Rebuild Iraq or risk return of Daesh, warns US

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives to attend the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq, in Kuwait City on February 13, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018

Rebuild Iraq or risk return of Daesh, warns US

KUWAIT CITY: Nations fighting Daesh must help rebuild Iraq after three years of war or risk the country sliding back into chaos, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.

He urged a meeting of major donors in Kuwait to unite and stay focused on defeating Daesh, which remains “a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe.”

His warning came amid escalating US-Turkish tensions over northern Syria, and a diplomatic standoff that has pitted Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

The war against Daesh must remain the priority even though major combat operations are over, Tillerson said.

Having helped with the fighting, countries across the region have a duty to help Iraq rebuild its shattered infrastructure, he added.

“We must continue to clear unexploded remnants of war left behind by Daesh, enable hospitals to reopen, restore water and electricity services, and get boys and girls back in school,” he said.

Representatives of at least 2,300 companies from 70 countries are attending the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, which is due to end on Wednesday. It has been organized by Kuwait, Iraq and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The task faced is enormous, with large parts of Iraq left in ruins by almost 15 years of war, dating back to the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country.

In January 2014, an early incarnation of Daesh captured the city of Fallujah — the first major urban center in Iraq to fall into its hands.

Then in June that year it seized Mosul, followed by Ramadi in May 2015. At the same time, it governed large parts of Syria.

Last December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in his country.

Speaking at the conference in Kuwait, he urged delegates to capitalize on this progress by helping Iraq get back on its feet.

“The return of those who were displaced requires our help to rebuild their homes,” he said. “Today, Iraq stands in rubble.”

But with violence escalating in neighboring Syria, donors have their work cut out. Tillerson said the US will spend $200 million on development projects in Syria, bringing its total contribution to the humanitarian effort there to almost $7.9 billion since the conflict began in 2011.

But with Turkish forces continuing to push into northern Syria to confront US-backed Kurdish militias, Damascus recently shooting down an Israeli warplane over Syrian territory, and Russia and Iran heavily involved in the war, the wider region remains highly volatile.

Tillerson called for an end to the long-running dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in which Riyadh accuses Doha of supporting extremists and being too close to Iran.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.