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Syria

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: Mere hours before Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visits with his Russian counterpart in Sochi, his government clarified the purpose of its invasion of Northern Syrian. The Turkish government frames its intervention as partly humanitarian, partly security missions. Considering that Erdoğan has called for such a “safe zone” as early as 2015, the political purpose of the “safe zone” can hardly be ignored. More significantly, the legal status of the proposed “safe zone” must be assessed. In this brief note, I examine the Turkish claims and weigh them against legal standards. Continue reading

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Leaders of Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a demilitarized Idlib buffer zone in Syria’s northwestern province to separate government forces from rebel fighters based there.

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

Copies of the document the

two leaders signed was forwarded to the UNSC are displayed below.

Cover letter
Terms of the Idlib Deal

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Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

Has the Syrian government used chemical weapons in ISIS -held territories?

With every military operation in areas held by the so-called moderate opposition fighters, Western governments accuse the Syrian government of having planned to use chemical weapons or of having used chemical weapons. In the latter case, they responded by bombing sites and assets that allegedly enabled the government to use such weapons. So has the Syrian government used chemical weapons and if so, why?

Western governments explain the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons this way. The chemical attacks occurred in areas where the Syrian government encountered stiff resistance. The Syrian government uses weapons of mass destruction to speed up military operations or to force armed groups to surrender. However, based on this reasoning, one would expect the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against the most hardened fighters, again, for speedy victory or to force surrender. 

The Depravity of Racism is Rooted in its Selective Outrage

The Depravity of Racism is Rooted in its Selective Outrage

Reacting to news reports that an attack with chemical weapons took place in the city of Douma (Syria), president Trump tweeted the following:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

 

 

Evidently, Trump’s statement was intended to express outrage: how could someone kill his own people! The outrage, then, justifies attacking Syria. This selective outrage is present in the minds and attitudes of all individuals who suffer from the pathology of supremacism, be it race-, ethnicity-,  religion-based supremacy.
They would like us to believe that not all human lives are equal and they would jump on every opportunity to qualify the loss of life, the cause of the loss of life, the method of taking away life, and the kind of person losing her life.

In this particular case, Trump thinks that when the head of a state kills his own people, that is worse than when the head of another state kills people of another state. It explains the joy he feels as he brags about unleashing a salvo of “nice, new, “smart!” weapons.” It does not matter if these “beautiful” weapons kill people, as long as they are killing people of other nations. It explains the lack of remorse of launching an illegal war on Iraq under false pretext in 2003, killing nearly a million people. It explains the peace of mind European leaders felt when they colonized African nations and killed millions of people.

What ought to make Americans of diverse backgrounds uneasy is this: when supremacists say “own people”, they don’t mean “own citizen.” They mean “own kind.” That means, killing Black people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people” therefore it should not elicit outrage. That means, killing Native American people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not provoke outrage. That means, killing Hispanic people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not prompt outrage. That means, killing Muslim-Americans would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not educe outrage. That means, killing any non-White people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not cause outrage.

The Syrian people, who endured seven years of brutal war, lost hundreds of thousands of their family members, sustained mental and physical injury may not be so eager to live through another barrage of “nice, new, “smart!” weapons” that can only increase their suffering.

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Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

This map, produced by pro-gov. Syrian group, hints
to Syria’s claim over most of Hatay province, could explain
the strategy for dealing with Idlib.
There are historical and political reasons for Turkey’s determination to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Syria. However, Turkey’s government might be nervous not just because of the Kurdish separatist aspirations, but also because of its long territorial dispute with the Syrian government, which considers most of Hatay province (Iskenderun) Syrian territory. Looking at the military strategy the Syria government has put in place since the start of its military campaign to regain lost territory, it would appear that the Syrian government wants to address its sovereignty claim over Iskenderun in the context of this armed conflict, in which Turkey has been deeply involved politically and militarily. Turkey, on the other hand, given its erratic decisions related to the Syrian crisis and given its fickle alliances, finds itself alone, abandoned by old allies, Saudi Arabia and the US, and untrusted by its new one, Russia and Iran.

