Syria After the Khilifah: Now Comes the Hard Part

The canary SDF banner with accompanying YPG and YPJ flags in Hasakeh.
©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Unawatuna- Today the SDF finally declared the total clearing of Baghouz and with it the last patch of formal IS territorial control anywhere in Syria and Iraq. So today signifies the conclusion of the al-Jazeera Storm campaign which was launched September 2017 to clear Deir ez-Zor, Mayadeen, and Albu Kamal districts of IS control east of the Euphrates.

It was a grinding fight that was put on hold while the TSK (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri-Turkish armed forces) invaded the then PYD-controlled Efrin region to tear apart an oasis of calm within Syria and crush Kurdish identity politics there and in the rest of what had been known as Rojava. So now that the SDF-controlled part of Deir ez-Zor governorate has been fully liberated, many questions immediately present themselves, such as: what will be the present and future purpose of the SDF without the khilifah (‘caliphate’) to fight against? How will the coalition’s presence and continued engagement in Syria be militarily & monetarily justified?

And those are just two of what could be a hundred critical questions about the future of the SDF and its relationship to its American partners as well as interactions amongst different factions inside the SDF that have different aims. In light of the Manbij restaurant bombing, US engagement may continue if IS insurgent attacks ramp up morphing into an all-out guerrilla war in quick fashion. Perhaps looks at Diyala governorate next door in Iraq…

While the end of the Khilifah is certainly a massive victory for the SDF in which it suffered a high casualty rate fighting a fearsome death/sex cult organisation, we don’t know what their next move will be vis-a-vis negotiating with the dreaded Syrian regime or with the Kremlin’s opaque interlocutors. Of course, it seems the regime doesn’t itself know its next move either. So many moving parts, a none of us knows in which direction this eight year-old war machine is moving.

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