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The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next

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Written by Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai; Originally appeared at his blog

The US presidential plane landed in the darkness of the Iraqi military base of Ayn al-Assad in west Anbar with Donald Trump onboard. But by the time his plane took off three hours later, Trump left behind a protocol-political-parliamentary storm in Mesopotamia as Iraqi members of parliament requested the departure of the 5200 US forces from the country. None of the three Iraqi leaders (Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Speaker Mohammad al-Halbusi, President Barham Salih) came to receive Trump as all three rejected US conditions for such a meeting. Trump seems determined to leave Syria without interfering with who will control the territory behind him: this morning the Syrian Army entered the outskirt of the city of Manbij following a deal between Kurdish leaders and the government of Damascus. Will he also end up leaving Iraq before the end of his term in January 2021?

The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next

In preparation for Trump’s visit, Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was asked to meet the US president. He agreed to meet Trump either in Baghdad, on Iraqi soil, or at the Ayn al-Assad military base, on the Iraqi side of the base; Iraqi national security forces and army units are present at the same base where US forces are deployed, in a separate part of the base. To have met on the US-controlled part of the Iraqi-US base would have made Abdel Mahdi appear as an invited guest in his own country.

A few hours before Trump’s arrival, US Ambassador Douglas Silliman told Abdel Mahdithat Trump would receive him in the US part of the base. Trump refused to visit Baghdad for a quick reception; neither would he even cross over to the Iraqi side of Ayn al-Assad, for security reasons. Abdel Mahdi refused the US invitation, as did the Iraqi president and speaker. All three politicians have risen in public esteem for having refused the US invitation.

Trump’s disregard for protocol when landing in a sovereign foreign country has infuriated local politicians, heads of organisations and members of parliament. They felt insulted and have called for the withdrawal of US forces from the country. Others threatened to force US troops out of the country.

Qais al-Khaz’ali, the head of a parliamentary coalition and leader of “Asaeb Ahl al-haq” (responsible for killing US soldiers during their occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2011), said “Iraq will respond (to the Trump insult) through a parliamentary demand that you pull out your troops and if you don’t leave, we have the (warfare) experience to force you out”.

The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next

Tension was increased by Trump’s announcement that he plans to keep his forces in Iraq and may return to Syria from the Iraqi base. “Hezbollah Iraq” responded immediately by pledging to “cut the hand that will hit Syria from Iraqi bases”.

The US president seems prepared to keep his promise to withdraw from Syria, at least in the case of Manbij. The US announced an “organised exit”, meaning withdrawal in coordination with Turkey so that Ankara’s forces could replace withdrawing US troops. Turkey has been preparing to enter Manbij and Tal Abiad by gathering thousands of forces and proxies standing at the borders of the Syrian province. Nevertheless, the deal reached on Thursday night between the Syrian government and the YPG Kurds gave the green light to the 1stand 5thdivisions of the Syrian army to take back Manbij (still on the outskirt) and raise Russian and Syrian flags over the city. This development is blocking the road for Turkey and its proxies to move into the province. The decision was communicated to Turkey via Russia.

Moscow is standing in the way of any change of power on the ground, refusing Turkey control of more Syrian territory not already included in the “Astana deal”, which conceded Turkey temporary jurisdiction in the region of Idlib. Russia believes there should be a natural handover of the Kurdish-controlled areas to the Syrian Army following US withdrawal. Damascus and Tehran are adamant in this case: only Syrian forces should replace US troops in al-Hasaka province.

Moreover, Damascus forces are still based in Qamishli and can easily take over control of all positions when the US withdraw its occupation forces from northeastern Syria. Already there are observation points (villages) under the control of the Syrian Army, some with Russian observers, in different villages around Manbij. These represent a clear message to Ankara that no troops can cross without Russian agreement, otherwise they will be bombed and attacked. The control of Manbij is a game changer and a clear indication that the government of Damascus will take control of al-Hasaka province to concentrate later on Idlib, after the US withdrawal, with the help of Moscow.

