A long sought thaw in US-Turkish relations appears within reach following yesterday's talks in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Answering reporters’ questions in the Turkish city of Antalya today, an upbeat Cavusoglu elaborated on an agreement reached between the NATO allies on Manbij, a mainly Arab town in northern Syria. Manbij has been an abiding source of friction because of Kurdish influence over its administration. Cavusoglu termed the deal “an opportunity to put our damaged relations back on track.”
Cavusoglu said provisions of the plan would likely be fulfilled in less than six months but that the real test of the United States’ commitment to it rested in its implementation. The terms include a full withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the city and assurances they will be shorn of any weapons provided to them by the US-led coalition for the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Likewise, the civilian authorities are expected to be purged of pro-YPG elements, clearing the path for Turkish forces to monitor the area jointly with their US partners. Cavusoglu stressed the accord was “beyond a legal document" and "a road map that will affect relations between [our] two countries.” (Al-Monitor)
Thus begins the latest chapter in our long history of first using and then abandoning the Kurds. This is a dismal history extending back for decades.
In the 70s, with backing and encouragement from Nixon, Kissinger and the Shah, the Kurds rose up against Saddam Hussein. After a few years, we tired of this. Saddam and the Shah reached an accommodation and the Kurds were left high and dry. When Barzani appealed to the US for assistance, Kissinger reminded him that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
After the First Gulf War, we actively encouraged the Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north to rise up against Saddam. When they did just that, we became frightened by the possible consequences of those rebellions. We lost heart and abandoned those we encouraged to rebel to their fate at the hands of the Republican Guard.
The Kurds are not blameless in this woeful history. The various Kurdish factions have betrayed each other and made bad decisions repeatedly over the years. It’s a sad history.
In this latest iteration, Washington and Ankara have agreed to remove all YPG/YPJ forces out of Manbij and eventually establish joint US-Turkish patrols in the region. In Washington’s defense, we have never been thrilled by the YPG decision to cross the Euphrates and liberate Manbij. We knew this would drive Ankara insane and never supported this longstanding Rojava objective. However, the YPG has fought our war against IS with skill, courage and sacrifice. In exchange we have made them the bane of both Ankara and Damascus. The conditions for another betrayal of the Kurds are ripe.
In my opinion we were right in coming to the Kurds aid at the siege of Kobani in 2014. We were right to send fifty or so Green Berets to work with the YPG to fight the IS jihadis. We should never have made them our proxy force in our effort to oust Assad. We should have encouraged them to seek agreement with Damascus. Everyone from the SF light weapons leader working with a YPG company commander to the CJTFOIR Commander should have encouraged this. But a leopard can’t change his spots and we can’t stop kowtowing to the Neocons and Likudniks.
But back to the June meeting between Pompeo and Cavusoglu in Washington. The rub in this agreement will be in how each side views the Manbij Military Council (MMC). The MMC is closely allied with the YPG both militarily and politically. It is largely Arab, but sympathetic to Rojava Kurdish causes. CJTFOIR claims there are very few YPG in Manbij and the YPG claims they are withdrawing their advisors in compliance with this agreement. The US and now the French forces will remain along with the MMC, which CJTFOIR calls its ally in the fight against the jihadis. I doubt this is what Cavusoglu had in mind in his talks with Pompeo. When Ankara starts whining about the MMC, will we abandon them as well? What price are we willing to pay, or are we willing to have the Kurds pay, for our continued access to Incirlik Air Base? Maybe the Kurds are asking the same questions.
On June 6, Mays al-Kareidi, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), made an official statement announcing that the SDC is ready for a direct negotiations with Damascus.
According to the statement, SDC Co-Chair Ilham Ehmed declared its readiness for negotiations with the Syrian government without any preconditions. The SDC leader even claimed that an intra-Syrian dialogue without “external interference” is the only solution.
To make the situation clear, the SDC is another brand created to hide the YPG/YPD dominance within the SDF. Ilham Ehmed is a Kurd, a senior member of the PYD.
Just a few months ago, an official position of the SDF/SDC was that the group does not cooperate with the Damascus government or Russia. Furthermore, the SDF has repeatedly accused the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance of cooperating with ISIS and carrying out aggressive acts against the “democratic northern Syria” controlled by the SDF. It looks that this strategy may have been re-shaped a little bit. (SouthFront)
A bright spot in this situation is that the Kurds and their Arab allies in the Syrian Democratic Council may be coming to the realization that their best interest is served in seeking an accommodation with Damascus. Perhaps they are finally aware of the continuing pattern of betrayal/abandonment in US-Kurdish relations. My guess is that the Russian Reconciliation Center will actively encourage both this realization and an eventual Kurdish reconciliation with Damascus.