Salih Muslim: The conspiracy against Öcalan and the Kurdish people has failed
Salih Muslim, a member of the PYD co-presidency council, said: “Every moment Leader Apo continues to remain under those conditions is a great shame for us.”
- SILTAN TEMO
- Saturday, 13 Feb 2021, 11:02
Reminding that the conspiracy forces wanted to destroy the Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan after 1990, PYD co-presidency council Member Salih Muslim underlined that “the Kurdish people have reached the mechanism to develop democracy in the Middle East. Those forces could not tear the head off the body. That is why the aggravated isolation imposed on the Leader has been going on since 2015. They do not allow a single word of the Leadership to come out, because under all circumstances he continued to lead the people and the Movement.”
PYD co-presidency council member Salih Muslim spoke to ANF about the anniversary of the international conspiracy which led to the capture of Öcalan.
What was the purpose of the forces involved in the international conspiracy?
First of all, we condemn the international conspiracy against Leader Apo once again on the 22nd anniversary. It is a dark day for the Kurdish people. The Kurdish people’s leader is still in their hands, and the conspiracy continues as long as his captivity continues. In this sense, we have to do everything we can. The conspiracy was made against all Kurds and peoples of the region in the person of the Kurdish people’s leader. In time, it became clear what the purpose of the conspiracy was and who planned it. In fact, it had already been mentioned and evaluated by the Kurdish people’s leader many times.
The peoples of the region needed democracy and freedom. Hegemonic powers wanted to rule these peoples as they wanted. In the 90’s they were talking about the redesign / restructuring of the Middle East. They were working on a restructuring plan in 1995 to consolidate their interests. These forces feed on conflicts and contradictions between peoples to achieve their interests. In this way, they would strengthen their rule over the peoples. The Kurdish people, on the other hand, were experiencing an awakening with the Kurdish Freedom Movement and was leading this process.
The Kurdish people actually served as a dynamo force for the people’s struggle for freedom and democracy. Of course, it was leader Abdullah Öcalan who provided all this and brought the people to this situation. Therefore, they wanted to eliminate him. The leadership was leading the peoples with his idea, philosophy, discourse and ideology. For this reason, it was an obstacle to the plans of the hegemonic powers.
After 1980, all peoples started to rise up and joined him. The Kurdish people tied all their hopes to this revolution and acted accordingly. There was both ideas and ideology and a force to mobilize this idea and ideology; and that force was the Kurdish people. For this reason, they first wanted to eliminate the Kurdish people’s leader and then dismantle the organizational unity formed within the Kurdish people. In this way, they would be able to rule the people as they wanted.
The biggest defenders of this conspiracy were international forces. The Turkish state was given the duty to be the guardian in this conspiracy. At that time, we remember Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit saying, ‘They dropped a bomb in our lap, we don’t know what to do’. The laws on Imrali today are neither the laws of the Turkish state nor the laws of Europe; are special laws. In fact, we cannot even speak of laws, because there is no law. The conspiracy was not successful. They could neither eliminate Leader Apo, nor split the Kurdish people. The conspiracy did not achieve the desired result, but it goes on. Of course, we also see this and we are fighting in this direction. The struggle of the Kurdish people continues.
How did the Kurdish people’s leader play the role of spoiling this conspiracy?
After 1990, their only effort was to destroy Leader Apo. The Leader, while protecting the movement and himself, carried the struggle to such a position that the Kurdish people have reached the mechanism to develop democracy in the Middle East. The Leader managed to send his defences to the people through its lawyers and courts. The enemy could not tear the head off the body. That is why the aggravated isolation on the Leader has been going on since 2015. They do not allow a single word of the Leadership to come out, because despite all circumstances he continued to lead the people and the Movement.
Therefore, the conspiracy is still going on. They want to prevent the Kurdish people from using their dynamism to lead the struggle for freedom and democracy, they want to eliminate this force. They can’t do that, however. The revolution taking place in Rojava is obvious. The leadership’s democratic nation project is being put in practice in Rojava. This project seems to be the best model for the people. For this reason, they are getting more and more nervous and increase their attacks. These attacks are against the democratic nation project. The democratic nation project will develop not only in Rojava, but throughout Syria and the Middle East.
What should be done to protect the Rojava Revolution and its achievements?
Of course, the more you claim, protect and struggle, the more success you will achieve. This is possible with the organization of the people. The victory of Kobanê was the result of this. Although there was not the level of organization we would like, there was some degree of organization. For this reason, the Kobanê resistance took place, it was claimed, it was successful. The more we expand this organization, the more we can include other peoples, the more successful will be this struggle.
However, there are many forces in Syria: America, Russia and other states and powers. We should never stay away from them. It is necessary to have a political experience and a political view. You have to meet and be in dialogue with them for your own benefit, just as they give and take for their own benefit. You will give and receive according to your own opinion and philosophy, but your door will also be open to everyone. The North East Syrian administration, has not interrupted dialogue with anyone until now. If we are to be hostile, let’s know why we are hostile, and if we are going to be friends, the same applies.
Our top priority task is the organization of peoples and change in mentality. If we can achieve this, it is possible to live within the framework of the democratic nation project with our own culture, beliefs and colours. At the same time, we should not forget that every moment that Leader Apo spent in such conditions is a great shame for us.
Syrian Kurds ready to accept U.S.-led talks with Turkey, commander says
- Feb 26 2021 01:06 Gmt+3
- Last Updated On: Feb 28 2021 04:00 Gmt+3
General Mazlum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spoke to Mutlu Çiviroğlu of Voice of America about recent developments in North and East Syria, often referred to as Rojava.
The transcript below has been translated and amended from MedyaNews for clarity.
I would like to ask your opinion about the new U.S. administration and especially your relations with U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS). I also want to ask about the operation you started against ISIS in Deir-Ez-Zor. And what situation is now in Rojava?
As you know, ISIS has not been defeated and their attacks continue. Recently, they targeted our civilian workers, and two women political leaders were martyred. As the attacks continued, we launched a major operation against ISIS.
The ISIS group consisted of six people and attacked our friends, we killed four of them, one of them managed to disappear and we caught the other one. Many other people were also arrested in the region. In general, I can say that the danger of ISIS continues and the terrorist organisation is trying to revive itself. They are coming from territory under the control of the Syrian regime, and Iraq. But with our operations with our allies from the US-led coalition against ISIS continue successfully.
The widespread opinion was that ISIS was defeated. Former U.S. President Donald Trump frequently made statements about the end of ISIS. What has happened now ISIS can launch attacks again? The U.S.-led coalition made statements that the alliance with you will continue. What role should U.S. politicians take against these attacks?
Coalition forces withdrew after Raqqa and Kobani were liberated from ISIS and the group benefited from this withdrawal and recovered. As I mentioned, they come to our region from territory under the control of the Syrian regime, and Iraq. The political future of the region has not yet been clarified, so ISIS benefits from that as well. In order to prevent the resurrection of ISIS, we need to first clarify the political future of the region. Coalition forces should continue their work. If they support the civilian administration in the region, we can wage a more effective fight against ISIS.
It is known that President Joe Biden and his administration are aware of the Kurdish problem. You said that the situation in Syria should be resolved politically. What are your political expectations from the new U.S. administration? What can this administration do differently from the past as part of the solution process in Syria?
We welcomed the new administration. We hope that the wrong policy in the past will be set right. We hope the United States will play an important role in the solution process in Syria. Following a solution, the Syrian regime should have a status in the regions we liberated from ISIS with the help of the coalition. The rights of the Kurdish people and the rights of other peoples in our region should be protected by law and the problems in Syria should be solved completely. We want Washington to conduct an effective policy on this issue.
You said that some mistakes were made under the previous administration. Trump’s desire to withdraw U.S. forces generated strong reactions in Washington and across America. What was the effect of the decision on you and on civilians?
There were some issues we dealt with during the previous administration. The people here, Kurds and Arabs, relied heavily on the U.S. forces, and this trust still exists. But this trust was damaged when the United States allowed Turkish forces to attack Serekaniye and Afrin.
We are trying to restore the trust between the U.S. forces and the people. Hundreds of thousands of people in Afrin had to leave their homes and now live as refugees. There were 90 to 95 percent Kurds in Afrin, but now that rate is around 30 percent. The Turkish state implemented demographic changes through Turkmen and Arabs.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Serakaniye and Gira Spa had to migrate during the attacks in 2019 and now they are staying in refugee camps and their condition is not good. They are waiting to return to their homeland. A new policy conducted in this new period should see people returned to their homes and regions returned to their natural state.
What can the new administration do concretely in a short time? If you had the opportunity to meet Biden, what would you request concretely?
We want the problems in the region to be resolved through dialogue. We ask the United States to assist this dialogue and to ensure peace in the region. We are waging a fight against terrorism here and they can support us against attacks from our neighbours, which is urgently needed. Unfortunately, the previous administration paved the way for threats to the region. This should not be repeated. In order for the struggle against ISIS to be effective, the United States has to provide support to the political administration here.
You talked about attacks from neighbours. Turkey says that Kurds in Syria pose a threat to its security. Are the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Kurds a threat to Turkey?
