LONDON— Syria's civil war drags on, with diplomatic efforts making little headway and, according to the United Nations, more than 60,000 people killed. Experts don't see a quick solution, and believe that even if the rebels succeed in ousting President Bashar al-Assad, the violence could well continue, and even get worse.
"Of course, the worst case in Syria is more than imaginable: It's possible," said. Middle East expert Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics.
"What is looking more likely is that if the regime were to collapse, you would get the worst-case scenario of revenge killings and inter-communal violence. And you would also probably see violent power struggles from within the victorious opposition, and then of course regional actors coming in to back their own horses," Brahimi.
It's a bleak scenario, but not a surprising one. Syria is split among Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, various clans and sects, and Islamic militants and liberals.
"Syria is a crisis that may not be resolved for years to come, precisely because it plays into all these underlying sectarian and regional power struggles," Brahimi said.
Brahimi is referring to Iran, a Shi'ite power that backs Syria's Shi'ite leaders from the Alawite sect -- who in turn facilitate its influence in Lebanon -- and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that would like to see a Sunni-led Syria and a weaker Iran.
Beyond that, Western powers would like to see a liberal, democratic Syria, while Russia is determined to protect its influence in the country.
But experts like Chris Doyle, at the Council for Arab-British Understanding, say an extended Syrian civil war is not inevitable if the various domestic and international players can be convinced their interests will be protected.
"If the regime was to fall from power right now there would be a huge power struggle within Syria. If, however, there is some sort of political solution, a very clear transition process, then there is some chance that Syria can exit this dreadful crisis with something to look forward to," Doyle said.
But that would require agreement on the most contentious issue -- whether President Assad would resign immediately or stay at least for a transitional period. Neither side is budging on that.
"It's possible to resolve this. It's just that nobody really wants to at the moment," Brahimi said.
And that means Syrians are likely facing more months, if not years, of fighting -- whether Assad is in office or not.