By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai
First Mosul, the undeclared Iraqi capital of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) fell. And now Raqqah, the Syrian Capital of the Caliphate has been liberated- but almost totally destroyed.US jets executed over 4,000 attacks killing 1920 civilians and 232 ISIS. More than 400 ISIS surrendered and around 462 were escorted with other civilians in buses towards the nearby Deir-Ezzour rural area under ISIS control. Nevertheless, the US forces show no intention of pulling out of Syria, even as the regular forces under Damascus’s command are advancing towards the last ISIS stronghold in albu Kamal–al Qaem following the liberation of al-Mayadeen city. The question remains: has Washington any interest in occupying any part of Syrian territory following the failure of the Iraqi Kurds referendum? The dream of creating a “Kurdish Iraqi state” has crashed, following the determination of the central government in Baghdad to disrupt it. The Prime Minister Haidar Abadi sent the security forces to take full control of all borders and cities that the Kurds occupied following ISIS’s control of most parts of northern Iraq in 2014 and is pushing the Kurds to the 2003 blu line limit.
Abadi’s move to send the Army to Kirkuk city did not surprise only the international community, but also the Marjaiya in Najaf. The Marjaiya learned about Abadi’s intention to stop the disintegration of Iraq but didn’t imagine – according to private sources – that Abadi was a political leader capable of asking government forces to take control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU-Hashd) formed by the Marjaiya were kept outside the struggle. The Prime Minister – who spent years hesitating, unwilling to fight corruption, and reluctant to attack local politicians – turned from one day to the next into a determined leader who surprised even the Kurdish leadership in Erbil.
Abadi interrupted the partition not only of Iraq but also of Syria, pushing the US leadership into a corner. In fact, the US doesn’t want to lose its relationship with the central government of Baghdad because Iran and Russia are waiting to take advantage of the minimum American pull out and any accompanying hesitation. In addition, the US is reluctant to lose Kurdistan, an autonomous Iraqi area Washington has considered since 1991 as its “spoiled child”. Nevertheless, America’s principle (“we don’t have friends, only common interests”) has prevailed, forcing it to give up its ally, the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani who rejected the US advice to postpone the referendum for 16 months.
The echo of the Abadi coup reached Syria: Damascus immediately warned the Syrian Kurds against approaching the rich oilfields of Deir-Ezzour and al-Mayadeen, where both the Kurds and the Syrian Army are operating against ISIS, on both sides of the Euphrates. Damascus’s patience with the Kurds will be exhausted if they go on hiding behind the US’s skirts, and if they rely on the US to protect them once the “war on terror” is over.
By insisting on the referendum and their independence, the Iraqi Kurds have offered themselves as wood and burned the privileges accumulated throughout the years in Iraq- all to no avail. They have also vaporised one of the US proxies – the Syrian Kurds – who no longer have the possibility of declaring the existence of their “state” (or federation) in what they call “Rojava”. No country bordering the Syrian Kurds (Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran) will accept the expression of any independence intentions, notwithstanding the presence of over 25 million Kurds in the Middle East.
Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Hezbollah are the first to be directly concerned to eradicate the extremist terrorists in Syria and in Iraq because they are the ones who suffered the most from it. There is no point for the US to hide behind the “war on terror” because these countries, since ISIS lost most of its territories, are today capable of dealing with it. The 2014 ISIS expansion in the Levant and Mesopotamia taught these countries a good lesson- to anticipate and deal with the causes that helped ISIS to grow so vigorously.
Nevertheless the continuing presence of these Takfiri elements represents an existential and ideological danger for them. A huge desert links the long borders between Syria and Iraq, and both countries can potentially become a refuge for Al-Qaeda and ISIS where they could regain their breath after the defeat in Syria and Iraq, and start all over again with new experience based on learning from previous mistakes.
Russia is also directly concerned for the presence of thousands of Russian speakers among jihadist groups who potentially represent a serious danger to Russia’s national security if these jihadists return home.
Therefore, the common interests between Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Russia force a sensibly motivated and continuous mobilisation to carry on the war against the jihadist Takfiri and eliminate terrorists. These countries will continue fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda to prevent jihadists’ Takfiri from occupying further territory, and also to dry up their source of finance.
