The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) met with Syrian government representatives on July 26 in Damascus and agreed to “chart a roadmap to a democratic and decentralized Syria.”
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which is the political wing of the SDF, issued a statement the same day saying that the meeting “aims to lay the foundations for broader and more comprehensive dialogue to resolve all outstanding problems and resolve the Syrian crisis at various levels.” The SDC and Syrian regime agreed to form negotiating committees to address various aspects of the conflict and try to put an end to the seven-year conflict that has “exhausted the people and Syrian society.”
Kurdish politician Sihanouk Dibo stated that negotiations between the two parties were likely to be “long and arduous,” and that “[I]t is still very early to talk of an agreement, but we are working on it,” as Al Jazeera reported. Riad Darar, the Arab co-chair of the SDC specified that the negotiations would include an agreement regarding northern Syria. The SDF currently controls around 27 percent of the country and much of the territory in the northeast, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Darar added, “[W]e hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive,” according to the Telegraph. The Council did not specify the number of committees that would be formed or the timeline for future talks. The Syrian regime has yet to confirm its participation in the negotiations.
The SDF is a Kurdish-majority, umbrella militia group, founded in 2015, that is dominated by the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (YPG). The militia has primarily opposed Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), and has successfully driven the group out of strategically important areas such as the former IS capital of Raqqa. The U.S., France, and other Western nations back the SDF, while Russia, Turkey, and Iran support the Syrian regime.
The Assad regime and the SDF have been two of the dominant players in the Syrian war and hold the most territory in the country. Though the pair have avoided direct conflict, some question the negotiation’s potential for success, because both parties ultimately have opposing goals: the Syrian regime wants to restore full sovereignty, while the Kurdish majority of the SDF wants Kurdish autonomy.
Assad pledged in February, 2017 to regain “every inch” of Syrian territory and to use force if necessary to regain control of SDP-controlled land, making a compromise between the two parties seem unlikely. The International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst on Syria, Noah Bonsey, told Reuters, “It’s hard to see how they will reach more substantive agreement in the coming months because you just have a huge gap between the two sides on what the future of this region should look like.” Head of Policy Analysis at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies Marwan Kabalan agrees. He told Al Jazeera that it is “unlikely the Syrian regime will deliver the Kurds autonomy. Rather, what it will probably give them is local governance according to Law 107 that was passed in 2012 . . . . The Syrian regime will never accept autonomy.”
The decision to host negotiations comes less than two weeks after Syrian-regime forces regained control of the southwestern city of Deraa and many of the surrounding towns in the Deraa Province following a 20-day offensive that began on June 19. Rebel troops, which controlled the area for the last three years, reached a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement with the Assad-regime on Friday, July 6. The ceasefire has, for now, put an end to the fighting and allowed displaced inhabitants to return home, but has also caused hundreds of fighters and their families to evacuate the south for the rebel-controlled Idlib province in the northwest of the county.
The Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 when the Assad regime violently repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests. The ongoing bloody civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions more.