Syrian Kurds to Declare Federal Region

Syrian Kurdish groups are planning to declare a federal Kurdish region in the north of the country, according to senior Kurdish officials who have been party to recent discussions. The declaration would stop short of independence, instead creating “a federal region of northern Syria, with equal rights for Arabs and Turkmens,” the New York Times reports. ...


Syrian Kurdish groups are planning to declare a federal Kurdish region in the north of the country, according to senior Kurdish officials who have been party to recent discussions. The declaration would stop short of independence, instead creating “a federal region of northern Syria, with equal rights for Arabs and Turkmens,” the New York Times reports. The United States and Russia have encouraged political decentralization to end Syria’s civil war, but the parties to the current proximity talks in Geneva — the Assad regime and the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) — oppose a federated system. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that the United States would support the arrangement if it is part of a negotiated political settlement, but that it opposes the unilateral declaration of a federal region. Turkish officials have also rejected the plan. “Syria’s national unity and territorial integrity is fundamental for us. Outside of this, unilateral decisions cannot have validity,” one foreign ministry official told Reuters.

The proximity talks in Geneva are continuing today. U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura met with new opposition delegations last night; a representative of the Cairo, Moscow and Astana Groups said she was optimistic about the discussions but the move could cause problems with the HNC, which has opposed their inclusion in the talks. The head of the Assad regime’s delegation is still refusing to meet directly with the HNC, stating that the HNC’s lead diplomat is a “terrorist.”

Group Claims Responsibility for Ankara Bombing

The Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK), a terrorist splinter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has claimed credit for orchestrating the deadly car bomb attack in Ankara on Sunday that left at least 35 people dead. The TAK has previously claimed responsibility for another bombing in Ankara last month. The German embassy in Ankara and the German consulate and a German school in Istanbul are closed today due to a terrorist threat, though it is unclear if the threat is related to the recent bombings. In addition to curfews in southeastern Turkey and airstrikes in Iraq, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to the attacks by proposing that the legal definition of terrorism be broadened to include people who facilitated attacks, though this could likely be used to justify further repression of political dissent.


  • Diplomats from the European Union and Turkey are meeting today in Brussels today to try to finalize an agreement to help manage the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe; a Turkish official said that his government has no new demands entering the discussions.


  • A proof-of-life video of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who disappeared in Syria last June, was posted online yesterday; it is unclear what group is holding Yasuda hostage.


  • An Israeli woman was severely wounded when she was stabbed by two Palestinian men at the Ariel Junction in the West Bank; the two assailants were shot and killed at the scene.


  • A Qatari poet, Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for reading a poem that praised the 2011 popular uprising in Tunisia and criticized his own government, has received a royal pardon and been released.


  • The Moroccan government is cutting its staff and financial support to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara and has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from all U.N. missions; the move is a response to recent comments from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Morocco is occupying Western Sahara.

Arguments and Analysis

This Is Why Libya Finally Cares About Migrant Smuggling” (Borzou Daragahi, BuzzFeed)

“Thus a partnership was forged. Koffi recruited paying clients, oversaw the transport and coordinated the arrival African migrants willing to pay to attempt sea crossings. For this, he got a cut of the profit, becoming a sort of supply-chain manager in the human-smuggling operation. Over the years, Koffi got to know more about Abdel-Basset’s extensive operations. They included several farms ranging up to 12 acres in size, equipped with storage hangars to shelter large numbers of migrants, several tractor-trailer trucks, and an extensive collection of boats, according to Libyan officials. Battered by cheap imports and five years of war and instability, many Libyan farmers have turned their agricultural plots into way stations along the migrant smuggling highway. Abdel-Basset made money any way he could, mostly illegally. “In addition to migrants, he smuggled drugs, alcohol, and even exotic animals,” said Baqer. Counter-migration officials convinced Koffi to lure Abdel-Basset into a trap. A week after his detention, in June 2015, Koffi called Abdel-Basset and told him he had gathered a group of migrants who wanted to pay for seats aboard one of his boats. At a rural crossroads between Tripoli and the town of Zliten, security officials nervously lay in wait, hoping Abdel-Basset would take the bait. He showed up on time, and Libyan officials swooped in and arrested him. Now, he is sitting in jail in Tripoli, as his prosecution on multiple smuggling charges winds its way through Libya’s dysfunctional court system. Koffi was also locked up for two months, just so Abdel-Basset and his crew wouldn’t suspect his treachery.”


What Russia’s Military Withdrawal Means for Fight against ISIS, Assad Regime” (Daniel Trombly, USNI News)

“It will be easier to assess the relevant salience of resource constraints and diplomatic motives for Russia’s withdrawal announcement as the actual implementation and the regime’s reaction to it unfolds. A fast and relatively larger withdrawal of resources would suggest the importance of resource constraints, or resource tradeoffs if further escalation follows in Ukraine or other theaters of military importance to Russia. A reduced profile for Russian forces but relatively limited relocation would highlight the diplomatic signaling aspects, while the measure of its effect on Assad concessions to Russian interests will be more apparent in its approach to the ceasefire and reaction to developments in peace talks. Regardless, the announcement does not lend itself to a monocausal explanation. As for its success, there are many potential spoilers for a deftly-managed negotiation that preserves the Syrian state. Inter-rebel competition could drive some groups back to the battlefield to undermine rivals that benefit from peace. A tenacious ISIS defense could drag out that aspect of war longer than Moscow prefers. The Assad regime may not fall in line with Russian objectives and try to bring Russia back to the battlefield. As U.S. observers should know, a graceful withdrawal from a foreign civil war is much more easily announced than accomplished.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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