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SYRIA: Buried in the US-Turkey ‘Ceasefire’ Deal Are More Seeds of Instability

Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

Yesterday, the US and Turkey reached a supposed ‘ceasefire’ arrangement which will temporarily halt a Turkish military incursion and attack on Kurdish forces in Syria. The deal was apparently finalised after a face-to-face meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence. While this engineered “pause” in fighting offers a temporary calm, the situation remains tense and fraught with endemic conditions that could lead a resumption of hostilities. Those conditions include the ulterior agendas of Turkey and the US which are sure to antagonise Damascus and its allies going forward. Reading between the lines, this latest US-brokered ‘peace plan’ still leaves the door open for long-range US regime change plans for Syria. 

The new agreement calls for a 120 hour “pause” in Turkish ‘anti-terror’ operations, enough time for US-backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) Kurdish-led forces to withdraw from the 20 mile-wide buffer area or ‘safe zone’ located inside Syria, along its northern border with Turkey. In return for a cessation of fighting, Washington has promised to repeal any economic sanctions imposed on Turkey.

While SDF General General Mazloum Abdi has tentatively agreed to the terms of this deal, it was not received warmly by all Kurdish factions. Kurdish PYD spokesman Salih Muslim said, “We will not accept the occupation of northern Syria, and we must know the details of the agreement between Pence and Erdogan.”

Turkish officials remain firm in treating the SDF as a terrorist entity. The group is mainly composed of Kurdish YPG militants who also share membership and affiliations with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), itself a proscribed terrorist organisation by US, UK and EU governments.

Meanwhile, as part of its own security agreement reached earlier this week between Damascus and Kurdish factions, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took control of the border town of Ayn al Arab (Kobane). In addition to SAA forces being moved into key positions along the northern region, Russian military police have also taken over formerly held US posts around the Syria northern city of Manbij, providing a buffer designed to separate Turkish forces, and SAA and Kurdish forces in the area.

‘Tough Love’

After coming under considerable political heat at home for initially pulling US troops out of northeastern Syria, President Donald Trump claims to have coerced Turkey with some “tough love,” before hailing his administration’s ‘high-level diplomacy’ as the deciding factor in securing a peaceful outcome for the region, as he tweeted out: “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!” 

Things were not looking so certain 48 hours ago, as the final negotiations were preceded by this rather flippant letter from the White House to President Erdogan:

When asked about keeping up with Trump’s various and sundry communications, Erdogan told Turkish media that his office had given up monitoring Trump’s Twitter feed, saying that, “When we take a look at Mr Trump’s Twitter posts, we can no longer follow them … We cannot keep track.”

While this deal may seem positive in terms of halting hostilities, beyond the platitudes, and upon much closer examination, we can see the visible fingerprints of the Pentagon and the CIA at work. It’s worth noting that the two men running point on this operation are the President’s deep state handlers, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, both sent to Turkey to secure American interests in Syria.

Here the US continues its three-pronged approach to destabilising and ultimately destroying the modern Syrian state…

‘Take the Oil’

Remember campaign Trump’s infamous adage, “Take the oil!”?  Unfortunately, this blunt policy prescription still applies here.

Priority number one for Washington and its allies is to prevent Damascus from retaking its oil fields located north of the Euphrates River, around the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. After ISIS relinquished control of them in 2016, the SDF, backed by US troops, took control Syria’s main oil fields, including Al-Omar, Tanak, Jafra, as well as the Rmeilan field further north in Hassakeh province. Not surprisingly, according to Syrian media reports, the US military is not withdrawing its assets from around Syria’s oil and gas fields because of the supposed presence of ‘Iranian forces’ said to be stationed near the eastern border region.  Al Masdar News notes that the “[t]wo largest military bases in Syria are in eastern Syria near some of the country’s largest oil fields like Al-‘Umar …. Damascus has wanted the Al-‘Umar and Conoco oil fields to be returned to their government; however, with the U.S.’ large military presence in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, they have found themselves blocked from these critical petrol supplies.”

Confirmation as to who will be in control Syria’s oil fields is still uncertain this week, but this will remain an issue of upmost importance over the coming weeks and months (and do not be surprised if ISIS just happens to appear in this nape of the desert in the coming weeks, and you may draw your own conclusions there).

