America back in the game to bring stability to Syria
Washington's plans for a new region east of the Euphrates could check Iranian influence
By Abdulrahman Al Rashed
Published: Wed 17 Jan 2018, 6:00 PM
Last updated: Wed 17 Jan 2018, 8:29 PM
A Syrian army of 30,000 soldiers is being deployed to control areas east of the Euphrates, bordering southern Turkey and northern Iraq. Half of the army consists of Syrian Kurds, while the rest comprises soldiers from other Arab countries.
The United States is the new player here, finally deciding to get involved in the Syrian war by supporting local opposition groups in a bid find a solution in Syria.
This development is important, though the new region will not be a state in the legal sense. A Syrian region east of the Euphrates would be less than a state, but more than a protectorate.
Dividing countries and building a new one is a complex and dangerous political, legal and military process, not to forget that there is an international consensus against such a project. Yet, a new Syrian force could be the best option for a reasonable peace in Syria.
In his recent testimony before the Congress, acting Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, David Satterfield said the project would constitute a new model in Syria. Satterfield stated that the project appears to be with many ambitious goals involving the efforts of diplomats, intelligence officers and military commanders.
This time, however, the US surprised everyone by showing that it could come up with new ideas, build a project from scratch and maintain secrecy at the same time. Under the pretense of fighting Daesh in eastern and southern Syria, the US gradually increased its forces and experts to around 5,000, more than half of which were in the eastern Syrian Euphrates. This group was in charge of gathering and training a large force of 30,000 Syrians whose first victory was defeating Daesh in Raqqa.
The first opposition to the US idea did not come from the Damascus regime or Iran, as was expected, but from Turkey that announced it would not remain silent on this but would go to war with the armed Syrian Kurds. Ankara considers Syrian Kurds an extension of the "terrorist and separatist" Turkish Kurds. A Turkish ground offensive in Afrin can therefore be expected soon.
Turkey's suspicions towards any Kurdish armed force on its border is justified, but its reluctance to confront Iran in Syria has created a vacuum prompting the creation of an alternative force for this task.
Countries involved in the conflict recognised Turkey's weak point and followed a policy of appeasement with President Recep Tayyip. Erdogan was ready to cooperate with any party that would support him in his conflict with the Kurds.
So the Iranians played to Turkey's interests followed by the Russians. And Ankara embraced them.
The creation of a new Syrian region is a better option than what was planned by the Russians and Iranians, which was to bring about a solution by force.
Iran is looking to create a situation that will allow it to occupy Syria and impose its influence on Lebanon and Iraq, which could eventually provide it with better negotiating power in its regional issues and relations with the West. It is in a race against time.
Tehran plans to control areas Russia had already agreed to leave under the civilian opposition's control. A member of the opposition delegation, Yasser Al Farhan spoke of the agreement and how Iran violated it. "Maps were clearly drawn showing that the regime will not enter these areas, and that it would be managed by local councils with no heavy weapons, while the light weapons will remain with security and civilian defence forces to serve the local population," said Farhan.
"The agreement states that Iranian militias can't enter, neither can the regime forces. A small group of Russian forces would only be allowed as monitoring forces at three checkpoints to ensure the implementation of the agreement. Behind the line dividing the two sides, Turkish troops would be deployed."
But Iranian militias did not respect the agreement; Russia did not force them to respect it, nor did the Turkish forces intervene.
This Iranian activity proves that Sochi talks were a failure. Hence this American-backed parallel force has become a necessity. The regional race for the control of Syria is only heating up. -Asharq Al Awsat
Abdulrahman Al Rashed is the former general manager of Al Arabiya television and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al Majalla