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By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the United States “does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders”, accusing Washington of seeking to establish a Kurdish-controlled entity along Turkish and Iraqi border zones.
Speaking at an annual press conference in Moscow to review the past year’s diplomatic activities on Monday Jan 13, Lavrov said:
“The [US’] actions that we have been observing indicate that the US does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders … The US wants to help the Syrian Democratic Forces to set up some border security zones,” he said, referring to a US-backed rebel alliance dominated by Syrian Kurds, known as the SDF. What it would mean is that vast swaths of territory along the border of Turkey and Iraq would be isolated, it’s to the east of the Euphrates river. There are difficult relations between Kurds and Arabs there. If you say that this zone will be controlled by the forces supported by the US, there will be a force of 30,000 people.”
Erdogan: US trying to form ‘terror army’ in Syria
Commenting on reports of the US plan to establish a 30,000-strong new border security force with the involvement of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the US was working to form a “terror army” on his country’s southern border by training a new force in Syria that includes Kurdish fighters.
“What we are supposed to do is to drown this terror army before in comes into being,” he said in an address in the capital Ankara on Jan 15, calling the Kurdish fighters “backstabbers” who will point their weapons to the US in the future.
According to media reports quoting US officials, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS) will recruit around half of the new force from the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of fighters dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara considers Kurdish YPG fighters as a “terrorist” organization with links to to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight inside the country. PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies. The US views the YPG as a highly effective fighting force against ISIL.
Erdogan said that Turkey’s armed forces had completed preparations for an operation against the Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin in northwest Syria and the town of Manbij.
He warned Turkey’s allies against helping “terrorists” in Syria and said: “We won’t be responsible for consequences.”
“The establishment of the so-called Syria Border Protection Force was not consulted with Turkey, which is a member of the coalition,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.
US backtracks on Syrian ‘border guard’
The United States continues to train local security forces linked to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, but will not create a ‘border guard force’ and understands the concerns of Turkey, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement on Wednesday Jan 17.
“The training is designed to enhance security for displaced persons returning to their devastated communities,” the Pentagon said. “It is also essential so that ISIS cannot reemerge in liberated and ungoverned areas. This is not a new “army” or conventional ‘border guard’ force.”
The statement added that the U.S. was “keenly aware of the security concerns of Turkey, our Coalition partner and NATO ally.”
Noting that Turkey’s security concerns are legitimate, the Pentagon said it would continue to be transparent with Ankara about its efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria, “and stand by our NATO ally in its counter-terrorism efforts.”
“The military campaign against ISIS in Syria is not over and heavy fighting is still underway in the Middle Euphrates River Valley,” the Pentagon said adding:
“These security forces are internally-focused to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing Syria and augment local security in liberated areas. These forces will protect the local population and help prevent ISIS from launching new attacks against the U.S. and its allies and partners, pending a longer-term political solution to the Syrian civil war in Geneva.”
Will Syria’s conflict redraw the map of the Middle East?
Fabrice Balanche, associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, wrote in June 2017: “The global resonance of the Syrian war has a precedent from some four centuries ago: the conflict in Bohemia (1618–23), which initiated the Thirty Years’ War. Today, world powers such as Russia, China, the United States, and Europe are assessing their regional interests and the measures they will take to achieve them. The conflict itself, meanwhile, can only grow, as the Yemen example shows, given the freeing up of local actors. But amid the great instability, a new Westphalian order is emerging in the Middle East. Rather than erasing the mistakes of the past a new territorial division could end up being superimposed upon the Sykes-Picot line by which the departing colonial powers split the region.”
Not surprisingly, Michael Hayden, a former director of America’s Central Intelligence Agency told CNN in February 2016, that the international agreements made after World War Two are starting to fall apart, and may change the borders of some countries in the Middle East.
“What we see here is a fundamental melting down of the international order,” Michael Hayden said adding:
“We are seeing a melting down of the post-WWII Bretton Woods American liberal order. We are certainly seeing a melting down of the borders drawn at the time of Versailles and Sykes-Picot. I am very fond of saying Iraq no longer exists, Syria no longer exists; they aren’t coming back. Lebanon is teetering and Libya is long gone.”
Hayden described the current situation as a “tectonic” moment. “Within that we then have the war against terrorism; it is an incredibly complex time.”
Argument for greater Kurdistan
Lt. Col. Ralph Peters wrote in June 2006, the most arbitrary and distorted borders in the world are in Africa and the Middle East. Drawn by self-interested Europeans (who have had sufficient trouble defining their own frontiers), Africa’s borders continue to provoke the deaths of millions of local inhabitants. But the unjust borders in the Middle East — to borrow from Churchill — generate more trouble than can be consumed locally.
Yet, for all the injustices the borders re-imagined here leave unaddressed, without such major boundary revisions, we shall never see a more peaceful Middle East, Peters argued and added:
“The most glaring injustice in the notoriously unjust lands between the Balkan Mountains and the Himalayas is the absence of an independent Kurdish state. There are between 27 million and 36 million Kurds living in contiguous regions in the Middle East (the figures are imprecise because no state has ever allowed an honest census). Greater than the population of present-day Iraq, even the lower figure makes the Kurds the world’s largest ethnic group without a state of its own. Worse, Kurds have been oppressed by every government controlling the hills and mountains where they’ve lived since Xenophon’s day.
“The U.S. and its coalition partners missed a glorious chance to begin to correct this injustice after Baghdad’s fall. A Frankenstein’s monster of a state sewn together from ill-fitting parts, Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately. We failed from cowardice and lack of vision, bullying Iraq’s Kurds into supporting the new Iraqi government — which they do wistfully as a quid pro quo for our good will. But were a free plebiscite to be held, make no mistake: Nearly 100 percent of Iraq’s Kurds would vote for independence.
“As would the long-suffering Kurds of Turkey, who have endured decades of violent military oppression and a decades-long demotion to “mountain Turks” in an effort to eradicate their identity. While the Kurdish plight at Ankara’s hands has eased somewhat over the past decade, the repression recently intensified again and the eastern fifth of Turkey should be viewed as occupied territory. As for the Kurds of Syria and Iran, they, too, would rush to join an independent Kurdistan if they could. The refusal by the world’s legitimate democracies to champion Kurdish independence is a human-rights sin of omission far worse than the clumsy, minor sins of commission that routinely excite our media. And by the way: A Free Kurdistan, stretching from Diyarbakir through Tabriz, would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan.”
Lt. Col. Ralph Peters further argued: “A just alignment in the region would leave Iraq’s three Sunni-majority provinces as a truncated state that might eventually choose to unify with a Syria that loses its littoral to a Mediterranean-oriented Greater Lebanon: Phoenecia reborn. The Shia south of old Iraq would form the basis of an Arab Shia State rimming much of the Persian Gulf. Jordan would retain its current territory, with some southward expansion at Saudi expense. For its part, the unnatural state of Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan.”
His article was published in the Armed Forces Journal under the title: Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.