The more than seven-year war in and against Syria is now followed by an economic war of the West against the country in order to achieve the old goal of a regime change after all.
“We have a big problem,” says Hanan, who lives in Damascus on the steep slope of Qassioun Mountain. “The people here think we are to blame for the fact that there is no petrol. They think the Kurds won’t let the oil from Hasakeh and Deir Ez Zor be brought to the refinery in Homs.” The worker adds, “But it’s the Americans who are sitting on the oil. Everyone knows that we, the people, need the oil. Only the Americans don’t know?”
Like all Syrians, Hanan tries to understand why there has been no petrol at the petrol stations for a week. Hanan is Kurdish and comes from the village Ukan near Afrin, west of Aleppo. For him and his friends, the world in Syria was quite okay despite the war, because he had great hope. For him, “Rojava” and the “Federation” were the great Kurdish example from which all of Syria should learn.
Hope for return
He patiently took long and expensive bus rides to harvest the 300 olive trees that belonged to him with his family every November. Often there was no electricity, for a long time even drinking water in his village. The checkpoints and even the loss of relatives who lost their lives in Turkey during their flight to Europe were pushed into the background by the hope for “the Kurdish example”.
But the loss of his home in Afrin in March 2018, shortly before the New Year celebration “Newroz”, made Hanan more than thoughtful. The parental home, the olive groves, everything is now controlled by Turkey and its combat units. His 80-year-old father had to flee and now lives with his son Hanan and his family in the small house on the Qassioun.
“He always asks me when we are going back to Afrin”, Hanan says and looks at his old father, who is sitting waiting on a chair by the window. “He says he will walk back to Afrin on foot to be buried there. Hanan wonders when he and his father and all the others can return: “In a month, in a year, in two years?
Split and weaken Syria
The Afrin Kurds are already among the big losers in the “Great Game of Syria” today. The self-governing “Canton Afrin” no longer exists. The “Federation” in Afrin was replaced by a caliphate controlled by Turkey. In the more than 300 villages of the region Islamist combat units allied with Turkey and their relatives have settled, who were expelled from the eastern Ghouta of Damascus, from Deraa or Homs by the Syrian army. Today, fighters from Idlib, controlled by Al Qaeda groups*, use Afrin as a passage to get from there to Turkey.
Turkey is in no hurry to withdraw from the occupied territories of Northern Syria. On the contrary, it wants to bring even more territory under its control. From the Euphrates to the border of northern Iraq, a buffer zone up to 30 kilometres wide is to be created to control Turkish troops or combat groups allied with Turkey in order to keep the Syrian Kurds at a distance.
The self-government called “Rojava” (Western Kurdistan) by Kurds regards Turkey as a “danger for national security”. The Kurds are described as “terrorists” who are just as dangerous as the “Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant,” according to President Recep Tayyib Erdogan. No “organization in the north of Syria that poses a threat to the security of Turkey and the territorial integrity of Syria” will be allowed. After the “destruction of Daesh, similar organizations and threats must also be destroyed”. Daesh is the Arabic abbreviation for AdDawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām (Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant), the “Islamic state “*, short “IS “*.
The USA, which occupies the areas east of the Euphrates with around 2000 special forces and cooperates with the military units of the Syrian Kurds as “allies on the ground”, has nothing against a buffer zone controlled by Turkey, but also wants Ankara to accept the Kurdish US allies. The USA’s goal is to take control of as much territory as possible away from the Syrian government and to split Syria up. A Turkish occupation of northern Syria in addition to the areas west and north of Aleppo – Afrin, Azaz, Al Bab and Jarabulus – would accommodate these plans.
USA wants multinational force in northeast Syria
But the close cooperation of the US armed forces with the “terrorist Kurds” currently stands in the way of Turkish-American cooperation in northern Syria. Talks on this have so far been fruitless. Now the US special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, wants to influence the Kurds in Northeast Syria these days to meet the Turks and “open the door” for them, as the Internet portal “Al Monitor” recently described.
Washington proposes that “a limited number” of Turkish soldiers on Syrian territory should secure a buffer zone along the border from the Euphrates to the northern Iraqi border, as Erdogan wishes. The European Nato states are to provide further soldiers to secure the border.
It is also planned that the Kurdish popular defence units YPG/YPJ will be replaced by “local” militias, according to Al Monitor with reference to high-ranking representatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): “Arabs in areas with Arab majority and Kurds in the other areas. In return, Washington allegedly wants to work for a resumption of peace talks between the Turkish government and Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who has been imprisoned on Imrali prison island for 20 years. This party is closely linked to the Kurdish YPG/YPJ in Northern Syria.
Europeans should take part and are already doing so
The primary goal of the US administration is “the withdrawal of US troops” from the areas east of the Euphrates, said Richard Outzen, Syria advisor in the US State Department. The sooner US allies from the “international coalition” agreed to station in the fight against the “IS “*, the sooner the US soldiers could withdraw. The “anti-IS fight” continues to be the official justification for the USA’s continued presence in Syria even after the organisation’s official smashing. US President Donald Trump has confirmed that 400 US special forces should remain in Syria.
