A civil war within a civil war has been under way for the last two weeks in the small Syrian-Kurdish border town of Sere Kaniye, in Hassakeh province in northern Syria. The town, known as Ras al-Ayin in Arabic, has witnessed fierce fighting between Islamist Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia.
The rebels, led by the Salafi Jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra organization, are seeking to push into the town, apparently as a first move in an attempt to undermine a de facto Kurdish autonomous area stretching to the border with Iraq.
The Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Units) have until now managed to prevent the jihadis from gaining all but a small foothold in the town.
The Sere Kaniye fighting is an indication of the increasing transformation of Syria’s civil war from an insurgency against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad into a many-sided conflict in which the various ethnic and sectarian communities of Syria fight over the country’s ruins. [...]
The Sere Kaniyeh events show that it is now mistaken to think of the Syrian civil war as a single conflict, pitting the Assad dictatorship against a popular insurgency.
The Assads, for all their many faults, grasped a certain truth – that Syria, a state established by British and French colonialism – lacked any real binding identity and could be held together only by force. The force of the dictatorship is now gradually receding and fading. As it does so, the incompatible component parts that it held together are beginning to separate.
The regime itself is turning into a structure operating on behalf of the Alawi minority. The Sunni Arab insurgency is also divided along ideological and tribal lines. The Kurds in northeast Syria, meanwhile, are making clear that they want no part of either the Sunni Islamist rebellion or the reduced dictatorship. In a manner similar to their compatriots in Iraqi Kurdistan, they are seeking to create a defensible haven for themselves. The Islamist rebels are trying – so far without great success – to force their way into this haven.
The war-within-a-war in northeast Syria thus offers stark evidence of the extent to which “Syria,” as a unified state, no longer really exists.