 
First, Turkey’s government knows that a sovereign and united Kurdistan with access to international waters is a formidable one. A landlocked Kurdistan will depend on the goodwill of its neighbors to have access to international markets and to the global community in general. But a Kurdistan stretching from the Iraqi-Iranian border in the east to the Mediterranean in the west is viable, strong, and rich. Turkey, more than all its neighbors is threatened by this prospect for many obvious reasons. That is why Turkey feels the need to act now before a political solution for the Syrian crisis, which might result in the creation of a semi-autonomous region in northern Syria, is reached. 
 
Second, it must be noted that Hatay province is inhabited by diverse ethnic and religious groups, but Arabs and Alevis are a majority in its population of nearly 1.5 million people. The region, therefore, despite being under Turkish control, is strongly pro-Syrian government and throughout the Syrian crisis period, many of its people demonstrated in support of the Syrian government.
 
Third, nearly 500,000 Syrians were displaced by the violence in Aleppo and Idlib provinces and these displaced people settled in Hatay province. Moreover, the province borders the very volatile Idlib province that has been a relocation destination for all armed groups who chose not to enter into “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian government. Idlib is controlled primarily by the powerful Islamist factions supported by Turkey and Qatar, mainly Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS; formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). 
 
Most recently, a number of factions defected from Ahrar al-Sham to join HTS making it the largest Islamist armed group in northern Syria. Parts of Idlib has been designated by the agreement (sponsored by Turkey, Russia, and Iran) as reduced violence zone. However, Russia has insisted all along that all de-escalation zones must exclude terrorist organization and, in the case of Idlib, given its proximity and connection to Turkey, Russia asked Turkey to dissolve or liquidate HTS. Turkey failed to do so, choosing instead to prioritize fighting Kurdish armed groups over fighting HTS and its affiliates. That development initiated a series of other events leading to the current situation. 
 
First, the Syrian government and its allies determined that Turkey has failed to deal with terrorist organizations in Idlib. The government, aided with Russian air force and allied troops, launched a multi-front offensive from the eastern regions under its control and appears to be moving westward. Today, the Syrian government announced full control of Abu Duhu airbase, a large strategic military facility, nearly 16 km2 at the intersection of three key provinces—Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo, that can be used to launch future operations deeper into all three provinces. 
 
Turkey moved troops to some points in Syria and began a military campaign against the Kurds in Afrin. Meanwhile, the US shifted its support to Kurds from assistance to defeat ISIS to training and equipping a permanent military force that it called border control units, which angered the Turkish government and raised some questions about the legality of US presence in Syria without clear UNSC or government authorization. 
 
The Syrian government’s long term strategy is now revealed by its actions on the ground. It appears to involve military campaign to clear internal regions and relocate the diehard armed groups to Idlib with the intent to ultimately force them into Hatay province. Once there, they will be Turkey’s problem to deal with them on its own or enter into an agreement with the Syrian government to settle the border dispute and accommodate the people living therein. That is an impressive long-term strategy, unlike Turkey’s, involving trusted, reliable regional and international allies. 
 
Turkey on the other hand, did not seem to have had a long-term strategy. That fact can be deduced from its erratic alliances. First it joined the anti-Assad coalition led by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and several EU states. Then it joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. Finally, it turned to Russia and Iran. But in the end, and with its Afrin operation, Turkey finds itself alone. Turkey, now, must deal with the ramifications of a crisis that it helped create but failed to control its outcome. Syria, on the other hand, may end up regaining control over disputed border territory or use it to settle its undesirables and all foreign fighters who came to support them. A Hatay province under Turkish control but full of diehard zealots will continue to be a threat to Turkish security and stability–in fact, more so than the imagined or real Kurdish threat.

 
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated. For more information, please visit: http://www.ahmedsouaiaia.com

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Terrorists for hire: US-trained and supported SDF is now recruiting ISIS fighters

Terrorists for hire: US-trained and supported SDF is now recruiting ISIS fighters

Since the start of the civil war, fighters from within Syria and from outside Syria were recruited for the more important (so important that even terrorist elements were enlisted for this) cause: overthrow the Syrian government headed by Bashar al-Assad. Some world and regional governments were so determined to achieve this goal even if that meant fighting side by side with genocidal Wahhabi Salafist terrorists. And they did and some still do.

