Greater Middle East
German federal prosecutors charged two former Syrian intelligence officers with "more than 4,000 alleged cases of torture" in the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz in October. The case, which is anticipated to start in 2020, will be the "first criminal trial worldwide" over alleged crimes against humanity in Syria. The defendants are identified as Anwar R. and Eyad A., with their last names withheld under German law. The two left Syria in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and sought asylum in Germany. However, both were arrested by authorities in February. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) confirmed the allegations against them in a press release, saying:
A US military convoy was spotted headed back into Syria from Iraqi territory—just days after the US withdrawal from northern Syria, which precipitated the Turkish aggression there, had been completed. The convoy was traveling toward the Deir ez-Zor area, presumably to "guard" the oil-fields there, now under the precarious control of Kurdish forces. (Rudaw) Following up on President Trump's pledge to secure the oil-fields, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now tells USA Today that the troops being mobilized to Deir ez-Zor "will include some mechanized forces." USA Today also reports that Esper broached sending armored vehicles now based in Kuwait to defend the Syrian oil-fields.
Turkey and Russia announced a deal for joint control of northeast Syria Oct. 22, as Kurdish forces retreated from the so-called "safe zone" along the border. The 10-point agreement defines the dimensions of the "safe zone," 480 kilometers (270 miles) long and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep, enclosing the (former) Kurdish autonomous cantons of Kobani and Cezire. It supports Ankara's demand for the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia. In Washington, Trump wasted no time in announcing that his administration will lift the sanctions it had imposed on Turkey in response to the aggression in Syria's north. (EA Worldview, The Hill)
US troops hastened their withdrawal from Syria on Oct. 21, amid the anger of local Kurds and confusion over the future status of American forces in the area. More than 100 vehicles crossed into Iraq that day. The departure of the 1,000 soldiers—including 500 that were embdedded in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—was marked by the US destroying weapons, equipment and facilities to keep them from falling into the hands of Russian, Assadist or Iranian forces. Video showed Kurdish residents, furious at a perceived betrayal by the Americans, berating and attempting to block a convoy of withdrawing US forces as youth pelted the trucks and armored vehicles with stones and rotten fruit.
In Episode 41 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg warns that the Turkish aggression in northern Syria holds the risk of a generalized Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. But he recalls the inspiring moment in 2014 when the Free Syrian Army and Rojava Kurds were united in a common front against both the Assad regime and ISIS. This alliance was exploded by imperial intrigues. The FSA, under military pressure from Assad, accepted Turkish patronage—and Turkey is bent on destruction of the Kurdish autonomous zone. Now, under military pressure from Turkey, the Kurds have entered an alliance with the Assad regime—which the Arab-led opposition has been fighting for eight brutal years. In the brief "ceasefire" that has now been declared, it is urgent that anti-war voices around the world raise a cry against the Turkish aggression—but in a single-standard way that also opposes the ongoing Russian and Assadist war crimes. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
After meeting in Ankara Oct. 17, US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria over the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border. This is being widely reported as a "ceasefire." However, the 13-point agreement does not use the word "ceasefire," but states: "The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal." Operation "Peace Spring" is the utterly Orwellian code-name for the Turkish offensive, and the YPG is the People's Protection Units, the Kurdish militia in northeast Syria. The YPG was not a party to the "ceasefire," but nonetheless agreed to abide by it. Still, fighting has continued, with at least eight civilians reported killed less than 24 hours into the deal. There is also no consensus on the geographic limits of the area covered by the deal. The official text does not define it, and Turkey and the US remain at odds on the size the "safe zone" (another Orwellian construction) that Ankara seeks to establish in Syria. Ankara is still asserting it will be 100 kilometers deep, while Washington is calling for 20 kilometers. (Rudaw, Middle East Eye, AP)
A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Oct. 15 that Turkey may be held responsible for executions and civilian casualties that have occurred as a part of its military offensive in northern Syria. Rupert Colville stated that the office has received reports detailing civilian casualties as well as "summary executions carried out by fighters belonging to the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group, which is affiliated with Turkey."
In a deal brokered by Russia, the leadership of the Rojava Kurds have agreed to cooperate with the Assad regime in resisting the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria. With Assadist forces already mobilizing to the region from the south and Turkish-backed forces advancing from the north, the Kurds have been left with little other choice. Accepting a separate peace with Assad is now their only hope to avoid outright extermination, or, at the very least, being cleansed entirely from their territory. But the sticking point in previous peace feelers between the Kurds and Assad has been the latter's refusal to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone—so its survival now is gravely in doubt, even in the improbable event that the Turkish advance is repulsed. Worse still, with the Kurds now open allies of the brutal regime that Syria's Arab opposition has been fighting for nearly eight years, a general Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria appears terrifyingly imminent.