We have said this before, we pose no threat to Turkey. Turks know this better than we do. The Turkish state attacked our lands. We are not a party to the war waged by the Turkish state against other Kurdish forces. We want to solve the problems with the Turkish state through dialogue. I think the United States can play an effective role in advancing this dialogue, and we remain open to it.
So you are ready to respond positively to the Biden administration’s call for a dialogue with the Turkish state?
Of course. We have lands occupied by the Turkish state. We want to solve the problems with the Turks through dialogue, we are ready for dialogue and there is no serious obstacle to this. We want to solve problems without fighting.
White House National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan previously touched on the rights of the Kurds and called for a new settlement process between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Does the SDF see such a process positively? Would you take part in this process?
The truth is, the situation in all four parts of Kurdistan is interconnected. The Kurdish political movement has had a great impact in Turkey. It is difficult to have a solution in other parts without a solution in Turkey. The solution in Rojava is also related to the solution in Turkey. A solution initiated with (Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader) Abdullah Ocalan will have a positive impact on other parts, especially Rojava. This is the best method to solve the problem between the Kurds and the Turkish state.
Why do you think that such an initiative would be important for the safety of the American people? Why would the United States support a political solution in Syria?
If the problem is solved in our region, it will impact the world. We think that if the problem in northeast Syria is not solved, the problems in the whole country will not be solved. If there is no solution, ISIS and other elements will become stronger and continue to threaten the security of the American people.
I would like to ask about the situation of Yazidi Kurds and Christian minorities in the region. According to reports from Afrin, the situation is severe. What would you like to say about the current situation of Christians and Yazidis?
The representation of Christians and Yazidis in the SDF is high. ISIS and other Islamic radical groups attacked Yazidis and Christians. They were severely persecuted. They joined the SDF to protect themselves. Our people in Shengal were also subjected to persecution due to the attacks in Serakiniye and Afrin. Their villages were plundered and they faced the threat of genocide. Now they are living under pressure in other areas, some of them stay in refugee camps in our region. We know that Yazidi and Christian minorities are on the agenda of democratic organisations. They must protect the struggle of minorities.
You mention that the situation of the Kurds is interconnected. How are your relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (in Iraq)?
We have a close relationship with (Iraqi) Kurdistan, including growing commercial relations. The Kurdistan Regional Government (in Iraq) can provide political and commercial support to Rojava. They have (autonomous) status there and have experience and opportunities. Of course, Rojava needs their support. Some negotiations are happening, we want a stronger relationship. We know that the Turkish state wants Kurds to fight against each other. The Turkish state wants clashes between the forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces.
Despite this, the fact is that (Iraqi Kurdish) Peshmerga forces do not want to be part of such a game. We want the Kurdistan Regional Government to develop good relations with all parties, especially with Rojava.
How are your relations with the Syrian government? There have been some conflicts recently.
The Baathist regime has not changed its policy yet. They want the region to be same as before 2011 and don’t recognise Kurdish rights or the rights of other minorities. Our people immigrating from Shehba, Afrin, and Aleppo were encircled, placed under embargo, and had civilians arrested. We protected our people and then some problems occurred between us and the regime. We do not want to be at war with the Damascus government. We want to solve our problems through dialogue, for them to accept the rights of Kurds, and recognise our region.
Some criticised you and said you are unable to utilise the friendships of the United States and other great powers. How do you evaluate this criticism?
We get support from our American friends for the SDF and Rojava, and we are grateful for this. The United States has supported us in difficult times. U.S. politicians and soldiers supported our struggle. We are aware of some of our shortcomings. We want to be in close contact with the Unite States more frequently, especially in 2021. We want our political forces to negotiate with U.S. senators and other political forces. There were some bureaucratic obstacles in front of us, and we hope that those obstacles will be cleared.
Last year, the U.S. Congress invited you to visit. If there is an opportunity, do you have any plans to visit Washington?
We were at war at the time and there were some bureaucratic problems. But now is the time to discuss with the Americans. If I have the opportunity to meet with U.S. politicians, and if I can discuss the problems here with them face to face, I would of course be delighted to.
You were in contact with Trump several times. Have you ever had contact with Biden? Or do you expect contact in the coming period?
We talked with the new U.S. administration. I hope we will have a stronger relationship in the coming days and we can start talks at a higher level.
A new book titled”The Daughters of Kobani” was published recently. You also spearheaded the war in Kobani, which was important in letting the world know about Kurds. What would you like to say about these works and Kobani?
Many thanks to the author of the book, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She also interviewed me when she came here. I told her my views on Kobani. Friends in the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and SDF also helped her. She wrote a very important and valuable book. I think it is worthy of the women who resisted in Kobani. We are honoured with these works and wish them to increase.
The New York Times Whitewashes Turkey’s Occupation of Northern Syria: A Reality Check
by Debbie Bookchin
A recent article in the New York Times whitewashes the ethnic cleansing, displacement, and abuse of women that has brought misery to what was once a thriving, largely Kurdish region in Northern Syria. The Times piece was first published online as “Turkey’s Army Invaded Syria. Now, It’s a Lifeline for Millions There,” (February 16, 2021) before undergoing two headline changes and eventually landing on the front page of the print edition on February 17, 2021 as, “A Safe Zone That Can’t Protect Against Misery.” Violating basic principles of journalistic ethics—principles that include interviewing people on the receiving end of a war zone invasion—the article reads like a press release from the Turkish regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ignoring the enormous suffering endured by the thousands of original inhabitants of Afrin as a result of the Turkish-led occupation.
Prior to the Turkish invasion in January 2018, Afrin was part of the broader, Kurdish-led area known as Rojava or more formally, the Autonomous Administration of North and east Syria (AANES), whose fighters have been our best allies in the defeat of ISIS. The AANES, a region of about 5 million people, is a pluralist democracy that enshrines the rights of all ethnic minorities and has been especially effective in promoting women’s rights. Practices like forced marriage, polygamy, child marriage, and honor killings are outlawed. Laws mandate autonomous women’s councils, and the inclusion of at least 40 percent female representation in every legislative body, as well as female co-chairs in all administrative positions.
The invasion of Afrin by Turkey in January 2018, caused an estimated 180,000 people, mostly Kurdish, to flee their homes; most of them now live in internally displaced persons camps in other parts of Syria. Today, as Amnesty International has documented about those who remained: “Residents in Afrin are enduring a wide range of violations, mostly at the hands of Syrian armed groups that have been equipped and armed by Turkey (including) arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and confiscation of property and looting to which Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye.” The intentional destruction of Kurdish and Yezidi religious and architectural sites, forced demographic changes including relocation of Arab families to Afrin from other parts of Syria, and compulsory use of Turkish language, even in schools, have been widely documented and signal Turkey’s intent to annex the region permanently.
The most egregious violations by Turkey have been against women. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria describes Turkey’s war on women in Afrin as creating a “pervasive climate of fear which [has] in effect confined them to their homes.” The 25-page report adds: “Women and girls have also been detained by [Turkish-backed] Syrian National Army fighters, and subjected to rape and sexual violence – causing severe physical and psychological harm.” To humiliate and demoralize the population, the Turkish-backed militias have engaged in such practices as forcing detained men to watch the gang-rape of a female minor, the report notes, saying it amounted to “torture.” Women’s rights researchers have documented that in 2020 alone, 88 women and girls whose identities are known were kidnapped by Turkish-backed armed groups, a rate of approximately one incident every four days. This included six minor girls of whom five were still missing as of January 1, 2021.
The Turkish invasion of Afrin has been a humanitarian catastrophe. No amount of propaganda from the authoritarian regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can erase the evidence on the ground of the grotesque human rights violations being perpetrated by Turkey, and it is shameful that the Times so completely missed the real story.
The AANES has long sought political recognition and autonomy within the borders of Syria. If the U.S. truly stands for human rights—and particularly women’s rights—it is time for the Biden administration to demand the withdrawal of Turkish forces from this area, grant the AANES political recognition, and press for the AANES to have a seat at the negotiating table on the future of Syria.
Debbie Bookchin, a long-time journalist and author, is a member of the steering committee of the Emergency Committee for Rojava. She was in Rojava in March and April 2019.
Medya News speaks to SDF spokesperson and Catholic Assyrian Christian, Gabriel Kino
- January 29, 2021
Mr Gabriel Kino, spokesperson of the SDF, is a Catholic Assyrian and was a leading representative of the Syriac Military Council (SMC) during the early days of the Syrian Civil War. The SMC was established to protect the Assyrian Christian people from the attacks and persecution from the Islamic State and Jihadist groups that had established themselves in Syria.
He oversaw the formation of the Syrian Democratic Front, which included a wide section of Syrian society, including different Arab tribal and secular groups, Assyrian, Yazidi and Syriac groups, and the YPG and YPJ defence forces.He led military campaigns with the SMC and SDF and was one of the leaders that led the military offensive to liberate the ISIS HQ of Raqqa and went on to accept the defeat of ISIS at Baghouz in Deir Ezzor.
He very kindly agreed to an interview for Medya News.
