SDF take last ISIS pocket: what next?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete “territorial defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF “declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS,” Mustafa Bali, head of the force’s press office, announced on Twitter. “On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible,” Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.

The bright yellow flag of the SDF was raised over Baghouz, the eastern Syrian village where remnant ISIS forces made their last stand. The victorious forces held a brief press conference in the village.

“We end the Jazeera Storm Operation here. We congratulate this victory as a glad tiding to Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and all the people of the world,” said Chiya Firat, the SDF commandeder who led the campaign against ISIS in eastern Deir ez-Zor province. (Rudaw)

Trump was of course quick to implicitly take credit for the victory. “The United States will defend American interests whenever and wherever necessary,” he said. “We will continue to work with our partners and allies to totally crush radical Islamic terrorists.” (AFP)

But this is a victory for the Rojava Kurds and their Arab and Assyrian allies, not for Trump. And it could paradoxically mean very bad news for them, as they have now outlived their usefulness to the empire and could be betrayed to Turkish aggression.

Contrary, to the oft-heard calumny that the Rojava Kurds are “separatists,” note that the flag they just raised in Baghouz shows the outline of the territory of the Syrian nation, in its entirety—although it does show the Euphrates River, which may be meant to indicate the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous zone. It also says “Syrian Democratic Forces” in the Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian languages.

The critical question remains, however, of which Syrians they will join with to rebuild national unity.

The top military commander of the SDF in the aftermath of the battle for Baghouz issued an appeal to the Assad regime. “We call on the central government in Damascus to prefer the process of dialogue,” Mazloum Kobane said in a statement. He also called on Damascus to “start practical steps to reach a political solution based on the recognition” of the Rojava autonomous zone. (Al Jazeera)

Accepting a deal with the Assad dictatorship would of couse utterly betray the “democratic” part of the SDF’s name. But they are in a tough spot. Seekng aid from the Pentagon against ISIS was a compromise too…

The former Rojava self-governing canton west of the Euphrates, Afrin, is now occupied (or perhaps de-facto annexed) by Turkey—in collaboration with some Syrian rebel forces. The occupation forces have been brutalizing and expelling the Kurdish population of Afrin—most recently, taking steps to prevent them from celebrating the traditional Nowruz festival, local sources report. Occupation authorities apparently distributed a notice in Turkish and Arabic saying that Nowruz was not an official public holiday and, as such, citizens would not be permitted to celebrate in any way. (New Arab)

Syrian rebel forces are collaborating in the occupation of Afrin out of loyalty to Turkey, which has helped protect  Idlib province, the last under rebel control, from reconquest by Assad and his Russian allies. But betrayal of the Kurds is the price of the rebels’ tactical alliance with Turkey. Similarly, betrayal of the Syrian rebel opposition—and Sunni Arab majority—would be the price of the Rojava Kurds’ tactical alliance with Assad.

Meanwhile, amid the celebration over the final territorial defeat of ISIS, last week Assad and Russia resumed their bombardment of Idlib. (The Guardian)

Despite all the absurdly premature crowing about how the Syrian war is over, the fates of Deir ez-Zor, Rojava, Idlib and Afrin alike all remain unclear. The final collapse of ISIS could just set off a new scramble for Syria’s north. We only hope it does not result in an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war.

Image: SDF