‘Turkey biggest loser’ as post-IS Syria and Iraq appears on horizon

A Syrian worker pushed a trolley near a portrait of President Bashar Assad and Ali, the first Imam according to Shia faith, in Damascus.(Hassan Ammar/Associated Press).

While the battles in Syria seem far from over, the international community is already concerned with post-conflict planning and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has, according to commentators, managed to secure a Pyrrhic victory – his country devastated by the war.

While the EU is considering lifting restrictions on Assad, the US has abandoned previous ambitions to remove him from the presidential post and even supported the Syrian Army’s recapture of Palmyra from the Islamic State (IS) last week with air strikes.

But in contrast to the situation in Mosul, where the US and Iraqi forces cooperate to push out IS, Assad does not want the Americans to operate in Syria.

“Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation, consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other,” President Assad said in an interview with a Chinese news outlet.

US presence is also hindering Turkey and its allied forces in the Euphrates Shield Operation from taking the city of Manbij, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to capture from the Kurds.

At the same time, Russia is mediating between Turkey and the Syrian government. This has stopped Turkish backed forces from making any further advances south of al-Bab in northern Syria.

Russia also played a role in hindering Turkish advances against Manbij and the US seems fine with the Syrian Army and Russian traffic from government held territories and Manbij.

The tacit US-Russia agreement on what is to be done in Syria leaves Turkey as the biggest loser and Ankara’s participation in the Raqqa offensive seems further away than ever.

A leading commander of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has said the final assault on Raqqa will begin at the start of April, however US officials deny that a decision has been made regarding the final assault on the final IS stronghold in Syria.

The YPG, the leading faction in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is spearheading the Raqqa operation, has received US deliveries of armoured vehicles recently and the US-led coalition also announced that a 1,000 Marines had been deployed to the area, adding to the 500 US Special Forces already there.

Writing in the Independent, journalist Patrick Cockburn said Turkey could attack Raqqa by slicing through Kurdish-held territory but that this would be a “risky venture likely to be resisted by YPG and opposed by the US and Russia.”

“Otherwise, Turkey and the two other big supporters of the Syrian armed opposition, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are seeing their influence over events in Syria swiftly diminish. Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon, who were the main foreign support of President Bashar al-Assad before 2015, do not have quite same leverage in Damascus since Russian military intervention in that year,” Cockburn wrote.

The Middle East analyst also speculated as to whether Kurds in Iraq and Syria will be able to hold onto their territories post-IS, calling it the “big issue” in both countries.