Day: October 25, 2017
I did this interview last week for Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh of the Islamic Republic’s Tehran daily Iran. I was informed today that it has been published. I’ll appreciate it if anyone can let me know whether it has been fully and accurately translated into Farsi:
- As a experienced Counselor who knows about the functioning of international institutions, do you think the UN can help to end the Syria crisis ? Some people say institutions like UN don’t have executive power and can not take positive steps toward peace in conflict regions. What is your opinion about the view?
A: The UN is already playing important roles: it provides a great deal of humanitarian assistance in Syria and to refugees in neighboring countries, it has a commission that has reported extensively on human rights violations in Syria, it has established an international, impartial and independent mechanism to assist in investigating and prosecuting international crimes committed in Syria, and it also sponsors the Geneva talks on political transition. Behind the scenes it has played a role in some particular ceasefires and other agreements that have saved lives. Of course it lacks executive power to determine the outcome of the war, but is doing things that lessen the war’s impact, make it possible to hold parties accountable for their wartime behavior, and may lead to an end to the fighting. Those aren’t bad things, they just aren’t all I might hope for.
2. After the end of ISIS in Raqqa, which actor can take control of the city and restore order and public services? Iran and Russia along with the Syrian government, the Kurdish forces or the Syrian armed opposition and their Western allies?
A: My impression is that initial control of Raqqa lies with the Kurdish-led but partly Arab-manned Syrian Democratic Forces, with support from the Western coalition. In the east, Iran and Russia have focused on Deir Azour.
3. Do you think the American troops will enter Syria directly after ISIS defeat in the country?
A: American troops have been in Syria for months fighting ISIS. I don’t know if they will stay. The Trump Administration might prefer that they withdraw, but that will leave US allies open to attacks from both the regime coalition (including Russia and Iran) as well as Turkey, which regards the Kurds who fought against ISIS under US protection as terrorists because they are connected to the PKK inside Turkey. If the Americans stay, it will be to ensure ISIS does not return, to restrain the Kurds, protect Arabs who have fought ISIS, and to prevent attacks from either Turkey or the regime coalition.
4. What will be the consequences of ISIS defeat for the neighboring countries in the region in your opinion? Do you think we should expect more confrontations and problems or it could help to bring stability and peace in the region?
A: I am not seeing an end to instability yet. With Assad still in power, I expect an insurgency to continue against his dictatorship, by both relatively moderate and extremist forces. Assad will not be happy with US troops in the east and Turkish troops in northern Syria and Idlib, or relatively moderate rebels in the south. Turkey, Iran and Russia, which have collaborated in recent months, may have a falling out, as their visions of a future Syria may well conflict.
4. Analysis shows that for example around six thousand Tunisian joined to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Do you think the jihadists will return to their countries and cause trouble for their countries?
A: Trouble from jihadis returning to their home countries is certainly to be expected. Local grievances in those countries played an important role in recruitment. Now that they are trained and deadly, their return could generate big problems.
5. Do you think that ISIS defeat in Syria will be an opportunity for re-rise of Al-Qaeda in the country and the region?
A: Al Qaeda has played a savvier game in Syria and elsewhere by embedding itself with local forces, whereas ISIS sought a monopoly on power and was content to be led and partly manned by people who were not native to the country they were fighting in. But I also think a lot of people are fed up with the jihadis and will get rid of them if empowered to do. That is certainly true in parts of Idlib.
6. Some analysts believe that the Arab countries of the region especially Saudi Arabia have directly and indirectly contributed to ISIS. Do you agree with the opinion? What will the effect of ISIS failure in Syria on Saudi Arabia?
A: Wahhabi ideology has had a role in generating ISIS, but it has been clear for some time now that ISIS and Al Qaeda are enemies of the Saudi monarchy and Saudi Arabia does not support them through official channels. There may be Saudi private individuals who do however, including of course Osama bin Laden. This, too, the Saudis have tried to stop.
7. Saudi Arabia consistently criticized Obama’s policy toward the Syria crisis and and accused Obama of passivity and strengthening Hizbollah and Iran in the region. What do you think about current Saudi Arabia approach about US policy on Syria ? do you think Trump is able to satisfy the Saudis in this regard ? What will be the impact of the recent US and Saudi Arabia getting closer to each other on the future of Syria?
A: The Saudis haven’t shown a lot of interest in Syria lately. Trump has doubled down on what Obama started–the drone war plus cooperation with the Kurds and their Arab allies against ISIS–but I haven’t heard a lot of applause from Riyadh, which is far more focused for now on Yemen. That said, the Saudis clearly prefer Trump to Obama, because they think he will do more to counter Iranian influence in the region, even if not in Syria.
8. Which one will be winner in a possible conflict in Syria in your opinion? Iran or US?
Both will win the war they are fighting: the US will win its war against ISIS; Iran will win its war to keep Assad in power, at least for now. Tehran may also gain its desired land bridge through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, as well as a permanent presence for Hizbollah in Syria. Washington has, oddly, not yet begun to counter those efforts in a serious and concerted way.
9. What do you think about Israel policy after ISIS defeat in Syria? It seems that ISIS presence in Syria to have benefited Israel. What do you think about the view? Do you think Israel will get into the phase of military operation in Syria fearing that Hizbollah will be closer to Golan and the borders of that country? Will ISIS failure be a threat for Israel?
A: I don’t think the Israelis think they benefited from ISIS in Syria. They do not want ISIS on the border. Nor do they want Hizbollah on their border. Many have thought they would prefer Assad, who has done nothing against Israel despite a lot of talk. Hizbollah and ISIS are both threats to Israel, and I expect it to take what measures it needs to protect itself. Assad has shown little will or ability to respond effectively.
10. Recently, The King of Saudi Arabia traveled to Russia. Some believe that in exchange for economic privileges he urged Russia to persuade Iran to withdraw from Syria and limit its role in the country. Do you think he has succeeded in convincing Putin on the matter?
A: I think the Russians already want to withdraw some of their forces from Syria, no matter what the Saudis say. Syria has cost Moscow quite a bit in money and lives. I don’t expect Iran to reduce its influence (presence is a different matter), so long as Assad is in power. He is now essentially an Iranian puppet.
11. What will Russia program for Syria after the ISIS defeat in your opinion? How long will Russia be able to move between the Shiite and Sunni poles? Don’t you think Putin finally will have to choose one side? Do you think Russia will leave Tehran and cooperate with Saudi Arabia and Sunni countries or will continue to cooperate with Iran on the Syria issue?
A: Russia has already chosen the Shiite side, though it maintains Sunni links even inside Syria. So long as Iran is not hostile to Russia’s military presence in Syria, I think Moscow will continue to cooperate with Tehran.
12. Do you think the situation of Syria without ISIS will be better for all of the region or this is only beginning a new phase of war among the main international and regional actors? Are you optimistic about the future of Syria after ISIS and the consequences? Read more
Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations towards the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, we propose the following to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi and world public opinion:
1. An immediate ceasefire and halt to all military operations in the Kurdistan Region.2. Freeze the results of the referendum conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan.3. Start an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Federal Government on the basis of the Constitution.