The fight to depose Assad is over. The battle over his regime’s boundaries has no end in sight.
The war that has ravaged Syria over the last half-decade is coming to an end. The caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State organization on June 29, 2014, at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul now consists of a few ravaged square meters in Baghouz, in Syria’s Lower Euphrates River Valley, that are on the verge of falling to Kurdish forces. The mainly Sunni Arab rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime, meanwhile, is already over. What remains of it is now the military component of a Turkish project to turn a corner of northwest Syria into a Turkish client entity.
In place of the old wars, however, three new ones have started. They are taking place in the three de facto independent areas whose boundaries are becoming apparent as the smoke from the previous battle clears: the regime-controlled area, guaranteed by Russia; the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are primarily composed of Kurdish fighters protected by the United States and Western air power; and finally the area controlled by the Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies in Idlib province. The regime area consists of about 60 percent of the territory of the country, the SDF has around 30 percent, and the Turkish-Sunni Islamist area is around 10 percent. Each of these areas is now hosting a civil war of its own, supported by neighboring enclaves.