Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

5 November 2019

The Deadly Protests Shaking Iraq: What to Know

By Max Boot

Iraq’s struggling economy and government corruption sparked the protests, in which hundreds have died. The governing elite appears shaky, and the stability of the country is at stake.

October has been a month of protests around the world, from Hong Kong to Chile. Nowhere have they been as bloody as in Iraq. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have tried to swarm the Green Zone, the area in central Baghdad where Iraq’s governing class lives, enclosed by massive concrete walls built by U.S. troops. They have been met by Iraqi security forces and Iran-backed militias firing tear gas and live ammunition. At least 240 people have been killed, and the protests have spread to the city of Karbala.
More From Our Experts

This is the severest crisis of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s year-long tenure, and unless he can mollify the protesters, he may not survive in office.

4 November 2019

Clarity Amidst Chaos: The Implications of Trump’s Syria Policy

By Dr. Alex Joffe

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The American withdrawal from Syria has produced chaotic results – but as with many aspects of President Trump’s presidency, it offers an opportunity to view realities with a new clarity. The nature of Turkey under Erdoğan, European weakness, and the unwillingness of America to support indecisive military missions have been revealed. These realities demand new approaches to European defense and to Middle Eastern engagement and disengagement.

One of the many startling attributes of the Trump presidency is the tendency his statements and policy decisions have to produce inadvertent moments of clarity. By cutting through practical and rhetorical niceties, Trump forces the US and the world to confront inconsistent and malfunctioning policies, often creating new ones in the process. The invariable outrage forces situations to be looked at directly, as does the reactive antipathy from Trump’s many adversaries. Syria is no exception.

3 November 2019

Donald Trump May Be Preparing for A Standoff with Iran Over Syria

by Seth J. Frantzman

U.S. policy on Syria has been on a roller coaster ride in October. It’s unclear what will come next because current options vary from withdrawing from part of Syria to leaving all of eastern Syria to increasing troop levels in areas where oil fields are located. President Donald Trump consults only a small team on Syrian issues and U.S. policy remains compartmentalized between the Pentagon and State Department. One thing is clear from the White House, the United States now wants to secure the oil.

The same day that Trump announced that a U.S. raid killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the president also responded to questions about his tweets that indicated the United States would secure oil fields in Syria. He said that the oil was “so valuable for many reasons, it fueled ISIS, it helps the Kurds, and . . . it can help us because we should be able to take some also.” Trump said he might work with an American oil company to develop the infrastructure. For now, the United States is “protecting” the oil. “That doesn’t mean we don’t make a deal at some point,” he said.

Implications of the US Withdrawal from Syria

By Dr. Yehuda Blanga

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The withdrawal of US forces from the Kurdish areas of northern Syria will help strengthen Iran’s standing in the country, make Russia the leading power in the region, and possibly lead to the resurgence of ISIS terror. All these outcomes will have far-reaching policy implications for the Middle East’s pro-Western actors and for the war on jihadist terror.

On the morning of October 24, 1973, the Israeli ambassador in Washington was summoned for an urgent discussion with White House Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Haig. The meeting marked the high point of the pressure the US was putting on Israel to halt the fighting on the Egyptian front and lift the siege of the Egyptian Third Army. Haig did not mince words and warned that if hostilities were to continue, President Nixon would consider disengaging from Israel. 

For the first time since the special US-Israeli relationship emerged in the early 1960s, Israel’s position and interests were on a direct collision course with Washington. The Nixon administration, which laid the foundations for normal US relations with Egypt during the Yom Kippur War, did not intend to let Israel spoil this process even at the cost of a crisis and damage to US-Israeli ties. Thus did Israel experience firsthand the price of friendship with (and dependency on) “Uncle Sam.” Jerusalem was forced to accede to the American dictate.

2 November 2019

Will Abandonment of the Syrian Kurds End America's Involvement in Unconventional Warfare

by Steven Metz

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump ended U.S. support for Kurdish forces in Syria. “Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds” he tweeted, abruptly abandoning an alliance that had taken shape during the Obama administration and eventually led to the battlefield defeat of ISIS.