Of course, US mainstream media pundits are completely oblivious to this fact, or more likely – conveniently avoiding it, preferring instead to misdirect the American public by obsessing ad nauseum over Trump’s ‘betrayal of the Kurds.’

Again, squatting Syria’s natural resources is a pivotal part of Washington’s economic warfare program against Syria, designed to strangle the economy and society, alongside punitive sanctions and economic embargo being waged in tandem with the EU.

‘Safe Zone’ for Terrorists

Second is the issue of regime change in Damascus. While the US and its allies may have failed to remove President Bashar al Assad from power, they have by no means given up. Both the US and Turkey are intent on cultivating political and paramilitary opposition to be used against ‘the regime’ in Damascus. While this ceasefire deal appears to have offered some temporary respite to hostilities, Ankara has stated that it intends to retain control of the area inside Syrian territory indefinitely – a part of the arrangement vehemently opposed by Damascus, who rightly view Turkey as an illegal foreign occupier. However, the devil is surely in the details and Turkey has made no secret of its plans to ethnically cleanse its ‘safe zone’ of Kurds in the hopes of resettling the same area with supposed ‘Syrian refugees’ – who constitute pro-opposition Sunni Arab Syrians and Free Syrian Army supporters – and who Erdogan expects to be pro-Turkey. This dovetails with Erdogan and his AKP party’s long-term project of ‘Sunnification‘ of Turkey and its burgeoning new constituencies being created in northern Syria. Here is where US and Turkish interests clearly overlap. “The United States of America will work with Turkey – will work with nations around the world — to make sure peace and stability are the order of the day in this safe zone,” said Vice President Pence. When asked about what will happen to Kurdish forces who are living in towns inside the supposed ‘safe zone,’ Pence would not comment, and instead changed the subject and waxed lyrical about America’s (no longer) eternal special relationship with the Kurds, stating, “We believe that the Kurdish population in Syria – with which we have a strong relationship – will continue to endure.”

It is important to note here that Kurdish forces are not all victims in this northern stretch of Syria, for they are responsible for the forced displacement of many Arab residents who llives along the proposed ‘safe zone’ before they were run out of their homes by US-back ‘SDF’ militias operating way above their previous station, before they received the protection of the United States. In this way, Turkey is seeking to establish a right of return for those Arabs (including allied militia and militants) who had fled previous under duress.

Those opposing  the Turkey demographic engineering project in this new ‘safe zone’ fear Ankara is inserting its own custom-built Trojan Horse inside Syrian sovereign territory.  This could become a permanent breeding ground for radical Islamist militants to be used by Ankara, Washington and London in their continual regime change operations against Damascus. There can be little doubt that Erdogan and Turkey have sought to leverage religious radicalism within the Syrian opposition from the very beginning of the conflict, and are intending to continue this strategy right up to and beyond achieving any intermediary settlement for northern Syria. The AKP party agenda is a fusion of religious fundamentalism and NeoOttoman Turkish nationalism, described in detail by Turkish scholar and journalist Dr Can Erimtan in an exclusive article published last week at 21WIRE:

In 2012, Ankara’s “AKP-led government simply allowed the FSA to set-up shop on Turkish soil. As a result, the FSA established its headquarters in a refugee camp located in the Turkish province of Hatay, bordering Syria – namely, in the ‘military’ refugee camp known in Turkish as Apaydın Kampı located in the vicinity of Reyhanlı . . . [a] small border town colloquially known as ‘Little Syria’ . . .  The Apaydın Kampı was and still is ‘exclusively reserved for Syrian officers, among them generals and colonels, and their families who had defected,’ abandoning Assad’s camp and instead moving to the [Islamist] opposition.” The camp has been veiled in secrecy from the start: “This camp remains tightly guarded by Turkish security forces to this day. The reporters Gökmen Ulu and Ömer Uluhan insist that the camp only houses ‘AKP supported’ Syrian opposition fighters, adding that access is prohibited, and that even parliamentary deputations are refused entry – such as a . . .   group of opposition MP’s belonging to the Republican People’s Party (or CHP)” in 2014 – a botched trip that received quite a lot of media attention at the time. AKP members, on the other hand, have free access to the site. For example, last July, the current Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar made a visit to the camp, as illustrated on Facebook. And now, these Jihadi fighters are also being employed in Operation Peace Spring, with the Turkish pro-AKP television channel A Haber reporting that the FSA is as eager as ever, quoting the notorious commander of the FSA’s Hamza Division Abu Bakr Sayf: “[w]e are waiting for an order from Ankara. In accordance with these commands we will move to the [area] east of the Euphrates to root out the PKK.”  In addition, the report mentions that the FSA fighters had been busily engaged in training exercises throughout the previous week in preparation of the military manoeuvres across the Euphrates. The A Haber report even adds the salient detail that the Hamza Division and the Suleyman Shah groups have realised war games in the city of Afrin “which had previously been cleansed of terror.” Recently, a video has even emerged showing a fighter of the FSA-affiliated Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya (or the Lions of the East Army) telling the camera that “[w]e will hit the military positions of Gods’ enemies, atheists, and those filthy Arab infidels beside them.”

