The political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces has started forming a unified administration for its territory, a move that would consolidate its authority in northern and eastern Syria.
The SDF controls around a quarter of the country, much of it captured from Islamic State with U.S. military help. It is the largest chunk of Syria outside the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s state.
The SDF wants the seven-year war to end with a federal system that secures minority rights, including for Kurds.
Kurdish leaders say they do not seek an independent state. They have mostly avoided conflict with Assad, as his army defeated rebel factions in western Syria fighting to topple him.
Bringing together SDF territory under a single administration signals they are looking at their potential future role, and comes as they seek to open new channels to Assad’s government.
The steps announced on Thursday, at a meeting which the Syrian Democratic Council convened, will combine civil councils that govern various swathes of the north and east.
The meeting included officials from the SDF, Manbij town, Raqqa city, Deir al-Zor province and Kurdish parts of the north, the SDC said in a statement.
The SDF alliance, which the Kurdish YPG militia spearheads, has expanded beyond mainly Kurdish parts of the north, where the forces have carved out autonomous cantons since the onset of Syria’s conflict. Its region now includes the majority Arab Raqqa, Islamic State’s former headquarters in Syria, and eastern Deir al-Zor at the Iraqi border.
The meeting agreed a mechanism to build the new administration and elected a board in charge of it, the SDC said.
Siham Karyo, co-president of the board, said the change would help “the people overcome difficulties and provide services until we reach a democratic, decentralised Syria”, according to local Kurdish news agency ANHA.
SDC co-chair Riad Darar has said the new administration will “practice a form of governance”.
It appears to be another step aiming to cement authority across the north and east, as well as overhaul the region’s image with an eye to its future.
Throughout the war, Damascus has opposed Kurdish autonomy plans, as does Washington.
Last month, SDF officials held talks with Assad’s government in their first declared visit to the capital.
Kurdish leaders hope for a political deal, but have grown wary of an unpredictable U.S. ally which they fear could put its ties with NATO member Turkey first.
U.S support for Syrian Kurdish forces has infuriated Ankara, which sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK movement that has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.