Cover Story Overview
A Fight for the Spoils: The Future Role of Syria’s Armed Groups
By Stephen Starr
The role and future actions of the milieu of armed groups operating in Syria is sure to affect the shape of the country following the seemingly inevitable fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Rebel units number in the dozens. Some are secular, while others call for an Islamic state in Syria. All are vying for weapons and territory. For now, what unites them is their shared goal of defeating the Syrian regime. This mutual interest will likely change if the regime falls. Conversely, the future role played by those who fill the ranks of the government’s roving shabiha gangs is also troubling. Infamous for their brutality mostly upon civilians in dissenting areas, the largely Alawite shabiha have been successful in sowing sectarian divisions among Syrians by attacking Sunni civilians. As the central authority controlling the shabiha breaks down, the role these government militias play will be significant in the future. If the al-Assad regime falls, these heavily armed, battle-hardened fighters will likely destabilize the country going forward. This article will assess the evolution of the Free Syrian Army and what role the group will serve in a post-Assad Syria. It also addresses the challenges of the shabiha, determining whether the pro-Assad militias will return to their mountain villages or attempt to mount a counterinsurgency against a new FSA-organized government in Damascus.