Kino Gabriel has personally witnessed the sacrifice of his people and forces in the fight against ISIS in Syria and knows, first hand, the consequences of any invasion and attack by Turkey and their affiliated radical Jihadist gangs for the hard-won religious freedoms that the Autonomous Adiministration of North and East Syria (AANES) are respected for by religious rights groups around the world. I began by asking him about the threats to religious freedom following the ISIS attacks near Hasakah.
Following the murders of Hind Latif Al Khadir (Head of the Economy committee of Til Shayir) and Sa’da Faysal Al Hermas (Co-president of Til Shayir People Council) by forces affiliated to ISIS, what threat does Turkey’s continuous attacks on North and East Syria pose to the religious freedoms enjoyed by the people of the SDF-controlled Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES)?
Gabriel Kino: I think the threats that Turkey is making and the military operations that Turkey has launched so far in areas such as: Northern Syria; Afrin; around Manbij; the Northern countryside outside of Aleppo, and the area between Tal Abiyad and Ras al Ayn, has already threatened and reduced the religious freedoms of the peoples in these areas.
This reduction in religous freedoms is something they are already living through. The situation has already deteriorated for several religious groups in those areas occupied by Turkey including the Yazidis and the Christians including other prominent groups living in those areas, especially the Yazidis in the areas around Ras al Ayn and Afrin. And also the other Christian communities and groups based around Ras al Ayn and also other Kurdish Christian groups who were living in Afrin.
Of course, the continous threats made by Turkey are adding to the problem of people’s fears of a new military operation. And yes, I think, those threats is mostly problematic for those groups such as the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis the Armenians, and others who live in North and East Syria.
Of course, it also affects the Arab population also, although the other groups are mainly feeling more threatened because the Turkish military threats are directed specifically against them. On the other hand, the groups who are supported by Turkey, which are known for their terrorist and extremist radical mentality, they pose a threat for those groups in particular of North and East Syria in particular, we have witnessed what they have done. We have seen how these groups, including Jabat al Nusra and ISIS have been part of the military operations and attacks launched by Turkey and part of the groups and militias supported by Turkey.
It is widely recognised that the AANES has been able to build a tolerant inclusive society in NE Syria, unparalleled in the Middle East, promoting and enjoying religious freedom, gender equality, and human rights. Do you think that this model could be a positive example for the wider region?
Gabriel Kino: I think the democratic administration is really a unique example and experience in the Middle East. Different groups that previously had problems with each other have been able to come together, work together in order to make this administration work. This is completely unique, and I think we can take this positive example and look for where we can apply it to other parts of the Middle East and other parts of Syria so other groups can benefit.
I think this way of administration could potentially be a solution for the Syrian crisis in general. Of course, I think we need more work and more support in order to be more inclusive and more able to develop our political and administration experience, but again I think the work that has been done is great.
And with the support from democratic countries and Europe I think we can make the administration even better than what we have now.
Despite almost daily attacks by the Turkish state on NE Syria, especially recently around the town of Ain Issa, and the recent indiscriminate bombing of Tel Rifaat with civilian deaths, we do not hear condemnation from any of the anti-ISIS coalition members that the SDF have been fighting with, nor from Russia, which is supposed to be a guarantor of the ceasefire agreed last year. How do you interpret this silence?
Gabriel Kino: I think it is safe to say that it is not just about North and East Syria. I think it is the worst Syrian situation that has been governed so far by complicated relations and complicated intersections of global and regional interests/powers and governments involved in the Syrian crisis.
I think this is one of the main reasons there is so direct condemnations of Turkey for their attacks on North and East Syria.
Lastly, are you able to give us any indication on the progress of any talks with the Syria government on any possible negotiated agreement on autonomy and protections of religious freedoms, hard-won since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War?
Gabriel Kino: I think mainly and have to say that this is not my area of expertise or knowledge. I think it is a question for the political administration, but as far as I have information there isn’t really any progress in the talks.
There have been several attempts to have mutual talks or talks that were to be mediated by Russia but I think so far they have not worked out.
I think in the future we will see more progress and development but again I think this question is better suited for the Syrian Democratic Council or the Executive Council of the Administration of North and East Syria.
Syria: Are water supplies being weaponized by Turkey?
Around 1 million people are suffering from water outages in the Al-Hasakah region
Around 1 million people in the Kurdish-governed region of Al-Hasakah in Syria’s northeast have again had their water supply cut off — as they have around 20 times in the past 12 months.
“This is a humanitarian disaster,” Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch, told DW. As of this Sunday, some parts of the region are experiencing the eighth straight day without water.
Problems with the supply from the nearest water station, Alouk, have been growing since Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel proxies took charge in October 2019, after the so-called Operation Peace Spring that targeted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the region. While the water station has been under Turkish control since then, it relies on the SDF-controlled Mabrouka Electricity Station for its power. Turkey’s objective behind Operation Peace Spring was to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) wide “safe zone” under Turkish control inside Syria.
Water from tanks is not only up to three times more expensive but also of inferior quality, leading to diseases
“Since then, a cornerstone of humanitarian capabilities has been repeatedly cut off, and water outages create ramifications across the entire population,” Kayyali told DW.
Syria claims that Turkey is behind the water outages, and accuses Turkey of having a major interest in destabilizing the region with the (mainly Kurdish-Syrian) population of around 1 million in cities such as Al-Hasakah, more than 45 villages and many official and unofficial refugee camps. Officially, Turkey doesn’t take any responsibility for the repeated outages and claims they are due to technical issues.
“I have to note that Turkey denies the accusation of cutting water to the region and says the Alouk station has merely been under maintenance and faces a lack of electricity from a dam not under Turkish control,” Guney Yildiz, a political analyst and IPC-Stiftung Mercator Fellow at the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW.
“On the other hand, Turkey openly declares its intention [in Turkish media — Editor’s note] to eradicate the administrations set up in northeast Syria and is most probably willing to use various means to accomplish that. Destabilizing the region is part of that strategy,” Yildiz added. Watch video 02:08
Turkey’s public position on the northeastern Syrian administrations remains unclear. DW contacted the head of media and communications for the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, for clarification, but has received no response so far.
“The threat of an independent Kurdish region near Turkey is an idea that may encourage more uprisings from within Turkey’s sizable Kurdish population, so Erdogan is looking to prevent a Kurdish state in Syria,” Charles Flynn, a researcher at the region’s Rojava Information Center, told DW.
Flynn considers fears of an independent Kurdish state as one of three reasons. “With the creation of Turkish-backed militias that recruit from extremist groups such as ISIS, Erdogan can’t have these militants come home to Turkey and start operating. And economically, war is always good for the economy, and the Turkish economy hasn’t been doing so well with the US sanctions and the COVID-pandemic,” he said.
Humanitarian crisis amid pandemic
The latest overview from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Syria, dated January 12, reported 12,462 COVID-19 cases. Some 8,227 cases were reported from northeast Syria, as of January 9.
“Access to water is all the more critical in [the] context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN continues to advocate to the relevant parties to ensure the provision of water from Alouk in line with international humanitarian law, and across Syria, to ensure that all civilians have access to basic services,” Danielle Moylan, OCHA’s spokesperson, told DW. Watch video 09:44
As early as last March, UNICEF’s representative in Syria, Fran Equiza, warned of the consequences of leaving 1 million people without water and relying on temporary solutions, particularly in times of a pandemic. “The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk. Hand-washing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Temporary responses organized by local authorities and human rights organizations, such as tankers carrying water to surrounding villages, are no real substitute. The water is more expensive, of a lower quality and is not suitable for drinking.
“This issue is difficult to solve without international intervention to end this human suffering for the people in those areas,” Taha Odeh Oglu, a researcher of Turkish affairs and international relations, told DW.
As of Friday afternoon, Alouk’s water station is reported to have started operating again. However, it will take up to three days for the water to arrive to the people in the Al-Hasakah region.
Why Is America Still In Syria?
Trump brought chaos to a region already on the brink, and the unintended consequences of his actions will reverberate for years to come.
(U.S. soldiers patrol near an oil production facility in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah Province; Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
In September 2020, a Syrian rebel group called the Hamza Division showed up in an unexpected place: the disputed post-Soviet territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, 600 miles from Aleppo. The rebels had been offered $1,500 per month each to fight for Azerbaijan against Armenia in the two countries’ border war over that disputed territory, several different news outlets reported.
Sayf Bulad, commander of the Hamza Division, has an interesting past. He served as a commander in a CIA-backed rebel group, appeared in pro–Islamic State propaganda, trained with the U.S. military, and fought other U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria on behalf of the Turkish government. Now he was helping two former Soviet republics fight each other for money.
Bulad’s story is a symbol of the chaotic U.S. policy toward Syria and its unintended consequences.
U.S. policy toward Syria was torn between two often-clashing goals during the Obama administration: The CIA and State Department were focused on ending the Assad family’s decadeslong rule, while the U.S. military was trying to crush violent religious extremists such as the Islamic State.
President Donald Trump inherited this awkwardly stitched-together policy and added in an element of chaos. The president himself said he wanted to end “endless wars” and claimed he was ready to pull U.S. forces out of Syria at the first opportunity. But he hired a collection of hawkish advisers who thought of Syria as a battlefield on which to make Iran and Russia bleed.
