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Syrian war will drag into next decade warns Kurdish leader – Middle East

- 410351 - Syrian war will drag into next decade warns Kurdish leader – Middle East


Aldar Khalil, a Kurdish politician is seen in the town of Rmeilan, Hasaka province, Syria September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017.. (photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)

BEIRUT – A Russian-led effort to end the war in Syria will fail and the conflict looks set to extend into the next decade, a top Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters in an interview.

Aldar Khalil, an architect of Kurdish-led plans for autonomous rule in northern Syria, also said the United States appears in “no hurry” to leave areas where it has helped Kurdish-led forces fight Islamic State, and that he expects ties with Washington to develop as US recovery efforts proceed.

The Syrian Kurds are among the few winners in the almost seven-year-old war, having established control over large parts of the north with a powerful militia that has partnered with the US-led coalition against IS.

Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s ally, has asked them to take part in an international peace conference on Syria for the first time — a peace congress scheduled in the Russian city of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.

“Yes we are invited and we might take part in the show but it will not succeed,” Khalil, co-chair of the Movement for a Democratic Society, a coalition of Syrian Kurdish parties, said by telephone.

He questioned what the hundreds of anticipated attendees could accomplish in two days and said more preparation was required.

UN-led diplomacy in Geneva was also set for more failure, he said, adding that the war would “ebb and flow” until at least 2021, the end of Assad’s current seven-year presidential term.

“I don’t expect any breakthrough in the Syrian situation before 2021 … it might even go on until ’25,” he said.

“Daesh (IS) might expand in other areas, and of course the Turks might try to stir up problems in some areas.” The Syrian Kurds’ ascendancy in Syria has alarmed neighboring Turkey. Ankara views the dominant Syrian Kurdish groups as an extension of Kurdish parties in Turkey that have been fighting Ankara for more than three decades.

US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters has also strained ties between the NATO allies: Turkey on Wednesday summoned a top US diplomat in Ankara to protest over US support of Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Khalil is seen as a key figure in plans to establish a federal region in northern Syria – a plan Washington has opposed despite backing the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the war with IS.

The Syrian Kurds say independence is not their goal. But Khalil said the Kurdish-led authorities would press ahead with unilateral autonomy plans, though elections to a new regional parliament have been postponed to allow more time to prepare.

WARNING TO ASSAD With the fight against IS winding down, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month he expected to see a larger US civilian presence in Syria, including contractors and diplomats to focus on stabilization and ensuring IS does not return.

Khalil declined to say how long the United States might maintain a foothold in northern Syria, but said that achieving US goals of helping cities such as Raqqa to recover implied a commitment of at least 18 months to two years.

“These matters will not be completed in less time than this,” he said.

“I can’t confirm to you a long-term relationship, but at least for the foreseeable time, it seems they are not in a hurry to leave,” he said. Pointing to the Mattis remarks, he said he expected US ties to northern Syria to develop further.

The Kurdish-led authorities have held two local elections since September, part of their plan to build new governing structures. Discussions are underway to decide when a third vote — aimed at electing a regional parliament — will happen.

Khalil said the delay was aimed partly at giving a chance for areas recently captured from IS to decide whether to participate.

Though Assad recently condemned the US-backed Kurdish forces and their allies as “traitors,” Khalil said the Syrian government was incapable of attacking areas they control and warned that if it tried to “all its forces will be killed.” He warned that Islamic State sleeper cells posed a big threat. “The Daesh campaign is not over, now the more difficult phase has started,” he said.





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Coalition envoy calls on Baghdad to lift ban on Kurdistan Region airports

- EIA - Coalition envoy calls on Baghdad to lift ban on Kurdistan Region airports


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to defeat the Islamic State (IS), Brett McGurk, on Monday called on the Iraqi government to lift the international flight ban on airports in the Kurdistan Region and praised talks being held between Erbil and Baghdad.

“Airports in Kurdistan must be reopened, and a solution to the issue of salaries and border crossings must be reached,” he reportedly said, according to Abu Dhabi-based Sky News.

The Iraqi government banned international flights to Erbil and Sulaimani as part of collective punitive measures leveled against the Kurdistan Region in response to the Sep. 25 referendum on independence which saw an overwhelming majority support secession.

“We are aware of the magnitude of tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region, but we support and encourage a solution be reached between both parties,” he said.

The Iraqi government’s international travel ban came into force on Sep. 29 and was extended in December 2017.

Baghdad claims it will not lift the ban until it has full control and direct oversight of international airports in the semi-autonomous region. The Federal Government of Iraq has also called on all border crossings and oil fields to be handed over to Baghdad.

Earlier this year, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said it welcomed any positive steps taken by the Iraqi government to hold discussions and work toward resolving outstanding issues within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution.

Despite the collective punitive measures imposed by Baghdad, Erbil has maintained it remains committed to finding a solution to their disputes peacefully and through constructive dialogue.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani had his first visit to Baghdad on Saturday during which he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The two parties touched on several outstanding issues.

The meeting between Barzani and Abadi was the first of its kind since ties between Erbil and Baghdad considerably deteriorated in the fall of 2017. It has been welcomed as a sign that tensions are easing.

McGurk described the meeting as “encouraging” and said good and solid relations between Baghdad and Erbil could put an end to any outside interference in Iraq.

