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With Iraqi-Kurdish Talks Stalled, Phone Diplomacy Averts New Clashes

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Iraqi security forces last month fired a rocket launcher at Kurdish pesh merga positions near the Fish Khabbour border crossings with Turkey and Syria. Credit Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

FISH KHABBOUR, Iraq — Turn on a television or scroll social media in Iraq over the last three weeks and by almost any measure, more conflict appears imminent between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region in the north.

Kurdish officials accuse federal forces — without corresponding evidence — of committing a slaughter last month when they seized control of 20 percent of territory that had been long under Kurdish domain. Iraqi lawmakers demand prison sentences for Kurds who supported the Sept. 25 independence referendum.

Yet amid the acrimony, leaders in Baghdad and the Kurdish strongholds of Erbil and Sulimaniyah have also been exchanging almost daily phone calls, hoping to hash out solutions to problems exacerbated by that vote — and to get thousands of federal and Kurdish troops massed within each others’ sight lines to stand down.

The back-channel chats have taken on heightened importance since formal de-escalation talks stalled on Oct. 29, after only two face-to-face meetings.

“The channels of dialogue and communication have not been interrupted,” said Sa’ad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Continue reading the main story

Three officials involved in the informal talks say they are discussing temporary arrangements to the most pressing issue for both sides: Control of Iraq’s Fish Khabbour border crossings with Turkey and Syria, where about one-fifth of Iraq’s oil exports pass through. The officials were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter.

This stab at conflict resolution illustrates the diffuse nature of Iraqi politics, where key power brokers sometimes have no formal or elected authority. It also highlights a dangerously fractured political spectrum in which elected officials can be eclipsed, sometimes by rival factions from within their party or even family.

Photo
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plants the national flag in the city of Qaim, on the Syrian border, on Nov. 5 after it was recaptured from the Islamic State. Credit Moadh Al-Dulaimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While back-channel discussions have helped keep the border trade of oil, food, consumer goods between Turkey and Syria flowing — along with humanitarian aid from Iraq bound for Syria — over the last two weeks, they are far from any breakthrough.

Diplomats say that Iraq’s tradition of carrying out delicate negotiations in secret, often by people acting well outside their official roles, can be baffling to outsiders.

Graphic

How the Kurdish Quest for Independence in Iraq Backfired

After Kurds voted overwhelming for independence in a referendum in September, Iraqi government forces have seized territory previously under Kurdish control.

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Riding a wave of victories over the Islamic State, Mr. Abadi ordered his troops in October to re-establish government control throughout the country. The independence referendum prompted him to include many areas long under Kurdish control.

While no official casualty statistics have been released, about 65 men died in clashes sparked by these advances, according to two military commanders familiar with the situation. Beyond the loss of life, the Kurdistan Regional Government lost face over the rapid withdrawals by their pesh merga security forces. It also lost much of its oil fields to federal troops, and with them the economic self-sufficiency that has underpinned the region’s de facto autonomy since 2005.

In late October, after advancing northward amid several short skirmishes, federal forces dug in about 10 miles from the Fish Khabbour oil terminal and the nearby cargo crossing with Turkey, one of the largest trading partners for both Iraq and the Kurdish region.

With tensions boiling, Baghdad on Oct. 28 announced a cease-fire and a round of negotiations between Iraqi and Kurdish military commanders, ostensibly to allow federal forces to take over the border without further bloodshed.

On Oct. 29, however, talks broke down, amid intransigence by the Kurds about the altered balance of power.

“The talks mixed security and politics,” according to Sheikh Jafar Moustafa, a veteran pesh merga commander and one of four Kurdish negotiators, who added that his side did not have the political authority to approve any agreement with the Iraqis.

Photo
Fruits are loaded onto a truck for transport from Syria’s Kurdish area into Iraq’s Kurdish region last week. Credit Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We had to get political approval for any deal,” he said, “and no political decision was forthcoming.”

At that point, the phone diplomacy increased among leaders like the Kurdish regional deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani; Mr. Abadi’s deputy chief of staff; and Iraq’s intelligence chief.

These relationships have helped avert any new clashes near the border, despite a buildup of Iraqi forces, and helped keep the trade corridor open and oil exports flowing, albeit at a reduced rate, according to Turkish and Iraqi officials.