“He hasn’t been able to bring American troops home, because his own bureaucracy resists him,” says Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “He never set up a bureaucratic process to actually implement what he wants to do.”
The result has been a disaster.
In 2018 and 2019, Trump ordered U.S. forces out of Syria, only to walk back the order both times. The Kurds have been left in a deadly limbo, unable to count on U.S. protection from Turkey but also blocked from looking to outside powers for help. Meanwhile, American troops have found themselves in increasingly dangerous confrontations with their Russian counterparts in the country.
U.S. policy has not only failed to stop the conflict; it has helped prolong it, leaving millions of Syrians at the mercy of White House palace intrigue. President-elect Joe Biden will have to find a way to extract the United States from Syria without reigniting the civil war—or getting sucked back in.
‘The Time Has Come’
The United States began backing Syrian rebels because many in the Obama administration believed that they could help quickly bring down an oppressive tyrant. Instead, the U.S. intervention fed into a bloody, yearslong international conflict.
U.S.-Syrian hostility dates back decades. Syria is a close ally of Russia and Iran and helped support the insurgents during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But direct U.S. involvement in Syrian internal politics began with the Arab Spring.
As in other Arab countries at the time, Syrian activists rose up in protest against corruption and political repression. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cracked down with brute force. Part of the Syrian army deserted, and the uprising became a full-blown civil war.
U.S. officials “looked at Bashar al-Assad as a hapless dictator who was not going to survive any of this,” says Frederic Hof, who served as an envoy for Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations at the time. President Barack Obama declared in August 2011 that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” although he also made it clear that “the United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria.”
Nevertheless, in an effort to hasten Assad’s end, the Obama administration imposed economic sanctions banning nearly all trade with Syria. The Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush administrations had previously imposed some sanctions on the Syrian government for supporting terrorism, but the new sanctions put the entire country under a blockade.
Other countries lined up more forcefully behind the anti-Assad opposition. Saudi Arabia, seeking to hurt Assad’s ally Iran, sent arms to the rebels. So did Turkey and Qatar, who saw the uprisings of the Arab Spring as a way to increase their own influence.
In 2013, Obama gave the CIA a green light to join in directly arming Syria’s rebels. Many details of the “Timber Sycamore” program remain classified, but it reportedly cost billions of dollars over four years. Assad’s forces lost control of much of the country in this time.
Hof and Robert Ford, the last U.S. envoy in Syria, claim that the U.S. arms program was not a decisive factor. It was “overwhelmed by support provided by regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” Hof says. Other experts, including Stein, disagree. In particular, they say, U.S.-made anti-tank rockets played a key role in helping the rebels push back the Syrian military.
But the regime did not fall.
“Rather than Bashar capitulating,” Stein explains, “he said, ‘I’m going to the Russians and the Iranians'” for help. “It was the boomerang of the success of the CIA program.”
Ford had believed early in the conflict that Assad could not win a war of attrition—and that the opposition could convince Assad’s allies in Russia and Iran to stay out of the fight. This prediction turned out to be incorrect. Iran soon began sending military advisers, volunteers, and mercenaries to back Assad. By late 2015, Russian jets and combat troops were also in the country.
“We made a terrible, terrible analytical mistake,” says Ford.
Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime eventually retook most of Syria’s major cities through years of brutal siege warfare. As many as 200,000 civilians died in the process, in addition to the tens of thousands who perished in Assad’s prisons during this period, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights and the British-funded Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The chaos also allowed religious fundamentalists to take a prominent role in the Syrian opposition. Syrian nationalist rebels vetted and backed by the United States fought alongside sectarian Islamist groups.
“We effectively created auxiliaries to these hardline groups that were taking territory,” Stein says. “Even though the hardliners were smaller in number, they were more effective.”
These “openly sectarian figures…just scared the hell out of Syrian minorities, who as a result stuck with Assad,” explains Hof, who resigned from the government in 2012 and now teaches at Bard College.
Religious fundamentalists became especially powerful in Eastern Syria, where U.S. military intelligence warned in August 2012 that Al Qaeda in Syria was going to “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” according to a declassified report.
At the same time, Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority was starting to take up arms. They were led by a left-wing guerrilla group called the People’s Defense Units (YPG).
The YPG began to clash with Al Qaeda, whose Syrian branch broke off to form the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in early 2014. The Kurdish militants sought autonomy for their region under a secular system of self-rule, while Al Qaeda and later the Islamic State wanted to establish a pan-Islamic theocracy—just as the U.S. military intelligence report had warned.
U.S. diplomats were flying blind when it came to the region, according to Ford, now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. American intelligence agencies had not even been able to provide him with “two pages” on the political dynamics of northeastern Syria. But pressure was building on Obama to act, especially as the Islamic State executed journalists on tape and began a genocide against the Yazidi minority in neighboring Iraq.
The administration did not really understand which factions it could work with in Syria, according to Alexander Bick, then the director of Syrian affairs at the White House National Security Council. But eventually, the American military saw that the YPG was drawing Islamic State fighters “like a magnet” to the besieged northern Syrian city of Kobanê in late 2014. The United States opened a line of communication with the Syrian Kurds through intermediaries in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the YPG began helping direct U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State.
At the same time, the U.S. military was trying to work with other Syrian rebel groups. It spent $500 million on a program to train and equip a new army of pro-America, anti-Assad fighters. The results were disastrous. The first batch of fighters was quickly defeated and robbed by Al Qaeda in July 2015. Other alumni of the program, including the Hamza Division, went on to fight as mercenaries throughout the region—turning up, eventually, in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We would hear, ‘I have 5,000 men’…and it turned out there would be like 20,” said former Middle East envoy Brett McGurk during a October 2019 speech at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Or the forces that we wanted to work with were so riddled with extremists that our military repeatedly said, ‘There’s no way we can work with these people.'”
Finally, the U.S. helped the YPG form a coalition with Assyrian Christian and Arab fighters called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). With minimal U.S. involvement—mostly in the form of military advisers and air support—the coalition sliced the Islamic State into pieces.
SDF fighters found themselves at the gates of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, by October 2016.
Obama had launched two interventions in Syria. The first, a covert attempt to overthrow Assad, failed miserably. The second, the war against the Islamic State—which sought to fix problems partially created by the first—succeeded only when the administration set limited goals, employed modest means, and relied on a campaign led by locals.
‘Orderly Transfer of Power’
Trump may have criticized America’s interventions abroad during the 2016 election, but his administration picked up almost exactly where Obama had left off. McGurk stayed on as the White House’s point man for military operations in Syria and Iraq, and Trump signed off on his roadmap, with a few important adjustments.
The new administration launched airstrikes against pro-Assad forces in April 2017 and April 2018 in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians. Trump saw himself as reestablishing a “red line” that Obama had muddled.
Trump also started backing the YPG, who were still the most effective fighters in the SDF, more directly. American weapons flowed to the Kurds, while about 400 U.S. Marines joined the front lines in Raqqa, the first-ever conventional U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. “Donald Trump wanted to end the war in Syria as fast as possible,” says Stein. “That’s why he signed off on arming the YPG directly.”
The international coalition declared victory at Raqqa in October 2017 and moved on to hunt down the remnants of the Islamic State in the oil-rich, Arab-majority rural province of Deir al-Zor, Syria. The campaign there, which dragged on for more than a year, was temporarily put on pause when Turkey invaded the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January 2018. American officials described the Kurds’ mini-war with Turkey as a “distraction,” but the conflict would later become a major headache for the United States.
Trump then began to talk about withdrawing from Syria—while at the same time escalating against Iran.
In April 2018, the president appointed longtime hawk John Bolton as his national security adviser and promoted CIA Director Mike Pompeo to secretary of state. Both saw Iran rather than the Islamic State as America’s greatest enemy in the Middle East. They began a “maximum pressure” campaign meant to roll back Iranian influence across the region, which included forcing Iranian troops out of Syria.
Pompeo put two hawkish officials in charge of Syria policy: James Jeffrey, a veteran cold warrior who had served as U.S. ambassador to both Turkey and Iraq, and Joel Rayburn, a retired Army officer who had helped advise the U.S. military “surge” in Iraq.
McGurk supported brokering a peace deal between the Syrian Kurds and the Russians, but he met opposition from the new faction of Iran hawks in the administration. Jeffrey even asked the Kurds not to make a deal with Assad, telling them to rely instead on U.S. protection, the Daily Beast later reported. The hawkish faction also saw the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces as a “terrorist group,” as Bolton put it.
The YPG was close to an insurgent group in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ironically, U.S. diplomats had predicted confidently in November 2007 that the Syrian Kurds would “not rally around the extremist tendencies of the PKK,” according to a cable later published by WikiLeaks. But in fact, both the PKK’s “libertarian socialist” ideology and actual PKK veterans held enormous influence over the Syrian Kurdish rebellion.
