With the Syrian government clearing up the remainder of Southern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces finalizing their territorial gains and ISIS beginning to disappear, all that remains is the rebel held enclave in Idlib. What is to happen to the city which has accepted thousands of surrendering Syrian rebels from dozens of fronts across the country?
Idlib was captured by the Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda branch in Syria, as well as the Army of Islam in a 2015 offensive. After ousting Syrian government forces the city quickly became the hub for all brands of Syrian rebels. As the years progressed, deals were struck between the Syrian government and rebel forces surrendering in other parts of the country, sending them on buses to Idlib as a concession.
Idlib soon became notorious for intra-rebel violence, with skirmishes, raids and assassinations becoming a staple of the city. Due to the varying interests of the rebel groups, each vying for power, it was clear that no unified structure could form in the city other than the outright strongest rebel group. Many recent clashes were formed on the basis that rebels surrendering in other areas of Syria and being transported to Idlib had ‘failed’ the revolution and were treated poorly by the rebel forces in Idlib. The competing influence of Turkish-backed rebels and the hardline Al Nusra force has also peaked the tensions of the city.
As the war winds down elsewhere, all government focus is converging on Idlib. With Turkish backing for rebel groups, it is unlikely that the Syrian government will act unilaterally, instead many analysts predict a multi-national effort with Russia brokering a deal with Turkey against Syrian rebels. Turkey established several outposts around Idlib as part of a monitoring program, however has not made any promises to Syrian rebels that Turkish forces would be involved in any fighting against the Syrian government. This leaves only a fight to the death for Syrian rebel forces in Idlib. Turkey maintains a considerable degree of leverage on the situation and it is likely more moderate rebel forces will seek a compromise with the Syrian government via Turkey, perhaps moving rebels to the recently captured Afrin city, but again remains in the hands of Turkey.
A resolution for Idlib would mean very little remains of the Syrian Civil War, turning towards a chapter of reconciliation and progression forward from the conflict. The multi-polar war has narrowed down to just a handful of actors, a stark contrast to the start of the conflict with dozens of rebel outfits, each with different goals and actions. With billions of dollars being earmarked for reconstruction, it is unlikely this war will burden the Syrian people for much longer.