The Syrian opposition takes Idlib, but what happens next?

The Syrian opposition takes Idlib, but what happens next?
4 min read
29 March, 2015
Syrian opposition forces have taken Idlib, making it only the second provincial capital after Raqqa to fall out of regime hands. Now, they have to run the city.
Fighters smash a statue of late president Hafez al-Assad in Idlib. [Sami Ali/AFP/Getty Images]

The city of Idlib has fallen completely under the control of opposition fighters as the armed Syrian opposition factions yesterday tightened their grip on neighbourhoods in Idlib and managed to enter the city centre.

After Raqqa, Idlib is now the second governorate the regime has lost total control over.

Ahrar Ash-Sham al-Islamiyah (the Islamic Free Men of the Levant), the brigades of Ajnad ash-Sham (Soldiers of the Levant), and the Nusra Front announced on their official Twitter accounts that, after five days of fierce fighting with regime troops, they managed to seize full control over the city of Idlib and started pursuing fleeing regime forces.

What now? 

Regime forces might bomb the city and provoke people to flee. Idlib is already a haven for more than 500,000 displaced people.

Now they are in control of Idlib, the greatest challenge facing opposition factions lies in running the civil affairs of the city in terms of services, education, and judicial affairs, especially as there are numerous factions that might want to manage the city's affairs. There is also the problem that the regime forces might bomb the city and cause the displacement of its people, especially as Idlib was a haven for more than 500,000 displaced people. The ongoing closure of the land border crossings with Turkey add to burdens on other opposition-controlled areas.

Moreover, there are the factions that helped in controlling the city and that boast of having defeated the regime.

It is unlikely that these factions will leave the city's services and judicial and educational affairs to the hands of civil activists or the temporary government of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces unless they exercise oversight on their work.

At the same time, a disagreement could arise between factions if any of them interferes in the civil affairs of citizens, especially as the various factions that joined the [Idlib] liberation army's operations room hold different views.

The most significant of these differences, however, might appear between the two largest factions that took part in the operation, namely the Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyyah.

The recent great rapprochement between Al-Nusrah Front and Ahrar ash-Sham was imposed by the conditions of the Idlib battle, without solving any of the main differences in viewpoints between the two factions.

As for the judicial sector, the armed factions and their commissions are unlikely to allow the temporary government or others to run its affairs. Therefore, this might become a bone of contention between Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham, which run separate judicial structures in some of the areas under their control.

As for other civil affairs, there is a free governorate council, the Syrian National Council (SNC), formed in early 2013 and linked to the temporary government, which performs its duties in Turkey. Ahrar ash-Sham also has a civil Islamic commission for the administration of the liberated areas, whereas the Nusra Front takes care of education and school curricula.

The city might witness squabbling over the way it will be administered. Ahrar al-Sham is expected to take charge if it reaches an agreement with Nusra, at least for the foreseeable future. This is because the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and the temporary government are viewed negatively in most of the opposition-controlled areas, which makes it difficult for a body affiliated with the temporary government to run services in the city. In case an appropriate financial credit is made available to the governorate council, Ahrar al-Sham might agree to run the services on the condition that its Islamic commission for the administration of the freed areas act as a monitoring body.

Factions might squabbling over the way the city is to be administered.

Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, Hussein al-Sayed, a member of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, said: "The coalition does not have any plans for the administration of Idlib, due to the absence of a regional and international desire that the coalition and political opposition play any role in general and replace the regime, so as to show that extremism is the only alternative to the regime."

He noted that "there is no official coordination between the coalition and the liberation army's operations room, which seized control over the city of Idlib."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.