In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with Robert Ford, the new U.S. ambassador to Syria, in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 27, 2011. (State Department)

Between the Coalition, ISIS, and Assad: Courting the Tribes of Deir ez-Zor

Regaining the tribal loyalty lost in the first years of the Syrian Revolution was an inevitable step in the regime’s eastern offensives. During the first half of the war, managing the weakened and fractured tribes, particularly in Deir ez-Zor, seemed to be a low priority. However, the rise of ISIS in central Syria in 2014 proved an opportunity for Damascus, eliminating “third way” options and forcing tribesmen to choose between Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. This led to the first large movement of opposition tribal factions back to Assad’s camp. By the time Damascus launched its 2017 central Syria campaign, the regime’s intelligence agencies had successfully re-integrated significant portions of tribes from Homs, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor, forming loyalist militias under the command of long-loyal tribal leaders.

When the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepared to enter the Arab-majority regions of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, it employed a similar strategy. It attempted to appease the tribes by including them in the Deir ez-Zor Military Council and promising political equality. However, the SDF and Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led governing body, the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), immediately faced resentment from tribal figures over allegations of corruption in the allocation of oil revenue, the imposition of mandatory military service, and arrests of Arab civilians.1 Though the SDF has kept an open line of communication with tribal leaders and stepped up anti-ISIS operations in the region, it has failed to fully address the aforementioned issues, implement political reform, and provide an adequate level of security to appease tribal leaders.

Read more at the Middle East Institute

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