However, not all political factions in Baghdad or Kurdistan support de-escalation or a border deal.

Those include Iraqi Shiite politicians close to the Popular Mobilization Forces, a paramilitary organization made up of dozens of militias recognized by the Iraqi state in 2014 as an auxiliary force to fight the Islamic State.

Although the militias are under the formal command of Mr. Abadi, some of their leaders are his parliamentary rivals and profess close allegiance to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On the Kurdish side, it is unclear who, exactly, could enforce any potential border compromise.

Mansour Barzani, the son of the longtime Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, commands an elite Kurdish security force that is defending a ridge between an Iraqi artillery unit and the Fish Khabbour border. Last week, he said he would fight to the death rather than allow the Iraqi federal troops to control the crossings. But a cousin, the regional prime minister Nerchivan Barzani, supports a negotiated deal.

“Naturally when there is tension in the field and military confrontations take place, there are always needs to defuse such tensions,” said Safin Dizayee, a spokesman for Mr. Barzani. “The prime minister has, through various channels, maintained such contacts with the federal government,” he said, adding that the conversations “have helped create more understanding and build confidence.”

Meanwhile, in the second largest Kurdish city, Sulimaniyah, relatives of the former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who died last month, are immersed in their own feuds over control of Mr. Talabani’s party and the security force loyal to it.

Photo
Mansour Barzani, a son of the longtime Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, has vowed to fight to the death to prevent Iraqi troops from seizing the vital border crossings at Fish Khabbour. Credit Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Such divisions have already scuttled one attempt to stave off military conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds.

In the aftermath of the independence referendum, Mr. Talabani’s eldest son, Bafel, began unilateral negotiations with Mr. Abadi. (Qubad Talabani is Bafel’s brother.)

Bafel Talabani, a British-educated Kurdish security commander who holds neither elected office nor a formal political role, said he took the initiative to counter what he saw as a firm determination by Baghdad to clip Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy.

He proposed a plan that would have federal forces and troops from the American-led coalition against the Islamic State take over a large military base near the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, along with federal forces and Kurdish forces loyal to his father’s party. The Kurds had controlled the base since 2014, when Iraq’s army retreated during the Islamic State onslaught.

Bafel Talabani said the base deal would have given Mr. Abadi a political win amid the nationalist fervor in Baghdad, as well as allow Kurds to keep a toehold in what to many leaders is an essential piece to their independence plans. Kirkuk is coveted by both Baghdad and the Kurds because of its strategic oil reserves.

“It was a true compromise that would have saved lives,” Mr. Talabani said in a recent interview.

An aide to Mr. Abadi, and two Western diplomats, confirmed that such a deal had been proposed. Mr. Abadi gave Mr. Talabani until Oct. 16 to get a green light from the Kurdish leadership to implement the plan, or he would launch the operation to seize the area from Kurdish control.

Mr. Talabani said he could not build consensus among his father’s political party and the region’s ruling party, controlled by the Barzani family.

With the deadline past, Mr. Abadi instead ordered the federal forces to push into Kirkuk, and then farther north toward the Turkish border.

Continue reading the main story

FISH KHABBOUR, Iraq — Turn on a television or scroll social media in Iraq over the last three weeks and by almost any measure, more conflict appears imminent between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region in the north.

Kurdish officials accuse federal forces — without corresponding evidence — of committing a slaughter last month when they seized control of 20 percent of territory that had been long under Kurdish domain. Iraqi lawmakers demand prison sentences for Kurds who supported the Sept. 25 independence referendum.

Yet amid the acrimony, leaders in Baghdad and the Kurdish strongholds of Erbil and Sulimaniyah have also been exchanging almost daily phone calls, hoping to hash out solutions to problems exacerbated by that vote — and to get thousands of federal and Kurdish troops massed within each others’ sight lines to stand down.

The back-channel chats have taken on heightened importance since formal de-escalation talks stalled on Oct. 29, after only two face-to-face meetings.

“The channels of dialogue and communication have not been interrupted,” said Sa’ad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Three officials involved in the informal talks say they are discussing temporary arrangements to the most pressing issue for both sides: Control of Iraq’s Fish Khabbour border crossings with Turkey and Syria, where about one-fifth of Iraq’s oil exports pass through. The officials were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter.

