The West and its politicians may be forced to do what some analysts have argued was ultimately necessary all along: support Bashir al-Assad. Since the start of the Syrian civil war, the West’s main contribution has been support for their favoured opposition groups, chief amongst which has been the Syrian National Council. The events of the past year have undermined this narrative, with a military victory for Assad supported by Iran and Russia looking increasingly plausible. A recent article in Al-Monitor suggests that that victory could be closer through the Battle for Aleppo. Aleppo’s pre war population of circa six million matched that of Damascus, and the city had a majority Sunni population. Parts of the city have been under rebel control since 2012 but the government is making advances into these rebel areas. The rebel-controlled areas have been besieged, ruled by Islamic law; they have also experienced prevalent criminality and been barrel bombed. As this largely Sunni city falls to al-Assad’s forces, and finds itself back under government rule yet experiencing better living conditions than have been present for three years, Al-Monitor suggests that Sunnis could stop viewing the civil war as a Sunni versus Shia affair, rather, viewing it as the autocratic Assad versus tyrannical Islamists. It argues that an outright military victory in Aleppo would splinter the remaining rebel factions and drain their morale, while making it increasingly difficult for the West to continue justifying support for, say, the Islamic Army.
This theory is interesting but it relies on two big ifs. Firstly, that the pro-Syrian government forces manage to win an outright military victory in Aleppo as opposed to say a negotiated withdrawal of rebel forces. Secondly that the Sunnis of Aleppo view the pro-government forces as liberators who have saved them from dreadful living condition not a party that has subjected them to hunger and barrel bombs for years.