Russia has called for an important meeting between presidential envoys, Foreign and Defence ministers and heads of intelligence services of both Russia and Turkey this Saturday in Moscow to talk about the US withdrawal and the role of each side. Another meeting (not yet final) is scheduled between Turkey, Russia and Iran in Moscow in a few weeks. The aim is to prevent any split between these leaders that could be triggered by the US withdrawal from occupied Syria. Damascus rejected the presence of the local Kurdish administration on its side and agreed to disarm the Kurds, a Turkish and Syrian request, after defeating ISIS.Indeed, the Kurds will help the Syrian army fight ISIS along the Euphrates river where a battle is expected to begin soon to end ISIS control of the area. As ISIS no longer enjoys US protection, the end of its occupation of a part of Syrian territory is near.

During negotiations with Russia, Turkey argued that the US might not allow the Syrian forces to move in. Turkey claimed that any changes to the deal established between Trump and Erdogan might alter the US decision to withdraw. Damascus and Tehran are indeed eager to see US troops gone from Syria, but not to deliver the area to Turkey. Russia supported Damascus on this position.

The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next
YPG statement: https://twitter.com/DefenseUnits/status/1078573294402588672

Ankara was indeed afraid that its unilateral decision to move into the Kurdish controlled area might trigger Russian intervention against its proxies (Euphrates Sheild, Jaish al-Islam, al-Hamza brigade, Ahrar al-Sharqiya and others), and might also lead Iranians to arm the Kurds and the Arab tribes in the province to prevent any further annexation of Syrian territory. The Turkish forces and their proxies currently occupying Jarablus, al-Bab, Afrin and Idlib, are unwilling to engage in a doomed war against the Syrian army, supported by Russia and Iran.

Turkey seems willing to accommodate Russia and Iran – the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies will never be able to cross the 500 kilometres from Manbij to Deir-ezzour where the richest area of oil and gas is. This area is only tens of kilometres distant from the closest Syrian Army position on the other side of the Euphrates river.

Russia asked Damascus and Tehran to lay down a strategy and coordinate with the Russian military to put forward a plan of action and a road map after US withdrawal, with the first priority of eliminating ISIS and avoiding any clash with Turkey if possible. The situation was very sensitive and complicated between these allies. With the return of Manbij, the situation seems to favour Syrian unity, marking the end of its partition or of any possible buffer zone.

Tehran believes the US won’t permanently leave the Levant and Mesopotamia without leaving unrest behind. This gives its officials an additional motivation to lobby the Iraqi parliament for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

There is no doubt that Iraq is a close ally of Iran and not a fanatic supporter of the US. The Iraqi parliament can exert pressure over the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to ask President Trump to pull out US troops before the end of his mandate in 2020. The US establishment and the “Axis of the Resistance” can both connive and plan, but the last word will belong to the people of Iraq and to those who reject US hegemony in the Middle East, those who can accept losses and nurse their wounds in hopes of a better future.

Proof-read by: C.B.

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  • BMWA1

    Looking at position of the now strategic NE Syria town held by SAA:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qamishli

    Maybe fly in a few companies of the VDV here?

  • Hasbara Hunter

    KICK ALL U.S. MILITARY BASES BACK HOME!
    THE EMPIRE IS DONE!

  • Tommy Jensen

    Turkey is taking over as our ally and our alternative plan G.
    In one shot our President checkmated Iran, Russia, Assad and the clumsy Kurds, got the leverage in the area and made a deal worth $billions for America…………………………..LOL.

    • Ilya

      Chickens, count, eggs, hatched. Trump is doing great winning a battle against the MIC, but the war is still fully on. One tactical defeat of the enemy is not victory.

      • Hasbara Hunter

        It’s not about who wins the Battle….but who wins the WAR……That the Common Folks may see Victory…The Elites Failed….