Since 2011, these actors worked methodically to achieve that singular goal. First, they created the umbrella organization, which they called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to lead the campaign (July 2011) and provide the public face for all armed groups. 
Since outside actors were many and with many agendas, the FSA quickly splintered into separate factions depending on their “funders” and ideological supporters. Saudi Arabia funded Wahhabi Salafists–and some secular armed groups for cover. Qatar and Turkey threw their weight behind members of the Muslim Brotherhood fighters–and some secular fighters, for cover as well. The United Stated government and its EU allies sponsored secular fighters but also tolerated the factions associated with Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. 
That uneasy arrangement lasted until the Wahhabi Salafists grew strongest to become the most powerful armed group that would wrestle way territory not only from other Syrian armed groups and from the Syrian government, but also from the Iraqi government. ISIL’s fast rise to power stunned and threatened its supporters and those who tolerated it. When ISIL carried out waves of cruel crimes and acts in Syria and abroad, the anti-Assad coalition cracked. They agreed that ISIL must be downsized and contained and its offshoot—Nusra—be rehabilitated. By that time, Russia decided to step up its involvement (September 2015) and support the Syrian government. They found the Iranians there already doing just that.
 Since then, all territory previously controlled by ISIL was reclaimed by the Syrian government (30%) and its allies. Meanwhile the US-sponsored armed groups fighting under a new umbrella organization called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retook nearly 15% of ISIL’s territory mainly east of the river (Euphrates) and annexed it to their Kurdish controlled areas. As of now, the Syrian government controls about 55% of Syria, the SDF controls about 30%, and all other armed groups control pockets amounting to about 15%. 
To preserve their gains and have some leverage going into the political talks, SDF fighters are building an alternative military force to control north and northeast Syria. Given that the territories they recently took were inhabited by Sunni Arabs, not Kurds, the SDF leaders and their backers are now recruiting Sunni Arab fighters, including former ISIL members. 
These activities and the level of foreign interference will delay peace in a country that lost too many of its people and too much of its wealth and resources. These foreign actors ought to realize that the longer instability lasts in Syria the less stable their own countries will be. It is in the interest of everyone that this crisis is solved and solved quickly.

 

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Ref.

 

  

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Forced to choose between carrying out Saudi plans or quitting, Hariri quits

Forced to choose between carrying out Saudi plans or quitting, Hariri quits

After being summoned like a Saudi diplomat to appear before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Saad Hariri returned to Beirut to pack and say his goodbyes, then returned to Riyad, picked up the phone and called the Lebanese president to tell him that he is quitting. The bizarre process led President Michel Aoun to wait to see if Hariri return and inform him in person, and through the proper protocol, about the reasons for quitting before accepting his resignation. That might be a very long wait. 
Clearly, the Hariri’s decision to resign is not his own. After all, all the reasons he mentioned are not new developments: Lebanon is under the circumstances and conditions as when he agreed to the deal that brought him and Aoun to the offices of the presidency and the prime ministry. 

Among the reasons, real and fictitious, that forced him to resign, Hariri claims that he could be assassinated, that Iran in meddling in Lebanese affairs, and that Hezbollah is a destabilizing force because of its use of force against Syrians and Lebanese citizens. Before he agreed to the deal that made him prime minister, Hezbollah was doing whatever it is doing now, Iran was doing whatever it is doing now, and his fear for his life then was as much a risk then as it is now. Clearly there is something else that has changed: Saudi Arabia’s plan for the region. 
The summon is proof of that fact and it is also proof that Saudi Arabia is meddling in Lebanese affairs. Those who know Lebanese politics, know that many regional and world powers meddle in Lebanese affairs, so there is nothing new here. 
These developments are indicative of Saudi plans to escalate its efforts to further destabilize Lebanon, and country, whose stability is crucial to region given its geography, demography, and history. 

A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

There is no doubt that the Kurdish people, like any other ethnic and linguistic community of their size, have a legitimate claim to self-determination. The Kurdish people in all five countries where they have a sizable population and in the diaspora, are more than 35 million people. Were they able to form a nation of their own right after the end of the colonial era, their country would have been the third most populous country in the region. But the powers to be did not allow that to happen. Their claim to nationhood still stands as a legitimate one.

However, the timing of the referendum, the lack of preparation for it in terms of diplomatic support, and the special circumstances of the region all made this decision a very poor one. It may have been motivated by personal impulses than by the urgency to secure the rights of the Kurdish people.
  
