Asharq Al-Awsat English – Asharq Al-Awsat English – 21 July 2016 – A U.S.-backed force fighting to drive ISIS out of Manbij said on Thursday it was giving the jihadist group 48 hours to pull out of their stronghold in the northern Syrian city, aiming to “protect civilian lives” there. “This initiative is the last remaining chance for besieged members of Daesh (ISIS) to leave the town,” said the Manbij Military Council, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
MESOP : FIRST TIME IN HISTORY – PKK/PYD NOW OIL STATE – US-backed Kurdish Forces Benefiting From Oil in Syria
By Sirwan Kajjo – 2016-07-21 02:26 GMT – SHADDADI, SYRIA (VOA) — When Kurdish-led forces took control of Shaddadi in northeastern Syria in February, they not only pushed back Islamic State militants who had been there for nearly one year, but they also got hold of the sprawling oil fields that stretch into the desert.
Amid turmoil in Washington, conditions on the ground in Syria are eroding the administration’s efforts to hand over a more tractable conflict to its successor. Despite a new U.S. commitment of $439 million for Syria relief, aid is not reaching hundreds of thousands of civilians besieged by the Assad regime—including in Daraya, where dozens of residents have starved to death. The partial ceasefire negotiated in February has broken down, only the latest in a string of Russian failures to ensure Assad’s compliance with internationally-brokered agreements. Instead, Russian air support has enabled regime forces to encircle Aleppo, trapping 300,000 civilians. If Syrian refugees are no longer streaming into Europe, it is because they are now stranded along the Turkish and Jordanian borders, refused entry into countries that were once safe havens for Syrians fleeing violence at home. Today, more than 150,000 Syrians are struggling to survive in harsh conditions, including exposure to attacks from Russian aircraft.
Russian and American myopia
But the White House seems untroubled by the turbulence its overture to Russia has created, by dissent among the diplomats charged with implementing its policies, or by the receding prospects for an end to Syria’s war. Indeed, the administration seems to have downgraded its efforts to achieve a political transition in Syria, preferring to focus almost single-mindedly on the fight against ISIS and Nusra, and to embrace military cooperation with Russia as the means to this end.
As others have noted, however, de-linking the campaign against ISIS and Nusra from the fate of the Assad regime is counterproductive. Military cooperation with Russia that is not tightly linked to a transition process will not achieve stability in Syria. Washington must condition any cooperation with Russia on Moscow’s commitment to facilitating a meaningful political transition that removes Assad from power and provides for the rebuilding of political institutions—including core institutions of the Syrian state—Without that, any gains achieved against ISIS and Nusra will be short-lived. As in Iraq, where a sectarian and exclusionary regime spurred the rise of ISIS and led the United States to support a transition that ousted Nouri al-Maliki from power, Syria will not achieve an end to violence, or any serious prospect for reconstruction and the return of normalcy as long as the Assad regime or its remnants continue to rule. Expectations to the contrary—including those expressed by Russian officials—are out of touch with what five years of brutal violence have done to the Syrian state and to any possibility that Assad can stabilize or govern Syria. Officials in the Pentagon and State Department generally recognize this reality. The White House is apparently unpersuaded.
Military cooperation with Russia that is not tightly linked to a transition process will not achieve stability in Syria.
Today, the sovereignty claimed by the Assad regime is a legal fiction, sustained only by the massive military support of Iran and Russia. The Syrian state, which is seen by both the Obama administration and Russian officials as necessary to provide continuity of governance in a transition, is in fact inseparable from the regime and cannot be reformed. Always corrupt, it has morphed into a large-scale criminal enterprise linked to a repressive apparatus. The regime’s armed forces have been gutted: current estimates suggest that Assad’s regime can field no more than 20,000 to 25,000 troops. The vast majority of pro-regime fighters are either loyalist militiamen drawn heavily from Assad’s own Alawite community or foreign mercenaries recruited by and loyal to Iran.
Priority number one: The Assad regime
Under these conditions, a durable settlement of Syria’s civil war will remain elusive—and the stability of the Arab east precarious—unless the U.S. administration and its Russian counterparts accept the need for a comprehensive strategy. That strategy must address not only ISIS and Nusra, but the much tougher challenges associated with the transformation of an Assad regime that is increasingly confident of the inevitability of its military victory and increasingly bellicose in its rejection of a negotiated transition. A U.S.-Russian policy of targeting ISIS and Nusra first and then the regime . . . whenever . . . will perpetuate violent extremism and continue to drive radicalization and sectarian polarization that might originate within Syria but cannot be contained there.
Russia has an important role to play in the design and implementation of a comprehensive strategy, but whether it is willing or able to do so is uncertain. Thus far, the administration’s hopes that Moscow would exert leverage over the Assad regime to observe ceasefires, permit humanitarian access, reduce the use of barrel bombs, or engage constructively in the Geneva process have not paid off. Russia has done little to demonstrate its seriousness as a partner in transition, amplifying concerns in Washington that its diplomatic efforts are simply a smokescreen to distract attention from its pursuit of a regime military victory. Accommodating Russia’s interest in closer military cooperation with the United States—without a commitment to cooperate in creating conditions on the ground that will support meaningful negotiations—will only reduce Moscow’s incentives to use whatever leverage it might have to prod the regime back to the negotiating table.