By 2018, Turkey was extremely unhappy with the growing power of the SDF, which it saw as an extension of the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got Trump on the phone to complain about it in December 2018. Trump, eager to fulfill a campaign promise to bring American troops home, agreed to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, which would leave Turkey free to invade. Photo: The nearly deserted Syrian city of Kafranbel, south of Idlib, during a pro-regime offensive; Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images
That decision set off a bomb within the administration. Many officials felt blindsided by the sudden announcement and anxious about “betraying” the SDF to Turkey. McGurk quit in frustration. So did Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Bolton, Pompeo, Jeffrey, and Rayburn stayed, however. The Iran hawks were now in full control.
The hawks began to work on an agreement called the “safe zone,” a project to let everyone have a cake and eat it, too. The deal would bring Turkish troops into northern Syria as part of an international peacekeeping force, which could push the Kurdish YPG away from the border. American forces would stay in the short term to help implement the plan.
“While we played this string out, or developed a better idea, which might take months, we had a good argument for maintaining U.S. forces,” Bolton later wrote in his memoir. He added that he had hoped an “orderly transfer of power” from U.S. forces to Turkish troops would prevent Assad, Iran, and Russia from retaking northeastern Syria.
Turkey and the United States finally agreed to a deal in August 2019, and the SDF coalition dismantled its fortifications along the border with Turkey.
Trump’s advisers were hoping they could keep U.S. forces in Syria to fight Assad without angering Turkey—all while appearing to bring American troops home. Bolton wrote in his memoir that he was “deliberately vague” to both Trump and the media when it came to the number of Americans that would be necessary to implement the safe zone.
In an interview he gave to DefenseOne shortly after resigning from the State Department following the 2020 election, Jeffrey admitted that he had been “playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” As part of that effort, U.S. military leaders and Bolton pushed to count U.S. forces at Al-Tanf, a remote desert base far from the SDF-controlled zone, separately from the rest of the U.S. deployment to Syria.
Trump wanted out of Syria, but instead of organizing an orderly withdrawal, his advisers tried to take the fight against Assad out of the public eye.
As part of an effort to resurrect the anti-Assad rebellion, Trump administration officials had pushed the SDF to work with Turkish-backed Islamists against Assad. The effort didn’t go well. In one tense September 2019 meeting, according to a report from The National Interest, Rayburn screamed and broke a writing utensil in frustration after Syrian Kurdish officials refused to join forces with the Islamic hardliners.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, was publicly agitating to expand the safe zone. He got his wish and more during an October 6, 2019, call with Trump, when the U.S. president gave him a green light to invade Syria outright. It remains unknown what exactly the two leaders said, but the White House announced immediately afterward that “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.”
American forces had dismantled the SDF’s anti-tank fortifications as part of the safe zone deal two months earlier, rendering the Syrian Kurds defenseless. Now the United States was ushering in Turkish tanks and Turkish-backed militants.
Over 100,000 Syrians fled the invasion. They had seen the same forces unleash chaos, mayhem, and ethnic violence on Afrin a year earlier.
“I’ve met numerous people who were displaced when Turkey invaded in October  and personally blame Trump,” writes Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson -International Center for Scholars, from Syria.
The Trump administration was willing to allow Turkey to invade northern Syria. But the administration did not want the Syrian Kurds to turn to Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime for help, which would undo years of efforts to roll back the influence of Assad and his allies. U.S. policy, in other words, was not only to refuse to protect the Kurds but also to deny them protection from others.
A U.S. diplomat tried to convince SDF leader Mazloum Abdi to hold off on asking Russia to step in. Turkish forces were only going to move 30 kilometers into Syria and the invasion would stop after that, he claimed.
The Kurdish general was not having it. “You will not protect us and you won’t let anyone else protect us. Your presence has turned everyone else in Syria against us,” Abdi responded, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable leaked to CNN. “Either you stop this bombing [by Turkey] on our people now, or move aside so we can let in the Russians.”
The SDF signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Assad regime soon after, allowing Assad’s troops to join the fight against the Turkish invasion. Russia and Turkey then agreed to a safe zone of their own—along the same lines as the U.S. proposal—and the Syrian Kurds watched as Russian troops moved into their region as protection against the Turkish Army.
The Trump administration had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead of planning for an orderly U.S. withdrawal and encouraging the Syrian Kurds to negotiate a peace deal with other factions in the country, Trump’s advisers tried to use the SDF to continue their anti-Assad campaign. Their efforts ended not with a Kurdish-led rebellion against Assad but with the Kurds looking to Assad and his allies to shield them from their archrival Turkey.
‘Take the Oil’
Trump’s pullout of Americans from Syria following his deal with Erdoğan was short-lived. U.S. troops eventually moved back in, including to areas near the Turkish border now guarded by the Russians. Trump repeatedly claimed that their mission was to “take the oil” or guard the “oil region.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and other hawks had used the promise of oil profits to sell Trump on their plans to keep U.S. forces in the region, according to Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which lobbies for the Syrian opposition in Washington.
“If you want to feed the baby medicine, you put the medicine in candy or something. That’s what happened with the oil,” Moustafa told me in November 2019. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you want to take the oil? Yeah, take the oil. We’ve got to take the oil.’ So that ended up becoming the reason that he would keep anyone there.”
The actual oil in the region is not worth much. Syrian petroleum production was falling even before the civil war, and the Islamic State at its peak only made about $1.5 million per day from Deir al-Zor’s wells.
But its location is important. Deir al-Zor lies right along the line of contact between the SDF and the Assad regime. By holding that “oil region” as well as the U.S. base at Al-Tanf, U.S. forces can surround Iran’s military supply lines on two different sides. This makes Iranian forces in Syria vulnerable to an attack by U.S. forces or allies.
Assad is also sensitive about the oil, as his regime has had trouble meeting its people’s fuel needs. Russian mercenaries attacked the SDF on Assad’s behalf in February 2018 to try (unsuccessfully) to take the oil fields in Deir al-Zor.
To make matters more complicated, foreign companies are forbidden from dealing with the oil under European and U.S. economic sanctions. So the Syrian Kurdish oil ministry has been forced to rely on smugglers, whose leaky storage tanks and backyard refineries have become a serious threat to public health.
The situation looked as if it could change in April 2020, when the U.S. Treasury Department issued a special sanctions exemption to a little-known company called Delta Crescent Energy. Jeffrey and Rayburn then met with politicians in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan to discuss opening a route for Delta Crescent Energy to export the oil, The New Republic later reported.
Graham and Pompeo finally went public with those discussions during a Senate hearing in July 2020. “I talked to General Mazloum yesterday, with the SDF,” Graham said. “Apparently they’ve signed a deal with an American oil company to modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria. Are you supportive of that?”
“We are,” Pompeo responded. “The deal took a little longer, senator, than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation.”
Delta Crescent Energy partner James Cain told Politico that the company’s goal was “to get the production back up to where it was before the civil war and sanctions.” But there was a problem: The Syrian Kurds, who control that land, were not completely on board. Ahed Al Hendi, a Syrian-American activist who works with the SDF, called Pompeo’s announcement premature. Abed Hamed al-Mehbash, the Arab co-chairman of the SDF’s civilian administration, told local media only that he planned to “study requests by many Russian and American companies.”
Mazloum Abdi, the Kurdish general, later confirmed to Al-Monitor that Delta Crescent Energy was involved in northeastern Syria but said that talks were “advancing slowly.”
The SDF knew that announcing an oil deal with America—and no one else—would be provocative. Indeed, it has been. Assad’s foreign ministry quickly denounced the agreement as a scheme to “steal Syria’s oil” and “an assault against Syria’s sovereignty.”
In August 2020, an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at a U.S.-controlled oil field in Syria. That same week, pro-Assad gunmen got into a shootout with U.S. troops at a checkpoint in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.
The week after, a Russian armored truck rammed into a U.S. humvee, injuring at least four Americans. Russian and U.S. troops in Syria had seen tense encounters with each other before, but this was the first violent clash between the two armies.
Russia and Iran did not tie the clashes directly to the oil deal, but the message was clear: A more entrenched U.S. presence in Syria would meet harder resistance.
According to a September 2020 report by Eva Kahan at the Institute for the Study of War, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have also been secretly backing Arab insurgents against the SDF in Deir al-Zor. Russia hopes to use the instability “to compel senior SDF leadership to accept a new deal in Syria that constrains U.S. forces or ejects them,” Kahan wrote. In other words, the continued U.S. presence has induced Russia to play good-cop, bad-cop with the Kurds.
Several local leaders have already died in mysterious shootings. In response to the violence, U.S. forces have beefed up their presence in Syria, deploying Bradley Fighting Vehicles and advanced radar systems in September.
One bad decision after another has led to the current situation. The failed U.S. effort to take out Assad helped open the space for the Islamic State, which was only defeated when the U.S. pivoted to supporting Kurdish forces. Instead of allowing the Kurds to consolidate their gains and negotiate with Assad, the U.S. tried to use them as proxies against Assad and to make a quick buck from their oil. The situation has angered both Turkey and Assad’s allies, causing them to set aside their differences and turn their sights on pushing out the U.S. presence.
National security officials kept pushing grandiose goals even as U.S. leverage crumbled away. “This isn’t a quagmire,” Jeffrey said at a May 2020 event at the Hudson Institute. “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.” He later praised “the stalemate we’ve put together” as “a step forward” in the region.
