[ Editor’s Note: This pulling the Iraqi militias from the al-Bukamal border town comes as no surprise, as ISIS has been cleared out of the south Deir Ezzor area for some time, and local forces are much better at local security in tribal areas.
The bigger surprise, which VT has yet to confirm from our own Syrian sources, is that Hezbollah is pulling out of its long held Damascus positions. Even though that area has also been quiet from ground combat, the move would be important politically.
Hezbollah forces were rotated in and out of Syria during the war to give them combat experience, and also to work with their allies in Syria against common enemies. Along with the first Iranian advisers and then the Russians, they formed the first anti US-coalition force in the region and saved Syria…so far.
But the war has become different, where the final battles will be fought politically for rule of Syria. So, I agree with the conclusion below that these troop moves might be part of a step-by-step pullback, which might be reciprocated by others.
Let us hope so, as that will allow a tired people to start rebuilding their lives after a long and brutal war; if it really is over, and not just a time-out period… Jim W. Dean ]
– First published … June 30, 2019 –
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have withdrawn their units from the strategic city of al-Bukamal in the eastern Syrian governorate of Deir Ezzor, Syria’s al-Watan newspaper reported on June 29.
“Personnel of the Iraqi PMU, which are fighting terrorism along the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), evacuated a position near the school of Ali bin Abi Talib in the city of al-Bukamal and headed towards the area of al-Harri on the Syrian-Iraqi border,” the newspaper, which is known for its close ties with the Damascus government, said in its report.
According to al-Watan, the PMU’s withdrawal from al-Bukamal was carried out in full coordination with the SAA, which took control of the abandoned positions.
Earlier this month, a tribal meeting was held in al-Bukamal to form local forces to protect the city and assist the SAA. During the meeting several tribal leaders stressed that the army’s allies should be replaced by local forces.
While the success of the meeting was likely one of the reasons behind the PMU’s surprising withdrawal, other regional factors can’t be ruled out.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) revealed a day after the release of al-Watan’s report that Lebanese Hezbollah is also withdrawing from positions around the Syrian capital, Damascus, and in the southern region of the country.
The withdrawal of these forces, if confirmed, could be a sign of a near understanding between Damascus and its allies on one side and the U.S. on the other. Washington has been calling on Iranian-backed forces to withdraw from Syria for several years now.
In some cases, a partial withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces may become a part of wider deal to settle the conflict.