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Pre-war Syria remains Syria: pluralistic, multi-ethnic and secular

Jun 06,2018 - Last updated at Jun 06,2018

It is both amazing and highly significant that The New York Times journalist Eric Schmitt wrote an account of the campaign against Daesh in such a way to make it appear Washington's Kurdish surrogates and other allies have been the main force fighting the takfiris in Syria. The allies include French commandos and Iraqi intelligence agents. No mention is made of the Syrian army, Russian, Iranian forces and Lebanon's Hizbollah, which have been fighting not only Daesh, but also Al Qaeda and its clones since the takfiris crossed from Iraq into Syria in 2012-2013.

Schmitt writes: "A force of allied Kurds and Arabs in Syria's east has served as the United States' most effective battleground ally against [Daesh]...But a spate of Turkish attacks last winter against other Kurds, in northwest Syria, prompted the Kurdish fighters to peel away from the American-led assault near the Iraqi border.

"Their absence allowed many of the remaining [Daesh] militants to flee, regain scraps of territory and renew guerrilla attacks from hide-outs across the country."

This depiction of the situation is off the mark. First and foremost, the commanders and main fighting force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia are Kurds from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). The Turkish offensives against the Kurdish district of Afrin earlier this year was not against "other" Kurds but the YPG. Instead of using its leverage on Ankara to prevent or halt this offensive, the US turned a blind eye, allowing the Turkish army and allied militiamen, largely drawn from the ranks of Daesh and Al Qaeda-linked factions, to overrun Afrin, expel its Kurdish defenders and population, loot homes and businesses and abuse civilians. Without Kurdish commanders and its most experienced and motivated fighters, the Arab tribal elements of the SDF could not hold the vast stretch of territory, much of its desert, the SDF seized at the instigation of the US.

Clearly inspired by the Pentagon, the article says the campaign against Daesh in Syria may continue for only another six months since US President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw 2,000 US troops, special operations types, plus advisers from Syria before the few hundred Daesh remnants are mopped up. Consequently, Daesh survivors may continue to operate for years in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Clearly, the Pentagon considers it owns the fight against Daesh.

According to Schmitt's interlocutors, the situation began to change when the SDF launched a fresh offensive to eliminate Daesh pockets east of the Euphrates River. Meanwhile, west of the river, Daesh has attacked Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, Schmitt writes.

Having been in Deir Ezzor shortly after the Syrian army lifted the 1,000-day siege of the western districts of the city and ousted Daesh from the town of Mayadeen, this correspondent recalls the dismay among Syrian officers who saw the SDF seize control of swathes of Raqqa and Deir Al Zor provinces and prevent the army from regaining territory on the eastern bank of the river. The US-surrogate SDF now holds about 25 per cent of Syrian territory. For the majority of Arabs who live there, this amounts to a hostile occupation. In recent days there have been protests against the occupation and calls for the return of government rule to this area.

In an interview with Russia Today, Syrian President Bashar Assad said once Damascus had dealt with Daesh and Al Qaeda, it would focus on the SDF. "We are going to use two methods to deal with the SDF. The first one: we started opening doors for negotiations," on the supposition that the majority of its members are Syrians and are loyal to their country. If this approach does not bear fruit, he said the Syrian army would be "forced to liberate areas occupied by the SDF, with the Americans or without the Americans". He reiterated his view that the US had to leave as they are in Syria with no legal basis — as was the case in Iraq when the US invaded in 2003.

The US refusal to ward off the Turkish invasion of Afrin was a major miscalculation as the Kurds must now realise they cannot trust Washington, neither the White House nor the Pentagon. Afrin should have been a very important lesson for the Syrian Kurds. Hundreds of YPG fighters were killed or driven out of the Kurish majority enclave and tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians were torn from their homes and land and expelled. Ankara has settled takfiri fighters from Eastern Ghouta in their homes with the intention of replacing the majority Kurdish population of this strategic enclave on the border with Turkey.

If the Syrian government had behaved as badly as the expansionist Turkish regime has in Afrin, there would have been an international outcry. But there has been little mention of this outrage. Turkey, like Israel, breaches with impunity international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibit such violations of human rights of people living under an occupation.

There are reports that the US and Turkey have agreed that YPG elements must leave the northern town of Manbij west of the Euphrates. This would be a second US betrayal of its Kurdish allies if correct. In the long-run the Kurds will have to recognise they are part of Syria and that they cannot rely on the US, particularly under Donald Trump, who will remain in office, unfortunately, at least until 2021. It is in the Kurds' best interests to do a deal with Damascus sooner rather than later as they do not want an Arab insurrection on their hands.

In his interview with Russia Today, Assad pointed out that his country's seven-year conflict has been driven by foreign powers seeking regime change rather than civil conflict. He said there are no sectarian or ethnic conflicts in areas held by the government.  "Now in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Homs, in every area under Syrian government control, you will see [the entire] spectrum of Syrian society with no exceptions."

Having visited Syria more times over the past seven years than ever before, this correspondent can confirm his assertion. The war has uprooted millions of Syrians of all communities who have found refuge with each other rather than in communal enclaves. In human terms, pre-war Syria remains Syria: pluralistic, multi-ethnic and secular, unlike Iraq, where the US played the colonial game of divide-and-rule and destroyed the social, sectarian and communal fabric of a once secular country.

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"Pre-war Syria remains Syria: pluralistic, multi-ethnic and secular" ... ? Pathetic.

Pre war Syria was an Arab dictatorship in which ethnic minorities were denied citizenship and voting rights, and it still is.

And then this tosh:

"Instead of using its leverage on Ankara to prevent or halt this offensive [Afrin], the US turned a blind eye, allowing the Turkish army and allied militiamen, largely drawn from the ranks of Daesh and Al Qaeda-linked factions, to overrun Afrin" - the journalist clearly has never even heard of the country of Russia, whose troops were stationed in Afrin at the time, not the US.

Assad is a mass murderer. None of your ridiculous rhetoric changes that.

The only pluralistic, multi-ethnic and secular region that has ever existed in Syria is the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.

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