Πέμπτη, 30 Ιουνίου 2016

Syria and Iraq .. change of Status Quo in process


It’s been close to a century since the Sykes-Picot agreement was enforced by UK, France. The agreement was describing how to divide in regions what remained of the dissolving Ottoman Empire after WWI, under their administration and supervision, especially for places of great importance. The full text was the following:

1. Sir Edward Grey to Paul Cambon, 15 May 1916


I shall have the honour to reply fully in a further note to your Excellency's note of the 9th instant, relative to the creation of an Arab State, but I should meanwhile be grateful if your Excellency could assure me that in those regions which, under the conditions recorded in that communication, become entirely French, or in which French interests are recognised as predominant, any existing British concessions, rights of navigation or development, and the rights and privileges of any British religious, scholastic, or medical institutions will be maintained.
His Majesty's Government are, of course, ready to give a reciprocal
assurance in regard to the British area.


2. Sir Edward Grey to Paul Cambon, 16 May 1916


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's note of the 9th instant, stating that the French Government accept the limits of a future Arab State, or Confederation of States, and of those parts of Syria where French interests predominate, together with certain conditions attached thereto, such as they result from recent discussions in London and Petrograd on the subject.
I have the honour to inform your Excellency in reply that the acceptance of the whole project, as it now stands, will involve the abdication of considerable British interests, but, since His Majesty's Government recognise the advantage to the general cause of the Allies entailed in producing a more favourable internal political situation in Turkey, they are ready to accept the arrangement now arrived at, provided that the co-operation of the Arabs is secured, and that the Arabs fulfil the conditions and obtain the towns of Homs, Hama, Damascus, and Aleppo.
It is accordingly understood between the French and British Governments---
1. That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab State or a Confederation of Arab States in the areas (A) and (B) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States.
2. That in the blue area France, and in the red area Great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States. 3. That in the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other Allies, and the representatives of the Shereef of Mecca.
4. That Great Britain be accorded (1) the ports of Haifa and Acre, (2) guarantee of a given supply of water from the Tigris and Euphrates in area (A) for area (B). His Majesty's Government, on their part, undertake that they will at no time enter into negotiations for the cession of Cyprus to any third Power without the previous consent of the French Government.
5. That Alexandretta shall be a free port as regards the trade of the British Empire, and that there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards British shipping and British goods; that there shall be freedom of transit for British goods through Alexandretta and by railway through the blue area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the red area, or (B) area, or area (A); and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect against British goods on any railway or against British goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That Haifa shall be a free port as regards the trade of France, her dominions and protectorates, and there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards French shipping and French goods. There shall be freedom of transit for French goods through Haifa and by the British railway through the brown area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the blue area, area (A), or area (B), and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against French goods on any railway, or against French goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
6. That in area (A) the Baghdad Railway shall not be extended southwards beyond Mosul, and in area (B) northwards beyond Samarra, until a railway connecting Baghdad with Aleppo via the Euphrates Valley has been completed, and then only with the concurrence of the two Governments.
7. That Great Britain has the right to build, administer, and be sole owner of a railway connecting Haifa with area (B), and shall have a perpetual right to transport troops along such a line at all times.
It is to be understood by both Governments that this railway is to facilitate the connexion of Baghdad with Haifa by rail, and it is further understood that, if the engineering difficulties and expense entailed by keeping this connecting line in the brown area only make the project unfeasible, that the French Government shall be prepared to consider that the line in question may also traverse the polygon Banias-Keis Marib-Salkhab Tell Otsda-Mesmie before reaching area (B).
8. For a period of twenty years the existing Turkish customs tariff shall remain in force throughout the whole of the blue and red areas, as well as in areas (A) and (B), and no increase in the rates of duty or conversion from ad valorem to specific rates shall be made except by agreement between the two Powers.
There shall be no interior customs barriers between any of the above-mentioned areas. The customs duties leviable on goods destined for the interior shall be collected at the port of entry and handed over to the administration of the area of destination.
9. It shall be agreed that the French Government will at no time enter into any negotiations for the cession of their rights and will not cede such rights in the blue area to any third Power, except the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States without the previous agreement of His Majesty's Government, who, on their part, will give a similar undertaking to the French Government regarding the red area.
10. The British and French Governments, as the protectors of the Arab State, shall agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third Power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula, nor consent to a third Power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the Red Sea. This, however, shall not prevent such adjustment of the Aden frontier as may be necessary in consequence of recent Turkish aggression.
11. The negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two Powers.

