Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

The United States decided to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops in northern Syria after learning of the deepening Turkish offensive. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.


Tension between Iraq defense minister and Iranian-backed faction peaks

Updated 6 min 29 sec ago

Tension between Iraq defense minister and Iranian-backed faction peaks

  • ‘Third party’ accused of killings as documents show ministry had tear gas canisters in warehouses imported from Serbia

BAGHDAD: Tension between Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari and several Iranian-backed armed factions peaked on Thursday after documents emerged showing the Iraqi Defense Ministry had tear gas canisters in its warehouses imported from Serbia years ago.

Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing anti-government demonstrations since Oct. 1.

More than 300 demonstrators have died and about 16,000 have been injured so far, mostly in Baghdad, by tear gas and live bullets used by Iraqi forces to quell the protests.

In an earlier television interview, Al-Shammari said Iraqi security forces had not shot at demonstrators and that orders since October had been clear that no live bullets should be used to deal with the protesters.

Al-Shammari also said tear gas that killed dozens of demonstrators after they were hit directly in the head and chest by canisters was not imported by the Iraqi government. 

He accused a “third party” of killing the demonstrators.

“Third parties fired (at the demonstrators) in an attempt to make the conflict seem between security forces and demonstrators,” Al-Shammari said.

“A third party has been killing protesters and security forces.”

Since the start of the protests, the majority of Iraqis have used specific words to describe the demonstrators, security forces, and armed factions supporting the government.

The “third party” is the description used to describe Iranian-backed factions to differentiate between them and security forces, often referred to as the “second party,” while describing the demonstrators as the “first party”.

“Third party” became a term of ridicule after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi unintentionally used it several times in a statements to shirk responsibility for killings, kidnappings and arrests of protesters, activists, journalists and even officials.

The defense minister’s allegations have angered a number of Iranian-backed armed factions and their associated security and military leaders.

He has also faced charges of forgery, manipulation of official records and lying.

On Thursday, the Resistance Media Network, a group of Iranian-funded channels, distributed documents revealing that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense had imported tear gas, smoke and sound bombs, rifles and other riot gear from Serbia under a contract entered into by the Ministry with Yugo Import SDPR in 2007.

Another document revealed the quantity and types of equipment and weapons used by riot police and government-affiliated forces during the past seven weeks, starting from Sept. 30 to Nov. 18, clearly indicating that the Ministry of Defense forces used thousands of tear gas canisters during that period.

Similarly damaging for the defense minister were links to press reports in the Swedish media about Al-Shammari, indicating that the minister, who has been living in Sweden since 2007 and holds  Swedish citizenship, is registered there as exempt from work and taxes, and enjoys a pension and free health care as a result of poor mental health.

Iraqi security and military figures have confirmed the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and field commander of Iranian operations in Iraq in the suppression of demonstrators.

“The minister is under tremendous pressure now,” a senior military commander told Arab News. “He revealed their (Iranian-backed factions) involvement in the killing of protesters. Although he did not name them, it was clear who was meant by the ‘third party’.

“To be honest, he (Al-Shammari) refused to use violence against demonstrators when he was asked to do so. Then these statements came out to destroy his political future.

“They (Iranian-backed factions) decided to terminate him politically, so these files began to appear both inside and outside Iraq.”