As Rayburn explained at a June 2020 event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Trump officials think they can use sanctions to “deny the [Assad] regime access to international financial markets until a political solution can be reached.” Pro-Assad and opposition negotiators have been meeting in Geneva to work on a new Syrian constitution, although the SDF and the Kurds have never been included in those talks.
But Ford—the former U.S. envoy who learned the hard way that Iran and Russia were unlikely to abandon their interests in Syria—is skeptical that U.S. economic sanctions will be enough to pressure Assad into accepting anything. “I think we are trying to do something with tools that will not deliver the results we want,” he says. “They can sanction the hell out of the Assad government. He doesn’t give a shit about his people!”
Syrians have faced massive inflation, fuel shortages, and breadlines over the past few months, in addition to a spiralling coronavirus crisis. (A banking crisis in nearby Lebanon is partially to blame for their woes.) But the U.S. is unlikely to lift the economic pressure: Congress passed even more sanctions aimed at deterring foreign reconstruction investment under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019.
The Biden administration may not change other aspects of the strategy, either.
Antony Blinken, the president-elect’s nominee for secretary of state, gave a speech to the Meridian Group in May 2020 outlining his approach toward Syria. “Any of us—and I start with myself—who had any responsibility for our Syria policy in the last administration has to acknowledge that we failed,” he said. “We failed to prevent horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people, internally in Syria and of course externally as refugees. It’s something that I will take with me for the rest of my days.”
And yet his prescription was more of the same.
Blinken claimed that the United States still has “points of leverage,” including troops on the ground near oil-rich regions and the ability to marshall resources for Syria’s reconstruction, that could lead to better outcomes next time around. He argued that U.S. leaders should demand “some kind of political transition that reflects the desires of the Syrian people” and said that it was “virtually impossible” to imagine normalizing relations with Assad’s government.
Hof, another Obama administration alum, believes that the United States can turn the SDF-held zone into “an attractive alternative to Assad” for all Syrians. U.S. diplomats could push for this new government to take over Syria’s seat at the United Nations while U.S. forces stay to carry out a “stabilization” mission and “keep the Iranians and the regime and the Russians out.” (“We also have the ability to respond militarily to the regime with great effect and force if it resumes a program of mass civilian homicide,” Hof says. “We can do a lot of damage with cruise missiles.”)
But Ford wants America to focus on the “only really useful things we can do” at this point: to help refugees fleeing the civil war and to “negotiate with the Russians some kind of deal” that would allow the Kurds to govern themselves in peace.
Ford has recently taken a liking to the writing of Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War who later became a critic of the war effort. “Vietnam was a problem that ultimately we could not fix,” Ford says. “That’s kind of where I’m at with Syria right now.”
A Year for Building Stability and Peace
By: Sinam Mohamad On: January 15, 2021
During the year 2020, North and East Syria faced a wide variety of challenges — war, occupation, terrorism, and instability, a sharp economic downturn, a global pandemic, and more. However, we have met these challenges with determination and commitment to our people. We have acted not only for our own people, but to protect the world from the global threat of ISIS terrorism, and to act as a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East. Our hearts still beat with the desire to bring democracy, peace, stability, equality, and prosperity to the Middle East. We are still standing — it is the strength of the people of North and East Syria that is the rock we stand on.
That’s why 2021 is the year that the people of North and East Syria are calling upon the international community for inclusion in talks on the future of Syria. We ask to be recognized as a key player in the solution to the Syrian crisis. We are one-third of Syria. We call at minimum for the inclusion of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in the UN peace talks mandated by UNSCR 2254, as well as in the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
We have consistently acted through the Syrian crisis to benefit our people, the Middle East, and the world. We ask now for a seat at the table, a stable place in global coalitions, and acknowledgment as an indispensable part of a democratic Syria.
The challenges that we have overcome this past year in North and East Syria have been brutal. While most of the world faced the pandemic, we have faced the onset of Coronavirus with little to no trained personnel, few medical facilities, and a lack of testing machines and personal protective equipment. Our health infrastructure had been left in disarray following a decade of war and instability. But with an early unified response, including stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and public sanitization, we have kept our case numbers much lower than they may have been.
We have endured continued attacks and human rights violations by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias, while the rest of the world looked the other way, unable to admit that Turkey might commit these atrocities. The ongoing Turkish occupation of our region — Afrin, Serekaniye, and Gire Spi — has come with theft, murder, kidnapping, and other violations. Although Turkey may be losing favor in the West, it is still able to gain enough currency to continue to wage genocide and territorial expansionism against the Kurds and the people of North and East Syria. The people of North and East Syria have weathered Turkish attacks with the same determination with which we defeated the ISIS “caliphate.”
In 2020, our economy crashed as never before. The Syrian pound remains low. Our people are facing even higher rates of poverty. Hunger and food insecurity are soaring. We are committed to overcoming these challenges, and the administration of North and East Syria is working every day to provide food aid and water, stabilize prices of basic goods and necessities, and secure the medicines and nutrition that our people need.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is an authority governing about one-third of Syrian territory and five million people. The AANES provides daily services to millions of Syrians including education, electricity, water, sanitation, and security in North and East Syria. Its security forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are a steadfast ally to the United States and a partner to the US State Department’s Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Known in the West for its Kurdish Protection Units and women fighters, the SDF’s defeat of the ISIS “caliphate” was announced by President Trump in March 2019 and celebrated across the world.
So it is time that we were included in talks on our future. Inclusion in talks on the future of Syria will help us build upon our mission for a democratic Syria, receive humanitarian aid, expand the capabilities of our governance, and reduce the harm and suffering many are going through. It will help us rebuild after a decade of war and instability, much of which occurred as we battled the ISIS “caliphate” and kept the rest of the world safe from its violence and oppression. It will help us build momentum to recover our territory from the Turkish occupation, restore human rights and dignity to our region, and allow displaced people and refugees to finally return home.
We wish for our people, at the end of a long and bitter decade of hardship, to have the kind of stability and certainty they need to pick up the pieces of their lives. In many cases, these are pieces that they left scattered in all four corners of the world, as people became refugees elsewhere. They are still our people, whether they still reside in North and East Syria or whether they return there only in their dreams at night. So many long to return. Inclusion in talks on our future will give many the assurance they need to plan their return trip.
We wish to bring true democracy to a unified Syria, a Syria that respects the diverse communities, ethnicities, and religions of its people, a Syria that upholds equality, women’s rights, and human rights. We call for a decentralized Syria that allows communities to have power over their local governance, elected officials, and shared resources.
We are a necessary part of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict, we are a force for democracy that is growing brighter each day, and we are an integral part of the future of Syria.
Is the Islamic State coming back?
In the past few days there have been a series of large-scale ISIS attacks in Syria. Is the Islamic State coming back?
- ERSİN ÇAKSU
- Thursday, 14 Jan 2021, 09:51
After the many attacks in Syria and Iraq in the last few days, the question for many is whether these attacks announce a comeback of the Islamic State or whether there are other factors that prompted this increase.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ended the territorial rule of the so called ‘caliphate’ with the liberation of Baghouz in March 2019. Even if thousands of ISIS jihadists have been arrested, underground, clandestine structures have formed in Iraq and Syria. In provinces such as Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Hama in Syria and Kirkuk, Baghdad and Anbar in Iraq, these networks have been carrying out attacks from time to time. The frequency and quality of these attacks has increased significantly in the last few days.
Dozens of attacks since early December
Since December 2020, the Islamic State has carried out eight attacks in Deir ez-Zor, eight in Raqqa, ten in Hama, five in Homs and two in the Aleppo area. Shortly before the end of the year, ISIS bloodiest attack took place, leaving at least 28 Damascus soldiers dead on the road between Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) speaks of dozens of Syrian government soldiers and militia killed in ISIS attacks in the desert near Hama.
Damascus is not doing anything serious against ISIS
The presence of the Islamic State in the desert to the west of Deir ez-Zor, i.e. in the area under the control of the Assad regime, has never been a secret. However, as it is, the Damascus regime and its supporters have never waged a serious fight against the Islamic State presence there. According to observers, this was because of the plan to put pressure on US-backed groups in the Tanef region on the Jordanian border. It must also be noted that this region is on the route from Bukemal, the main route of Iranian militias to Iraq, something which led to a wide range of speculations.
Turkey’s Role in Reviving ISIS
The biggest factor that led to the resurgence of ISIS, however, was the invasion carried out by the Turkish state in northern Syria. Following this invasion, many ISIS members withdrew to the areas under Turkish rule. Many of them escaped from internment camps and prisons in northern Syria with the help of Turkey. The presence and reorganization of the Islamic State in the areas under Turkish control is an open secret.
SDF operations continued
The SDF carried out targeted operations against the Islamic State networks and were able to discover and neutralise several jihadist cells, especially in the Deir ez-Zor region. In 2020, two large-scale SDF operations and 25 targeted operations against these cells took place in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa provinces. Hundreds of alleged Islamic State members were arrested and large quantities of weapons were confiscated.
