Daesh was nurtured by Iran, says former Syrian vice president

Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam. (Newsweek Middle East)
Updated 30 October 2016

Daesh was nurtured by Iran, says former Syrian vice president

Former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam believes that the United States is no longer capable of solving the problems in Syria.
“The situation (in Syria) is highly complicated because of the stand taken by each of the great powers, in particular the US and Russia,” said the 84-year-old Syrian politician who has been in Paris since he defected from Syria in 2005.
In an exclusive interview with Leila Hatoum of Newsweek Middle East, he said the ongoing war had become an international power struggle taking place on Syrian soil.
Khaddam served over two decades as vice president, first under Hafez Assad, from 1984 till 2000, and later under Bashar until 2005.
For a period of 37 days, Khaddam was Syria’s interim president between June and July 2000, after Hafez Assad’s death and before Bashar took over.
“When no one looks after those who are oppressed, it creates a situation of bottled anger which only leads to one result — explosion,” the magazine quoted Khaddam as saying.
“It is under these circumstances that Daesh came into existence, first in Iraq with the remnants of the former Iraqi regime, and then expanding to Syria and elsewhere,” he said.
Khaddam claimed that Daesh was nurtured by Iran, which he said “is working along the lines of creating a Sunni power to fight Sunnis in the region.”
He said he had hopes when US President Barack Obama was first elected president because of what he had heard of Obama and his respect for principles. “However, we did not see these principles in the case of Syria,” he said.
According to him, Obama failed to take the opportunity to renew US relations with the Arab and Muslim world. “All that the Syrians heard from Obama was that Assad must go,” said Khaddam, adding that Washington seemed to disregard its former allies in the Middle East in favor of new ones.
“It turned out there was a US-Russian agreement, and the US reconciled with Iran despite knowing that (Tehran) rules Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and has mobilized the Houthis in Yemen to distract the Arab Gulf nations who are allies of the US.”
Khaddam said Russia managed to pull the rug from under the feet of the United States in Syria, and “Washington has no one but itself to blame.”
The US, he argued, made a mistake when it pushed its ally, Turkey, into Russia’s arms, thereby giving Moscow an upper hand in the conflict.
“The Americans were involved in the (failed) Turkish coup,” alleged Khaddam, a fact which left a bitter taste in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mouth. “The Russians received bonus points after tipping off Erdogan about the coup two days prior to the event.” (This claim remains uncorroborated.)
He further charged that Europe, the Americans, and the Arab nations failed to seize the opportunity to cut the war short and so spare the Syrian people a great deal of death and misery. “They did not take the necessary measures that they should have taken years ago (to topple the Assad regime),” explained Khaddam, “despite their knowledge that the regime in Syria was a murderous one.”
He said the US stabbed the Syrian opposition in the back, explaining that when the Syrian revolution began, people thought the US wanted to help.
Shortly before the revolution began, Syria’s chemical arsenal was evolving, and US President Barack Obama “took a decision to hit the Syrian regime and send the US Navy to the Syrian coast,” said Khaddam.
However, it seems that the Russians managed to convince the Americans that they would take care of the problem of Syria’s chemical arsenal.
“Even the Arab nations were relying on the Americans and the Russians because they thought that the superpowers had interests in the Arab world. But what was the result?” asked Khaddam, evincing clear disapproval of the course events have taken.
The new US administration must work on rebuilding the broken trust between Arab countries and Washington, said Khaddam. He admires Hillary Clinton. To him, she has political experience, unlike her Republican opponent Donald Trump.
He said though the Iranian regime considers itself a custodian of Syria; however, things were different during Hafez Assad’s time. “He never allowed the Iranians to intervene in Syrian affairs,” said Khaddam, citing one example of Iran’s attempts to expand in the region.
“During Hafez Assad’s time, an Iranian delegation arrived in Syria and attempted to convert some Muslim Alawite Syrians to Shia Islam. A group from the Alawites came from the coast to us and informed Assad of the matter. They complained the Iranians ‘came to change our faith,’ and Assad ordered his foreign minister to summon the Iranian ambassador to deliver an ultimatum: The delegation had 24 hours to leave Syria.”
Khaddam believes that cutting the supply line between Iran and its external groups is necessary, especially in the case of Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah’s presence is linked to the presence of the regime in Syria. And of course, Iran is the sectarian reference for this party, and supplies it with money. However, should Syria’s Iranian lifeline be cut, then Hezbollah won’t be able to stand on its feet. Hezbollah without the Syrian regime is worth nothing,” said Khaddam.
The same scenario is playing in Iraq, said Khaddam, who claimed that up to 50 percent of the Shiite population is against Iran. “Syria is the place which leads to Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine,” he added.

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar. (AP)
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago

Kurd forces welcome US decision to keep 200 troops

  • White House unveils plan to maintain ‘a small peacekeeping force’ in Syria

BEIRUT, WASHINGTON: The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a US decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters.

The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.

Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Daesh with US backing for years.

“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.

“I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria, applauded the president’s decision to leave a few hundred as part of an “international stabilizing force.” Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with SDF forces, which helped the US fight Daesh militants. 

Moreover, Graham said leaving a small force in Syria will serve as a check on Iranian ambitions and help ensure that Daesh militants do not try to return.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS (Daesh), protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria,” Graham said.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

The SDF is led by a Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers an enemy. Kurdish officials had feared that a total US withdrawal would create a security vacuum and allow Turkey to launch a long-promised offensive against them.

The Kurds, who seek autonomy within Syria, have made overtures to the government of Bashar Assad, seeking security guarantees as Washington withdraws.

“I believe that these forces in this region ... will be a motivation, an incentive and also a means of pressure on Damascus to try seriously to have a dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Omar said. 

The SDF is currently involved in a standoff over the final sliver of land held by Daesh in eastern Syria, close to the Iraq border.

Many believe the Daesh threat will not end with the pocket’s recapture and an insurgency is underway. 

In a foreboding sign on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for back-to-back suicide attacks that hit a village miles away, leaving more than a dozen people dead in a rare targeting of civilians.

It is unclear where the 200 remaining US troops will be stationed.

The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country’s northeast.

Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vital road linking Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon — and Israel’s doorstep.

Trump spoke Thursday with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“On Syria, the two presidents agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” the White House said in a statement about the call.

The White House also said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will be hosting their Turkish counterparts in Washington this week for further talks.