Masoud Barzani, the main proponent of the referendum, is an echo from Saddam’s era. His term in office ended years ago yet he persists to hold power. The regional government has had serious economic challenges and without Turkey’s eagerness to buy energy directly from the regional government, bypassing the central Iraqi government, the Kurdish economy would have collapsed two years ago. 
Since ISIS took over large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria in 2014, Kurdish fighters, with the help of anti-ISIS coalitions, pushed back ISIS only to claim the cleared territory as their own. This alone diminishes from the appeal of self-determination claim that the Kurds have asserted because it makes them appear as an aggressive expansionist regime that is willing to take advantage of the dire situation in Iraq and Syria.

The expansion, is bad public relation statement and shortsighted. Evidently, the newly acquired territories bring with it non-Kurdish populations, Arab, Turkmen, Persian, Armenian, etc. who will be made minorities dominated by a government that privileges and prioritizes Kurdish nationalism—creating new fault lines for protracted conflicts.
Kurdish political leaders ought to learn from the case of South Sudan. Prior to the division of Sudan, the conflict was made to appear as a conflict between the Muslim north and the Christian south, the Arab north and the African south. Since independence, the civil war in South Sudan became worse and the economic conditions of the landlocked territory became dire. Similarly, a landlocked Kurdistan in northern Iraq will make life for Kurds in the other four countries harder, and the potential civil war within Kurdistan in Iraq will increase. Turkey, by virtue of being home to the largest number of Kurds in the region will choke the Kurdish enclave and treat its own Kurdish population with even more hostility.
It is one thing to be supportive of disempowered communities and stand by any people who seek a life where they can live with dignity and respect. But Masoud Barzani used the Kurdish dream for self-determination to make a reckless decision that will, without doubt, make life for all Kurds harder and their fight for a better life even more costly. He failed to win the support of a single influential nation and made it harder for NGO’s and activists to continue their support of the Kurdish people. It is unfortunate that one man, whose term in office has run long ago, has risked the dream of so all, the Kurds, including those outside Iraq.

Deir al-Zour is the end of the road in Syria for both, US and Russia, will they collide or reverse course?

Deir al-Zour is the end of the road in Syria for both, US and Russia, will they collide or reverse course?

By Abdel Bari Atwan
US-backed SDF (yellow) are now face to face with Russia-backed SAA (red)
For the first time since the Syrian crisis began some seven years ago, there is a growing prospect of a military collision taking place between Russia and the United States over the oil and gas fields in and around Deir az-Zour. The US wants these wells to fall into the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) so they can be used to sustain a future Kurdish enclave or state in northern Syria. Russia wants them to revert to the sovereignty of the Syrian state so their revenues can help fund the country’s reconstruction.


On Sunday, the Russian defence ministry held the US responsible for the deaths of senior military advisor Lt.-Gen. Valery Asopov and two colonels who were accompanying him who were killed when their position was shelled by Islamic State (IS) forces in the village of Marat east of the Euphrates River. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov described the deaths as ‘the bloody price for two-faced American policy in Syria,’ adding that ‘the American side declares that it is interested in the elimination of IS … but some of its actions show it is doing the opposite and that some political and geopolitical goals are more important for Washington.’ The accusation was unprecedented, and led to a sharp rise in tension between the two sides.

