It’s hard to know what to ask about Syria. The country itself no longer resembles a coherent national unit so much as an area on a map within which the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and ISIS compete for regional influence.

Over June and July we asked whether or not the Syrian ceasefire which came into force on 27th February would last. Officially speaking, it has but that will have meant little to the citizens of Aleppo. Our questions didn’t quite get to the heart of the matter. A change of tack is necessary.

Potential endgames seem hard to envisage though, so what do we ask about? I’m going to sketch out my thoughts here, but please do let us know if you have any ideas of your own. Just reply to this email or submit your question suggestions here. Remember, there are prizes for those questions which end up on site.

To draft a good question, we usually need to have a reliable and timely source of information off which to measure forecasts. That’s hard to come by in Syria where the principal actors tend to deal in misinformation and propaganda. The Carter Center in the US provides what seem to be good, impartial updates on the situation on the ground in the form of weekly updates and a conflict mapping service. A possibility, perhaps.

Perhaps we need to look instead at potential diplomatic outcomes. We need to find one that is highly relevant and likely, but so likely as to be uninteresting.

As things stand, the US and Russia – the co-sponsors of the current ceasefire and associated peace talks – are in the process of negotiating a regional military and intelligence-sharing alliance. Some news on this is expected in the coming week or two.

While this goes on, the UN is hoping to reopen its Geneva peace talks before the end of the month. Presumably this goal is reliant upon an agreement between the US and Russia, who co-chair the talks.

We’ll have some new questions up on Syria soon. Please feel free to influence the process.

It’s tough drafting questions, tougher than forecasting sometimes.

Discussion

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