This stab at conflict resolution illustrates the diffuse nature of Iraqi politics, where key power brokers sometimes have no formal or elected authority. It also highlights a dangerously fractured political spectrum in which elected officials can be eclipsed, sometimes by rival factions from within their party or even family.

While back-channel discussions have helped keep the border trade of oil, food, consumer goods between Turkey and Syria flowing — along with humanitarian aid from Iraq bound for Syria — over the last two weeks, they are far from any breakthrough.

Diplomats say that Iraq’s tradition of carrying out delicate negotiations in secret, often by people acting well outside their official roles, can be baffling to outsiders.

Riding a wave of victories over the Islamic State, Mr. Abadi ordered his troops in October to re-establish government control throughout the country. The independence referendum prompted him to include many areas long under Kurdish control.

While no official casualty statistics have been released, about 65 men died in clashes sparked by these advances, according to two military commanders familiar with the situation. Beyond the loss of life, the Kurdistan Regional Government lost face over the rapid withdrawals by their pesh merga security forces. It also lost much of its oil fields to federal troops, and with them the economic self-sufficiency that has underpinned the region’s de facto autonomy since 2005.

In late October, after advancing northward amid several short skirmishes, federal forces dug in about 10 miles from the Fish Khabbour oil terminal and the nearby cargo crossing with Turkey, one of the largest trading partners for both Iraq and the Kurdish region.

With tensions boiling, Baghdad on Oct. 28 announced a cease-fire and a round of negotiations between Iraqi and Kurdish military commanders, ostensibly to allow federal forces to take over the border without further bloodshed.

On Oct. 29, however, talks broke down, amid intransigence by the Kurds about the altered balance of power.

“The talks mixed security and politics,” according to Sheikh Jafar Moustafa, a veteran pesh merga commander and one of four Kurdish negotiators, who added that his side did not have the political authority to approve any agreement with the Iraqis.

“We had to get political approval for any deal,” he said, “and no political decision was forthcoming.”

At that point, the phone diplomacy increased among leaders like the Kurdish regional deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani; Mr. Abadi’s deputy chief of staff; and Iraq’s intelligence chief.

These relationships have helped avert any new clashes near the border, despite a buildup of Iraqi forces, and helped keep the trade corridor open and oil exports flowing, albeit at a reduced rate, according to Turkish and Iraqi officials.

However, not all political factions in Baghdad or Kurdistan support de-escalation or a border deal.

Those include Iraqi Shiite politicians close to the Popular Mobilization Forces, a paramilitary organization made up of dozens of militias recognized by the Iraqi state in 2014 as an auxiliary force to fight the Islamic State.

Although the militias are under the formal command of Mr. Abadi, some of their leaders are his parliamentary rivals and profess close allegiance to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On the Kurdish side, it is unclear who, exactly, could enforce any potential border compromise.

Mansour Barzani, the son of the longtime Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, commands an elite Kurdish security force that is defending a ridge between an Iraqi artillery unit and the Fish Khabbour border. Last week, he said he would fight to the death rather than allow the Iraqi federal troops to control the crossings. But a cousin, the regional prime minister Nerchivan Barzani, supports a negotiated deal.

“Naturally when there is tension in the field and military confrontations take place, there are always needs to defuse such tensions,” said Safin Dizayee, a spokesman for Mr. Barzani. “The prime minister has, through various channels, maintained such contacts with the federal government,” he said, adding that the conversations “have helped create more understanding and build confidence.”

Meanwhile, in the second largest Kurdish city, Sulimaniyah, relatives of the former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who died last month, are immersed in their own feuds over control of Mr. Talabani’s party and the security force loyal to it.

Such divisions have already scuttled one attempt to stave off military conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds.

In the aftermath of the independence referendum, Mr. Talabani’s eldest son, Bafel, began unilateral negotiations with Mr. Abadi. (Qubad Talabani is Bafel’s brother.)

Bafel Talabani, a British-educated Kurdish security commander who holds neither elected office nor a formal political role, said he took the initiative to counter what he saw as a firm determination by Baghdad to clip Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy.

He proposed a plan that would have federal forces and troops from the American-led coalition against the Islamic State take over a large military base near the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, along with federal forces and Kurdish forces loyal to his father’s party. The Kurds had controlled the base since 2014, when Iraq’s army retreated during the Islamic State onslaught.

