Syria Kurds fear US to abandon them

Syrian women walk in a street next to Kurdish flags in the northeastern city of Qamishli, on Nov. 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 15 December 2017

Syria Kurds fear US to abandon them

QAMISHLI, Syria: Syria’s Kurds fear the steadfast ally they found in the US to successfully take on Daesh may now leave them to face threats from Turkey and Damascus alone.
Across Syria’s north, Kurdish authorities have spent more than four years steadily building public institutions including elected councils, security forces, even schools.
They felt they had found an international sponsor in the US, which relied primarily on the fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to roll back Daesh in northern and eastern Syria.
But with Daesh holding just five percent of Syria, Kurds worry the US could withdraw support, costing them the key political and territorial gains they scored in the chaos of war.
“We are afraid of America, which has been using us as a card to play for a long time,” said Rafea Ismail, a 37-year-old who sells women’s accessories on the hood of his car in the city of Qamishli.
“When they’re done using us, they’ll forget us,” he said.
Qamishli is the main hub of the autonomous administration the Kurdish authorities have run since regime forces withdrew from swathes of northeast Syria in 2012.
“All countries should support us because we fight terrorism. We liberated Raqqa, and America should not abandon us and ally with Turkey,” said Nawal Farzand, a 45-year-old Kurdish language teacher.
In March 2016, Kurdish parties announced they would seek to establish a federal system there after ousting Daesh from much of the area with the help of the US-led coalition.
Their biggest win was Raqqa, once Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital but captured in October by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Weeks later, the US announced it was pulling 500 Marines from its nearly 2,000-strong force in Syria and “amending” its support to the YPG.
But the terrorists are “not finished yet,” said Nassrin Abdallah, a commander in the militia’s female branch, the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
Sleeper cells still stage attacks and Daesh fighters are active in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, she said.
“It is important for the coalition forces to stay to guarantee security and stability, since the threat from Daesh still exists,” Abdallah added.”Turkey is also a threat to the Kurdish people.”
The Kurds’ rising profile had enraged Damascus, which insists it wants to recapture every inch of territory lost since Syria’s uprising erupted in 2011.
But it especially alarmed Turkey, which feared the semi-independent administration in northern Syria would inspire similar ambitions among its own Kurdish community.
Ankara considers the YPG as “terrorist” because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
English teacher Nada Abbas says she, too, fears the US “will abandon the Kurds after the end of the battle against Daesh.”
“This would be a gift to Turkey, which doesn’t accept Kurds becoming stronger,” says the 30-year-old.
“It would attack us like it did in the past. The Turkish threat will not end,” Abbas adds.
Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank, says Turkey poses “the gravest threat to the Kurds in Syria” — even more than Syrian President Bashar Assad or Daesh.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip “Erdogan has made it crystal clear that as soon as the Americans are no longer in the way, he intends to crush the Syrian Kurds, all of whom he views as PKK,” Heras tells AFP.
Fears of an American withdrawal may be drawing Syrian Kurds into Russia’s orbit.
The YPG recently announced that its anti-Daesh operations in east Syria had received air support from Moscow.
Russian forces have also trained Kurdish fighters further west in Afrin — where there is no Daesh presence — and manage a buffer zone between Kurds and Turkish-backed fighters.
And Moscow has been particularly outspoken in support of Syria’s Kurds having a seat at the negotiating table at talks in Geneva.
“The relationship between the YPG and the Russian military is becoming a special one. The Syrian Kurdish region of Afrin is solely dependent on the Russian military, not the Americans, for protection from Turkish attack and occupation,” says Heras.
Syria’s Kurds may seek to protect themselves from Turkey by leveraging relationships with both Russia and the US.
“Two large foreign power patrons is better than one for the Syrian Kurds, especially because both of those patrons have an interest in holding Turkey in check,” Heras adds.
“Russia is also the insurance policy for the Syrian Kurds if the United States was to ever abandon them to the mercy of Turkey.”
With the frontline against Daesh winding down, US-led coalition forces are much more visible in urban settings, after several years of being seen almost exclusively in frontline positions.
“We want the best. It won’t be possible to go back to how we were,” says 50-year-old Jassem Hussein in the mostly Kurdish-held city of Hasakah.
“This is why Kurdish unity is the most important thing.”


Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

Updated 07 December 2019

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

  • President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States”
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018

TEHRAN: Iran and the US conducted a prisoner exchange Saturday that saw a detained Princeton graduate student released for an Iranian scientist held by America, marking a potential breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the first announcement on the trade via Twitter. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif wrote. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government.”
In his tweet, Zarif confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that a deal was in the works to free Wang.
President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States.”
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks out for America's interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, accompanied the Iranian scientist to Switzerland to make the exchange and will return with Wang, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be released. The swap took place in Zurich and Hook and Wang are now en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said. Hook is expected to return to the US from Germany alone, as Wang is expected to be evaluated for several days.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland. Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims. Wang was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said the school was aware of Wang's release.
“We are working with the family and government officials to facilitate his return to the United States,” Chang said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court tried Wang. That court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine — was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Iran.
Other Americans held in Iran include the 81-year-old businessman Baquer Namazi who has been held for over two years and diagnosed with epilepsy.
Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, also a dual national who has been held for over three years, are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.
An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Also held is US Navy veteran Michael White.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.
“The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones,” Pompeo said in a statement.