HTS takes on local councils in greater Idlib

By Oliviero Reusser

As part of its most recent hegemony aspirations in greater Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has started a political power conflict against some of the most prominent local councils in the region. HTS has always tried to subvert and overrule civil institutions in Idlib, sometimes it has worked together with them; the issue varies on a case by case basis. Through its own centralized service agency, it has worked to restore roads, electricity aswell as settle administrative matters and jumpstart civil institutions - but under its control: it opened police offices and held local elections. 

In late August, HTS started one of its more brazen attacks on the more democratic institutions in greater Idlib by demanding that civil institutions in greater Idlib hand over all their departments and competences to the specialised institutions (of HTS). This would essentially be a massive power grab by HTS, taking control of even more local councils and subverting them under their rule. While there are many councils controlled or atleast influenced by HTS, there are also many which choose to remain independent and instead struck a deal with HTS or those who are completely independent. By surrendering all their services they would lose all their independence.

In an even more high-profile move, HTS also demanded the Idlib city council, the council ruling over the otherwise HTS-controlled city, to hand over several of its capacities. The local council there was formed and elected when it replaced the former Jaish al-Fateh administration, which ruled the city when it was first captured by the powerful Islamist coalition of armed factions. HTS said the council would merge into the "Civil Administration of Services". 

As a response, the Idlib city council released a statement, affirming that they were elected in a transparent manner free of any armed or political bodies otherwise operating in greater Idlib; it is purely civil. While it does not opposes submitting to a central body, it has to be an independent civil government, and this one isnt; it is merely a unilateral action by HTS and thus they oppose it and refuse the handover.

Idlib council statement (26.08.17).png

Few days later, HTS moved on to target probably the 2nd most prominent local council in greater Idlib, the one in Maarat al-Numan. While HTS has little to no presence in the city, all the towns and villages around it are under its firm control. The city has long been a thorn in HTS eye, as its a bulwark of anti-HTS sentiments and sees regular demonstrations against the groups activities. It would not be anything new if HTS conducted a new security raid in the city to arrest alleged criminals or dissidents and then found themselves facing hundreds of locals protesting against their actions. In a statement by the local council, it affirms to be an independent and elected body, free of any influence. The council is also likely to oppose any HTS activity or forced takeover of it in the future.

Translations provided by @TNTranslations on twitter

With these recent actions, HTS is not only alienating parts of the civilian population in greater Idlib by focusing on the inner politics instead of on the armed fight against the perceived enemy, the government of Bashar al-Assad, it is also threatening one of the greatest achievements of the Syrian Revolution as it was originally intended; local governance through the people, realised with local councils elected by the inhabitants of the villages and towns. HTS wants to take away this latest bit of democracy left in greater Idlib in order to submit all the political entities in greater Idlib to its rule and form a unified government. If this move were succesful, the future of greater Idlib could be sealed: HTS, perceived by outside states as al-Qaeda, would not only be the main armed force in the area, but also the biggest political power broker. One can only imagine how other states would react to this being the case.