Bafel Talabani said the base deal would have given Mr. Abadi a political win amid the nationalist fervor in Baghdad, as well as allow Kurds to keep a toehold in what to many leaders is an essential piece to their independence plans. Kirkuk is coveted by both Baghdad and the Kurds because of its strategic oil reserves.

“It was a true compromise that would have saved lives,” Mr. Talabani said in a recent interview.

An aide to Mr. Abadi, and two Western diplomats, confirmed that such a deal had been proposed. Mr. Abadi gave Mr. Talabani until Oct. 16 to get a green light from the Kurdish leadership to implement the plan, or he would launch the operation to seize the area from Kurdish control.

Mr. Talabani said he could not build consensus among his father’s political party and the region’s ruling party, controlled by the Barzani family.

With the deadline past, Mr. Abadi instead ordered the federal forces to push into Kirkuk, and then farther north toward the Turkish border.

Nytimes

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Syria

Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds

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Turkish soldiers around the area of Mount Bersaya, north of the Syrian town of Azaz, on Tuesday. Credit Saleh Abo Ghaloun/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The conflicting statements appeared to reflect an effort by the administration to balance competing pressures. Turkey, which has been furious over American support for the Kurds, is a NATO ally, while the Kurds have been critical American partners in the war against the Islamic State.

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia a terrorist organization, fears the plan would cement a Kurdish enclave along its southern frontier.

That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

Continue reading the main story

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, also said that the United States had no connection to the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched an invasion in recent days.

And he drew a distinction between allies — a term he said had legal connotations — and partners in a combat mission, like the Kurds. America’s actions on the ground in Syria, he said, would be driven by a calculation of its interests.

Taken together, the administration’s statements appeared to be a significant attempt to reassure Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who considers the Kurds a threat to his country’s internal stability.

But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force. And a senior American commander praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.

“U.S. forces are training local partners to serve as a force that is internally focused on stability and deterring ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. “These local security forces are aimed at preventing the potential outflow of fleeing ISIS terrorists as their physical presence in Syria nears its end and pending a longer-term settlement of the civil war in Syria to ensure that ISIS cannot escape or return.”

The Pentagon has engaged in a rebranding effort, however, as the force was initially described as a border force, leading Turkey to fear the presence of thousands of American-backed, Kurdish troops on its border. Military officials are now saying that its duties will be mainly internal.

The debate over the partnership with the Kurds is taking place as the Kurds continue to play a major role fighting alongside the Americans in Syria.

The military’s Central Command said Tuesday that about 150 Islamic State fighters were killed in American airstrikes near As Shafah, Syria, on Saturday, in one the largest strikes against ISIS in the past year. The Kurdish-led militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., helped guide the airstrikes, American officials said.

“The strikes underscore our assertion that the fight to liberate Syria is far from over,” Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the commander of Special Operations forces in Iraq and Syria, said a statement. “Our S.D.F. partners are still making daily progress and sacrifices, and together we are still finding, targeting and killing ISIS terrorists intent on keeping their extremist hold on the region.”

Senior Pentagon officials and American commanders say that the Syrian Kurds will most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.

Echoing earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the commander of the United States Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, said in an interview last month that American forces would remain in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as long as needed to defeat the Islamic State.

Photo
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was among those at the funeral of a soldier killed in the country’s operation in Syria. Credit Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“What we don’t want to do is leave a mess,” General Votel said, something “worse than what we found.”

Coalition forces are attacking the last remnants of the Islamic State in the Euphrates River valley of Syria, near the Iraqi border. But as that campaign begins to wane, the American partnership with the Kurds is bringing it into ever-more-direct conflict with Turkey.

While the Turkish military incursion into Afrin has seized the world’s attention, American, NATO and Turkish officials have directed their eyes east, to the strategic city of Manbij.

Home to a contingent of United States Special Operations troops who are training and equipping Kurdish forces that control the city, Manbij is increasingly emerging as the ultimate target of the Turkish operation and a far more serious source of tension than the Afrin offensive.

A Turkish assault on Manbij could bring its forces into direct conflict with the Americans, with unpredictable results.

