Syria’s war has been a humanitarian catastrophe, with serious consequences for its people, surrounding states, and others around the world. Around 500,000 people have died during the war and more than 13 million have fled their homes. Factions and forces have competed for control, triggering tensions—geographic, communal, social, religious, and ethnic—among Syrians. Since 2015, the U.S. Institute of Peace has helped local leaders engage in outcome-oriented dialogues to promote peace in their communities. USIP has also helped civil society organizations, informed policymakers, worked to reduce refugee-host tensions in states near Syria, and cooperated with proponents of peace.
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.
Several major developments have rattled the region in recent weeks, including Iraq’s ongoing protests, the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and the death of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed says his death is a major blow to the terrorist group, but “the fact remains that … the enabling environment that gave rise to ISIS” is still present.
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.
The Syria Study Group (SSG) was established by Congress with the purpose of examining and making recommendations on the military and diplomatic strategy of the United States with respect to the conflict in Syria. The SSG is a bi-partisan working group composed of 12 participants each appointed by a member of Congress for the duration of the study.