Trump’s decision ignited a debate over whether the United States is leaving Syria altogether. Even the president seems to be vacillating, at times saying all U.S. forces were coming home and at others indicating that they would move to Iraq or even a different part of Syria. But whatever the final disposition of the U.S. military one thing is clear: the way the relationship with the Kurds ended could undercut the American approach to irregular warfare.

The United States first became involved in irregular warfare in a big way during the 1960s. After Vietnam, it fell out of use but was revived in the 1980s when a number of Soviet client states emerged in what was then called the Third World and again after the September 11 attack demonstrated the danger posed by transnational networks of terrorists and insurgents. As the 2010 Joint operational concept explained, “To prevent, deter, disrupt, and defeat irregular threats, the U.S. military applies some blend of counterterrorism, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, and stability operations.”

Russia Is the Only Winner in Syria

BY REESE ERLICH 
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ANKARA, Turkey—The current Syria crisis has a number of losers and one big winner: Russia. While President Donald Trump came under fire at home and abroad for abruptly pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, Turkey invaded, resulting in the deaths of at least 250 Kurds and displacing 300,000. Russia, on the other hand, has leveraged its influence with Ankara and Damascus to emerge as kingmaker.

On Oct. 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement to expel the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from northern Syria. Russian and Turkish troops will jointly patrol a strip of Syria near the border. Under a previous agreement, the Kurds will also join the Syrian army’s 5th Corps, which includes foreign volunteers and is controlled by Russia.

Then, in a reversal of policy, the Trump administration announced it would send some 500 U.S. troops to protect Syria’s oil fields from future Islamic State attacks. In reality, Trump seeks to use control of the oil as leverage against the Syrian government. Damascus and Moscow denounced the move as a violation of international law since the oil fields are in Syrian territory.

How the New Syria Took Shape

Russia, Turkey and Bashar al-Assad carved up northern Syria as the Americans retreated


In just a few weeks, the American withdrawal from northern Syria dramatically reordered power in the country after eight years of civil war. Here’s how Syria looked three weeks ago: American-backed Kurds controlled the northeast, while the Syrian government controlled most of the rest.

Turkish forces were already in northwest Syria, but Turkey had long wanted to establish a roughly 20-mile-deep buffer along the whole border. It sees the Kurdish-led forces there as terrorists.

Amb. W. Robert Pearson: Sooner or Later, Putin Will Force Turkey out of Syria

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Amb. W. Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey (2000-2003) and director general of the U.S. Foreign Service (2003-2006), told Middle East Forum Radio on October 23 that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's bid for "hegemonic control over the geography of Syria south of the Turkish border" is likely to fail, even with an American green light:

[Erdoğan] has tried for years now, offering in Idlib, Aleppo, and along the northeastern border to establish that kind of hegemony and get the Russians to agree to it. But the Russians have never agreed to it. They'll push the Turks out of every bit of that geography they can and they will complete that job. Now that they're doing patrols along the border with Turkish forces, something Erdoğan really did not prefer to have happen but is happening – backed by Syrian government, state armed forces – sooner or later, the Russians are going to say to the Turks, "please leave Syria," and it will happen.

Since Erdoğan surely understands this reality, Pearson reasons that the real reasons for the Turkish invasion earlier this month were "purely political." The Turkish leader "needs to shore up a base that is weakening" and compensate for his party's defeat in Istanbul's mayoral election in June. "This was his way of trying to rally his supporters to back his other domestic actions. A lot of people have suffered as a result of it."

The Risks and Rewards of Moscow's Mission in Syria

Omar Lamrani

Russia, which only sent a comparatively small force to Syria, will continue to reap significant diplomatic, commercial and military rewards from its operations there. Russia's continued presence in Syria, however, raises the risk that its operation could turn its operation there into a costly quagmire.  In particular, Russia might find it more difficult to keep apart Syrian and Turkish forces as they come into greater contact in northeastern Syria. 

