The civil war in Syria is largely over, except for the attempts of the US and its allies to provoke outbreaks in local foci, which could result in Washington’s attempts to overthrow Assad and bring Syria back into chaos, from which the country was able to lead the Russian videoconferencing. At the same time, even Riyadh does not believe in such an opportunity, as evidenced by the visit to Moscow of the Saudi king.
In Iraq, after a vote on independence, Erbil continues to drag the rope between the federal government and the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan, although it is becoming clearer: the referendum was not about independence, but about bargaining for the oil of Iraqi elites, on the one hand, and the inter-Kurdish competition for power - on the other. We present an analysis of the current situation in Syria, Iraq and around them, based on the material of the IBI expert Y. Shcheglovina.
Syria on the eve of victory
The elite formations of the Syrian army are conducting an operation to clean up the Deir ez-Zor quarters, cities in 420 kilometers from Damascus, which are in the hands of terrorists of the banned Islamic State. Fighters of the Shiite militia Hezbollah are fighting on the side of the government forces. The Islamists have been ousted from the settlements of Salihia and Hussein north of Deir ez-Zor. As a result, the Damascus-Haseke highway was cut, which made it possible to surround the remnants of IG troops in the city. To the south of Deir ez-Zora, the army and the militia liberated the village of Mukhasan and nine other villages.
Syrian air forces support ground troops advancing on Bou Kemal on the border with Iraq. The fighting took place on the outskirts of the Omar oil field. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his visit to Israel announced the imminent completion of the military operation in Syria, making a reservation that it remains to solve several important tasks. This is not only the cleaning of Deir ez-Zor, but also the establishment of control over the main sections of the borderland with Iraq (the Americans and the opposition groups under their control tried to take over Bu-Kemal a year ago) and the main oil fields.
The operation in Deir ez-Zor is defined as the last major offensive actions with the massive support of the Russian HQs. This means a transformation of the overall strategy in the Syrian sector, previously characterized by a combination of military and political components with the advantage of the first. Now will dominate the second. This is logical because, in addition to stabilizing the operational situation with the liquidation of the main strongholds of the irreconcilable — the IG and Dzhebhat an-Nusra (banned in Russia), it was necessary to solve the main task — to withdraw from the possible military overthrow of the Assad regime. The capture of East Aleppo was a watershed between the fluctuations of the main foreign sponsors of the Syrian opposition in planning their actions.
The localization of the opposition in Idlib and the launch of the mechanism for the functioning of de-escalation zones in Syria show the main vector of development of the situation in the medium term. This is an achievement between the main sponsors of consensus (where public, where secret) regarding the truce.
One should not consider the breakthrough of jihadists “Dzhebhat al-Nusra” in Idlib or the transfer of supporters of the IG (local Sunni tribal militia) to the Deir ez-Zor area as a radical breakdown in the mindset of the Saudis in their Syrian tactics. We would venture to suggest that Riyadh now has far more problems with the confrontation of the Turkish expansion in Idlib than the desire to launch military operations against Damascus.
All these events are situational due to the panic of the Americans, faced with the desire of the Syrian government forces with the support of Hezbollah and Russian aviation go to the east coast of the Euphrates and to the border with Iraq. The Pentagon is worried about the isolation of forces under its control in Kurdish enclaves, which threatens Washington with a loss of influence on Sunni tribes in Deir ez-Zor. The blocking of American allies in the Kurdish regions and the beginning of the active stage of embedding Sunni tribes in the socio-economic architecture of Syria are for them the most negative scenario. The basis for the change in the situation after the end of the military operation in Deir ez-Zor will be Moscow’s attempt to preserve and develop the positive experience of the functioning of de-escalation zones with access to a national interfaith compromise amid US attempts to frustrate this with a partial “Afghanization” of Syrian resistance. The key to solving the problem in this case is reconciliation with the Sunni elite amid concessions within the framework of socio-economic autonomy.
Whether Assad and his entourage are wanted or not, they will make concessions to the Sunnis, because civil conflicts force the regimes to make compromises. Iran, unlike what American analysts say, will not resist. In a country where Alawites make up about 20 percent of the population, ignoring a compromise with other denominations is unrealistic. The Iranians demonstrate great flexibility; in such conditions (Lebanon and Iraq are examples) they try to attract members of other religions, including Sunnis and Christians, to loyal Shiite formations themselves, and are not ashamed to join political alliances with them.
King Salman’s visit to Moscow was more like a surrender, albeit an honorable one. Riyadh is not in a position to dictate the rules of behavior in Syria, and the arrival of the Saudi monarch was intended to bargain for the most acceptable conditions for maintaining its influence in the SAR. That is why his son and the chief architect of the KSA policy on the Syrian sector, the Minister of Defense and Crown Prince M. Bin Salman did not come to Moscow. The recent offensive of the Dzhebhat an-Nusra units controlled by him from the idlib bridgehead to the position of the Russian military failed, which would affect the dominance of Saudi Arabia in Idlib during the struggle with Turkey. These actions forced Moscow to intensify joint efforts with Ankara.
