Alwaght- When the US on October 6 said it removed its forces from northern Syria and a day later a Turkish offensive ensued, the autonomous status of the Kurdish-controlled regions moved close to full demise. As it was expected, the Turkish military strength outstripped that of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), something left the Kurds, who felt betrayed by their ally Washington, with no choice but to turn to the Syrian government for cooperation to save their very existence and repel the Turkish occupation.
Although the outcome of such cooperation was a comprise of the military achievements they made over the four years of battle against ISIS terrorist group, they secured their very existence as an element of Syrian society and jumped into the optimism about future developments.
But there are yet a couple of issues remaining unresolved as their relations with Damascus continue to develop. Oil, Kurdish participation in a constitutional committee, and the future of security-military relations are the main issues need to be discussed by the two sides.
Over the past few days, the Syrian ministry of defense published a statement announcing that it recruits Kurds for army and security forces. The statement read that the Syrian Arab Army command is ready to welcome the SDF forces interested to join the army ranks. In a separated statement, the interior ministry said it invites the local Kurdish police forces, dubbed “Asayish”, to join the Syrian police forces.
Syrian Kurds uncertain about choosing
Stretching out hands to the Kurds by the Syrian government is quite appreciable given the suitable grounds for cooperation in such areas as oil and the new constitution. However, upon receiving Damascus invitations, the Kurdish leaders sent signals of unwillingness indicating they are uncertain about accepting this suggestion, at least now.
In a response to Damascus’ statements, the SDF stated that its forces cannot join the Syrian military before a political agreement is reached and these forces’ position and structure are not recognized and maintained. Mazloum Abdi, the SDF commander, noted that his forces have suggested that their position in their areas of stationing should be respected. “With the materialization of these conditions, the SDF will be part of the Syrian Arab Army. In another comment by the Kurdish side, Ilham Ahmed, head of SDF’s executive committee, said the Kurdish forces in Syria’s northeast are ready to join the army but first it should be restructured.
Situation can transform
The conditional response by the Kurdish leaders to Damascus suggestion for military integration on the one side reveals their efforts to maintain their autonomy as well as political and military achievements and on the other side tells us about the US pressures on the Kurds to avoid alliance with the central government to steer clear of a re-strengthened Damascus that can restore its control over all Syria and return peace and stability to the country.
The request for restructuring the Syrian army requires constitutional changes and a consensus of all Syrian sides, if it wins popular and government support. So, its realization in the short and mid-term is hardly achievable. Syrian Kurdish leaders very likely seek status for their forces similar to that of the Peshmerga forces of Iraqi Kurdistan. But the situation in northern Syria is different from northern Iraq, where a fully autonomous region is located. In 1991, when the Baathist party under Saddam Hussein lost a war to the US, the Kurdish groups, finding the central government largely weakened and receiving backing from the Western powers and the United Nations Security Council that passed a resolution to set up a no-fly zone over the north, managed to slip out of Baghdad control and establish their autonomy. At the time, the wide support given to the Iraqi Kurds was motivated by Kurdistan's weight in the process of a new Iraqi political order. A process that finally culminated in 2003 in a military invasion led by the US and Britain that toppled the Baathist dictatorship.
But the situation is different in Syria. Not only there is no international consensus on support to the Kurds in Syria— as even the West, as an ally to the Kurds, prefers alliance with Turkey and pursuit interests over the Kurdish demands— but also after Turkey’s recent military operation in east of Euphrates the Kurds lost the weight they once enjoyed in affecting the equations. On the other side, the Syrian government restored its strength and is moving to a state of stability after eight years of war which will grant it the clout of a major influencer in equations.
The Syrian Kurds have several times traded the golden chance for a deep presence in the country’s future to reliance on Washington. But this time they should seize the new opportunity. Turkey has so far shown it holds as top priority countering the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and so far several times made dealings with international actors towards this aim. So, Turkey continues to threaten the security of Kurdish cantons. While the Americans have betrayed the Kurds just ahead of the Turkish incursion, the final choice by the Russians as Syria allies is unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
Benefits of military integration
There are undeniable benefits to northern Syrian regions in Kurdish militias’ merger into the Syrian Arab Army. One is preventing the Turkish military from advancing in the Kurdish-majority regions. The SDF which was founded in 2016 with 60,000 fighters reached 70,000 in next year. Although the SDF made gains against ISIS with support from the US, Turkey’s offensive proved the Kurdish bloc has no chance to repel the threats posed to the cantons without a supporter. Lack of airpower to counter airstrikes, poor provision with heavy weaponry, weak organization, and also lack of international legitimacy as a formal force that gave Ankara the power to label it as a terrier organization are big weak spots which are removable under integration into the Syrian military. The Syrian army statement said that all Syrians including the Kurdish minority “now face a common enemy,” signaling unity is possible should the Kurdish leaders show will for that.