In this sense, Erdogan’s patronage and redeployment of the FSA/Free Syrian Army (now rebranded to the ‘Syrian National Army‘) is a welcome development for Washington who themselves spent billions in financing, training and arming this same jihadist army, which Erdogan is hoping to resettle into his new Turkish-administered ‘safe zone’ inside Syria. From here, the FSA will be able to stage regular raids against the SAA and Kurdish factions inside Syria, guaranteeing a general climate of instability in northern and northeastern Syria. A similar US and Turkish-backed opposition enclave exists in the  jihadist-occupied Syrian province of Idlib, although the SAA have now deployed reinforcements to the southern countryside of Idlib and northwestern Hama, preparing for a new offensive to retake the embattled governorate.

If the SAA and the Russian air force are successful in clearing the Idlib province of its constituent al Qaeda affiliates, then both the US and Turkey’s hand will be significantly weakened in Syria, leaving Damascus one step closer to what President Assad vowed in reclaiming “every inch” of sovereign Syrian territory.

Like Damascus, Moscow’s position on any foreign occupation inside Syrian territory is crystal clear: “All national territories must eventually be placed under control of legitimate Syrian Govt for the ultimate purpose of firm and long-term stabilisation and security in the region.”

‘Our Friends, The Kurds’

Lastly, the US will want to use any continued instability in northern Syria to continue cultivating Kurdish aspirations of statehood and autonomy. US lawmakers have decried Trump’s (partial) withdrawal of US troops from Syria as a betrayal of “our good friends, the Kurds,” and yet again, the US has left their alleged brothers-in-arms in the lurch. Whereas the Kurdish partners may feel somewhat dejected by an apparent lack of US fortitude at the moment, history shows that this group could later come running back into the arms of Uncle Sam – if the price is right. The object of the Kurdish independence project in Syria is simple: to weaken and divide the Syrian state and to provide the US and Israel (in addition to popular IDF support, the Rojava project also enjoys some public support in Israel) with a another potential geopolitical foothold in the region, just as they have done in Iraqi Kurdistan.

So you have three US agenda items – occupying Syria’s oil fields, creating the FSA’s new ‘safe zone’, and continuing to string along the Kurds – all of which could guarantee a continued US involvement inside Syria for the foreseeable future, allowing Washington to steer events in its intended direction.

Such a state of affairs is not an ideal one for Damascus and its partners in Moscow, but combined with a pugnacious Turkey, and an Israel which is firmly committed to purging its neighbour Syria of ‘Iranian influence,’ there will likely be a series continuous hurdles for Damascus and its allies to overcome in the short to medium term.

Needless to say, all major stakeholders would first like to avoid any risks of a wider regional conflagration which might feature state-on-state military confrontations. That said, as long as US and Turkey are still NATO allies, they may be fundamentally still tasked with destablizing the region and undermining the emerging Axis of Resistance. Therefore, the potential for serious conflict is still present.

But make no mistake: slowly but surely, Syria and its allies are winning this war, and the moves available to the US and its allies are becoming increasingly limited. As a result, US influence in the Middle East will continue to degrade.

We are witnessing one of the most significant realignments of international relations in modern history, as the geopolitical center of gravity for Eurasia continues to drift eastward.

Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq. See Patrick’s 21WIRE reporting and analysis archive here.

READ MORE SYRIA NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Syria Files




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