The agreement that Secretary Kerry is negotiating with Moscow holds out some potential for reducing violence against civilians, limiting the activities of the Assad regime air force, and preventing attacks against moderate opposition forces—but only if Russia agrees to it and, even less certain, can get the Assad regime to go along. Abandoning a comprehensive strategy in Syria, however, and engaging with Russia in the fight against Nusra and ISIS without explicitly making that cooperation contingent on a clear, defined process of political transition in Syria, would have major shortcomings. It would do little to address underlying sources of radicalism, further compromise prospects for a negotiated transition, and virtually guarantee that Obama will bequeath to his successor an open-ended Syria conflict that continues to destabilize the Arab east and Western Europe. Failure to use engagement with Russia to prevent this scenario from unfolding will be a major missed opportunity as the Obama administration prepares to hand off the Syria file to an incoming president.Steven Heydemann
@SHeydemannSteven Heydemann is a nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and the Janet Wright Ketcham ’53 Chair of Middle East Studies at Smith College. From 2007 to 2015, he held a number of leadership positions at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C., including vice president of applied research on conflict and senior advisor for the Middle East. Prior to joining USIP, he was director of the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University and associate professor in the Department of Government. From 1997 to 2001, he was an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Earlier, from 1990 to 1997, he directed the Program on International Peace and Security and the Program on the Near and Middle East at the Social Science Research Council in New York.
Reuters/Rodi Said – 19 July 2016 – U.S.-backed rebels fighting Islamic State militants in Syria captured a headquarters operation as they pushed into the western part of the town of Manbij over the weekend, the U.S. military said in a statement on Tuesday.The Islamic State headquarters, which was located in a hospital, was being used as a command center and logistics hub. The U.S.-backed Syrian rebels also took control of part of the town, enabling civilians in the area to flee the fighting, the statement said.The Syrian rebels were continuing to battle Islamic State on four fronts for control of Manbij, clearing territory as they pushed toward the center of the city, the statement said. Islamic State militants have staged counterattacks, but the Syrian rebels have maintained momentum with the help of air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition, the statement said. It said the coalition has carried out more than 450 air strikes around Manbij since the operation to take the town began. www.mesop.de
MESOP : LISTEN TO OUR TRUSTEE FOR SYRIA – CHARLES LISTER
Charles Lister Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute & Senior Consultant, The Shaikh Group’s Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative
18 July 2016 – For several days now, upwards of 300,000 people living in opposition-held areas of Aleppo city have existed in a state of de facto siege. As forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad closed down the opposition’s last remaining route into the city, sources within the city reported that supplies of critically important fuel and flour are already running low, while food prices have risen 400% in 48-hours. Fruit, vegetables and meat were fast disappearing.On 15th July, the Council of Free Aleppo issued an “Urgent Report” describing the “fierce attack” ongoing on 64,000 families living in the area and pleaded for international assistance. Sadly, little help appears to be on the way. Last week, the UN assessments of people living in besieged areas of Syria stood at roughly 600,000; this week, that number should rise by 50%, as 300,000 more find themselves encircled in the ruins of eastern Aleppo.
Writing for Syria Direct, Justin Schuster, Alaa Nassar, and Laila Mourad report on the regime barrel-bombing of yet another hospital in northwest Syria.Dozens of hospitals, medical facilities, and civil defense centers have been struck by Russian and regime airstrikes since last September. In late April, an attack on another hospital in opposition-held Aleppo city killed 55 people, including doctors and patients.
Kerry: Jabhat al-Nusra plotting terror attacks / By Mustafa Akyol
AL MONITOR 18 July 2016 – After meetings in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced July 15 that the United States and Russia had made progress toward “concrete steps” to restore the fraying cessation of hostilities, collaborate in targeting Jabhat al-Nusra — al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate — and boost talks on a political transition in Syria.
The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability and co-counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP filed a lawsuit against the Syrian government for the murder of American journalist Marie Colvin during a targeted artillery attack on the improvised media center from which she was working. This case represents the first attempt to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime responsible for war conduct under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that allows individuals to sue state sponsors of terrorism for the murder of U.S. citizens. According to press advocacy groups, at least 200 journalists have been killed since the outbreak of the civil war and hundreds more have gone missing.
18 July 2016 –By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Syria’s opposition has criticized the US for failing to stand up to Russia and its “war crimes”.
“What we lack here is a serious reaction to Russian behavior on the ground,” Basma Kodmani, a member of the High Negotiations Committee, said on Monday. “Russia is saying one thing and doing another.”Despite thousands of Russian airstrikes on opposition territory and the collapse of a February 27 “cessation of hostilities”, the US is continuing to work closely with Moscow on political and military matters.
Pro-opposition activists say the Syrian military and allied foreign militia, supported by heavy artillery and Russian airstrikes, have now reached the last route into opposition-held Aleppo city. www.mesop.de