Europe is in the close vicinity of the Middle East and the Jihadists, and is much more concerned than the US to eliminate the Takfiri jihadists. Since US analysts expressed their clear opinion in favour of ISIS, the terrorist group is apparently not an enemy of the US and therefore will not, as a priority, be eliminated: it is certainly helping to keep Iran, Hezbollah (and Russia) busy, fighting. The US puts its own interests above any other interests, including those of its European and Middle Eastern partners.
During the Barak Obama administration, Washington sent its forces to Syria to fight ISIS: after one and a half years, ISIS finances were not affected because its main (but not exclusive) revenue from oil production remained almost intact. It was only when Russia moved in in September 2015 and bombed ISIS oil tankers that the US became gradually more aggressive towards ISIS. US forces started a race with Russia and the Syrian Army to reach Raqqah and the energy sources in the north east and the south east of Syria before Damascus’s troops. But Russia, Damascus, Iran and its allies isolated the US military base in Tanaf, but kept another dozen US bases and airports in the far north-east out of action.
Now that ISIS holds less than 10% of the Syrian territory and that the Syrian Army is heading towards albu Kamal-alQaem, the last ISIS bastion in the country, the US is facing a situation which demands a clear decision: leave, or declare itself as an occupation force in the north-east of Syria. The UN mandate on the “war on terror” doesn’t give it legal cover to stay in Syria. Even though terrorism will probably always hit the Middle East, Europe and other continents (with varying intensity), fighting terrorism doesn’t give every country the right to send troops, establish bases, and occupy parts of another sovereign state.
Thus, the US forces will put themselves in an illegal position, allowing Syrian local resistance to fight them. The US and their proxies will find themselves totally surrounded:
-Turkey won’t allow the Kurdish Syrian YPG (a Syrian version of the PKK) to exist as a federation and has already divided Rojava in two, splitting al-Hasaka from Efrin (far north-west).
-Syria and Iraq won’t accept a Kurdish state and are already surrounding al-Hasaka by land, and with it the US forces, inside a kind of enclave.
-The US forces can be easily targeted by any friends of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, all operating inside al-Hasaka province.
Contrary to what the US believes, its forces won’t stay in Syria for decades, nor even for a few years. The US is in a position where its services are no longer needed in Iraq because the Iraqi Army has proved to be the best at fighting ISIS, fighting partition and even at accepting large human losses during its war against ISIS. Moreover, Prime Minister Abadi has shown his capability in preventing bloodshed among Iraqis when dealing with the separatist Kurds in Kirkuk (unlike Altun Kubri south of Erbil). In Syria, US services in fighting ISIS are no longer needed, because the Syrian army, supported by its allies and by Russia is more than enough to deal with what remains of ISIS. Any lingering stay by the US will expose it to a scenario similar to the deadly 1983 attack.
Iran won in Iraq because the partition of the country failed and the Iraqi security services, armed with strong ideology and adequate military equipment, are considered friendly, along with the political leadership. Iran benefitted from Kurdistan’s move to divide the country by standing with Baghdad, closing all borders with Kurdistan, and regaining Abadi’s confidence.
Iran won in Syria, and is exposing overtly its military presence and activity. A new local force has been created carrying the same ideology as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), ready to claim back the occupied Golan Heights. Syria is holding onto the “axis of the resistance” more than ever, particularly now that this same axis managed to defeat the other camp who had invested 6 years of war, pouring huge finance to divide Syria. Today Syria enjoys a stronger military capability than ever.
Iran’s main ally, Hezbollah, gained access to what is an enormous military base full of weapons extending from Lebanon to Iraq. Hezbollah was pushed outside its original boundary in Lebanon, and it has conducted military attacks over a military theatre five times larger than the entire surface of Lebanon. In consequence not one among Hezbollah’s political enemies in Lebanon will dare to confront it for many years to come.
Russia also won a permanent base in Syria, and is now looked at as a real superpower with an effective political role in the Middle East, which is creating a strong market for its weapons, used and tested in Syria. The Kremlin is today at the same level of rank as Washington, becoming the Mecca for world leaders, a position only the US benefitted from for decades.
All this US manna for Iran comes from the US’s regime change policy: the removal of Saddam Hussein and the attempt to remove Bashar al-Assad. Tehran should thank Washington for all the above, which is effectively contributing to the increase and improvement of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. In fact, all Iran needs to do is to shadow the US, with its clumsy foreign policy, and collect the results-which are all benefits. Iran is effectively saying to the US: thank you for your free gifts, but now go! You can leave the Levant and Mesopotamia to me!