Syria withdrawal without plan can lead to chaos, Trump told

In this file photo taken on December 30, 2018, shows a line of US military vehicles in Syria's northern city of Manbij. (AFP)
Updated 20 January 2019
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Syria withdrawal without plan can lead to chaos, Trump told

  • Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he believed US Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford was working on a plan with Turkey to move Kurdish YPG elements
  • Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed PKK

ANKARA:  A US withdrawal from Syria that has not been thought through would lead to “chaos” and “an Iraq on steroids,” Sen. Lindsey Graham warned on Saturday, urging President Donald Trump not to get out without a plan.

Speaking to reporters in the Turkish capital Ankara a day after meeting with Turkish officials, the Republican senator from South Carolina said a plan to withdraw from Syria should ensure that Daesh is defeated, that Iran is contained and that Turkey is protected from threats from Kurdish fighters.

Graham said the goal of destroying Daesh militants in Syria has not yet been accomplished.

“I am urging President Trump not to do what President Obama did, which is just to get out and not to understand what happens when you just get out,” he said.

Graham was referring to Obama’s decision to pull US forces from Iraq in 2011, ending the occupation of the country since 2003. In 2014, Obama redeployed troops to Iraq at the invitation of the government to stop Daesh militants from advancing on Baghdad. Some 5,200 troops remain in Iraq today and Daesh was defeated in its last urban stronghold only a year ago.

A US withdrawal from Syria without a plan would lead to an “Iraq on steroids,” he said.

The senator added that the Turkish and US defense chiefs were working on a plan to move Syrian Kurdish militia away from the border with Turkey, but did not provide further details.

Trump announced last month that Daesh had been defeated in Syria and he would pull US forces out of the country.

The decision injected new uncertainty into the eight-year-long Syrian war and spurred a flurry of contacts over how a resulting security vacuum will be filled across northern and eastern Syria where the US forces are stationed.

Trump has raised the possibility of creating a “safe zone” at the border with Turkey in an apparent bid to prevent a possible Turkish military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia. The group was allied with the US in the fight against Daesh but Turkey views the fighters as “terrorists” and a major national security threat.

A prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, Graham met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and also held discussions with the foreign affairs and defense ministers and Turkey’s intelligence chief.

 

Plan with Turkey

Graham said he believed US Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford was working on a plan with Turkey to move Kurdish YPG elements away from the Turkish border.

“Here’s the good news: Gen. Dunford, I think, has a plan that he’s working on with the Turkish military that can accomplish these objectives and they are to move the YPG elements away from Turkey,” said Graham, adding heavy armaments should be taken from the Kurdish groups.

Erdogan said last week he had discussed a safe zone with Trump, which Turkey would set up inside Syria along their border.

A bomb attack this week claimed by the militant group killed two US troops and two civilians working for the US military in northern Syria, along with other civilians.

The attack in Manbij appeared to be the deadliest on US forces in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015. The town is controlled by a militia allied to US-backed Kurdish forces.

It remains unclear when US forces will leave northern Syria, where both Turkey and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad are ready to fill the vacuum. The YPG militia allied to the fighters holding Manbij last month invited Assad into the area around the town to forestall a potential Turkish assault. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Graham also said the political arm of the YPG was interlinked and interconnected with the PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.

“A withdrawal that does not outline the points I have made will not end the war against Daesh, it will start a new war,” he said.

“This war will be a necessity by Turkey, to go into Syria and clear out armed elements that Turkey believes poses a threat to its sovereignty.”

A Turkish official told Reuters that the US should consider Turkey’s priorities, not those of the YPG.

“After (Graham’s) meetings in Turkey, (with) Erdogan and other officials, we hope the US will understand more the situation,” the official said.

(With agencies)


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.