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Scramble for Syria opens up disturbing scenarios

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 20, 2018

The US State Department issued a strong statement on March 19 following the fall of Afrin, the Kurdish city in northwestern Syria to the Turkish forces. The statement is highly critical of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin. It expresses concern over the humanitarian situation and of looting in Afrin by the occupation forces. Importantly, it alleges once again that the Turkish operation “has distracted from the ‘Defeat ISIS’ campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas. This is a serious and growing concern.”

The statement can be seen as an expression of sympathy toward the Kurds who suffered a crushing defeat in Afrin. This is the least that Washington could do to salvage its reputation among the Kurds. The US claims that it “does not operate in the area of northwest Syria, where Afrin is located. We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.” But Turkish President Recep Erdogan has contradicted the US stance of non-involvement in Afrin. He now alleges that the US tried to “deceive” Turkey. Erdogan said today in Ankara at a meeting of the ruling party,

  • “If we are strategic partners, you (US) will have to respect us and move along with us. You tried to deceive us. You sent 5,000 trucks of weapons there. You sent more than 2,000 trucks of ammunition there. We wanted weapons from you to buy with our money, but you did not give any to us. What kind of a strategic partnership or solidarity is this?”
  • “The U.S. spokesperson makes a comment and says, ‘We are concerned about the situation in Afrin.’ Where were you when we transmitted our concerns to you? Where were you when we said ‘let’s clean the terrorist organization from there?”

It is apparent that Washington is indulging in doublespeak. At any rate, Washington’s priority at the moment will be to pile pressure on Turkey over the chaotic situation in Afrin (which was captured by Turkish forces on March 18) and, in reality, to somehow dissuade Erdogan from extending the military operation to the northeastern region (east of Afrin), which are under the control of the Kurdish militia and the US forces.

Erdogan is keeping the Americans on tenterhooks as regards his next move. He asserted on Monday that Turkish troops would indeed press eastward, targeting territory where US forces are stationed, all the way into Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains. There is no reason to disbelieve him. The point is, there is massive popular support in Turkey for Erdogan’s muscular policy towards the Kurds – and for standing up to the US. In political terms, Erdogan can hope to exploit the wave of nationalism sweeping Turkey. The parliamentary and presidential elections are due next year in Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow and Tehran have kept quiet and left the field to Turkey and the US to throw brickbats at each other. They have reason to be pleased that the US is unable to protect the Kurdish militia, its key ally in Syria, from the Turkish assault. Besides, they are able to press ahead with their own operations against the extremist forces (that used to be previously aligned with the US and Turkey) in Ghouta in eastern Damascus and Idlib province in the extreme northwest.

Evidently, from the Russian and Iranian perspective, Erdogan is doing a magnificent job by undermining the US strategy in Syria to maintain an open-ended military presence. The Kurdish militia who are having an existential fight on their hands with the Turkish military are not going to be in a position to be the US’ proxies for very long.

On the other hand, Russia and Iran also remain wary of Turkey’s intentions, especially a Turkish attempt to create a ‘buffer zone’ in northern Syria. As it is, the US has carved out a huge swathe of land in northern Syria east of Euphrates, which comprises some of Syria’s best agricultural lands and water resources and over half of Syria’s entire oil and gas fields. (A trilateral Turkish-Russian-Iranian presidential summit is due to take place in Istanbul on April 4.)

Another complicating factor is that Russia has its own interests to pursue vis-à-vis Turkey and the Kurds. Then, there is also the overarching US-Russia competition to placate Turkey. All in all, the Syrian war is not ending as many observers had earlier envisaged, but is actually mutating into new forms. Read an insightful interview, here, with a leading expert on Syria, Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

March 20, 2018 - Posted by | Deception | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Word-perfect words, as usual, from MK Bhadrakumar!

    My head aches from all the machinations. But my heart still says (simplistically): Viva Syria — a sovereign, whole Syria (including the entirety of the Golan Heights)!

    (I must find time to link to Professor Landis’ interview….)

    Comment by roberthstiver | March 20, 2018 | Reply


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