Just over four years after the Russian military intervention in Syria began, Moscow continues to enjoy the diplomatic, commercial and military rewards of its operations in the Levant. By driving a wedge between its NATO foes, testing out new weaponry and more, Russia has notched up a number of strategic and tactical successes in Syria. These gains notwithstanding, it's not all clear sailing for Moscow ahead: From greater exposure to militant attacks to the prospect that Russia will suffer collateral damage in regional power battles, there are plenty of risks ahead for Moscow.

The Big Picture

30 October 2019

Implications of the new order in Syria

Daniel L. Byman

The situation in northeast Syria is still in flux, but it appears that the militarily strong powers have at least temporarily worked out a modus vivendi with regard to the size and location of the Turkish-controlled buffer zone: an arrangement blessed by the Trump administration. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), for their part, have cast their lot in with the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian backers, ending or at least diminishing the autonomy they enjoyed for several years. U.S. forces will largely or entirely be redeployed, although the U.S. presence in neighboring Iraq will continue.

The new situation upends the region and has potentially profound consequences for the United States and its allies. However, and without dwelling on this point, President Trump’s actions suggest a different conception and prioritization of traditional U.S. interests in the Middle East. The U.S. departure helps Iran and the Islamic State, hurts Israel and Saudi Arabia, and otherwise goes against historic U.S. concerns. The president, however, appears to prioritize removing U.S. troops from active war zones over these long-standing interests.

Syria’s Civil War: The Descent Into Horror

By Zachary Laub
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In the eight years since protesters in Syria first demonstrated against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and some twelve million people—more than half the country’s prewar population—have been displaced. The country has descended into an ever more complex civil war: jihadis promoting a Sunni theocracy have eclipsed opposition forces fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria, and regional powers have backed various local forces to advance their geopolitical interests on Syrian battlefields. The United States had been at the forefront of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, then abruptly removed forces in October 2019 ahead of the second invasion of northern Syria by Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally. The Turks seek to push Kurdish forces, the United States’ main local partner in the fight against the Islamic State, from border areas. Russia too has carried out air strikes in Syria, coming to the Assad regime’s defense, while Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have done the same on the ground.

29 October 2019

The US no longer matters in Syria

Ranj Alaaldin

Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria last week set into motion a humanitarian crisis that was effectively enabled by the United States, after President Trump green-lit the Turkish operation and then withdrew 1,000 U.S. troops from the area. It constituted a betrayal of Syria’s Kurds, who have been critical to the war against jihadi groups like the Islamic State and have lost 11,000 fighters in the war effort against the jihadis.

Yesterday, Washington purportedly signed a ceasefire agreement with Ankara that requires the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to pull back from Turkey’s proposed 20-mile deep “safe zone” on its border. But it is an agreement that is underpinned by an extremely fragile foundation and premised on deeply flawed assumptions. Fundamentally, it assumes the U.S. still matters in Syria. It does not.

Fundamentally, [the ceasefire] assumes the U.S. still matters in Syria. It does not.

Although the agreement has been celebrated by the White House, the Turkish government has already dismissed the idea that it has agreed to a ceasefire. Turkey’s foreign minister has said the agreement merely results in a suspension of hostilities. Indeed, it is the Turkish government’s interpretation that is more appropriate: The provisions of the so-called ceasefire do not explicitly stipulate the scope of the area that will be under Turkish control, notwithstanding the fact that there are Russian and Syrian regime forces already present in the 20-mile zone announced by the U.S. administration.

The Syrian Withdrawal: Where Things Stand

by James Dobbins and Jeffrey Martini

There are two distinct grounds to criticize President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

One is the opening the withdrawal provides for Russia, along with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the government of Iran, to displace the United States in eastern Syria.

The second criticism relates to the sudden and unprepared nature of the pullout, which abruptly left the Kurds—an American partner—to fend off a Turkish assault.