The village was the first site to be recaptured by Syrian government forces east of the Euphrates, and was being used as a base from which to control Deir az-Zour and retake the oil and gas fields to its east.
The more damning accusation, in the view of many observers, is Russia’s claim to  have evidence supported by photographs of collusion between US forces backing the SDF and IS east of the Euphrates. It also accuses the Americans of being behind the major assault launched last week by Hay’at Tahrir ash-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) from Idlib governorate, which they control, against government positions in Hama, aimed at slowing the eastward advance of Syrian and Russian forces towards Deir az-Zour and the oilfields.
On Tuesday, Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Moscow was still awaiting replies from Washington to questions about ‘whom US Special Forces in Syria are fighting with and against’. He referred to images of former IS positions that had been taken by American Special Forces that showed no sign of fighting or aerial bombardment having taken place, and which lacked the protective defences that would normally be expected, implying collusion between the two sides.
The US has had nothing to say about these charges, or about allegations by Iranian commanders that the US held back from fighting IS in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
One of the triggers of the Syrian crisis was that the government in Damascus turned down proposals to build a pipeline through Syria to carry Qatari gas to Europe. It did so partly at the request of Russia, which feared that the project was aimed at  under-cutting its own gas exports to Europe. Now another ‘oil war’ seems to be looming in the east of the country.
This poses a serious question: Is the ‘war on terror’ declared by the US a mere façade, or are Russia’s accusations of US collusion with IS and al-Qaeda off the mark? And when did this alleged collusion begin, at the outset of the crisis or just in the past year? We cannot offer answers at present. The American side has not presented evidence to disprove the Russian claims. But no evidence is needed of the US’s strong backing for the Kurdish SDF as it fights to secure control of al-Raqqa and the Deir az-Zour oilfields, and takes steps toward establishing a Kurdish state in northern Syria by holding municipal elections to be followed by parliamentary polls.
Russia can be expected to exact revenge for the killing of its commander and two colonels, as it did by launching airstrikes targeting Nusra Front commanders in Idlib in retaliation for an earlier attack on its troops. This could result in US forces on Syrian soil coming under Russian attack, potentially sparking the fuse of a confrontation.
The next big crisis brewing in the region may not stem from this week’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, but from growing tensions between the US and Russia – though Washington’s ambiguous attitude to that referendum, and to Syrian Kurdish separatist plans, is inextricably related to that tension.
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* SAA = Syrian Arab Army

“No Place for Assad” is not a Plan

“No Place for Assad” is not a Plan

Syrian troops who took part in Deir Ezzor battle against ISIL
The so-called Syrian opposition and their Arab and Western governments’ backers are responsible for the failure in realizing a political transition towards broader representative governance. Now that even the strongest armed militant groups are facing defeat, the possibility of seeing these various opposition groups and personalities exert any significant role in shaping the political future of Syria is non-existent.

It should be noted that the peaceful protest movement that preceded the armed conflict did not set its agenda the overthrow of the Syrian government of even insist that Bashar Assad be ousted. Ousting Assad was primarily the dream of armed groups, especially the Wahhabi-Salafists, and some Arab and Western governments who don’t believe in any form of government except theirs.  They thought that the wave of anger that ousted Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Saleh of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, respectively, could be leveraged to rid the Middle East of those who did not fall inline and accept the oversized roles played by undemocratic, authoritarian rulers of the rich Gulf nations. After all, that strategy worked in Libya when Qatar, backed by NATO nations, financed and armed a ragtag of rebels to overthrow the mercurial, unreliable Mu`ammar Qaddafi. 

For seven years, money and weapons were poured into Syria with the singular objective in the mind and in the mouth of all those opposed to the Syrian government: There is no place for Assad in Syria. That singular goal meant that all those opposed to Assad are lesser “threats” than Assad, including ISIL and Nusra. When Assad outlasted many of the heads of these anti-Assad governments, Like Cameron, Hollande, Davutoğlu, Hamad, and Obama, many realized that “No place for Assad in Syria” is not actually a political platform or plan. 

The French president who replaced one of France’s least competent leaders admitted that much when he acknowledged that “there is no credible or capable alternative to Assad.” But even that view, accurate as it may be, does not represent the full truth. 

Syria is not a one-man show kind of country that can be compared to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, or UAE. Syria, despite the fact that it has been ruled by a single party, is a nation of institutions and fairly sophisticated civil society. It has a professional military, very efficient bureaucracy, highly educated citizens, diverse and inclusive society, and durably functioning political process and more. That reality might explain the fact that, even during the times when the Syrian government’s hold on power was weakest, major Syrian cities remained loyal to the Syrian state.


So it is no surprise now that, when the Syrian government has regained control over nearly 65% of the country, that the political opposition groups are having hard time finding international sponsors. Even the UN sponsored talks that were routinely held are now less frequent, if not fully absent. The hubris of the opposition groups and its leaders perverted belief that undemocratic regimes like those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE would be reliable partners to help them establish a modern Athenian democracy in Syria are stunning. Their bet on self-interested and authoritarian regimes betrayed the hopes of the Syrian people for stronger Syria and produced a destroyed country that will need nearly half a trillion dollar to rebuild, and decades to heal from a war that touched, through death or injury, every Syrian family. 
  

Syria Control Map as of 09/05/2017

The Syrian government recently breached the 3-year old siege ISIL imposed on Deir Ezzor

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