Former American diplomat calls for a US-protected Kurdish autonomy in Syria

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People of Sere kaniye in Syria's Hasakah province bidding farewell to Kurdish YPG fighters killed in clashes with ISIS. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

The United States should give long-term guarantees to the Syrian Kurds, said Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador and a lobbyist for the Iraqi Kurds.

Galbraith, who visited the Syrian Kurdish region [Rojava] last week, said: “In eastern Syria, Kurdish forces supported by the United States Air Force and special forces are battling the Islamic State in a largely separate conflict.”

“On a recent trip to the Kurdish areas, I traveled to within 15 miles of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. Kurdish fighters feel confident that they can take the city, but their leaders understand that they’re not in a position to govern a large Arab city. Since there is no viable Arab alternative to the Syrian government, this will mean transferring control of Raqqa to the regime in Damascus,” he said in an op-ed for the New York Times.

The former US diplomat and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited the Kurdish region in Syria last week with the goal to repair relations between the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)–that failed to share power in northern Syria, with the PYD leading the Syrian Kurdish areas on the ground.

According to Galbraith, the United States must either provide long-term guarantees to the Syrian Kurds, or work with Russia to establish a Kurdish federal zone.

“Finally, the United States must provide long-term guarantees to the Syrian Kurds, who now control a large territory, not all of which is Kurdish. For now, the Syrian Army is in no position to take on the Kurdish forces, but eventually, Mr. Assad will surely try to recreate the centralized Arab state he inherited from his father. He will also want to use Syria’s oil resources — much of which are now under Kurdish control — to finance reconstruction,” Galbraith said.

“One option is to establish an American-protected Kurdish safe area in northeastern Syria similar to the one created in northern Iraq after the first gulf war. That expensive option is complicated by the inability of the United States to use Turkish air bases to enforce it. (Turkey regards the Kurds as its leading enemy in Syria.),” he said.

However, if the US is not willing to do this, the new Trump administration could work with Russia to support a Kurdish region.

“The less costly alternative is to co-sponsor a Russian plan for an autonomous Kurdish area within a federal Syria,” he wrote.

The Syrian government in the past rejected Russian proposals to establish a Kurdish federation in Syria, and the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said that the Kurds in Syria “do not want federalism”.

“However, Russia’s leverage with Mr. Assad will diminish as the opposition crumbles in Syria’s west and Russian airpower becomes less important. At that point, the opportunity to extract concessions will disappear, and the field will belong to Mr. Assad and Iran,” Galbraith said.

Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute–Qatar, told ARA News that the US government hasn’t made a policy decision yet on the future of the Kurdish-led administrations in northern Syria.

“I don’t think they’ve made a decision on it yet. I think they’re waiting to see what becomes of the rest of Syria, before deciding what to do with the Kurdish region,” Stephens said.

“It’s a classic case of playing for time, and the operations against ISIS buy them some time at the moment,” he concluded.

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