These errors are owed to the Trump administration's inability to transition from a military mission of defeating the ISIS terrorist group to a mission designed to forge a political accommodation in northeast Syria.

The American partnership with the Kurds was always transactional—the least bad of several alternatives. No other regional force was willing and able to work with the United States to eliminate the ISIS territorial base—its so-called caliphate.

28 October 2019

How Turkey and Russia Carved Up Northern Syria


During a six-hour meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively carved up northeastern Syria between themselves, after the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops paved the way for a bloody Turkish incursion across the border. The United States was not present at the meeting.

Just hours later, U.S. President Donald Trump announced in a White House address that Erdogan had agreed to halt his offensive and make the tentative cease-fire agreement that Vice President Mike Pence brokered last week permanent. But in terms of impact on the ground in northern Syria, Trump’s statement was merely a footnote to the Turkey-Russia pact.

In his comments, Trump seemed to wash his hands of not just Syria but all of America’s wars in the Middle East. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” he said.

Putin and Erdogan appear to be agreeing not to fight but merely to take control. The 10-point memorandum signed by the two leaders on Oct. 22 essentially divides up the region, where the Syrian Kurds had built a fragile but peaceful democracy over the past four years as they fought and ultimately defeated the Islamic State’s physical caliphate.

27 October 2019

‘This Is Ethnic Cleansing’: A Dispatch from Kurdish Syria

Khabat Abbas

Qamishli, Syria—When my mom called to ask me where I was, I lied to her. Sometimes I do not want to worry her, as I’m often reporting on stories from places that aren’t safe. When she said, “Get ready to move,” I realized something was wrong. Qamishli was under attack. “Can’t you hear the shelling?” she screamed. She lives in Rimelan, a city an hour away, but she was here to visit my brother. The Turks were targeting my neighborhood, she said.

That was Wednesday afternoon, October 9, the first day of Turkey’s attack on Rojava, Western Kurdistan, as we call it in Kurdish. Qamishli, my city, was one of the few places in northeast Syria that had enjoyed relative peace despite Syria’s eight-year civil war. 

In past years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made constant threats against us, but I never really expected him to make a move. The Americans were here, and they promised they would protect us. So Erdoğan’s bluster seemed meaningless. I was wrong.

Erdogan Has No Idea What He’s Doing in Syria

BY STEVEN A. COOK
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In contrast to the profound confusion in Washington over the past two weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government have been relentlessly on message about their invasion of Syria. Operation Peace Spring, as Turkey calls it, is a counterterrorism operation, providing safety for Turks and Syrians alike—including Kurds. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is no different from the Islamic State. Full stop. No amount of international pressure and outrage has moved Ankara from these talking points.

Yet perhaps because the Turks have been so good at their messaging (mostly to other Turks), they have not been as clear on what it is they want to achieve in Syria over the longer term and how they will know when they achieve it. In sending its forces into Syria, the Turkish government seems to have four primary goals: make the establishment of a Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria impossible, boost Erdogan’s popularity, destroy the YPG, and resettle Syrian refugees.

It’s obvious that an autonomous Kurdish area in northeastern Syria is no longer imaginable and that Erdogan—whose domestic political support flagged in the previous six months—has benefited from the invasion. Turkey’s other two war aims are more complicated, however. It’s fair to wonder what Ankara’s strategy for achieving them is—and whether it even has one.

Turkey's Offensive in Northeastern Syria: The Expected, the Surprising, and the Still Unknown

Gallia Lindenstrauss, Eldad Shavit
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Operation Peace Spring, Turkey's third operation in northern Syria since 2016, constitutes its most ambitious action in Syria yet. The developments leading up to the offensive and the outcomes of the operation have regional and international ramifications well beyond this specific campaign – particularly for the conduct of the various actors in light of President Donald Trump's desire to end US involvement in conflicts in the region. The offensive was not in itself surprising given the numerous Turkish threats to this effect, and the Kurds' deal with the Assad regime once the threats were carried out was also expected. However, the emergence of the deal after only four days of fighting was a surprise. 