“It may bring a direct military confrontation, as American forces are there,” said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The death of even one American soldier may completely break ties.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, raised Manbij when briefing Turkish journalists on Tuesday morning, having met the day before with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in France.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” Mr. Cavusoglu said. “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it.

Mr. Tillerson said the United States would keep working with Turkey to stabilize the situation and address its security concerns.

The level of concern about Turkish-American relations was reflected in the flurry of meetings this week between officials of the two countries.

American officials, led by the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Jonathan R. Cohen, flew to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, for meetings scheduled for Wednesday, including with security officials. They were joined there by Rose Gottemoeller, the deputy secretary general of NATO, who was in Turkey for a planned, two-day visit.

In an interview with the NTV news channel, Ms. Gotemoeller treaded carefully, saying that “Turkey has legitimate reasons to be concerned about the Kurdish armed organizations in Syria,” but adding that “one should keep a balance between the threat and the reaction to it.”

Turkey has long complained about American support for Syrian Kurdish militias, which it says have emboldened the Kurdish separatist movement that Ankara considers a threat to its territorial sovereignty and is prepared to go to great lengths to counteract. Turkish officials say that this has allowed weapons and support to reach the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe and has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey, which shares a long border with Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria, has been particularly incensed by the Kurdish militias’ seizure of Arab villages and towns in the area.

Manbij is in many respects the gateway to those areas, a regional center some miles west of the Euphrates. It is now under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and has been since last August, when it expelled the Islamic State.

Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and a former Ambassador to Syria, wrote in an analytical column that Turkey’s military operations in Syria demonstrated the difficulties of the American position. Turkey’s brushoff of American concerns made the United States look weak, Mr. Ford wrote, adding that some Kurdish observers were accusing America of being an unreliable ally.

“Over the longer term, it is hard to see how the U.S. will secure its stated political goal of stabilization in eastern Syria and genuine governance reforms in Syria,” he wrote.

Continue reading the main story

WASHINGTON — The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The conflicting statements appeared to reflect an effort by the administration to balance competing pressures. Turkey, which has been furious over American support for the Kurds, is a NATO ally, while the Kurds have been critical American partners in the war against the Islamic State.

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia a terrorist organization, fears the plan would cement a Kurdish enclave along its southern frontier.

That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, also said that the United States had no connection to the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched an invasion in recent days.

And he drew a distinction between allies — a term he said had legal connotations — and partners in a combat mission, like the Kurds. America’s actions on the ground in Syria, he said, would be driven by a calculation of its interests.

Taken together, the administration’s statements appeared to be a significant attempt to reassure Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who considers the Kurds a threat to his country’s internal stability.

But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force. And a senior American commander praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.

“U.S. forces are training local partners to serve as a force that is internally focused on stability and deterring ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. “These local security forces are aimed at preventing the potential outflow of fleeing ISIS terrorists as their physical presence in Syria nears its end and pending a longer-term settlement of the civil war in Syria to ensure that ISIS cannot escape or return.”

The Pentagon has engaged in a rebranding effort, however, as the force was initially described as a border force, leading Turkey to fear the presence of thousands of American-backed, Kurdish troops on its border. Military officials are now saying that its duties will be mainly internal.

The debate over the partnership with the Kurds is taking place as the Kurds continue to play a major role fighting alongside the Americans in Syria.

The military’s Central Command said Tuesday that about 150 Islamic State fighters were killed in American airstrikes near As Shafah, Syria, on Saturday, in one the largest strikes against ISIS in the past year. The Kurdish-led militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., helped guide the airstrikes, American officials said.

“The strikes underscore our assertion that the fight to liberate Syria is far from over,” Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the commander of Special Operations forces in Iraq and Syria, said a statement. “Our S.D.F. partners are still making daily progress and sacrifices, and together we are still finding, targeting and killing ISIS terrorists intent on keeping their extremist hold on the region.”

Senior Pentagon officials and American commanders say that the Syrian Kurds will most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.

Echoing earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the commander of the United States Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, said in an interview last month that American forces would remain in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as long as needed to defeat the Islamic State.

“What we don’t want to do is leave a mess,” General Votel said, something “worse than what we found.”

Coalition forces are attacking the last remnants of the Islamic State in the Euphrates River valley of Syria, near the Iraqi border. But as that campaign begins to wane, the American partnership with the Kurds is bringing it into ever-more-direct conflict with Turkey.

