Consulting Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme

Turkey’s capacity to ensure the sustainability of its successes against ISIS depends largely on improving governance in Jarablus.

Syrian people in Jarablus district in Syria after the area is freed from ISIS during Operation Euphrates Shield. Photo: Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.Syrian people in Jarablus district in Syria after the area is freed from ISIS during Operation Euphrates Shield. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The governance structure in Jarablus – following Turkey’s military intervention that drove Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the district in 2016 – has replicated that used in other rebel-held areas in Syria, with a local council running the district. Turkey and its allies overlooked the existing local governance structure and backed a new appointed district council, which, among citizens, lacked legitimacy and created tension. The council’s inability to deliver traditional public services quickly also increased resentment towards it, resulting in widespread demonstrations that eventually toppled it in February 2017.
  • The pressing need for emergency reconstruction in Jarablus has hindered Turkey’s commitment to substantial future investments there. Running the district has depended largely on short-term solutions rather than long-term planning. As a result, public services are either non-existent or of poor quality, particularly in the countryside.
  • Humanitarian work in Jarablus is limited to the efforts of Turkey and organizations it approves. Syrian and international humanitarian actors cannot operate there, but they can still channel their support through approved organizations. This monopoly has increased locals’ dependence on Turkey and prevented them from raising funds to implement much-needed projects.
  • Turkey’s official role and influence in governing Jarablus remains unclear, but there is a general assumption among locals that it runs the district. Thus, the failure to turn it into a successful model has created frustration towards Turkey among locals. Occasional demonstrations have been organized to protest Turkey’s perceived increased influence and its negative impact on the area.
  • The absence of a comprehensive Turkish-led post-ISIS strategy has destabilized Jarablus. The lack of counter-radicalization strategies to engage with locals influenced by ISIS’s ideology, especially children, leaves them vulnerable to recruitment by radical groups. The inability of the local council to deliver services also allows such groups to use service provision to gain support and rebuild their power base. Additionally, ignoring local sensitivities contributes to ethnic tension between Arabs and Turkmen, and may lead to confrontations, which could eventually enable radicals.
  • Turkey’s capacity to ensure the sustainability of its successes against ISIS depends largely on improving governance in Jarablus. To achieve this it could support the legitimacy of the most recent district council, which was formed by locals in March 2017, by enhancing its ability to govern. Short-term reconstruction initiatives should be replaced with long-term strategies such as a counter-radicalization programme to challenge ISIS’s ideology and reduce its influence. In addition, increased transparency regarding Turkey’s involvement in the running of Jarablus and its objectives, as well as the empowering of locals to govern themselves would improve the odds of Turkey achieving its goal.