Outstanding issues between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq are related to shares of the federal budget, the control of oil fields, and disputed territories among other concerns.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany



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Turkish shelling of Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria continues



Turkish soldiers prepare their tanks before crossing the Syrian-Turkish border at Hatay.  - 3713 - Turkish shelling of  Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria continues

Turkish shelling of Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria continues

Intense fighting has resumed on third day of operation to create ‘safe zone’ across the border







Turkish soldiers prepare their tanks before crossing the Syrian-Turkish border at Hatay.  - 3713 - Turkish shelling of  Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria continues









Turkish soldiers prepare their tanks before crossing the Syrian-Turkish border at Hatay.
Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA

Turkey has resumed shelling a Kurdish enclave inside Syria on the third day of a military campaign that the government says aims to create a “safe zone” across the border.

The fighting is ongoing in villages and towns around Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara says is the Syrian arm of a terror group that has fought a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım said on Sunday the aim of the campaign, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch”, would be to create a zone inside Syria’s borders that was 30km (19 miles) deep. Turkish officials also said they wanted to significantly degrade the military capabilities of the YPG, which they say has 8,000 to 10,000 fighters in Afrin.

The “safe zone” would probably be secured and administered by Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies, creating a buffer zone with the Turkish border. Turkish officials have also hinted that it could be used as a safe area for civilians who wish to return to Syria, modelled on other parts of the country that Turkey had seized from Isis in an offensive called “Euphrates Shield” that was launched in the summer of 2016.

“First goal is to create a safe area there and then we can take concrete steps to eliminate terrorist elements,” Yıldırım said.

Afrin region map
Afrin region map

Competing claims have emerged on both sides, with Turkey saying it has joined allied Syrian rebel fighters to take control of a series of YPG military points along the enclave’s outskirts.

A spokesman for the Kurdish militia said fierce fighting was ongoing amid intense artillery bombardment from Turkey’s border provinces of Kilis and Hatay. The YPG also claims to have launched counter-attacks on Syrian rebel positions.

There have been no credible reports of the total casualties on either side.

Yıldırım and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have vowed the campaign would be swift, saying they would establish the safe zone and root out the militias, as well as rebuilding infrastructure and democratic institutions. But questions remain on whether they can dislodge the militias from the majority Kurdish enclave and whether locals are likely to welcome Ankara’s troops and proxy fighters.





Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters in the Syrian town of Azez near the border with Turkey.  - 3280 - Turkish shelling of  Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria continues





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Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters in the Syrian town of Azez near the border with Turkey. Photograph: Depo Photos/REX/Shutterstock

Turkey has long regarded the growing power of the YPG in northern Syria as a national security threat. The militia spearheaded the ground campaign against Islamic State that was backed by the US-led coalition against Isis, and has essentially enjoyed a security umbrella from Washington, which supported the group with airstrikes and later with direct arms supplies.

The YPG led the campaign against the city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Isis caliphate, successfully ousting the militants. The alliance with the US has created deep-seated tensions between Turkey and the US, the two largest armies in Nato, and Ankara intervened militarily in Syria in August 2016 to create a buffer zone that would halt Kurdish expansion west of the Euphrates river.

Russia, which had granted Turkey permission to begin the operation, pulling out its military from the area and allowing the use of Afrin’s airspace by Turkish warplanes, blamed the US on Monday for the crisis.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Washington had encouraged “separatist” sentiments among Syria’s Kurds, whom Turkey had long accused of wanting to establish a self-governing statelet in areas liberated from Isis.

The Olive Branch operation came after a US announcement that it would build a border security force inside Syria that would include the YPG as a key component.

Turkish officials have said the campaign is a legitimate act of self-defence, saying the Kurdish militias and others have repeatedly targeted and harassed security personnel and civilians in border regions.

Erdoğan on Sunday warned activists in Turkey against staging protests opposing the operation, and on Monday the state news agency said authorities had arrested 24 suspects around the country over social media posts that allegedly constituted pro-PYD and YPG propaganda.



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Iraqi Parliament approves election date, confirms May 12 announcement

- Iraqiparliament3434 - Iraqi Parliament approves election date, confirms May 12 announcement


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi Parliament on Monday approved the previously announced date for the upcoming parliamentary election, confirming they will be held on May 12.

After organizing its third meeting on the matter, the Iraqi Parliament by majority vote approved the elections to be held in May. It took lawmakers in Baghdad three days to convene and decide on the date.

The vote was passed with 206 lawmakers out of total 328 in attendance. Iraq is also planning to hold provincial elections, but it has yet to be discussed in parliament.

The vote came one day after the Iraqi Federal Court ruled that any changes to the election date would be unconstitutional, despite calls by major Sunni blocs in Baghdad to postpone the elections for at least a year.

The Iraqi Parliament also asked the Federal Government of Iraq to ensure the proper conditions and security measures are in place in time for the elections and urged it to help internally displaced people return to their areas.

Despite the declaration of Iraq’s final victory of the Islamic State (IS) and the country having been fully liberated, millions of people have yet to return to their homes.

The Kurdistan Region is host to 1.5 million Syrian refugees and Iraqis who mostly fled from the Nineveh, Salahaddin, and Kirkuk provinces.

Editing by Nadia Riva



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