The areas under ISIS control
Siyamend Elî, press officer at the YPG, said in an interview with ANF that ISIS was tolerated by various forces involved in Syria, precisely in the places where the attacks are taking place, and added: “After the neutralisation of ISIS in Baghouz, it continued to exist mainly in al-Bukamal, Deir ez-Zor, Palmyra and Hama. In fact, some forces have allowed ISIS to continue to exist there in order to be able to use it as a tool in the future.”
ISIS used this phase as a time for training and reorganising and also to change its strategy, said the YPG representative adding: “ISIS is now carrying out many more surprise attacks and has increased its forces.”
Russia focused on Northern Syria
Elî recalled that Russia and Iran came to Syria allegedly “to protect Syrian territory”, but that both forces are not concerned with rural areas, but rather focused on “cities that are strategically important for them.”
Elî said: “Russia’s concentration on Til Temir and Ain Issa, and on Northern Syria in general, gave ISIS the opportunity to carry out these attacks.” He underlined that ISIS is not a priority for Russia. Israel’s attacks on Iranian armed forces have led to an increased of attacks by ISIS in these regions, said the press spokesman for the YPG, noting that the regime would not be able to wage war without Iran and Russia.
“Coordination with the SDF necessary”
Elî said: “Russia and the regime should coordinate with the SDF in the fight against ISIS and the small groups that appear under different names. If this does not happen, the situation east of the Euphrates will become very serious. That is why ISIS has been able to act by surprise against Russia and the regime.”
The attacks put a strain on the regional balance of power
Journalist Nazım Daştan is also following developments in the region closely and does not see the increase in ISIS attacks as a coincidental development. To speak about a revival of ISIS is “still a little too early” but, said Dastan: “ISIS is coming to the surface again. Even if I don’t think this will happen on a large scale, it can put a strain on the balance of power in the region. The attacks may increase further in the coming days.”
“The international powers neutralize each other”
Daştan pointed out that the United States and Russia continued to try to define their territories and thus determine the borders in Syria. This results in a space from which ISIS can carry out its attacks. Daştan said: “We can see this as a process in which the international powers and regional powers measure each other anew for the year 2021.”
As for the position of ISIS, Daştan added: “It will be difficult to revive such a discredited force on an earlier scale. However, ISIS can use this process, in which international forces are actually busy weakening each other, as an opportunity for its reorganization and strengthening.”
ISIS increases attacks in Raqqa as Turkish-backed forces shell Ain al-Issa
One expert noted that the Russia and Syrian regime attempts to push the SDF to withdraw from the Ain al-Issa area and shelling by Turkish-backed rebels is “giving ISIS cells greater ability to conduct attacks deep behind the SDF lines.”
Wladimir van Wilgenburg January 12 2021 02:05
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The so-called Islamic State has claimed seven terrorist attacks in Syria’s Raqqa province in the past ten days, amid increased shelling of Kurdish-led security forces by Turkish-backed groups in the town of Ain al-Issa.
The attacks terrorist attacks included improvised explosive device (IEDs) bombings and hit-and-run assaults against the Internal Security forces (ISF), also known as Asayish, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) both inside Raqqa city and the province’s countryside.
The Raqqa Asayish has confirmed at least two of the incidents. According to the ISF, one of the attacks occurred on January 6, in eastern rural of Raqqa, resulting in the deaths of two of their Arab members. Another one took place on January 4, later claimed by the Islamic State inside the city, resulted in the injury of several civilians.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also reported that a civilian was injured in an IED explosion that targeted a vehicle in the al-Malahi area of Raqqa city on Sunday.
“The considerable increase in attacks in Raqqa is a significant indicator of ISIS’s rising capability of conducting attacks beyond its active operating zone of Deir Ez-Zor,” Mohammad Ibrahim, a Syrian researcher and analyst who focuses on northeast Syria, told Kurdistan 24.
“ISIS repeatedly proves its swift resilience and ability to hit various regions whenever it finds security gaps. The ISF and SDF are currently hugely distracted in northern rural Raqqa, in Ain Issa, where there are daily clashes between SDF and Turkey-backed Islamist armed groups,” he added.
Over the past two months, there have been increased Turkish-backed shelling and fighting near the Ain al-Issa town in the Raqqa province.
According to Ibrahim, the increasing pressure by Russia and Syrian regime forces to push the SDF to withdraw from the Ain al-Issa area and shelling by Turkish-backed rebels is “giving ISIS cells more ability to conduct attacks deep behind the SDF lines.”
Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State in October 2017 by the SDF with support from the US-led coalition.
Despite the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition announcing the defeat of the extremist group’s so-called caliphate on March 23, 2019, Islamic State sleeper cell attacks continue in areas that were liberated from the militants, including in Raqqa.
In 2020, most Islamic State activities took place in Deir al-Zor province, with Raqqa province coming in second place. The terror group’s propaganda outfit, al-Bayan, suggested that it had claimed 389 attacks in Deir al-Zor in 2020 and another 59 in Raqqa.
Charles Flynn, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Centre(RIC), told Kurdistan 24 that the Islamic State has also increased its attacks in the southern Raqqa countryside, controlled by the Syrian government.
“We’ve seen increasing number of Russian airstrikes against ISIS targets west of the Euphrates, as well as several ambushes conducted by ISIS that have produced large number of casualties against the SAA (Syrian Arab Army).”
Editing by Khrush Najari
The US Is Trying to Undermine the Kurds’ Revolutionary Ambitions
By Edward Hunt New Jacobin
The US government claims to be supporting the Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS. But it is attempting to bring a more moderate leadership to power in a bid to weaken the Kurds’ revolutionary project in Rojava. Washington will never be a friend of self-determination.
Last September, the United States began sending additional troops into northeast Syria, where hundreds of US soldiers are helping Kurdish forces fight the remnants of ISIS. The move represented a sharp change for the Trump administration, which had pulled US forces from the Turkish border the previous year, facilitating a brutal Turkish attack on the Kurdish homeland of Rojava.
Yet despite predictions that Trump’s betrayal would bring an end to the Kurds’ leftist social revolution in Rojava, the Kurds have been remarkably resilient. Not only have they managed to endure more than a year of ongoing Turkish attacks, but they have continued forging an inspiring experiment in direct democracy, drawing praise from observers who visit the area.
Rojava “has the best religious freedom conditions in the Middle East and has the best conditions for women,” said Nadine Maenza, a US commissioner for religious freedom, when she visited Rojava this past October.
While the Kurds have defied the odds, they are now facing new threats — particularly from the United States. Over the past year, US diplomats have been calling on Kurdish leaders to share power with rival politicians who do not hold the same revolutionary views.
Participants portray recent talks as a well-intentioned effort to create Kurdish unity.
But the talks are more accurately seen as a bid by Washington to appease Turkey, maintain a foothold in Syria, and, perhaps most crucially, moderate the Kurds’ revolutionary ambitions.
The Syrian Kurds, Trump’s Betrayal, and the Aftermath
For the past several years, the United States has been working with Kurdish forces in northeast Syria in the war against ISIS. By providing the Kurds with arms, money, training, air cover, and logistics support, the United States has enabled them to wage an effective military campaign that has left the group defeated and largely dismantled.
This partnership has ramped up tensions with Turkey, which has been waging a decades-long war against the Kurdish people. The Turkish government has accused the Syrian Kurds of being part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant Kurdish resistance group, and portrays both the PKK and Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists who must be destroyed.
Although Trump has periodically praised the Kurds for their military courage, he has repeatedly enabled Turkish aggression.
The international left has largely supported the Kurds, inspired by their efforts to lead a leftist social revolution in Rojava. As the Syrian state withdrew its forces from northeast Syria during the early stages of the country’s civil war, leftist Kurds began transforming the area into an autonomous region. They empowered women and ethnic minorities to participate in local and regional politics and promoted a vision of “democratic confederalism” rooted in egalitarian economics and political participation.
The Kurds’ vision of democratic confederalism has led them to begin building a revolutionary new society that is democratically administered by small, decentralized self-governing units. Local communities and ethnic groups participate in communes, neighborhood councils, and district councils, where they decide how to run their communities and manage their resources. By adopting the principle of dual leadership, the Kurds have empowered men and women to work alongside each other as equal partners at all levels of society. If Rojava is successful, it could become the basis for a new kind of egalitarian and self-governing society.
Officials in Washington have always harbored serious concerns about their partnership with the revolutionary Kurds. They have refused to recognize Rojava as an autonomous region within Syria and have displayed a reckless disregard for Rojava’s security, looking the other way as Turkey periodically launched attacks like the brutal invasion of Afrin in 2018.
The Trump administration has been one of the greatest threats to Rojava. Although Trump has periodically praised the Kurds for their military courage, he has repeatedly enabled Turkish aggression. When administration officials announced in October 2019 they would begin drawing US troops away from the Turkish border, they cleared the way for Turkey’s right-wing nationalist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to launch a military operation that killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Turkey “had to have it cleaned out,” Trump said, justifying the ethnic cleansing.
But Trump’s decision sparked a backlash, including from many US officials, and he backtracked by keeping a small contingent of US troops in northeast Syria. After Russian and Syrian forces moved into the area, administration officials announced that about five hundred US soldiers would continue working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to guard the region’s oil and fight the remnants of the Islamic State.
