The ceasefire in Syria, initially deadlocked in Geneva on the US position that apart from the Islamic State (IS), all other forces including even al Qaeda's Syrian constituent Jabahat al Nusra should be covered, has now been announced. The joint statement by the US and Russia has now kept both these groups outside the scope of the ceasefire, or more correctly cessation of hostilities. A number of rebel groups, who are backed by NATO powers and the Gulf monarchies, have come out with their objections in excluding al Nusra from the ceasefire, as their forces are “intermingled” with al Nusra's and therefore the ceasefire being unworkable. Turkey and Saudis have also been backing the inclusion of al Nusra in the ceasefire and being made a party to the negotiations, in spite it being al Qaeda and opposed to any peace talks with the Assad government. The ceasefire declaration leaves unclear the status of those groups, particularly Ahrar al Sham, Jayash al Muhammad, etc., that are a part of the alliance Jayash al Fatah with Al Nusra, and share a common military command.
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Commenting on the agreement, Erdogan said, "The PYD is supported because it fights against ISIL. Nusra Front is also fighting against ISIL. Why is it bad?" Left to him, al Nusra should be a part of ceasefire and YPG outside it.
The UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which called for the ceasefire, explicitly excluded the Islamic State (IS) and the Jabahat al Nusra, and asked “...for Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups,...”
Reporting on the Geneva talks, Washington Post reported, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.” The US and the rebels' admission that “moderate forces” are intermingled with al Nusra, substantiates the Syrian and the Russians claims that the so-called moderates backed by the US, are actually in alliance with al Qaeda.
Why would the US, which is supposedly carrying out a “Global War on Terror”, with al Qaeda as the other side, be wanting to declare the Syrian al Qaeda to be a part of “moderate forces” which it supports? Is the US finally admitting it is in alliance with al Qaeda against the Assad government in Syria? Are they a part of the 150,000 “moderate forces” that Phillip Hammond, the UK Foreign Secretary declared last week are on the ground against the Bashar al Assad government, backed by the NATO powers?
Part of the problem of the western powers is that they now have their collective tails in a crack. Since 2011, they supported the regime change agenda in Syria in collusion with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Monarchies. They believed that the Assad government would fall quickly, significantly damaging the resistance axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. They not only wilfully shut their eyes to the nature of these forces, but as we now know, were willing to have a sectarian Sunni state in eastern Syria and in south-western Iraq. The Syrian government's forces have not only held out against the huge influx of arms, foreign “militants” and money for nearly five years. With Russian help, they have now clearly turned the tide. With the rise of the IS, Paris attack, the threat of refugees fleeing the number of failed states created by the west's regime change agenda – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria – the west is now in the fear of being singed by the fire it has lit. This is where its allies in the region – Turkey, Saudis, and other Gulf monarchies – and the western powers are now at cross-purposes.
For the Turkey-Saudi axis, the Syrian government cannot be allowed to win in Syria. They have invested too much in their efforts to overthrow the Assad government. They have now proposed an invasion of Syria, allegedly to fight the IS in eastern Syria, but in reality to turn the tide of battle that its allies in the ground are losing. Turkey and the Saudi-Gulf Monarchies have provided a conduit for foreign fighters, money, arms and other material support to IS, Jabahat al Nusra, and other forces such as Jayash al Mohammed, and Ahrar al Sham (al Qaeda lite). Turkey is also deeply complicit in the illegal IS oil sale, which has been a big source of its funds. For Saudis and Turkey, who have been in tacit alliance with IS, the invasion of Syria would be more to cover for IS's retreat, and prevent eastern Syria being recaptured by the Assad government and its allies.
Aleppo, a city under siege for the last three years, is now in the hands of the Syrian government forces, or completely surrounded by it. The rebels – consisting al Nusra in western Aleppo and IS in eastern Aleppo – are cut off and it is only a matter of time before their resistance is completely eliminated.
Though the IS, Jund as Aqsa, and al Nusra recently have managed to cut Aleppo's lifeline, the road linking it to Damascus, this is militarily not significant. This is a narrow corridor which runs through largely desert and is easy to attack. With Russian air support, it is a matter of time before the road is reopened to Syrian forces. What is clear is the cooperation between al Nusra, IS and Jund al Aqsa, allegedly one of the “moderate” rebels.