Already at the beginning of the year, the USA tried to persuade European allies to become more militarily involved in northern Syria as part of a multinational force. Observers assume that this force will consist mainly of French and British soldiers. France is already deployed with several hundred special forces east of the Euphrates, as documented by media reports. Residents of Raqqa Province, whom the author was able to question in Damascus, confirmed the presence of US and French soldiers as well as soldiers from other Nato states, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the area.
After World War I, France and Great Britain each received mandates from the League of Nations for Syria/Palestine (France) and Mesopotamia/Transjordan (Great Britain). Their presence in the region was rejected by the Syrians. Belgians, Danes, Norwegians and Dutch are reportedly also active east of the Euphrates. The presence of German special forces is denied by Berlin.
With the exception of France, no European Nato country has yet conceded the presence of its own troops in Syria – which violates international law. Neither the UN Security Council nor the Syrian government have legitimised the US army or any other army of the “Anti-IS Alliance” to deploy in Syria.
Kurds between the West and Ankara
Representatives of the Kurdish military leadership sit between tree and bark. They do not want to give up the cooperation with the USA and the financial and military support associated with it. They have nothing against the presence of European NATO troops. Turkey, however, which is also to be integrated into the multinational force by the USA, is regarded by the Syrian Kurds as an arch-enemy. The Kurds do not want to accommodate this themselves without Ankara’s concessions.
According to President Emmanuel Macron, France will support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurds. He explained this on Good Friday during a meeting with SDF representatives in Paris. France will invest in the stabilisation of the areas east of the Euphrates and help to deal with foreign IS fighters and their families.
At a subsequent press conference, representatives of the Syrian Kurds declared that they called for the establishment of an “International Court of Justice in the Autonomous Territories of Northern and Eastern Syria to condemn these mercenaries in accordance with international law and conventions”. They had committed their crimes on “Syrian territory”.
Supply problems in Syria are wanted by the West
The attempt by the USA to force the Kurds to make concessions for a multinational force including Turkey is intended to appease Ankara and pull it out of Russia’s sphere of influence. This is intended to weaken the Astana Circle, in which Russia, Iran and Turkey deny their action in Syria. US Special Envoy Jeffrey declared as early as autumn 2018 that the Astana process needed to be “plugged in”.
The Kurds are also to be prevented from negotiating with the Syrian government in Damascus. A Turkish or Nato occupation of northeastern Syria means depriving areas with important natural resources such as water, wheat, oil and gas of access by the Syrian government. The supply problems this creates for the rest of Syria – after all, 70 percent of Syria is back under government control – are intended according to this plan.
While the areas east of the Euphrates are being rebuilt with development and “stabilisation funds” from US partners, the economic crisis in the rest of the country is to be exacerbated. The US and its allies want to increase the pressure on the Syrian government to such an extent that it cannot hold its own. With the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, the USA also wants to push back Iran’s influence in Syria – a US promise to Israel.
The “big game” continues
This is where the Syrian oil comes into play again, which is currently being withheld not only from the Syrian government, but above all from the Syrians. The sanctions published by the US Treasury at the end of March 2019 threaten all those involved in the transport or financial transfer of oil “to the Syrian government or Syrian government institutions” with sanctions.
Gasoline in Syria is subsidized by the state, which means that general gas stations could be considered “government facilities”, i.e. not supplied. The victims are the ordinary Syrian citizens. But it is not only the Egyptian Suez Canal authorities that are reluctant to act because of the threat of US sanctions. In the meantime, it does not allow Iranian ships with oil for Syria to pass because it does not accept the fee to be paid in US dollars from the ships. Even the Syrian Kurds – whether they like it or not – are not in a position to make Syrian resources available to the whole of Syria as they once promised.
The “big game about Syria” continues. After the war, which the opponents of the Syrian government could not win, comes the economic war – and again the population pays the price. But as in previous years, the USA may have overlooked important aspects in its plan.
Moscow and Tehran with different goals and different approaches
Russia and Iran as allies of the Syrian government have already asserted themselves as strong actors. Unlike the USA, both states are looking for allies even among enemies of the Syrian government. The US and the West – including Israel – want to divide, weaken and dominate the Middle East. Russia and Iran want to strengthen the region – despite their own different interests and those of other regional actors.
Moscow and Tehran agree that US troops should leave Syria and the region. Both are cooperating with Turkey in the Astana Group. However, they also want to prevent Turkey from settling permanently in northern Syria. At a press conference in Moscow last Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the restoration of Syrian government control in north-eastern Syria as “one of the most important tasks”. It is also important to establish a dialogue between the Syrian government and the Kurds and to safeguard Turkey’s security interests along the Turkish-Syrian border, said Lavrov.
A withdrawal of the US troops and their NATO allies from north-eastern Syria would pave the way both for a Syrian-Turkish agreement and for an understanding between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds. This, in turn, could not only lead to the securing of the Syrian-Turkish border, as provided for in the 1998 Adana Agreement. Access to Syrian national resources would also be free again, so that all Syrians could use them. *Terrorist organisation, banned in Russia