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INTERNATIONAL LAW VS IMPERIALISM: the new phase of war in Syria

Around the time of the Syrian victory in the Battle of Aleppo, the fact that the government of Syria would not fall has been more or less assured.

Recent events have made this a virtual certainty. Because of this however, a new kind of proxy war is taking place with its own unique unspoken rules.

As The Duran’s Alexander Mercouris writes,

“…with the US and the Russians anxious to avoid coming to blows with each other, both sides also look to contain the conflict by trying to keep it within its current curious rules.  Basically these are that neither side sets out to attack the other, and that whoever gains control of territory from ISIS first is allowed to keep it.

That explains why the manoeuvres the two sides carry out against each other are never spoken of in that way, and it also explains the conciliatory language (“the Coalition does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them”) in today’s statement.

No doubt over the course of the next few hours the telephone lines between the Russian command in Khmeimim air base in Syria and the US command in Amman in Jordan will be buzzing with discussions as the militaries of the two sides search for ways to limit the damage so as to keep the conflict confined with its present rules”

The event Alexander Mercouris is referring to is the illegal shooting down of a Syrian aircraft by a US aircraft in Raqqa Governorate. While this event is a war crime according to international law, it is a move that conforms to the cynical rules of engagement that are as unspoken as they are now clear.

Put another way, the ‘race to liberate Raqqa’ is now the race to take Raqqa and beyond that the race for Raqqa is rapidly being overshadowed by the race for Deir ez-Zor which is now in many ways a bigger ISIS ‘hot-spot’ than Raqqa.

On top of this it’s a matter of a land-grab, something made all the more devastating by the fact that one of the parties is looking to grab back land which was always legally its own: Syria. The United States and the Kurds clearly have other ideas, to pretend otherwise at this point would simply be naive.

The nature of US mission creep means that America never likes to leave a conflict empty handed. Since the main prize of toppling the Syrian government is off the table, the new prize for the US is simply put, as much of eastern Syria as they can get their hands on, ostensibly so they can prepare for a US dependent Kurdish autonomous region or even a state of Kurdistan which would be something of a US client state.

In September, Kurdish Iraqis will hold a referendum on establishing a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. While both Iraq and Turkey are strongly opposed to this, America may well allow it to happen and use it as a pretext for linking it up with a Kurdistan carved from legal Syrian territory. The fact that Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have serious local political differences in many cases, will hardly matter to the United States who is a friend to both.

There is no doubt that Iran and Russia will both want to receive a kind of preferential position in Syria after the war and even less doubt that such offers will be on the table. Russia and Iran are fighting with Syria as partners, not adversaries and the post-war partnership will certainly continue.

But America is not a partner of any of the states surrounding the conflict in eastern Syria. Damascus is seen by the US as an enemy in all but name. Turkey and the US are on totally opposite sides of the equation now that the US has put its full military and geo-political weight behind Kurdish forces. However dependant Iraq is on the US, its government is an ally of Iran and Syria for reasons that have in some cases a more ancient background than the very existence of the United States.

From the American perspective, this is all the more reason to create a reliable pro-American client state in the region.

Israel is of course a big factor here. Depending on one’s perspective, Israel either dictates much of America’s Middle East policy and from other perspectives, Israel is the 51st state of the USA.

Israel makes no secret of its hatred towards the Syrian government. Israel and Syria have been enemies since a time when most people thought of an Egyptian goddess when they heard the word ‘ISIS’.

Israel and Hamas are on the same side in the war. Hamas fights with anti-Syrian jihadists while Israel continually attacks Syria and her allies, particularly the Lebanese Resistance Hezbollah and now even the pro-Israel Wall Street Journal confirms that Israel is aiding terrorists who are fighting the government in Damascus.

To add to these layers of imperial ambition, Israel is a long time regional ally of separatist Kurds and now that Turkey has backed Qatar in the current Gulf dispute, Saudi Arabia has come out with pro-Kurdish sentiments. This latter-most development fits into Donald Trump’s ambitions to formalise an Israel-Saudi alliance that in terms of the foreign policy ambitions of each state, already exists. Saudi and Israel have the same regional enemies, they want to destroy the same foes and now they want to cultivate the same regional would-be allies.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the US, Israel and the Saudis are pushing further towards open advocacy of a Kurdish client state in the region while Iran and Russia simply want to preserve Syria as she is currently comprised while maintaining their alliance with the legitimate government in Damascus.

According to the authority of international law, it is clear that Russia and Iran are the ‘good guys’ and America and her regional friends are the imperialist ‘bad guys’. In this case, it really is as simple as that.

When one looks to Turkey, things are by contrast, far more complicated.

Turkey in many ways, cooked its own goose by consistently funding, arming and fighting beside anti-government jihadists in Syria. Had Turkey remained neutral in the conflict or even switched to a position of neutrality before 2016, Turkey would have been able to have a very legitimate position from which to speak against the creation of a Kurdish state in both Syria and Iraq.

But because Turkey illegally invaded and occupied both Syria and Iraq at various times, Turkey’s position is deeply compromised.

Turkey’s position boils down too, “We want Turkish imperialism to bring down the government in Damascus in favour of jihadist extremists, but at the same time the US is wrong to turn the Kurds into imperial clients”. The position is as intellectually untenable as it is the blatant new reality.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that he wants to bring Saudi Arabia and the United States into the Astana Peace Talks. While he may have had many reasons for wanting this, it is almost certain that his goal would be to minamise US and Saudi ambitions to create a Kurdish state.

In Astana Turkey is generally supported by Iran in its opposition to a Kurdish state and Russia while having good contacts with many Kurdish leaders, would never advocate for a Kurdish state at the expense of Syria. 

READ MORE: 4 reasons Erdogan has invited US and Saudi Arabia to Astana Peace Talks

In reality, America would probably never participate in the Astana format anyway as it is difficult to see American diplomats sharing any kind of peace table with Iran at the present time. 

In trying to have the best of both worlds, Turkey now has the worst of each. Assad will stay and he’ll never forgive Turkey. Simultaneous to this, the Kurds have been embolden by the United States who clearly has no consideration for Turkish sentiments on the issue. The Turkey–US alliance which was strong for much of the 20th century and even before, may now take decades to fully recover.

For Syria, the fight is about dignity. The Syrian government now easily controls Syria’s big population centres, what many call ‘useful Syria’, the kinds of places that to put it bluntly, people would want to live in and tourists would want to visit.

Still, Syria does not want to lose any of its territory after having objectively won the war. And why should it? International law dictates Syria MUST retain its territory–every inch of it.

For Russia ,it is a matter of balancing its partnership with Syria against not wanting a confrontation with the United States. Iran is in a similar position, though many in Iran would not so secretly like an opportunity to ‘teach the US a lesson’.

Turkey will do anything it can to stop Kurdistan from becoming a reality, though its options are far more limited than they would have been if Turkey had stayed out of the conflict from the beginning.

All the while, America, Israel and Saudi want whatever piece of the Syrian pie they can illegally get their hands on.

This is now beyond the ‘race for Berlin’, its more like an old fashioned imperial war of a bygone age, but one fought with 21st century military hardware.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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