        Aut Vincere Aut Mori

    • grumpy_carpenter

      US objectives in Syria: ISIS must be defeated, Iran must leave Syria and Assad must go.

      So ISIS is still alive and well, the SDF is in Russia negotiating with the Syrians and Iranians for protection from the Turks and 2 divisions of the SAA along with Russian observers has already rolled into Mandjib side by side with the SDF wearing SDF insignia, the Gulf stated reopened embassies in Damascus, SA has no objections to admitting Syria back into the Arab league, the Gulf states are giving money to Assad to rebuild Syria AND Assad is firmly in power in Damascus.

      Then to top it all off Trump gets the USA kicked out of Iraq because he’s too stupid to understand protocol. All he had to do was walk over to the Iraqi side of the military base and shake hands but he refused and got you kicked out of the country.

      The only war the USA has ever won against a peer without controversy as to whether or not they actually won the war or met their political objectives was the civil war and that was a hard one for the USA to lose.

    • AJ

      HaHa no checkmate at all the kurds will have to give over areas they control to SAA then Turkey wont be able to attack

  • DenLilleAbe

    Rather dismal outings as displayed in the picture.
    It is not a second to soon they withdraw from their illegal occupation.

  • potcracker2588

    breaking news……..houthi forces abandon hudaydah, retreat!

    jews got what they wanted!!!

  • K Pomeroy

    So, all you Trump haters, might you have a good word now for the US President who is withdrawing much despised US troops from Syria? Or will you twist even that action, an action anti-Americans have been screaming for for the last six years, into some horrible instance of selfish imperialism on the part of Trump? As an anti-US-interventionist, I’ve supported Trump for pragmatic reasons: he is the world’s and America’s best hope for a return to reason in US policy. Yet those who shout for reason hypocritically also often vilify Trump. Nothing will satisfy such negative thinkers. The world is always bad, bad, bad, and always the fault of the US. Of course, note that Putin is the one who encouraged Turkish presence in Syria. But Putin can do no wrong. Right? Wrong! I support Assad. Yet Assad’s viewpoint is invariably conspicuous by its absence. I’m glad the Kurds are now willing to be real citizens of the country they were born in and have decided to cooperate with their President in Damascus. Straight thinking folks!

    • GRAHL

      This is the best thing that could have happened to the Kurds.

    • gustavo

      I hope Kurds stop being USA-puppets in this area.

    • #’~A*QXm(>NRmm]w?dU4vXZ

      …. he is the world’s and America’s best hope for a return to reason in US policy.

      Really? The withdrawal from Syria is not complete, and he has not indicated what his aim is. Attack Syria from Iraq?
      And his inane trade war with China? His illegal withdrawal from the JCPOA and those illegal direct and secondary santions? His continued harassment of North Korea and the back-to-front interpretetion of the document he signed with KJU? His move of the US embassy to Jerusalem? His “deal of the century” that isn’t? His hand-picked henchmen who keep destroying whatever he tries to improve in relations with Russia? His withdrawal from the Paris climate accord? His …..

      The list is endless. So what does your hope consist of, pipe dreams?

  • Kelli Hernandez

    The war is not over until Syria raises it’s flag over its oil wealth PERIOD. THE US HAS ZERO RIGHT TO IT

  • watcher12

    Trump has played this well. He wants the troops home for local reasons and has no interest in Syria or Iraq (any longer). Political games are afoot and Trump appears to be intent on keeping his pre election promises but has to do so in a way that does not invite an assasination by enemies within and other issues that hamper his actions to free America from corporate control – a long process.

  • RichardD

    That would be great if the US gets out of Iraq. I hope that it happens. But none of this solves the underlying problem, both in the US and the middle east, which is Jews.

  • gustavo

    It is very hard to believe that Russia could attack Turkey troop. Russia needs to keep its economical and commercial interests with Turkey alive.