Juan Cole

Syria’s Aleppo Falling: Moscow Is a Player in the Region Again

    Orange indicates areas the regime has taken in the past three weeks; blue indicates government-held West Aleppo; green represents rebel holdouts; turquoise represents Kurdish holdouts. (Informed Comment)

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

By Monday morning Syrian time, the large and important district of Shaikh Saeed in southeastern Aleppo had completely fallen to the Syrian Arab Army and its allies among the Shiite militias of Lebanon and Iraq.

Shaikh Saeed collapsed under the weight of extremely intensive aerial bombardment by Russian fighter jets, which aided ground advances by the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies. Amid talk of Russian interference in the US elections, it should be remembered that Russia decided some 15 months ago to become the arbiter of Syria’s fate in a very serious way.

As far as I can tell, the rebels now hold only the area immediately south of the Citadel, which is about 10% of the eastern city. Syrian Arab Army troops say that they can see the Citadel from their new positions.

On Monday over 700 fighters, out of the 4,000 who had been there, donned civilian clothing and melded into some 13,000 civilians from Shaykh Saeed who fled to West Aleppo.

At the beginning of the current campaign, there had been some 250,000 non-combatants trapped in East Aleppo (rebel militias did not allow them to leave despite heavy bombardment by the Syrian and Russian air Forces). It now seems likely that only 25,000 civilians remain under rebel rule in the 10% of East Aleppo they control, south of the Citadel.

Likewise, the some 4,000 fighters must have shrunk to 1,000 or so. They are a mix of al-Qaeda, Freemen of Syria, and Nour al-Din Zanki Brigades.

Regime-held West Aleppo has several hundred thousand residents, who are much better off than the East Aleppans, and who have suffered mortar fire from the rebel east.

Before the war, Aleppo was the country’s largest city, with a population of some 2.3 million in the metropolitan area.

When all of East Aleppo falls, as seems likely before the end of this year, the Bashar al-Assad regime will hold all the country’s major urban areas. Only sparsely populated rural districts remain with the rebels– places like Idlib in the north, and then part of al-Raqqa and all of Deir al-Zor in the east (these two provinces are held by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Palmyra has again fallen to Daesh in the past couple of days, but it is a small desert town.

Some 80% of the population is under regime control. The war can continue thereafter, but there seems no path forward for the rebels to win the contest.

Russia’s success in shaping the outcome of the Syrian struggle has made Moscow a player in the region again for the first time since the fall of the old Soviet Union.

Syria’s totalitarian Baath government, longed backed by Iran, is beginning to pick up other regional support, e.g. from the Egypt of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and from the new government of President Michel Aoun in Lebanon. The big losers here are Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Even Turkey appears to have made some sort of deal with Russia such that it has acquiesced in al-Assad’s brutal reassertion.

Juan Cole
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the proprietor of the Informed Comment e-zine. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in…
Juan Cole

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