Reaching the Syrian-Iraqi border close in the US forces in Al-Tanf
Key words: Syria, US, Russia, Iran, Damascus, Raqqah, Idlib, al-Tanaf, IRGC.
Damascus by Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai
The Syrian army and its allies reached the Syrian-Iraqi border, 70 km north of the crossing point of Al-Tanf, following a failed attempt by US forces to impose new “rules of engagement” and a “buffer zone” to prevent the Syrian-Iraqi interconnection on both sides of the border. With the arrival of the Syrian forces and their allies north of Al-Tanf, the American forces and their allies – stationed on the Syrian side of the border – were cut off from the north of Syria and were prevented from marking the partition point of Syria. Moreover, the US forces were stopped from reaching the besieged city of Deir Al-Zour, al-Mayadeen and southwest towards al-Bu Kamal. The US and its European and Syrian allies can no longer include the entire east of Syria in their control, as it is happening today in Raqqah and al-Hasaka provinces.
As the Syrian forces moved east of Palmyra towards the Iraqi border, the contact with the so-called ” Shiite crescent” has been established: from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. In reality, this connection has never been interrupted since the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, a virtual and moral connection rather than a geographical one. It has been a busy commercial road between Iraq, Syria and Lebanon before the increase of insurgency during the US occupation of Iraq since the road Tanaf-Baghdad crosses al-Anbar province, an ISIS (called then al-Qaeda in Iraq and later the Islamic State in Iraq) stronghold. The US forces wished to break this virtual connection but Iran took on the US challenge. In fact, it was the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who orchestrated, with Russia and Damascus’s approval, the push of forces north of the US forces stationed in al-Tanaf. Moreover, Damascus and Baghdad agreed to close the al-Tanaf crossing from the Iraqi side, rendering the US presence useless by any means. The Iraqi security forces, al-Hashd al-Sha’bi (better known as Popular Mobilisation Units- PMU) are moving on the Iraqi side to meet the Syrian forces (without crossing the border). Their mission –as agreed by Baghdad and Damascus – is to pursue the remnants of the “Islamic State” inside Syrian territory should the battle impose it.
Thus, in the coming days the Syrian forces are expected to push north of the city of Palmyra towards the Arak rich oil field, controlled to-date by ISIS, and from it towards the city of As-Sukhna. On another nearby front, the Syrian Army is advancing south of Maskana to enlarge the Khanasir road (southeast Aleppo) and create a robust front to recover more territories from ISIS while advancing. The ultimate aim would be to reach the city of Deir Al-Zour and the entire area named “the Euphrates buffer”, the ISIS main stronghold in Syria. In fact, all ISIS forces escaping from Iraq and other cities in Syria are meeting in this area where the main battle is expected. Once engaged, this battle is expected to mark the end of the war against ISIS and the beginning of a political negotiation to discuss the fate of the rest of Syria, still occupied by Turkey (north), the USA(northeast) and where al-Qaeda is barricaded in the northern city of Idlib along with other rebels. Of course, it is self evident that the city of Raqqah will fall to the US-Kurds alliance, offering the US President the “Victory” he has been looking for since he set foot in the White House.This must coincide with the advance of the Syrian forces in the Syrian semi-desert (al-Badiyah) and the securing of the provinces of Daraa – Sweida.
The Syrian war is heading towards its final stages, as witnessed by a heated race between Washington and Russia to secure the necessary elements to conclude the war and start serious negotiations in Geneva, where the two sides will be negotiating with territories under each one’s control.
Of course, al-Qaeda remains in Syria. It is based in the city of Idlib and is the strongest military force in a city of more than one million people, especially after the return of a large number of Syrians from Turkey to this northern city. As long as Ahrar al-Sham, the largest Syrian rebel group that includes among its rank foreign fighters, is committed to avoiding infighting, al-Qaeda is governing through its military commander, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the ex-ISIS commander converted to al-Qaeda. However, co-existence between the Syrians and al-Qaeda will not be easy and may lead to internal conflicts. Damascus, Moscow or Washington may not be concerned with sorting out Idlib internal problems and the task maybe given to Ankara due to its influence (with differing degrees) on all groups present in the city. Turkey with definitely be part of any future peace negotiation since its troops occupy territory and hold the logistic support to Idlib: it controls the only supply line to this northern Syrian city.
The main question remains: What will happen to the several thousands of foreign fighters within Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda? Would they be allowed to settle down as dorment force ready to raise again or they are expected to leave? Foreign fighters came to Syria under the demand of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawaheri and to oust President Bashar Assad but not to settle in a new country – the Levant – where they might not be all welcome : just as happened in Bosnia in the 90s when the war ended.
Yes, the war is heading towards its final chapter without necessarily ending the internal struggle and partition of parts of the country. Territories are not expected to be handed to the central government in Damascus without concession. Therefore, Syria may remain for long years divided until an international settlement is reached, allowing Bilad al-Sham to be united as it was before 2011.