Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh ‘caliphate’ falls

The Syrian regime wants the Kurds to give up their areas and surrender fully. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 March 2019

Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh ‘caliphate’ falls

  • The Kurdish forces helped in the fight against Daesh
  • The Kurds in the area are demanding for an international observer force

BEIRUT: Now the Daesh group's "caliphate" has fallen, the hard-won limited autonomy of Syria's Kurds will be left in peril if their key US ally goes ahead with its announced pullout.
On Saturday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced the end of the proto-state that the Sunni Arab extremist group declared across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in a third of the country under their control.
But a planned US military pullout has left them exposed to an attack by Turkey and in need of protection from Damascus, in a massive blow to their dreams of self-rule.
"The Kurds have been caught between a Syrian rock and a Turkish hard place," Syria expert Fabrice Balanche said.
Kurdish fighters have spearheaded the fight against Daesh since late 2014, but neighboring Turkey views them as "terrorists".
The presence of American troops in areas held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had acted as a shield against any Turkish offensive.
But US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington's allies by announcing a full withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria as Daesh had been "beaten".
"The Kurds are facing an uncertain future. The most urgent threat appears to be from Turkey," analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said.
After his announcement, Trump attempted to ease tensions by speaking of a 30-kilometre "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country would establish the "security zone" itself if it took too long to implement.
The Kurds have rejected any Turkish implementation, especially since any such buffer would include their major cities.
They are demanding instead the deployment of an international observer force.
"Kobane, Tal Abyad, Darbasiya, Qamishli, Dehik, Derbassiye -- most of the Kurdish cities are on the border line," Civiroglu said.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies have led two previous offensives inside Syria, most recently seizing the northwestern enclave of Afrin from the Kurds last year.
Syria's civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
It has since spiraled into a complex conflict, with rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia emerging as key powerbrokers.
Beyond American approval, Civiroglu said Turkey would likely need a green light from Russia before any Turkish offensive in Syria.
"Russia's position is going to be very important, because Russia has a strong power over Turkey," he said.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime now controls two-thirds of Syria thanks to Russian military backing since 2015, and its seems determined to also return to oil-rich northeastern Syria.
To protect themselves, the Kurds have dispatched delegations to Washington and Moscow.
And in ongoing talks, they have scrambled to mend ties with Damascus.
After decades of marginalization, the Kurds have developed their own political system in northeast Syria -- holding elections, collecting taxes and running schools teaching the Kurdish language.
"In a war-torn country, the Kurdish system is working fine," Civiroglu said.
"The Kurds want this to be recognized."
They want "Kurdish education to be offered officially", he said, after decades of an effective ban on their mother tongue.
But talks so far have failed to bear fruit, and Balanche warns the Kurds are in a weak position.
"The regime is demanding an unconditional surrender. Damascus does not want to let them retain any autonomy," he said.
Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said Monday that the government would recapture all areas held by the SDF "in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or... by force".
Although the end of the Daesh "caliphate" has been declared, Daesh is still present in eastern Syria's vast Badia desert.
The US Defense Department has warned that without sustained pressure on the extremists, they could resurge in Syria within months.
In the end, the future of the Kurds mainly depends on the United States, says analyst Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security.
"Every other actor in Syria cannot make a move until there is greater clarity on what the United States ultimately decides to do," he said.
And after any troop pullout, the United States could still stay on with a paramilitary force, he added.
"The best hope for the SDF is for the Americans and the coalition to stick it out in Syria for the long haul."
The White House has said that around 200 American "peace-keeping" soldiers would remain in northern Syria indefinitely.
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said he would be discussing with NATO partners the potential to establish an "observer force" in the area.


Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

  • The supporters were revelling in the centre of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco's victory over Spain
  • Fans were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, police said

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had detained 13 far-right activists in Verona for an assault on Moroccan soccer fans who were celebrating their historic qualification for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The supporters were revelling in the center of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco’s victory over Spain when they were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, the police said in a statement.
Those held “were identified by investigators as militants of far-right groups in the city,” it said.
Morocco’s World Cup progress has seen vibrant celebrations by its supporters in cities with large Moroccan immigrant populations around the world, which have sometimes turned violent.
Their victory over Belgium in the group stage sparked riots in Brussels, and on Tuesday evening video footage showed fans lighting flares and throwing furniture and other objects in the center of Milan.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, tweeted the images of the Milan episodes, saying he hoped those responsible would be identified and made to pay for the damage to property.
He did not comment on the incidents in Verona.


US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

Updated 07 December 2022

US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

  • The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted
  • The State Department did not list who would be affected

WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it would bar visas to any current or former Sudanese officials who hold up a transition to democracy, hoping to boost a tentative deal between the military and civilians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced US support for the initial agreement announced Monday, which some pro-democracy protesters see as falling short on specifics and timelines.
“Recognizing the fragility of democratic transitions, the United States will hold to account spoilers — whether military or political actors — who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress,” Blinken said in a statement.
The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted. The State Department did not list who would be affected.
“We once again call on Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to civilians, respect human rights and end violence against protesters,” Blinken said.
“At the same time, we urge representatives of Sudan’s civilian leaders to negotiate in good faith and place the national interest first.”
Longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following massive youth-led protests but the army chief, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in October last year derailed the transition by carrying out a military coup.
The United States following the coup suspended $700 million in aid that was meant to help Sudan cope economically as it moves toward democracy.
The latest US step is an expansion of visa restrictions imposed during the first stage of Sudan’s democratic transition.

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Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

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