Daesh loses big part of Syrian enclave, SDF sees militants’ defeat ‘very soon’

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A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces gestures in the village of Baghouz. (Reuters)
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Injured Daesh militants in the village of Baghouz on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Daesh loses big part of Syrian enclave, SDF sees militants’ defeat ‘very soon’

  • The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Daesh in Baghouz
  • The SDF earlier said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria: US-backed Syrian forces said they were close to capturing Daesh’s last territorial possession in eastern Syria on Tuesday after seizing the militants’ camp at Baghouz, though clashes continued with some remaining militants.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for Daesh.

Asked by Reuters how long it would take to defeat the remaining militants, Bali said he expected the operation to end “very soon.”

“The battles are not yet over. There are still some pockets next to the river. Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields. There are intermittent clashes,” he said.

The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Daesh in Baghouz, itself the last populated area the militant group held from the third of Syria and Iraq it suddenly seized in 2014.

It has been steadily forced back there after years of retreats in the face of military campaigns by the US-backed SDF, the Russia-backed Syrian army and the Iraqi army with allied Iran-backed militias.

Over recent weeks, as the group hemorrhaged supporters fleeing the besieged enclave, diehard militants mounted a desperate last stand in the battered Baghouz camp, shooting from trenches and sending car bombs against their enemies.

Conditions inside were dire, said people who left, with inhabitants facing constant danger from bombardment and with little food, forced to eat grass. Hundreds of wounded militants were captured when the SDF overran the camp, Bali said.

However, while the capture of the previously unknown village of Baghouz near Syria’s border with Iraq, will mark a milestone in the battle against Daesh, regional and Western officials say the group will remain a threat

Some of its fighters hold out in the remote central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraq to stage a series of shootings and kidnappings.

The SDF earlier on Monday said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by militants to break out of the enclave and escape their besiegers.

Both the SDF and the US-led coalition that backs it have said the remaining Daesh militants at Baghouz are among its most hardened foreign operatives.

Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Daesh, including some 5,000 fighters.

Even on the brink of defeat, the group’s propaganda division continued to function. On Monday night Daesh released an audio recording of its spokesman, Abi Al-Hassan Al-MuHajjer, saying the group would stay strong.

“Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Daesh? No,” he said.

It also put out a video recording from inside the Baghouz camp, showing fighters shooting out at the encircling forces and a mess of stationary vehicles and makeshift shelters around them.


What led to the genocide of Armenians by the Ottomans

Updated 13 min 53 sec ago
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What led to the genocide of Armenians by the Ottomans

  • Regional affairs expert explains the reasons behind the carnage
  • The Ottoman Empire was known during the 19th and early 20th centuries as the sick man of Europe

RIYADH: Eyad Abu Shakra, a Middle East specialist, said there were three things that needed to be considered when researching how the Ottoman Empire handled Armenia during the First World War. Approaching the subject in this way made it possible to understand the violent repression of non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire, especially the Armenians.

Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Abu Shakra said the first point was related to Armenian history and heritage. They were among the first people to convert to Christianity, which was the dominant religion in Anatolia prior to Islam. The majority of Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. It was founded in the first century A.D. by St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, two of Jesus Christ’s disciples.

Abu Shakra said the second point was related to the “Eastern question,” a reference to the final decades of the Ottoman Empire and the mounting pressure it faced from European powers that were competing to carve out their own territories.

He said the historical roots of the Eastern question dated back to the 16th century, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Emperor Francis I reached an understanding by which France was granted special status as protector of the non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire, which was at the time at the height of its power.

But what started as a generous grant bestowed by a powerful state in the 16th century, became in the 19th century a tool of European pressure, and impositions from Christian powers on a weakened Ottoman state. This imbalance was reflected in the military losses of the Ottomans at the hands of the Europeans.

The Ottoman Empire was known during the 19th and early 20th centuries as the sick man of Europe. 

The worst setbacks were during the Russo-Ottoman war of 1768-1774, when the Ottoman Empire lost territories in the northern Black Sea region. The Ottoman decline climaxed by the end of the 19th century, when they lost much of the Balkans to separatist Serbs and Bulgarians.

“The Eastern question was finally answered after the First World War with the total collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which was forced to sign the Treaty of Sevres and then the Treaty of Lausanne. It gave up its claims to the Balkans and the Middle East. New states came into existence, such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey which was established in Anatolia, Istanbul and the Straits, while other territories came under direct rule of the allied victors,” said Abu Shakra.

The third point, according to Abu Shakra, lay in the Ottoman reforms that started during the reign of Sultan Abdul Majid I and continued until the First World War in 1914. For a long time the Ottoman Empire occupied swathes of territory across the continents of the ancient world. It included diverse populations and religions and this great power had an influential role in world politics. However, from the 18th century onward it became a decaying power.

The European powers, on the other hand, were on the rise despite their rivalries. So while the Ottoman state bureaucracy and military deteriorated, its army suffered from defeats in various wars that it fought on various fronts, draining the empire’s resources. 

These defeats made the Ottoman intelligentsia consider going through reforms to save whatever could be saved and modernize the empire.  This reform movement made important achievements, but it was argued by conservatives that the internal fabric could not withstand the pace of reforms. This tension became a pretext for questioning the validity of the reforms which increased the confidence of non-Muslims (including Armenians), non-Turks (especially Arabs), who started to have a growing sense of identity. This friction was encouraged by the European powers, who had been interfering in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire.

As a result, Sultan Abdul Hamid II came to power representing the conservative nationalist line, which was apathetic to the aspirations of non-Turks, especially the European ones. Although Abdul Hamid was removed from power after 30 years, the theater was prepared for the “Armenian Genocide” during the years of the First World War.