrawal from the western countryside.

Daraa’s western countryside will be controlled by the Military Security, while its eastern countryside is under the control of the Air Force Intelligence. However, the northern countryside will remain in the control of the State Security, according to the commander. 

 The commander added that the Military Security started withdrawing from its checkpoint in the town of al-Naimah, the gate of the eastern countryside and handing it over to the Air Force Intelligence. 

On the other hand, the Air Force Intelligence also withdrew from two checkpoints in the vicinity of the town of Tasil and its checkpoints in Dael.

The former opposition commander also said that the Military Security is affiliated with Russia, while the Air Force Intelligence is linked with Iran. The changes in the area started to take place after the withdrawal of the Iranian-affiliated 4th Armored Division from the western countryside of Daraa.

Commenting on the replacement of the Political Security agents with checkpoints run by the Syrian regime’s army, the commander said that the Syrian regime seeks from this step to establish the civilian character of the state, especially for those coming from Nasib Border Crossing.  

Abdul Wahab al-Assi, a researcher in Jusoor for Studies Center, told Enab Baladi that the latest settlement agreement, which provides for the redistribution of the map of control and influence between Russia and Iran in southern Syria based on guarantees Russia supplied to Israel, Jordan and the U.S. aims to reduce Iran’s impact in Daraa governorate.

Reducing Iran’s influence in Daraa’s western and northern countryside may be welcomed by Israel. In contrast, Russia’s continued presence in the eastern countryside while giving Iran the ability to establish itself there may not please Jordan. However, this does not mean that it is not acceptable, especially with the presence of the Eighth Brigade in Busra al-Sham, said Abdul Wahab al-Assi. 

The redistribution of the map of influence and control in Daraa governorate must be interpreted through the win-loss balance resulting from the recent settlement agreement; Iran has lost parts of its influence in exchange for gains in the eastern countryside; these gains can happen only if Iran re-establishes its power and returns the Shia population to their villages in the eastern countryside of Daraa.

On the other hand, Russia lost its significant influence in the eastern countryside, but it achieved greater access in the western and northern countryside through military and political security.

In turn, the Central Committee ensured that the people of the governorate would not be deported in exchange for formal “compromises,” including the proliferation of security forces from the people of the region itself. Thus, they would not hesitate to stand with their families in the face of Iran and Russia’s policies and practices, as happened during the escalation period, al-Assi believes.   

What about the Eighth Brigade?

On 11 October, Horan Free League quoted a commander in the Eighth Brigade saying that the Russian-backed military formation is on the way to disintegration, especially after the settlement agreements included its affiliated groups in the border village of Nasib with Jordan.

Meanwhile, the weapons held by the Eighth Brigade fighters are organized and registered with its command, and the acquisition of firearms is supervised by Russia. According to the settlement agreement, Russia will also supervise the practices and behaviours of the Eighth Brigade fighters; a former opposition commander told Enab Baladi in a previous interview. In the new distribution, the Eighth Brigade in the city of Busra al-Sham retreated only after it withdrew the weapons from its groups, and its presence declined after it was previously presented as forces accepted by the opposition.

As for Russia’s decision to reduce the influence and privileges of the Eighth Brigade, researcher Abdul Wahab al-Assi believes that this has something to do with the failure of the entire “brigade” project.  He sees it as a failure whether in terms of commitment to the tasks, i.e. “Combating terrorism,” or even marketing it in Daraa governorate as an acceptable party that helps Russia to dominate the Syrian south adjacent to the northern border of Israel.

Al-Assi added that at the same time, Russia did not abandon the brigade. This is apparent because Russia maintained the brigade’s headquarters. Russia is convinced of the need to preserve the Fifth Corps model and does not want to undermine the confidence of local actors in Russia as a mediator. Russia also apparently seeks to placate Jordan, which is keen to maintain a Sunni force in the eastern countryside to confront Iran.

When Daraa was under siege by the Syrian regime forces last July, the leadership of the Eighth Brigade offered a mediation; it suggested deploying its barriers inside the city of Daraa al-Balad. The opposition in the governorate agreed to that while the Security Committee rejected this proposal, arguing that this brigade is not part of the Syrian army. 

Following the settlement agreements, which included the western and northern countryside to the eastern countryside, the Security Committee was discontent with the presence of weapons in the hands of the Eighth Brigades’ groups in the eastern countryside. Therefore, Russia asked the Eighth Brigade to collect arms from the Bura al-Sham’s warehouses. This, in fact, made the Security Committee’s task easier in Daraa; the committee is now encouraged to monopolize the eastern countryside and raises the ceiling of demands for hundreds of weapons in every village.

The Security Committee excluded the city of Busra al-Sham, Maaraba and Jamrin from the settlement agreement. The regime forces have fully controlled these central areas since July 2019.

The Eighth Brigade was formed on the ruins of the Shabab al-Sunna faction, one of the “Southern Front” factions opposing the regime in southern Syria. The brigade is led by Ahmed al-Awda and was one of the most important organized fighting factions as the only faction located in Busra al-Sham.

With the Russian-sponsored regime’s settlements coming into effect in 2018, al-Awda maintained his opposition military group. This pushed him to join the Fifth Corps, which Russia established in 2016 as an auxiliary force to the regime’s army.

Continuing chaos in Daraa created with “Iranian hands”

The Syrian regime claims that it has achieved security and safety in Daraa after the end of settlement agreements through which it received thousands of pieces of light weapons. However, the reality contradicts these allegations, as assassinations resumed at an accelerated pace. The Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office, a local civilian organization, recorded the assassination of 33 people in October alone.

Retired Brigadier General Asaad Awad al-Zoubi told Enab Baladi that the assassinations in Daraa are conducted by Iran, which seeks demographic change in the region with Russian support because Russia’s most important goals in the area are to get rid of fighters opposed to the regime.

Activist Hammam Fahim, who resides in Daraa, said that after the settlement agreements, the assassinations increased significantly, considering that “the south of Syria is entering into a new phase that will be more dangerous and deadly than before, and its title is security chaos,” as he put it.

The Iranian militias intended to hand over the file of Syria’s southern governorates to new faces, known for their allegiance to Iran, such as Major General Mufid Hassan. He is known for his loyalty to the Iranian Quds Force, according to activist Hammam Fahim. 

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa reported that after the Security Committee approached the end of its tasks, the Syrian regime removed Major General Hussam Louka from his duties and appointed Major General Mufid Hassan, the commander of the First Corps, as the committee’s head.

 

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