A Syrian Puzzle, or a Blueprint for the Near Future

Drifting away from supporting the PYD* in Syria means that the U.S. will be entering a “military blind alley,” and will be stuck even further down the “political and diplomatic blind alley” it has already entered.

Whether it is military, political or diplomatic, all matters related to Syria continue to give the impression of total chaos.

Toward the end of last week, five countries — the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia — got together in Vienna. Foreign ministers from these five countries attended the meeting, and The New York Times announced the news broadly by using the headline “Agreement Reached to Restart Syria Peace Talks and Seek Cease-Fire.”

If you read the news article, rather than just being content with the headline, you can clearly see that there was no concrete agreement. It looks good from a distance, but there was nothing in it. Syria was in the same state that we knew. There was no consensus in the proxy war between the great powers and the primary regional players.

Yet Turkey’s foreign minister, who attended the meeting, said everyone agreed that Bashar Assad should not remain in office any longer. This statement was never published anywhere other than the Turkish press. Also, there is no sign that Russia and Iran have agreed with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey regarding a transitional government without Assad.

In an article that was published yesterday, the Washington Post’s influential columnist David Ignatius implied that the proxy war might get even bigger, and indicates the facts that support his assumption. David Ignatius’ writings are important, since his sources are well known to be American decision makers. Let’s look at the points he underlines in his last article:

“Let’s look at the confusing order of battle: The United States has decided that its strongest partner against the Islamic State group is a Syrian Kurdish force known as the YPG. But Turkey, nominally our NATO ally, says the YPG has links with what it claims is a Kurdish terrorist group. How’s that going to work out? No answers yet.

“Russia, meanwhile, contends that it is fighting the Islamic State group, alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Russian warplanes have been bombing Islamist rebel groups that are covertly supported by the United States, Turkey and Jordan — and these brigades are fighting back hard. The rebels are posting videos bragging about their success with U.S. anti-tank missiles. The battle looks eerily like Russia’s war in Afghanistan, in embryo. Where’s it heading? No answer there, either.

“Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fighting by proxy in Syria for nearly four years. This may be the most toxic conflict of all, because it feeds the Sunni-Shiite sectarian inferno that is immolating the Middle East.

“‘Fight and talk’ is a recurring cycle in Middle East conflict. So perhaps the recent military escalation is the prelude to diplomatic negotiations, as each side tries to extend its territory and strengthen its bargaining position before serious talks begin. We should be so lucky. But both Assad and the rebels seem as unready for compromise as ever.

“What does Turkey think about this expanded U.S. role on its border, especially after the decisive election victory Sunday by the sometimes Kurdophobic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Pentagon officials say the Turks should be reassured, because the United States will now have greater oversight of the YPG’s 25,000 fighters and can prevent supplies from getting to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey views as a terrorist group. It’s a reasonable argument, but it needs Ankara’s assent.”

If this were the case, how could the U.S. achieve effective control and surveillance to stop the PKK acquiring the American arms supplied to the YPG?**

President Barack Obama announced that he sent a group of U.S. Special Forces, containing 50 people, to Syria in order to fight against the Islamic State group alongside the United States’ ally, the YPG. The number is not large, but it is a big shift in Obama’s policy of keeping American uniforms away from Middle East territories.

The YPG has become America’s most reliable ally against the Islamic State group in Syria. In NATO ally Turkey’s perspective, the PYD is just the Syrian-Kurdish part of the “cocktail of terrorists,” which includes the Islamic State group, the DHKP/C*** and the PKK.

If the U.S. does not stop its close collaboration with the YPG and the PYD, it seems impossible to get away from a political and diplomatic impasse. If [the U.S.] does give up, it will have to give up one of the most effective “armed opposition groups” on the ground, and in a sense give up fighting against the Islamic State group. Moreover, it will have to leave its dominance over the Syrian region almost entirely to Russia and Iran.

In other words, by drifting away from the PYD in Syria, the U.S. is getting itself into a blind alley, and will never find a way out of this situation.

In the meantime, some opportunities have been pursued, such as diluting the YPG with Barzani’s**** peshmergas. Ankara’s preference is for Syrian Kurds to be under Barzani’s control.

Several different commissions are being sent from Erbil to Rojava, in order to propose these offers and test their applicability.

The YPG’s reaction to all this might be summed up as: “We welcome them. However, there will be only one controlling body. There is no need to pave the way for another civil war like the one among Iraqi Kurds in the 1990s.”

So far the issue has not been resolved. As long as the YPG’s alliance with the U.S. continues, and as long as the United States’ need for the YPG in the Syrian field continues, it is possible that the Syrian Kurds can be taken under Barzani’s control — but it does not seem realistic.

While Washington is not abandoning the PYD, there are also new developments between the PYD and Moscow.

If you want to see what the end will bring, you must see Syria’s puzzle with all of these pieces.

*Editor’s note: The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is a Kurdish political party in northern Syria.

**Editor’s note: People’s Protection Units (YPG) are the main armed service of the PYD.

***Editor’s note: The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) is a Marxist-Leninist party in Turkey.

****Editor’s note: Masoud Barzani has been president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region since 2005.

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