Slain Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani played a considerable role in conflicts across the Middle East. In Syria, he mobilized Shia armed groups from across the region and coordinated closely with Hezbollah to save the Assad regime. His death by an American airstrike leaves many to wonder what’s next for Iran in Syria. It has also stirred fear of a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran at a time when concerns about an ISIS resurgence in both Iraq and Syria are already on the rise. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at what, if any change, Soleimani’s death will mean for the Assad regime and what’s next in the fight against ISIS.
Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria, Middle East and North Africa, testified on November 19 at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism's hearing on “What’s Next for Lebanon? Examining the Implications of Current Protests.” Her expert testimony as prepared is presented below.
In the aftermath of U.S. troop withdrawal from northeast Syria, USIP’s Mona Yacoubian says “we’re seeing Russia come in and fill the vacuum,” which will have “long-term strategic implications” for stemming a possible reemergence of ISIS as well as U.S. influence in the region.
In the month since President Trump’s October 6 phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and the announced U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria, the picture on the ground has changed immensely. Moscow has emerged as the key power broker in Syria. The Kurds, looking for protection from Turkish forces, are in Russian-brokered talks with the Assad government. These discussions could pave the way for an expanded Syrian government presence in the northeast for the first time in years. Successive agreements with Turkey negotiated first by the United States (October 17) and then by Russia (October 22) to halt Ankara’s fighting with the Kurds have been marred by violations.
A chain reaction of events over the past two weeks in Syria have effectively reordered the conflict’s balance of power. Russia has emerged as the key power broker in Syria. Meanwhile, both the Assad regime and Turkey have achieved important gains, while the Kurds have suffered a significant loss. A 10-point deal negotiated between Russia and Turkey—if implemented successfully—will fulfill Turkey’s long-held demand that Kurdish forces be pushed approximately 20 miles off the Syrian-Turkish border. Following a U.S. decision to withdraw the majority of its forces from Syria, the deal also cedes control over significant portions of northeast Syria to the Assad regime and Russia. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at the elements of the Russian-Turkish deal and its implications for Syria and the broader region.
Protests during the 2011 Arab uprisings triggered one of the deadliest wars of the early 21st century. It produced one of the gravest humanitarian crises, as hundreds of thousands were killed, millions fled their homes, and more than half the population relied on aid for daily sustenance.
Eight years of conflict has decimated Syria’s infrastructure and shredded the social fabric. But, intelligence officials expect ISIS to be “fully ejected” from Syrian territory in the next two to four weeks. Mona Yacoubian argues that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal could lead to an ISIS resurgence and examines the complex regional situation.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that it will “fully” and “rapidly” withdraw the U.S. military presence in Syria, where approximately 2,000 U.S. troops have been stationed in the northeastern, Kurdish-controlled part of the country, near its border with Turkey. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian examines the implications of the troop withdrawal and its broader impact on the Syria conflict.
Mona Yacoubian discusses the state of play in Syria ahead of important withdrawal deadlines this week for removing heavy weapons from Idlib province. Yacoubian also discusses the waves of migration forced by the crisis, noting that 2018 has been the worst year to date for internally displaced Syrians; and the recent news that U.S. special operations forces are likely to remain in the country indefinitely to prevent a possible re-emergence of ISIS.
Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria, the Middle East, and North Africa, testified on September 27 at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa hearing on “U.S. Policy Toward Syria: Part I.”