To get involved in an exchange of blows with Moscow in the SAR during an exacerbation with Turkey’s main ally in the region, Qatar, meant the creation of a hostile KSA alliance, which M. bin Salman did. Riyadh is not in the circumstances when they propose schemes for political exchange. In addition to Russia's military dominance in the Syrian sector, KSA is also interested in the prolongation of the transaction to restrict oil production. Theoretical bonuses in the form of prospects for long-term large-scale economic contracts are clearly inadequate for convincing Moscow to change its position on Syria. The Russian side will continue to make efforts to minimize the influence of pro-Saud groups in the SAR. Ankara’s actions in Idlib prove this.
The Turkish army is preparing to create a second military base here in the de-escalation zone. The first is located in the Sheikh Barakata district, the highest point of the Simeon mountains, between the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. From there, the Turks will observe the actions of the Kurdish units by the canton Afrin. Ankara is preparing to deploy a second base at the Taftanaz heliport, which has been under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for several years. Turkey intends to have three stationary bases in Idlib and more than 40 observation posts, about 30 of which will be mobile. Her sun is going to take control of the route Reyhanly - Afrin - Tell-Rifat.
As for Iran’s influence in Syria, which Saudi Arabia is concerned with, Tehran and Moscow are partners, their alliance (Iranians and Lebanese are on the ground, Russian aviation is in the air) is the key to success in putting pressure on armed opposition units. At the beginning of the actions of the Russian Aerospace Force of the Russian Federation in Syria, the Assad forces controlled 20 percent of the country's territory, and today - 90 percent.
In addition, the second stage of crisis resolution begins in the republic. The emphasis will be on tribal diplomacy in de-escalation zones and the establishment of interaction along the Damascus-Sunni elite axis. Iran will not withdraw forces from Syria, where Shiite militias are forming. The question is in the participation of the KSA in establishing contacts between the layers of the Syrian society and holding negotiations without preliminary conditions.
Washington's Kurdish Dilemma
Russia and the allies did not interfere with the assault of Racca by the Western coalition, which eventually led to the destruction of the city. The Americans tried to hinder the advance of the Syrian government forces east of the Euphrates, using the Islamists. The United States has exhausted its reserves and will now be content with the role of an observer. The main task of the Pentagon was to establish control over the territory east of the Euphrates using Kurdish troops and local Sunni tribes. The withdrawal of Syrian troops to the city of Bu-Kemal on the Iraqi-Syrian border puts an end to this. The Americans were summed up primarily by the fact that the Kurds were operating in a limited area, and it is not necessary to rely on them when conducting operations in foreign areas. And the Sunni tribes did not provide the necessary support to the Americans because of the distrust of the United States.
It is clear that due to the lack of alternatives to Washington, Raqqu will be controlled by detachments of the Forces of Democratic Syria (SDS), which are based on Kurds from the Party of Democratic Union (PDS). The United States could hand over the city to pro-Turkish forces, but that would ruin their relationship with the Kurds. In addition, the last visit of the American delegation to Ankara to resolve the “visa scandal” (and other issues) did not bring any results, which also ruled out the option of concessions to Raqa Turkey. However, if the Americans wanted to use this opportunity, from the very beginning they would have entered into an alliance with the Turks, which Ankara offered them more than once. Taking the city would then be a formality, since the Turkish secret service MIT could use its levers of influence on the IG field commanders.
Further developments are obvious. The transfer of the Sunni city to the Kurds is a serious deterrent in attempts to “Afghanize” the Syrian conflict. This is impossible without concessions to the tribal Sunni elite in the same Deir ez-Zor. Americans will not restore Rakka. In this case, supporters of the Islamic State and their families will begin to return to the city, which will quickly lead to Islamist control over it. Before the Americans, there is a dilemma: reliance on the Kurds limits their influence on the situation in Syria and is fraught with failure to enlist the support of the Sunnis with increasing pressure from Ankara and Moscow. So most likely Washington will try to fix its zones of influence.
Payment by Kirkuk
In contrast to professional analysts, the general public and the media perceived the transition of Kirkuk to government control in Baghdad after the referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan as a surprise. American experts have proposed several scenarios for the development of the situation. You can talk about the agreement between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PSK) and Baghdad regarding the transfer of control over the province to the government forces. In fact, the surrender of Kirkuk was a joint deal with both PSC and KDP. The Iranians, who were interested in preserving the PAC allies as a competitive force against Barzani and his entourage, mediated in her conclusion. As for the control over the oil areas of the province, they will remain with Baghdad, although they will receive compensation from the CPM.
