Although Turkey publicly appears to sustain its anti-Bashar al-Assad stance on Syria, it is actually getting ready for a new Syria that will allow Assad to stay on as the country’s president. While a termination of the de facto Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria seems to be the first precondition for a possible normalization between Ankara and Damascus, there is another unspoken condition as well: the allotment of a share in Syria’s reconstruction.
Naturally, the Assad administration does not have the intention to allot any share to Turkey, which is accused of supporting anti-regime military groups that have destroyed the country and looted Aleppo’s industrial zones. However, Turkey’s control of a sizable territory in northern Syria and its cooperation with Russia make it difficult for Damascus to exclude Turkey from these calculations.
Turkey’s influence over opposition groups that could have a bearing on the Geneva process can not be dismissed. Turkey has been able to preserve its most important trading partner position with Syria despite the seven-year-old conflict. Its geographical proximity to Syria, logistical superiority and advanced capacity of its construction sector encourages Turkey to obtain a substantial part in the reconstruction process.
Moreover, Turkey is currently organizing local entities in al-Bab, Jarablus, Azaz, Cobanbey and Afrin that are de facto under its control. It is also setting up systems for security, education, religion and even issuing ID cards to residents. In addition it has started building a road network.
Manbij, which Turkey has begun patrolling the periphery of following an agreement with Washington, is also in the works. If Turkey can impose its control over the area, a new highway will be built between Jarablus and Manbij. In fact, local sources have confirmed that the construction work has already started.
The Turkish government sees Manbij as a key trading hub both for Iraq and Syria, and Manbij and al-Bab will be preludes to the rebuilding of Aleppo. This de facto situation created by Turkey will likely be a stepping stone to lucrative reconstruction contracts.
Ankara’s entire calculations are based on getting the reconstruction contract for Aleppo. But will Russia and Iran, which also have spent billions of dollars in Syria, allow Ankara to get what it wants?
For the reconstruction of Aleppo, Ankara relies on its negotiations with Russia. An operation in Idlib and potential withdrawal of Turkish troops from there may well determine the outcome of those negotiations. Ankara hopes that an agreement with Russia on these two issues may overcome the reluctance of Damascus to deal with Turkey.
A foreign technocrat who is closely involved in the reconstruction process of Syria said that Assad considers the reconstruction process an “extremely delicate” issue. He told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Contacts are top secret at high levels. Assad insists that those who had a part in destroying Syria cannot have a role in its reconstruction and he prefers Russian, Iranian and Chinese firms. Can Russia persuade Damascus to allot Turkey a portion?”