Following the deal, a question arises as to what will remain of Kurdish autonomous rule in northeastern Syria. There are concerns that the weakening of Kurdish forces will enable a resurgence of the Islamic State and its control over territory. In the Israeli context, the departure of US forces from Syria grants an easier-than-expected victory to adversaries of the United States, especially Iran. The US withdrawal is further expected to significantly ease Iran's operation of a land route from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and in effect leaves Israel alone in the fight against Iran's entrenchment in the northern theater.

Operation Peace Spring, the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria that began on October 9, 2019, is the third offensive carried out by Turkey in northern Syria and its most ambitious action in Syria to date, as well as the one that has elicited the most international censure. The developments that led to this offensive and its outcomes have regional and international significance that go well beyond the specific campaign.

The 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing, and the Current U.S. Retreat from Syria

By Robin Wright

Thirty-six years ago, a yellow Mercedes truck loaded with twelve thousand pounds of explosives sped into the barracks of U.S. Marine peacekeepers in Beirut. It was 6:22 a.m. Lance Corporal Eddie DiFranco, on guard duty nearby, was the only one who saw the bomber. “He looked right at me, smiled,” DiFranco said later. “Soon as I saw the truck, I knew what was going to happen.” The truck set off the largest non-nuclear explosion on Earth since the Second World War. The four-story concrete building imploded; marines were crushed like paper dolls. The collapse set off a brown mushroom cloud over the Lebanese

26 October 2019

Turkey's Offensive in Northeastern Syria: The Expected, the Surprising, and the Still Unknown

Gallia Lindenstrauss, Eldad Shavit
Source link

Operation Peace Spring, Turkey's third operation in northern Syria since 2016, constitutes its most ambitious action in Syria yet. The developments leading up to the offensive and the outcomes of the operation have regional and international ramifications well beyond this specific campaign – particularly for the conduct of the various actors in light of President Donald Trump's desire to end US involvement in conflicts in the region. The offensive was not in itself surprising given the numerous Turkish threats to this effect, and the Kurds' deal with the Assad regime once the threats were carried out was also expected. However, the emergence of the deal after only four days of fighting was a surprise. Following the deal, a question arises as to what will remain of Kurdish autonomous rule in northeastern Syria. There are concerns that the weakening of Kurdish forces will enable a resurgence of the Islamic State and its control over territory. In the Israeli context, the departure of US forces from Syria grants an easier-than-expected victory to adversaries of the United States, especially Iran. The US withdrawal is further expected to significantly ease Iran's operation of a land route from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and in effect leaves Israel alone in the fight against Iran's entrenchment in the northern theater.

Operation Peace Spring, the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria that began on October 9, 2019, is the third offensive carried out by Turkey in northern Syria and its most ambitious action in Syria to date, as well as the one that has elicited the most international censure. The developments that led to this offensive and its outcomes have regional and international significance that go well beyond the specific campaign.

Assad Is Now Syria’s Best-Case Scenario

Stephen M. Walt

The ruthless Syrian dictator is guilty of countless war crimes—and regrettably represents his country's least bad remaining option.

President Donald Trump is taking considerable flak for his impulsive decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. He deserves it because it is hard to imagine a more inept or ill-considered response to the imbroglio he inherited there. But let's not lose sight of the bigger picture: U.S. policy toward Syria has been a failure for years, and the American strategy—if that word is even appropriate—was rife with contradictions and unlikely to produce a significantly better outcome no matter how long the United States stayed. (For a good brief summary of "how we got here," see Max Fisher's piece in the New York Times.)

As depressing as it is to write this sentence, the best course of action today is for President Bashar al-Assad's regime to regain control over northern Syria. Assad is a war criminal whose forces killed more than half a million of his compatriots and produced several million refugees. In a perfect world, he would be on trial at The Hague instead of ruling in Damascus. But we do not live in a perfect world, and the question we face today is how to make the best of a horrible situation.