“We’re still partnering with the SDF,” then secretary of defense Mark Esper acknowledged several weeks after Turkey’s invasion. “We’re still providing assistance to them.”
US Support for Leftist Revolutionaries?
Many US officials have commended the Kurds for building a stable political system in a war-torn country.
In recent months, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has taken the lead within the US government in highlighting the Kurds’ achievements in Rojava. In its annual report, a public hearing, and an op-ed, the commission praised the Kurds for creating an inclusive society that provides religious freedom to its diverse residents.
US commissioner Nadine Maenza, who visited Rojava in October and November, repeatedly extolled the Kurds for creating a system of self-government that empowers the local population.
“They set up all these committees and they start literally meeting the needs of the community,” Maenza said. “They did it in a way that promoted ethnic diversity, religious diversity, acceptance of one another. . . . It created conditions that are unique to the rest of the Middle East.”
More recently, some high-level officials in Washington have offered similar words of praise. “They seem to be somewhat successful in bringing all these pockets of different ethnic backgrounds together under one sort of democracy that actually seems to be working,” Texas representative Michael McCaul, a Republican, said at a congressional hearing earlier this month.
But as the Kurds well know, US officials often have other motives in mind when showering them with praise — namely, their military prowess.
When ISIS forces began rampaging across northern Syria and western Iraq in 2014 and 2015, US officials discovered that Kurdish militias were the only forces that could hold back the onslaught. “They were the only people who could fight effectively against ISIS at the time,” a State Department official told Congress in 2019.
Over the course of the war, Kurdish fighters made great sacrifices, losing more than ten thousand soldiers. “We outsourced the dying to them,” one US official later admitted.
Now, with ISIS mostly vanquished, Washington has presented a new rationale for supporting the Kurds. Because the Kurds control about one-third of Syrian territory, US officials believe they hold significant leverage over Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. As long as the Kurds remain in command of Rojava, US officials wager, Assad will not be able to reestablish control over Syria.
Rojava “is the United States’ greatest single point of leverage in Syria,” the congressionally mandated Syria Study Group (SSG) noted in a major report in 2019.
This was one of the main reasons Turkey’s attack on Rojava in October 2019 upset some US officials. The president’s “approach has ceded U.S. leverage over a future political solution in Syria,” Florida representative Ted Deutch complained. The co-chairs of the Syria Study Group agreed, condemning the Trump administration for “forgoing an important source of leverage.”
With US forces once again working alongside the Kurds, many US officials believe they have salvaged that leverage. Even if Trump’s actions weakened the United States’ foothold in Syria, they remain convinced that Washington can use what remains of Kurdish control of Rojava to pressure Assad into a political agreement that results in him leaving office.
Antony Blinken, who is slated to become secretary of state in the incoming Biden administration, views Rojava as a key element of US strategy. “That’s a point of leverage because the Syrian government would love to have dominion over those resources,” Blinken said last year. “We should not give that up for free.”
US Opposition to Leftist Revolution
Viewing the Kurds as strategically important partners, US officials have been reluctant to criticize them. Only rarely have they revealed their opposition to the Kurds’ revolutionary aspirations.
In December 2017, former US diplomat Stuart Jones sent one signal when he urged Congress to make sure Washington’s partnership with the Kurds “does not create a political monopoly for a political organization that is really hostile to U.S. values and ideology.”
Many US officials and establishment thinkers are doing what they can to bring a less revolutionary Kurdish leadership to power.
In 2019, the Syria Study Group provided another sign when it complained that the main revolutionary Kurdish party in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), had been using the SDF’s cooperation with the United States to establish a civilian government at odds with US preferences. “The United States never explicitly pledged support for Kurdish autonomy or self-rule in Syria,” the study group insisted.
One of the clearest signs of US opposition came during a congressional hearing in October 2019, when US senator Jeff Merkley repeatedly asked then State Department official James Jeffrey about his views on the revolution.
“There was, to be fair, a widely circulated vision of Rojava,” Merkley explained. The Kurds envisioned a “self-governed autonomous area with a whole philosophy of democratic control.”
Jeffrey responded by agreeing with Merkley’s characterization of the Kurdish vision, even suggesting that the Kurds might achieve their revolutionary goals, but insisted that the United States did not back the revolution. “I want to emphasize that this vision, which is the vision of our partners, was never the American vision,” Jeffrey said.
And US officials are keen on making their own vision come to fruition. Many US officials and establishment thinkers are doing what they can to bring a less revolutionary Kurdish leadership to power.
In a 2018 policy brief, the Brookings Institution argued that the United States should encourage the PYD to share power with the much smaller Kurdish National Council (ENKS), an opposition umbrella group hosted by Turkey. The brief suggested that a power-sharing agreement could prevent the PYD from creating an autonomous region inside Syria. The United States could adopt “a posture that is accommodating of Turkish national security concerns,” the brief noted.
Turkey’s attack on Rojava in October 2019 put significant pressure on Kurdish leaders to take Washington’s concerns into consideration. Shortly after the assault, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi agreed to begin talks with opposition leaders, and US officials urged the two sides to create a unity government that incorporated ENKS leaders.
US diplomat William Roebuck, who played a central role in facilitating the talks, noted in an internal memo that he wanted to see Rojava’s political structure “evolve” by “including Kurds outside the PYD and more empowered, independent Arabs.”
After several rounds of negotiations in early 2020, one of which Roebuck attended, the two Kurdish sides came to an agreement. On June 17, Kurdish leaders announced they had reached a “common political vision” over how to govern Rojava.
Roebuck, who participated in the ceremony, praised both sides for their efforts. “They have shown flexibility and intelligence in the way that they have dealt with this,” he said.
The US Embassy in Syria agreed, issuing a statement that described the agreement as “an important first step towards greater political coordination between Syrian Kurdish political factions with the support of the United States.”
Although it remains unclear whether the deal will create a pathway for ENKS leaders to acquire political power, the accord is a major political victory for the United States — and a blow to the Kurds’ revolutionary ambitions.
The Future of Rojava
Despite the Kurds’ many achievements, the future of Rojava remains in doubt. Even if the revolutionaries find some way to withstand growing US pressure, the Kurds still face an existential threat from Turkey.
Turkey’s invasion in October 2019 expelled hundreds of thousands of people from numerous towns that Ankara’s forces and their allied militias continue to occupy. As part of the military operation, Turkey drove a huge wedge between the western and eastern parts of Rojava.
US officials insist that they are trying to create unity among various Kurdish political parties, but what they are really trying to do is create a more moderate Kurdish leadership. They want to appease Turkey, maintain US forces in Syria, and bring the revolution in Rojava to an end.
Turkish leaders continue to back militants that launch periodic attacks on the Kurdish people. The very day that the Kurds in Rojava announced their unity deal, Turkey launched a major offensive against the Kurdish region of Iraq, even receiving encouragement from the Trump administration. Recent reports indicate that Turkey is preparing to mount another attack on Rojava.
The Kurds have also lost much of the leverage they had over the Syrian government. After Turkey invaded Rojava in October 2019, Kurdish leaders had no choice but to invite Syrian and Russian forces into the area for protection. US officials estimate that between four thousand and ten thousand Syrian forces now occupy various parts of northeast Syria.
Russia has also been pressuring the Kurds, despite the fact that Russian military forces initially came to their assistance during the Turkish attack. Russian leaders are intent on bringing Rojava back into the orbit of the Syrian government, which Russia has been backing in the Syrian Civil War. In early 2020, Russia closed an Iraqi border crossing that had been supplying Rojava with about 40 percent of its medical aid.
The coronavirus and economic woes are still another challenge for the Kurds. Reports indicate that the virus is spreading through Rojava; officials have periodically placed cities into total lockdown. On the economic side, rapid inflation has made it difficult for people to purchase basic goods and essentials. Farmers are struggling to find buyers for their crops. US sanctions have worsened the crisis.
“Ordinary people are having trouble buying the basic goods that they need to survive,” US diplomat William Roebuck acknowledged last August.
Through it all, officials in Washington insist they are still supporting the Kurds. They continue paying the Kurds to manage several camps that are holding about ten thousand detained Islamic State fighters and about seventy thousand civilians, many of whom are the wives, children, and family members of ISIS fighters.
Hundreds of US soldiers remain on the ground in Rojava, where they continue working with Kurdish forces to target remaining pockets of jihadists. Although the Trump administration has announced troop drawdowns in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan, US officials have indicated that they will maintain a military presence in Rojava.
The incoming Biden administration remains something of a wild card, but president-elect Joe Biden has signaled he intends to keep working with the Kurds. In 2019, Biden said that “it makes a lot of sense” to keep several hundred US troops in Rojava “to protect the Kurds and provide for security in the region.” Other US officials have indicated that there will be no immediate changes in US policy under the Biden administration.
Much more quietly, however, Washington continues meddling in Kurdish politics. US officials insist that they are trying to create unity among various Kurdish political parties, but what they are really trying to do is create a more moderate Kurdish leadership. They want to appease Turkey, maintain US forces in Syria, and bring the revolution in Rojava to an end.
In short, the United States has begun a major new battle for Rojava — and Kurdish liberation is their last concern.