While the Turkish military incursion into Afrin has seized the world’s attention, American, NATO and Turkish officials have directed their eyes east, to the strategic city of Manbij.

Home to a contingent of United States Special Operations troops who are training and equipping Kurdish forces that control the city, Manbij is increasingly emerging as the ultimate target of the Turkish operation and a far more serious source of tension than the Afrin offensive.

A Turkish assault on Manbij could bring its forces into direct conflict with the Americans, with unpredictable results.

“It may bring a direct military confrontation, as American forces are there,” said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The death of even one American soldier may completely break ties.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, raised Manbij when briefing Turkish journalists on Tuesday morning, having met the day before with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in France.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” Mr. Cavusoglu said. “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it.

Mr. Tillerson said the United States would keep working with Turkey to stabilize the situation and address its security concerns.

The level of concern about Turkish-American relations was reflected in the flurry of meetings this week between officials of the two countries.

American officials, led by the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Jonathan R. Cohen, flew to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, for meetings scheduled for Wednesday, including with security officials. They were joined there by Rose Gottemoeller, the deputy secretary general of NATO, who was in Turkey for a planned, two-day visit.

In an interview with the NTV news channel, Ms. Gotemoeller treaded carefully, saying that “Turkey has legitimate reasons to be concerned about the Kurdish armed organizations in Syria,” but adding that “one should keep a balance between the threat and the reaction to it.”

Turkey has long complained about American support for Syrian Kurdish militias, which it says have emboldened the Kurdish separatist movement that Ankara considers a threat to its territorial sovereignty and is prepared to go to great lengths to counteract. Turkish officials say that this has allowed weapons and support to reach the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe and has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey, which shares a long border with Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria, has been particularly incensed by the Kurdish militias’ seizure of Arab villages and towns in the area.

Manbij is in many respects the gateway to those areas, a regional center some miles west of the Euphrates. It is now under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and has been since last August, when it expelled the Islamic State.

Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and a former Ambassador to Syria, wrote in an analytical column that Turkey’s military operations in Syria demonstrated the difficulties of the American position. Turkey’s brushoff of American concerns made the United States look weak, Mr. Ford wrote, adding that some Kurdish observers were accusing America of being an unreliable ally.

“Over the longer term, it is hard to see how the U.S. will secure its stated political goal of stabilization in eastern Syria and genuine governance reforms in Syria,” he wrote.

Nytimes

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Syria

US chemical blame-game: Well-timed PR stunt or trick to justify military presence in Syria?

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US rejects Moscow-proposed UN mechanism to probe Syria chemical attacks based on facts

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US-led coalition strikes kill 150 Islamic State militants in Syria

US news US-led coalition strikes kill 150 Islamic State militants in Syria Strikes near As Shafah come as the US...

- 20180124 sdfaedabe image 400x240 - 8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters  - 20180124 sdfaedabe image 80x80 - 8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters 
Rojava7 hours ago

8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters 

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces carried out an action against the Turkish army and affiliated gangs in Bazara village...

- 24Friedman web facebookJumbo 400x240 - The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran - 24Friedman web facebookJumbo 80x80 - The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran
Iran7 hours ago

The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran

Photo The Hamoun wetlands in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province have dried up. Credit Behrouz Mehria/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images After violent...

- 20180124 raj084be1 image 400x240 - Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others  - 20180124 raj084be1 image 80x80 - Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others 
Rojava7 hours ago

Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others 

Turkish army is continuing its invasion attacks against Afrin Canton of Northern Syria, also hitting civilian areas besides military targets....

- 20180124 20180123 2018 01 23 hsk dauyyani ji bo efrin 2 620x3649b2bdb imageb2feed image 400x240 - Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin  - 20180124 20180123 2018 01 23 hsk dauyyani ji bo efrin 2 620x3649b2bdb imageb2feed image 80x80 - Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin 
Rojava8 hours ago

Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin 

The Defense Councils of Northern Syria regions made a joint statement at Heseke Stadium in solidarity with the resistance of...

- KACOttawa 400x240 - Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin - KACOttawa 80x80 - Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin
kurdistan8 hours ago

Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin

Rojen Rahmani, head of lobbying and advocacy for KAC, said the Canadian government needs to respond and condemn Turkey’s violent...

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