Erdogan threats against Kurds will not stop Syria withdrawal, Pompeo says

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the US Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital Baghdad after his tour around Irbil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (File/AP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Erdogan threats against Kurds will not stop Syria withdrawal, Pompeo says

  • The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Irbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman
  • The US forces have been working with a Kurdish militia to fight against Daesh

BAGHDAD/CAIRO: The US troop withdrawal from Syria will not be scuppered despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies there, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected.
Pompeo met leaders in Iraq’s capital and its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region on Wednesday, aiming to reassure them about Washington’s plans following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month of an abrupt withdrawal from Syria.
The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Irbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.
Pompeo has the task of explaining US policy in the region after Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria, which rattled allies and came as a shock to top US officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit over it.
The US forces have been working with a Kurdish militia to fight against Daesh. The Kurds control a swath of northeastern Syria, Washington’s foothold in a conflict that has drawn in Russia, Iran, Turkey and other regional powers.
Washington has repeatedly said its Kurdish allies will remain safe despite the withdrawal. But Turkey, which considers the US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia an enemy, has repeatedly vowed to crush the group and repudiated any suggestion of protecting it once US troops leave.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced visiting US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday for suggesting that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the US withdrawal, a suggestion Erdogan called “a serious mistake.”
Asked in Irbil if Erdogan’s pushback on the protection of the Kurds puts the withdrawal at risk, Pompeo told reporters: “No. We’re having conversations with them even as we speak about how we will effectuate this in a way that protects our forces...
“It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that those folks that fought with us are protected and Erdogan has made commitments, he understands that,” Pompeo added.
Smooth over relations

The withdrawal of US forces in Syria strengthens the hand both of Turkey and of the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, which is backed by Russia and Iran. Pompeo has stressed throughout his trip to the region that Washington still aims to counter Iranian influence.
In Iraq, Pompeo also sought to smooth over relations after political leaders were angered when Trump visited US troops on the day after Christmas at a remote desert air base without stopping in Baghdad or meeting any Iraqi officials.
Many politicians from the ruling coalition of mainly Shiite parties called Trump’s visit a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded the United States withdraw troops.
In Baghdad, Pompeo met Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hakim, Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Al-Halbousi and President Barham Salih.
President Salih, answering a reporter’s question on whether he wants the United States to keep troops, said Iraq “will need the support of the US” and expressed his “gratitude to the US for support over the years.”
“Daesh is defeated militarily but the mission is not accomplished,” Salih said, using an acronym for Daesh.
The United States withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 eight years after an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, but sent thousands back after Daesh fighters swept into the north of the country in 2014. It now has around 5,200 there, and Trump has not announced plans to pull them out.
Daesh militants are still waging insurgent attacks in the north of the country and trying to make a comeback, although they were driven from all towns and cities last year.
Asked on Tuesday about what would be discussed during a possible meeting with Pompeo, Abdul Mahdi said deepening Iraq’s relationship with the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.
“He’s an ally, he represents a friendly country,” Abdul Mahdi said of Pompeo on Tuesday. “We will raise those issues, and how to deal with regional issues altogether and deepen our economic and educational relations with the United States.”


Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

Updated 24 March 2019
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Syria Kurds urge world to take back foreign militants

  • The Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat
  • Many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Syria’s Kurds warned Sunday that the thousands of foreign militants they have detained in their fight against the Daesh group are a time-bomb the international community urgently needs to defuse.
Speaking a day after Kurdish-led forces announced the final demise of the militants’ physical “caliphate,” the Kurdish administration’s top foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar warned that its foreign captives still pose a threat.
“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Omar said.
“Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation,” he said, referring to the village by the Euphrates where diehard militants made a bloody last stand.
The fate of foreign Daesh fighters has become a major issue as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces closed in on the once-sprawling proto-state the militants declared in 2014.
After a months-long assault by the US-backed SDF to flush out the last Daesh strongholds in the Euphrates Valley, militants and their families gradually gathered in Baghouz as the last rump of the “caliphate” shrank around them.
While some managed to escape, many of the foreigners stayed behind, either surrendering to the SDF or fighting to the death.
According to the SDF, 66,000 people left the last Daesh pocket since January, including 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives.
The assault was paused multiple times as the SDF opened humanitarian corridors for people evacuating the besieged enclave.
The droves of people scrambling out of Baghouz in recent weeks were screened by the SDF and dispatched to camps further north, where most are still held.
The de facto autonomous Kurdish administration is northeastern Syria has warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people, let alone put them on trial.
But many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
Some have even withdrawn citizenship from their nationals detained in Syria.
“There has to be coordination between us and the international community to address this danger,” Abdel Karim Omar said.
“There are thousands of children who have been raised according to IS ideology,” he added.
“If these children are not reeducated and reintegrated in their societies of origin, they are potential future terrorists.”