It seems that a new alignment among Turkey, Qatar, Iran and Russia has emerged in the Middle East following an abrupt decision taken by US President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from Syria, without consulting the country's Defence Ministry or Congress. However, the US-led coalition air force along with France and Great Britain will remain on the field. The US move interestingly comes after the sale of $ 3.4 billion worth of Patriot Missile Defence System to Turkey to target US-backed Kurdish troops along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey has had a conflict with Kurdish leaders for years along the said border. According to a research made by defence-in-depth by the Defence studies department of King's college in London, "Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish citizens since 1923 has been littered with executions, curfews, decades of emergency rule throughout the South East, forced executions, intense Turkification campaigns, the exclusion of foreigners from Kurdish areas of the country, population flight, destruction of towns and villages, imprisonment of activists, banning of Kurdish political parties, all sorts of abuses of human rights, and even the denial that Kurds exist as a distinct people".
The Trump administration's declaration to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria on December 20 under the pretext of defeating the Islamic State militants in Syria was hailed by Russian President Putin. But bipartisan members of Senate Armed Services Committee have unanimously criticised the decision. National security experts also hold the opinion that there has been no victory over ISIS and as such, the withdrawal of US troops will increase the terrorism threat in the Middle East. This will also benefit Putin who has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from the very beginning. Assad is also backed by Iran.
The United Nations revealed in August of this year that up to 30,000 ISIS fighters are still in Syria and Iraq. Interestingly, President Trump also received praise from some American lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mike Lee.
The decision by President Trump has set aside the stance to topple Assad from power. Assad has been held responsible for killing his own people since the civil war began in March of 2011. The UN and Arab league envoy in Syria have estimated that 400,000 Syrians lost their lives, while British based Syrian observatory for Human Rights observed that 511,000 people were killed in Syria. As of April 2018, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, according to an estimate by UN High commission for Refugees while more than six million were displaced internally. During the ongoing civil war, many parts of the country were devastated.
Incidentally, the decision by President Trump would enhance the power of the Turkish President who is now determined to destroy the power of PKK in and around Turkey. Erdogan plans to start counter-terror operations against Democratic Union Party and Peoples Protection unit of Kurds in the region east of the Euphrates River in Syria. On December 29, Turkish foreign Minister, Defence Minister and head of Turkish National Intelligence organisation visited Moscow to appraise Turkey's strategy and to seek Moscow's approval. Iran has possibly concurred with Turkey's strategy as Iranians have also discarded the Kurds in the past.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Ankara for two days from December 26 to sign an agreement to boost economic ties. The ensuing talks might have focused on US withdrawal of troops from Syria. It will be interesting to see how this new alignment will lead to more developments in the Middle East this year.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain is a retired diplomat.
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