In the Aleppo sector, the Kurds, backed by both Russia and the US, have taken over large parts of northern Syria and cut off most of IS forces from Turkey. In this sector, the only life line from Turkey for both Jabahat al Nusra and IS is now through an 80-kilometre narrow corridor between the two towns – Azaz on the west and Jarabulous on the east. On two sides of this corridor are the two Kurdish held cantons -- Afrin and Kobane. It is the Kurdish forces from Afrin that are now besieging Azaz. If Azaz and Jarabulous fall, this would create a large pocket in which al Nusra and IS forces would find themselves surrounded by the Kurdish YPG and its Arab allies, the SDF, on the north, and the Syrian government forces on the south. A similar scenario could also emerge in the Idlib sector, but probably only after the Aleppo battle is won.
Turkey not only has the larger goal of regime change in Syria, it finds the rise of the Kurds on its southern border unacceptable. After a long ceasefire, hostilities have broken out between the PKK, and Turkish government in southern Turkey. Turkey regards YPG in Syria as another name for PKK and would like to prevent the Kurds from declaring an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria. A part of Turkey's demand for a no-fly zone over northern Syria, is to militarily control the Kurdish areas. It failed, when both the US and the Russians backed the YPG against the IS.
The Assad government has tacitly accepted an autonomous Kurdish region and works in close conjunction with the YPG and SDF allies.
The bomb blast in Ankara that killed 28 soldiers was seen by President Erdogan as an opportunity to invade Syria. His government immediately declared YPG to be responsible, which it has denied. A break-away faction of PKK – Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) -- that did not agree with the original ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK, has claimed the responsibility for the suicide bombing, and even named the member, who carried it out. DNA studies now confirm the break-away group's claim and Turkey government's claim as false.
The other NATO powers have not agreed for NATO backing a Turkish-Saudi invasion of Syria. Without this backing, even Erdogan will find it difficult to get the Turkish Army to march into Syria. Though many of my Turkish friends doubt Erdogan's sanity, I do not think his megalomania has tipped over into his becoming stark, raving mad. That is what he will have to be, if he takes on the combined Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria.
There are only two courses now in this war. Either the “moderate forces” including some of the al Qaeda lite break completely with Jabahat al Nusra, allowing the Syrian government, with the help of Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces to defeat Jabahat al Nusra and IS militarily. In such a scenario, a ceasefire could be possible. This means separating their forces from al Nusra and identifying the territories they hold, and joining the negotiations with the Assad government.
With the collapse of the Free Syrian Army, such a scenario of al Qaeda lite disassociating itself from al Nusra, is not only unlikely, but well nigh impossible. They are too closely involved territorially and with joint military command, for such a separation to work.
The other course is “talk peace” in Geneva, while the actual “negotiations” take place in the battlefield. This is what is happening now in Latakia, and Aleppo, with al Nusra led forces in the imminent danger of being broken up into pockets and then squeezed into extinction. It will mean a continuation of the war for another 3 months, by which most of the populated areas of Syria would have gone back under government control. Eastern Syria – Deir Ezzor, Palmyra and Raqqa – could take longer, even though there are already two Syrian column moving in towards Raqqa, one from the north and the other from the south.
What is unlikely to happen is that the Syrian government and its allies will surrender at the negotiating table what they have won on the ground. This is what the Saudi and Turkey backed rebels are demanding in Geneva – that the Syrian government declare a ceasefire, and lift the siege of the rebel held areas unilaterally. Since al Nusra has not agreed to the negotiations, they could continue fighting, while Syrian forces declare ceasefire!
The US seems to have lost its ability to control its allies in the region – Saudis and Turkey. While it will not openly break with them, it may be willing to have the Syrians and the Russians sort out the Syrian mess now. So having a ceasefire that is really not a ceasefire helps. It also helps the western powers that the civil war (or proxy war) continues, Assad is weakened, the Wahabbi forces do not take over Syria, and Putin can be blamed for whatever happens.
It is what we have said earlier in Newsclick, the US today has enormous destructive capabilities, but it can no longer control the aftermath of such destruction. As we can see right now in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the people of Syria, the agony will continue. Hopefully, much of the country, or at least its population centres, can go back to building the civic infrastructure that Syria had before the 2011 regime change war. Hopefully, West Asia will see the defeat not just of al Qaeda and IS, but also of the Wahabbi version of a distorted Islam, which is backed by the petrodollars of the Gulf monarchies. It is this combination of petrodollars, Wahabbi monarchies and the west's insatiable greed for feeding its military industrial complex that is fuelling wars in the region. This is what the people in the region have to understand and break.
Hopefully, Yemen will end the Saudi monarchy; the rest will fall if the House of Saud falls. That will change West Asia infinitely for the better. Will the western powers let that happen? Or will we see the west, along with its client state Israel, drawn more and more into essentially colonial wars?
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.