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The New Middle East during the ISIS defeat

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he Iraqi Security Forces, the “Golden Eagles” have pushed deeply into eastern Mosul, while the same Shiite Iraqi Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters operate both in the East and, especially, in the South of the peripheral area of the city.

The operations of both corps take place after the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and the Ninth Division of the Iraqi Forces “cleaning” particularly eastern Mosul, the ancient Kurdish capital city.

ISIS responds to these operations with several snipers, many suicide bombings and, in some areas, heavy artillery so as to secure the centre of Mosul and react to the Iraqi and Peshmerga attacks.

The city, however, has been encircled while the Kurdish Peshmerga have reconquered Bashiqa, precisely when ISIS has attacked Shirqat and, meanwhile, the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces have been operating to conquer Raqqa, the “capital city” of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, after its encirclement.

But nothing prevents ISIS from reconnecting with the city of Qaim – still held by the Caliph’s followers – starting from Dair El-Zour.

This could lead to a partial encirclement of the Kurdish and Iraqi troops.

Hence the United States must confine themselves to supporting the operations against ISIS beyond Mosul, in the valley beyond the Euphrates river.

Now the Caliphate could lock itself into very small safe areas and launch operations from there designed to recreate a cover area and a new “Caliphate” near Turkey and well inside Iraq.

This brief summary of the operations on the ground provides us the whole picture of the Middle East after the end of the operations against the Caliph.

Moreover the United States operate closely with Turkey, with which – as maintained by the Joint Chief of Staff, General Dunford – they “will conquer and rule Raqqa”.

In other words, in close connection with the United States, Turkey will control most of the former ISIS territory which, however, has been reconquered by the Kurdish and Iraqi militants and fighters.

Hence we may think of a new Kurdistan between Syria and Iraq, clearly separated from the Kurdish Anatolian region, in the former Syrian territory of which Turkey will be stationed.

Hence the increasingly likely splitting up of Syria, with north-east areas controlled by Turkey, the coastal “Alawistan” protected by Russia, the autonomous Sunni centre, obviously without Bashar al-Assad’s minority government and a “small Syria” on Iran’s borders, possibly always under Assad’s rule and command.

It seems a rational solution, but it is fraught with great dangers.

Turkey will use the areas conquered with the United States in the old “Caliphate” to join forces with the Turkish-born populations in Central Asia, thus intersecting and possibly hindering the interests of Iran and the Russian Federation.

On the other side, in the North East, there are the Syrian and Russian forces that are penetrating the Raqqa area, and there may be a clash between the Syrian “Democratic” forces, Turkey and the United States and the Russian and Syrian forces of Bashar el-Assad’s regime.

Hence the border between the two “worlds”, Russia and the United States, with their proxies and their various forces on the ground, will pass through Northern Syria.

Furthermore the United States are likely to do their utmost to replace the “Caliphate” with an autonomous government of the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, basically the new jihadists supporting the United States.

Therefore it would not be unreasonable to think of an autonomous entity, in the former ISIS region, made up of these strange “democratic” forces which, by managing the territory against Russia, the Iraqi Kurds, the Turks and especially Assad’s Syrians, would permanently break the unity of the old Alawites’s Syria, which is the legacy of the careful French colonialism.

The jihadists, ISIS “bad” residues, would flee to the West and to China, in the future – as they have already partially done – for their new jihad of “lone wolves”.

Conversely, the Russian Federation is paying its attention primarily Damascus and Aleppo.

In mid-November the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” will reach Syria’s Mediterranean coast with new Su-33 and MiG 29 jet fighters equipped with high precision ammunition and Ka-52 attack helicopters.

In addition to this aircraft carrier, there is a squadron with at least three submarines equipped with very powerful and high-precision Kalibr missiles, those previously used in Syria by the Russian ships of the Caspian Sea.

As we have already noted, these weapons will support Assad’s Syrian forces again in Aleppo and Damascus, but Russia now doubts that the Syrian war is a way to impose Russia’s global presence or that it can anyway provide the possibility of a stable coalition with Westerners.

The Russian aircraft carrier will support Assad in his fight against jihadist forces, even the pro-US ones around Aleppo, after having partially slowed down the air missions in relation to the US and EU sanctions.

If tension in Aleppo and Damascus mounts, Russia will start again to systematically bomb the jihadists’ areas, even outside the above mentioned cities.

Furthermore both Putin and Bashar el-Assad are increasingly sure of their victory in the “central” region of the old Syria.

Hence, with a view to simplifying and summarizing, during and after the Syrian conflict the United States will penetrate the Middle East terrestrial system so as to control Russia, the Alawite Syria, Iran and the Kurdish region.

It some sort of alliance between Russia and Turkey is possible, where Turkey feels isolated by the old EU system, the United States will then propose a bilateral alliance to Turkey so as to “keep” the Middle East, also beyond NATO obligations, which are valid only for those who believes in them.

Hence Russia will keep the Mediterranean coast of Syria for itself, with the maximum Syrian land to be granted to its ally Bashar el-Assad, that will serve as area protecting the Russian presence.

Russia wants to massively return to the Middle East region, which is Europe’s key region and the Northern axis of oil and gas passage, while Russia holds also the Southern one, with Crimea and Ukraine.

The United States, too, want to have a certain presence in the same region, which should primarily be an alternative to the alliance with Israel.

Although minimally participating to the air strikes against “terrorist” Syria and Assad’s Shiite Syria, Great Britain knows that the Syrian Free Soldiers, who the United States even estimate to be 70,000, are a US umbrella of jihadist groups dissolved years ago.

Therefore Great Britain could propose itself as a mediator for substantial peace between the many national groups operating in the Syrian war, possibly ceasing to follow the American ally’s advice.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with a substantial Turkish contribution, have created the Army of Conquest in Syria, by mainly taking jihadists from the Al Nusra Front, the Qaedist area of Syria. Great Britain, however, is recreating – especially through China – a climate suitable for serious negotiations on Syria, based on the fact that it has scarcely contributed to every Western action in Syria.

What about Israel? The Jewish State has always regarded Syria’s presence on the Golan Heights and its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah as an immediate and primary danger.

Hence the crisis of Bashar el-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war has led to some sort of tranquillity for Israel on the Golan front, also enhanced by the new relationship that Israel has experienced with Putin’s Russia.

Nevertheless the presence of Iran and of the Lebanese “Party of God” in the Syrian context is a further factor of danger for the Israeli armed forces.

The variable is the new relationship with Russia, which regards both the exchange of military intelligence and, probably, Russia’s interest in separating the contenders in the Syrian quagmire and its immediate borders – by ultimately replacing the United States as primary partner of the Jewish State.

Hence Syria’s destabilization unless, in a not too distant future, a true peace conference is organized, will be the way in which – unlike what happened in the past – the stupid European Union will be in direct contact with the “permanent sword jihad”, having only a thin Russian-Alawite line on the Syrian Mediterranean coast as defence.

Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.

Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.

But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.

The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.

The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.

It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.

The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.

It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.

Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK

Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.

Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.

The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.

If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.

The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.

The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.

The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”

The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.

Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”

Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.

The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey  to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.

A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.

The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.

In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.

Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.

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