Rival Syrian Governments Lock Horns in a Bloodless but Ruthless Battle

There was a small civil uprising this week in the city of Idlib in northern Syria. Residents of the city and neighboring villages went out to demonstrate, and shouted derogatory slogans against the Syrian Salvation Government running the province, called for the revocation of recent tax hikes and demanded that oil and gas be supplied to them and the corruption wiped out.

Idlib province is home to about 3 million, including tens of thousands of displaced persons from all over Syria, in addition to about 50,000 armed militiamen who arrived after the cease-fire initiated by Syria. It acts like a state within a state within a state. Most areas of Syria are now under the control of the central Syrian government but there are still many liberated areas controlled by opposition groups and rebel militias.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47Haaretz

These are run by the “Syrian Interim Government” established back in 2013 and recognized by international institutions as representing the opposition. It is ostensibly a government in every respect. It has a prime minister, Abdurrahman Mustafa, and a large array of ministers for defense, education, trade, justice and more and its representatives participate in discussions about seeking a political solution with representatives of the Syrian government.

Separately from the interim government, in 2017 the Syrian Salvation Government was established in Idlib province, headed by Mohammed al-Sheikh. It runs the province independently and is in a constant battle for control against the interim government.

The Salvation Government is in actuality administered by Tahrir al-Sham – the Levant Liberation Organization – formerly the radical Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. Both the Interim Government and the Salvation Government operate as though they are indeed a real government.

The Salvation Government has 14 ministers and runs the civil and security affairs of Idlib Province, including courts and the education system. In order to fund its activities it has taken control of a number of border crossings between Idlib and Turkey, profiting greatly from transit imposts on passage between Turkey and Syria.

This government also collects taxes from the citizens and has a monopoly on fuel supply to the province through a subsidiary called Wattad. The double control over “liberated areas” not under the control of the central regime inevitably creates administrative conflicts that derive from the recognized Interim Government’s effort to control all the liberated areas and to depict itself as the sole representative of all the opposition movements.