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    A Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter walks in the silos and mills of Manbij after the SDF took control of it, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, July 1, 2016

    Manbij Deal a ‘Gateway to Rapprochement’ Between Kurds and Damascus

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    On Friday, Syrian Arab Army (SAA) troops entered the majority-Kurdish city of Manbij to hold off an expected Turkish invasion of the region. The move, the outcome of talks between Kurdish leaders and the Syrian central government in Damascus, could lead to a wider rapprochement between the two forces.

    "Considering the obligations of the army to respond to the call by the people of Manbij, the General Staff declares that the army has entered Manbij and raised the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic there," an SAA statement aired Friday by Syrian state media said, further promising the SAA would "guarantee full security for all Syrian citizens and others" present in Manbij.

    "We are in favour of the Syrian army's entry into Manbij to protect Syria, because if Turkey comes somewhere, it stays there," Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokeswoman Jihan Ahmed told Sputnik earlier that day, stressing that the Kurds and the Syrian government were "one family."

    Kurdish forces have indicated they'll now turn eastward and focus on the fight against remnants of Daesh, which persist in areas near the border with Iraq.

    On December 12, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech that Turkish forces would in a few days "start the operation to clear the east of the Euphrates from separatist terrorists," referring to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) militias active in the region. The YPG in particular have formed the core of the SDF in the fight against Daesh and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) alliance of Muslim extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

    With the withdrawal of US troops from positions near their Kurdish allies in Syria, the possibility of a Turkish invasion of the al-Hasakah and Aleppo governorates became a real danger. Footage on Wednesday showed Turkish forces amassing near the Turkish border city of Karkamis, only 20 miles from Manbij, Sputnik reported.

    Rick Sterling, an investigative journalist and a member of the Syria Solidarity Movement, told Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear Friday that the Syria-SDF deal would be enough to halt the Turkish advance.

    "There's a high-level Turkish delegation in Moscow right now with President Erdogan, reports of him going to Moscow tomorrow, so they're going to be having negotiations. Just a few days ago, there was a Kurdish delegation in Moscow as well as Kurdish YPG political forces in Damascus, so it looks like, and in fact the latest statements from Erdogan were along the lines that, ‘if the Kurds aren't running Manbij, we have no reason to go there.' So, it looks this will block the reported Turkish invasion of Manbij."

    "Russia is definitely playing the role of a negotiator and a mediator," Sterling said, noting that it angers neoconservatives who "think that that's the right and the responsibility of the United States… Because Russia's got relations with Turkey, because they've got relations with Iran, because they've got relations with Damascus as well as Israel, it puts them in a strong diplomatic position. One thing that's notable is that Russia tends to stand by its promises, and you can kind of trust what they say, whereas any country around the world can look at the geopolitical maneuverings of the United States and determine, ‘How reliable is this government, if they say they agree to something, if they say they're gonna do something, are they really gonna follow through?'"

    "I think there's a huge difference between the role of the US as it's been practiced and the role of Russia, in that I think Russia is genuinely seeking an accomodation here. They're seeking a compromise in keeping with international law, and that's the critical point: does international law deserve to be supported and upheld?"

    "And we've seen the destruction of that, because the violation of international law didn't just begin when the US put troops into Syria; it didn't just begin when the United States started over-flying Syria and dropping bombs without the authorization of the Damascus government. It goes back to 2011 and before, when not just the United States but, principally, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, started supplying millions and then billions of dollars in support for an armed insurrection in Syria. That's a violation of international law, which was confirmed in the ruling against the United States in Nicaragua, going back to 1986."

    It is interesting here to note that on Wednesday, the Gulf-state-dominated Arab League began weighing Syria's return to the group since its suspension in 2011, with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Sudan signaling their support (or lack of opposition) to the move.

    Sterling told Sputnik he thinks US President Donald Trump is facing pressure from "many different quarters" to either stay in Syria and increasingly risk conflict with Russia, or to save face with Turkey, a NATO ally, whose relationship with Washington has been slowly deteriorating.

    Sterling predicted the Manbij agreement would also be the "gateway to a rapprochement between the Kurdish Syrians and the Damascus government. From the beginning, actually, the Damascus government gave the green light to the Kurds around Hasaka in the northern part of that region bordering Turkey, Damascus gave the green light for the local militias to take the lead in fighting against terrorism — and they did that. And it was only later on that the US intervened and set up what they call the Syrian Democratic Forces, they kind of whittled away some of the YPG fighters, and they brought in some other fighters, and they started supplying massive amounts of armaments and giving a lot of air support. So they took that option."

    "The US always had a kind of hidden agenda; it's not as though this was a humanitarian gesture on their part. The big picture behind the scenes here is that, at the top level, there are neoconservatives here in Washington who want to one, keep the war going; and 2, eventually lead toward a division of the Middle East," he told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou.

    "Years ago, there were calls for the breakup of Iraq and Syria — the creation of what they called ‘Sunnistan' — which would be a militant Salafist government in part of Iraq and part of Syria. You would have the division of Iraq, you would have the division of Syria, and you would have multi-ethnic, multi-religious states broken up and divided along religious and ethnic lines. That, of course, is a reactionary plan. And you know, it's been promoted by neoconservative and reactionary forces. And, of course, Kurdistan was part of the picture, importantly."

    "It looks like that is failing now. And Syria, of course, from the beginning, has stood fast by international law, which says that governments have the right to territorial integrity and that it's illegal for a foreign government to invade and occupy and take over part of their state. Of course, that is what the US has done by setting up its own bases without authorization and creating a proxy force there, which they have used. It looks like that project is failing at this stage of the conflict, but the conflict is not over."

    Sterling noted the New York Times report Friday reflected American fears that they have failed in their attempts to "drive a wedge between the Kurdish Syrians and the Damascan government. Their goal is to break up a secular, multi-ethnic, multi-religious state." He further highlighted how the article refers to Syria as an "enemy of the United States," despite the fact that Damascus has never positioned itself as such, just "called for respect for international law."

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    Syrian war, negotiations, cooperation, deal, rapprochement, Loud and Clear, Syrian Arab Army, Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Rick Sterling, Syria, al-Hasakah, Manbij
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