The war in Syria coming to an end: the Kurdish card still to play

Published here:  via

Key words: Kurds, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Iran, US, ISIS, AQ.

By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai

As the siege around the northern city of Deir al-Zour has been lifted, the war in Syria is heading towards its end, largely due to the political and military intervention of Russia and its allies. Moscow has provided full air coverage for ground forces, and diplomatic support, preventing a US-Turkish military pact against Damascus and also freezing any possible sanctions at the UN. Russia invested also in building up a substantial air force in the Levant, and supporting it with naval and special forces to show the capability of a superpower not only to alter the course of the war but also to impose peace when necessary. By being involved in Syria, Russia has disrupted the unilateral domination of the US over the Middle East since Perestroika.

But why is the war ending? Well, simply because Russia has managed to impose three de-confliction zones, one each in the south, middle and the north of Syria. Russia is even preparing to introduce a fourth one in Idlib, a city under the total control of al-Qaeda- who were once called “moderate rebels”. Al-Qaeda – under the name of Nusra (changed to Hay’atTahrir al-Sham) – managed to impose its full control over the city : Turkey, however, believes it can “control the situation”.

Actually al-Qaeda is preparing itself to change skin again, to create a fake split between “radicals” and “moderates”: still within al-Qaeda, however. In fact, the terrorist group is aware that the last battle would be fought between the walls of Idlib because the Syrian Army is militarily capable of regaining the control of the last occupied northern city. The train of diplomacy and negotiation is on the right track and won’t stop, with or without al-Qaeda and its plans. Today the Syrian Army and its allies are more relaxed in al-Badiya (south-east) after Jordan recalled its proxies and the US stopped supplying weapons to all anti-Damascus forces (including al-Qaeda). And once ISIS is defeated in Deir al-Zour, the remaining cities of al-Mayadeen and albu Kamal will be easy to recover.

So Syria is heading towards ending six long years of war that resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and wounded, and created millions of refugees. However, the end of the war does not mean Syria will automatically recover its sovereignty.

This is why:

-Turkey is based in the North of the Syria, occupying several cities and governing with a “wali”, a Turkish governor who dictates the law.

-The (3+1) de-confliction zones are under political negotiation. These are dominated and financed by forces receiving outside support from regional the countries of the region. This may be an advantage because, for Damascus, negotiating with states is far better than negotiating with dozens of group leaders.

-The US is occupying north-east Syria, unilaterally imposing a no-fly zone and supporting the Syrian Kurds in controlling territory and energy resources (dozens of oil fields). The US is using the excuse that it is “fighting ISIS” east of the Euphrates river, whereas the group is on the run. In fact the Syrian Army and its allies managed to recover all hills and mountains around Deir al-Zour city (lost during the last year), including the strategic Tharda mountains. Last year the US Air Force and its allies bombed Syrian positions stationed in these mountains overlooking the military airport. This had given the upper hand to ISIS and neutralised the airport.

Thus, Damascus should prepare itself for tough negotiation with the countries occupying Syrian territory, and certainly make many firm requests. A forthcoming early Presidential election to bring down Assad is only a slight possibility. The strongest one is the Kurdish card used by Turkey, Israel and the US. Regardless of what is overtly said to the contrary, these countries still want Assad’s removal.

With regard to the Iraqi Kurdish referendum promoted by the ex-President of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani for the 25th of this month, proposing a split from the central government and the creation of an independent state, there is strong local Iraqi opposition. The Iraqi Parliament voted against the referendum and gave the Prime Minister HaidarAbadi a free hand in keeping the country together. This referendum – supported by Israel, Turkey and the US – will be strongly contested by Iraq, Syria and Iran due to the millions of Kurds living within these countries.

Yes, Turkey supports an independent Kurdistan in Iraq (but not in Syria) because it will give Ankara total command of Kurdish oil, and bring more wealth to Turkey. But it will definitely bring more control, especially if Erbil leaders manage to include Kirkuk in Kurdistan. Such an attempt to merge may trigger a real war between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga.

Barzani would never dare to declare independence unless agreed by Ankara. Turkey is the only corridor for the Iraqi oil pumped by the Kurds to flow beyond Kurdistan to the rest of the World, including to Israel. Moreover, Turkey keeps military forces in several parts of Kurdistan and refuses to pull these out despite Baghdad’s repeated demands. Ankara may decide on an “educative expedition” into Kurdistan against the PKK. This cannot be ruled out, and would keep Turkish forces in that “new Kurdish state” for very long time. Barzani’s only way out is to put pressure on Baghdad, but stay within a single state to enjoy the protection of the Iraqi Army and other institutions.

Turkey, of course, distinguishes between the Iraqi Kurds in Kurdistan and the Syrian Kurds linked to the YPG/PKK (sworn enemies of Ankara). The Syrian Kurds are not only present in al-Hasaka but also in Afrin and Aleppo: they will have to negotiate with Damascus sooner or later.

On the other hand it is Israel that is fully behind the independence of Kurdistan-Iraq and Syria (for a number of reasons), though in fact Israel joined the camp of the losers, so the gains for Tel Aviv are slender:

-In Syria it has failed to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: it lost that battle despite its logistic, military and intelligence support for al-Qaeda and rebels in the south of Syria.

-Its vision of the destruction of the Syrian Army, engaged and exhausted in a very long war along with its allies (Iran and Hezbollah) did not come true.

Assad is today used to war and its consequences. He is leading a strong new Syrian Army (replacing the old version which used to sit in the barracks) now hardened to all kinds of harsh warfare and styles of fighting. Today the Syrian Army has surpassed all other armies in the Middle East (running their military drills and manoeuvres): the army of Damascus fully lived the war for 6 years, and won it. Tens of thousands are expected to join this Army very soon, considerably expanding it.

-Iran landed in Syria in 1982 to build the Lebanese Hezbollah with the consent of the late President Hafez Assad. Today, the war in Syria has allowed Tehran to have a substantial foothold in that country, where it has invested billions of dollars to maintain the viability of the various institutions, injecting men and weapons to prevent the regime from failing. Its presence will therefore increase after the war: matters of existence and principle link the two countries.

-Hezbollah increased its military experience and armament, recovering mountains, hills and cities. Today, the group is putting Israel on the defensive rather than on the offensive, creating a critical situation for Israel.

Thus, playing the Kurdish card is essential, and the issues it raises in the Middle East will be continually stirred up (and not just through the elections) if there is any hope of reviving another war-like situation or instability in the region. The losers of the war in Syria, who invested billions to see a regime change, would certainly be happy to inject even more money to see war engulf Assad-Iran-Hezbollah.

ISIS and al-Qaeda will remain as two forces not to be underestimated. They are capable of creating serious damage in Syria and Iraq. So the end of the Syrian war doesn’t necessarily mean stability in the Middle East: various items of unfinished business are waiting around the corner and will create surprises.













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