Until very recently, Erbil could export oil from two main fields in Kirkuk: Bai Hassan-Avan and Baba Gurgur. Mining there was a significant part of the “Kurdish” volume of hydrocarbons. Kirkuk oil basically goes through a pipeline in Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkish Ceyhan. Baghdad plans to build an alternative route that will deliver oil to the south of the country and to Turkey, but this will take time. In the future, the Iraqi government plans to increase production in Kirkuk to a million barrels per day, but so far it is interested in transit routes. The PSC leadership to the oil pipeline to Turkey did not have access, which provoked the demands of Baghdad, the widow of Jalal Talabani, who relied on the scenario of blocking the “pipe” in Ceyhan. The possibility of Baghdad blocking the supply of oil to the transportation system of Iraqi Kurdistan exists, with the level of production falling from 500 to 300 thousand barrels per day. This Erbil and Baghdad can not afford.
Curious are the chances of the leader of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (WPC) Barzani remaining in power after the loss of Kirkuk. He was elected by the regional parliament to head the autonomy in June 2005 for four years, in 2009 he won the first stories Iraqi Kurdistan direct presidential election. Since then, the Parliament has extended its cadence several times. He cannot extend the mandate of the head of IC, since there is no legal basis for this in local legislation. The aggravation of the situation in Kirkuk and the threat of foreign intervention for Barzani is a good excuse to cancel the general elections scheduled for November 1. This, in fact, happened. On October 18, the highest independent election commission on elections and referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan decided to postpone indefinitely the parliamentary and presidential elections in autonomy. The election commission noted that the recent events in the autonomy and the absence of a candidate for the post of head of the EC were the cause. So Barzani decided, under the specious excuse, to remain in power. Now he is trying to accuse the PUK through the media controlled by him "for betraying the interests of the Kurdish people and withdrawing their parts from the Kirkuk peshmerga without a fight." If now the party of the Kurdish opposition “Gorran”, in protest, will again block the work of the parliament, the clan Barzani will rule forever, since the deputies must elect the president of the EC. At the same time, he will make concessions to Baghdad and restore economic and trade relations with the Turks.
The Pentagon is trying to diminish the significance of events in the province of Kirkuk. This was the planned departure of the Peshmerga from Kirkuk, which the Kurds, under the guise of fighting the IG, suddenly decided to privatize. These were mainly people from the WPC who had been exploiting oil fields all this time. Not lagged behind them, and functionaries from the CPM. After the death of the PUK leader Talabani, the party began a struggle for power between the leader's widow and his relatives. Advancement of the Shiite militia in a number of key points of Kirkuk - support for “its own” PUK wing in the person of the head of the special service of this party L. Talibani.
The participation of Shiites in this operation was not planned. The Peshmerga was to surrender its positions at key points in Kirkuk to units of the Iraqi army, not to the Shiite militia. There was no initial talk of forceful capture, otherwise the battles would have gone on increasing, and the potential of the Iraqi army does not correspond to the solution of such a task in one day. It is enough to recall the siege of Mosul in order to understand that the Iraqi army is unable to attack, especially without the air and artillery support of the Americans.
All this means that the president of the Kurdish autonomy has surrendered. His idea of a referendum, the main motive of which was to preserve the dominant positions in Iraqi Kurdistan for the Barzani clan, was doomed to failure from the very beginning due to the obstruction of the main world players, including the UN. This excluded the international recognition of the results of the plebiscite. In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan is not economically self-sufficient. International business will not invest in its oil fields for fear of legal risks if Baghdad filed lawsuits in international arbitration courts.
All this provided for concessions to the leadership of autonomy. The question was, which option would Barzani choose to surrender. He passed Kirkuk under the guarantee of Baghdad not to go to Iraqi Kurdistan itself and begin a negotiation process about the new terms of the deal on the principle of “exporting Kurdish oil through the infrastructure of Baghdad in exchange for financial tranches to Erbil”. Barzani refused to coordinate the Peshmerga detachments in connection with the withdrawal from Kirkuk. Many field commanders (especially KDP) did not know about the upcoming evacuation.
The calculation turned out to be true: the confusion was necessary for organizing clashes with the Iraqi security forces, which rallied the Kurds in the face of the threat of a foreign invasion. Erbil had only to warm up the process of “consolidation” with angry statements. Barzani’s problems may arise when it turns out that no one is going to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, but he turned up the idea of independence for the sake of being in power. In addition, Barzani encroached on the incomes of the KDP leadership: it lost control of the oil fields, which stimulates the growth of opposition sentiments in the IC with respect to Barzani and his entourage.
The moral is simple: about any occurrence on the map of Kurdistan (or taking into account the extremely difficult relations between the Kurdish tribes, clans and territorial enclaves of several Kurdistan) can not speak. There is nothing eternal in this world, and the Middle Eastern borders are not an exception, but so far Iraq has not fallen apart, although this is not excluded in the future. As for the world community, at the time of the League of Nations, who promised statehood to the Kurds, it is much more likely to take back its words than to fulfill it. Fortunately, fulfilling promises of this kind rarely end well. As the precedents of Liberia, Kosovo and the attempt to create a Palestinian state testify ...