Kurd-led forces overrun last Daesh-held village in Syria: monitor

The operation was part of a broader offensive started by the Syrian Democratic Forces in September. Above, US army vehicles support the SDF in Deir Ezzor. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2019

Kurd-led forces overrun last Daesh-held village in Syria: monitor

  • Search operations in the village continue to look for any Daesh members who might be hiding
  • Almost 1,800 extremists have surrendered since December

BEIRUT: Kurdish-led fighters overran the last village held by the Daesh group in Syria on Wednesday, confining its once vast cross-border “caliphate” to two small hamlets, a war monitor said.
It is the culmination of a broad offensive launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces last September with US-led coalition support in which they have reduced the extremists’ last enclave on the north bank of the Euphrates valley near the Iraqi border to a tiny rump.
The capture of the village of Baghouz leaves the few remaining diehard Daesh fighters holed up in scattered homesteads among the irrigated fields and orchards on the north bank of the Euphrates Valley.
“Search operations are continuing in Baghouz to find any Daesh fighters who are still hiding,” the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“The SDF will now have to push on into the farmland around Baghouz.”
“Around 4,900 people, mostly women and children but including 470 Daesh fighters, have fled the extremists’ fast dwindling enclave since Monday, Abdel Rahman said late on Tuesday.
Of those 3,500 surrendered to the advancing SDF on Tuesday alone.
They were evacuated on dozens of trucks chartered by the SDF.
The fall of Baghouz follows the SDF’s capture of the enclave’s sole town of Hajjin and the villages of Al-Shaafa and Sousa in recent weeks.
The new wave of departures means that nearly 27,000 people have left former Daesh areas since early December, including almost 1,800 extremists who have surrendered, the Observatory said.
The whereabouts of the ultra-elusive Daesh supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who has made just once public appearance — in Iraq’s then Daesh-held second city Mosul in 2014 — are unknown.
It is a far cry from the extremists’ peak in 2014, when they overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq and Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in areas under their control.
The gains have come at the cost of heavy losses for the mainly Kurdish fighters of the SDF and despite their sense of betrayal by their US ally after President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement last month that Washington would withdraw all its troops.
Neighboring Turkey has threatened repeatedly to launch a cross-border operation to crush the Kurdish fighters of the SDF and the autonomous region they have set up in areas of northern and northeastern Syria under their control.
Turkish troops had been held at bay by the intervention of US troops who set up observation posts along the border and mounted joint patrols with Kurdish fighters.
But with those troops gone, the Kurds fear they will be exposed to the full might of the Turkish military.


Arabs fed up with corruption, survey suggests

Updated 16 min 38 sec ago

Arabs fed up with corruption, survey suggests

  • Arabs rank corruption as the number one problem in the region, finds YouGov poll
  • Corruption contributes to the weakening of economies in the MENA region, say experts

DUBAI: Corruption is considered by a large majority of Arabs to be one of the major problems facing their home country, according to an Arab News-Arab Strategy Forum public opinion research study.
The survey, conducted in 18 countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, found that out of 3,079 respondents, a combined average of 57 percent said corruption is the leading problem in their home country. The study, which was carried out by YouGov, also found that Arabs see corruption as the leading cause of conflict in the Arab world.
Independent experts consider corruption, whether grand, petty or political, to be a leading factor behind the wave of protests sweeping the region.
Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, said that “outrage over corruption and financial mismanagement by governments” has underpinned mass protests in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon over the past two months. 
Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, said corruption was “the source of a legitimacy deficit” that sparked the 2011 protest movements known as the Arab Spring. 
Corruption is not an “isolated” phenomenon but widely prevalent in the region, Salamey said, adding that it is “a product of weak and unaccountable governments that lack institutional checks and balances.”
He cited Tunisia and Lebanon as examples of corrupt countries where “nepotistic networks” are linked to politicians.
By contrast, he attributed Lebanon’s “rampant corruption” to the country’s political elite placing “incompetent followers (belonging to their own sects) in public offices in exchange for loyalties.” 
However, Salamey argued that “yet more serious corruption is associated with political leaders who grant immunity to illicit networks involved in cross-border armed smuggling and drug harvesting.”
The YouGov study shows that nationals of economically challenged Arab states are the most worried about corruption, with 63 percent selecting it as a top concern.
In the GCC countries, just under half of respondents (48 percent) named corruption as the top problem, while in the Levant this rose to 57 percent and was still higher in North Africa (64 percent).
The findings suggest that corruption is seen as more blameworthy by people in struggling economies such as Egypt, Salamey said. The same cannot be said about the oil-rich states, he told Arab News, since these countries find it relatively easy to make good any losses caused by corruption.
Abeer Alnajjar, a professor at the American University of Sharjah and researcher in Middle East politics, described corruption as a “marriage of convenience” between business and politics in the MENA region.
Abuse of power for private gain has not only helped tip many countries into the category of fragile or failed states, but its ripple effect also causes considerable hardship to large segments of the population, including women and marginalized people.
“Corruption is feeding on the lack of political and economic accountability of Arab political and business leaders,” said Alnajjar. 
Arab countries with transparency watchdogs designed to enforce accountability are no different in the sense that their political and economic structures are likely to be interconnected.
In the YouGov poll, 65 percent of respondents in Iraq and 53 percent in Lebanon listed corruption as one their country’s top problems.
The two nationalities were also the most conclusive in thinking that religion is affecting their country’s political decisions, with 75 percent in Iraq and 57 percent in Lebanon agreeing with the statement.
Talking about the two countries, Alnajjar said that both have suffered from sectarianism and other forms of political and religious polarization for decades.
“The good news,” she said, “is that people in Lebanon and Iraq have realized that sectarianism is just an instrument of the rich and the powerful to divert their attention from their real enemies — corrupt politicians and complacent business leaders.”