12. It is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two Governments.
I have further the honour to state that, in order to make the agreement complete, His Majesty's Government are proposing to the Russian Government to exchange notes analogous to those exchanged by the latter and your Excellency's Government on the 26th April last. Copies of these notes will be communicated to your Excellency as soon as exchanged.
I would also venture to remind your Excellency that the conclusion of the present agreement raises, for practical consideration, the question of the claims of Italy to a share in any partition or rearrangement of Turkey in Asia, as formulated in article 9 of the agreement of the 26th April, 1915, between Italy and the Allies.
His Majesty's Government further consider that the Japanese Government should be informed of the arrangement now concluded.”([1])

According to many historians and experts this was the crucial point that turned Western-Arab relations to a negative balance. This is also enough to explain how the West has a long presence at Middle East and how this affected everything bringing us to today’s status quo at this region. This agreement is also exactly what DAESH claims that will change by force by preaching to their members and to their enemies.

Syria-Iraq status quo players

So, besides USA, Russia, EU, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and other countries existing in region who are the key players and how are they associated in today’s status? Who is with whom and how alliances are formed?

The key players until today (besides previously mentioned countries), we know that these are the Kurds, Syrian Democratic Forces, al-Nusra front) , Syrian pro-Assad forces, Free Syrian Army and DAESH.

DAESH/ISIL

The name of the terrorist organization that was founded in 2006 by Hamid Dawud Mohamed Khalil al Zawi known or otherwise known as Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, was ISI (Islamic State of Iraq). The attempt of his to establish a title of the organization as an official title had a certain goal to achieve. It was supposed to be the solid foundation of an effort to change existing frontiers and give an official state for his group. The term “Islamic State” was the beginning of this manifesto which was later completed by his own public statement that him and his “state” are genuinely originated and associated with the Prophet and therefor, this would be the “genuine representative” of Islam.

One of major goals for any terrorist group is to gain an “official image of a superior ideology”. Same for al-Baghdadi’s group which in time tried to establish the term ISIL (Islamic State of Levant) and of course get the form of a “divine effort under the eyes of Allah, therefor no doubt should exist against it”. However this was not the case for the rest of the Arab world.
Ummah of the Arabic world actually condemned his attempt on this and sent him an open letter which pointed out that his futile attempt to claim Islamic leadership is vague and unsupported by any serious arguments.([2]) So from that point on, most of these spiritual leaders, turned to the Arabic acronym DAESH for his organization. The acronym D.A.E.SH is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym formed of the same words that make up I.S.I.S in English: ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’, or ‘لدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام (‘al-dowla al-islaamiyya fii-il-i’raaq wa-ash-shaam’). Daesh as explained in the reference text on the link,  is not just that the name makes them sound little, silly, and powerless, but that it implies they are monsters, and that they are made-up. It is considered to be insulting and demoting for the entity that represents. ([3]) However , still, on most modern Western media the term DAESH was only recently known by a public statement of USA Defense Secretary Ash Carter who asked for this acronym to be used instead of ISIL, as to remove the validity and ability of the terrorists to claim their occupied lands as “Islamic State”.
DAESH now occupies large areas at Iraq and Syria, while its ultimate goal is to enforce Islam and the Quran laws upon all Dar-al-Islam (regions and people faithful to Islam) and fight all other at Dar-al-Kufr. (non-believers)

SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces)

The Syrian Democratic Forces commonly abbreviated as SDF or QSD, are an alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen and Circassian militias. Their ultimate goal is a country that will turn to democracy and throw out DAESH along with overthrowing Assad from power. Their presence is strong at the Northern regions of Syria. 

Al-Nusra front

Al-Nusra front is a Sunni Islamist militia fighting against Syrian Government forces in the Syrian Civil War, with the aim of establishing an Islamist state in the country. It is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and also operates in neighboring Lebanon. It was founded in 2012. As an organization while it was receiving a lot of help and publicity by the US, it was also labeled as a terrorist group.

FSA (Free Syrian Army)

FSA is a group of defected Syrian Armed Forces officers and soldiers, founded during the Syrian Civil War on 29 July 2011 by seven or eight Syrian officers who said their goal was to bring down the Assad government. The US and Turkey have allegedly been training the FSA and the US and Saudi Arabia have allegedly sent the FSA weapons.

FSA was dissolved in February of 2014([4]) due to corruption and frictions among the groups. Most of the splintered groups joined Al-Nusra and rest of them have a very small presence in the war now.

Kurds (Peshmerga)

Peshmerga (Kurdish: پێشمەرگە Pêşmerge) are the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Peshmerga means "one who confronts death" or "one who faces death". Because the Iraqi Army is forbidden by law from entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga, along with other Kurdish security subsidiaries, are responsible for the security of the Kurdish Region.
Peshmerga forces goal is to fight away Al-Nusra, DAESH and other Islamic fanatic groups while try to claim independency for their region which is on both Syria and Iraq soil.

Pro-Assad forces.

Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Pro-government militias formed since the Syria conflict began in 2011 have between 150,000 and 200,000 members, military and security sources say.Created in 2012, the National Defence Forces sythesis is mainly supported by 4 large groups of militias and troops, divided into smaller units. Political, Confessional, Tribal and Foreign. Their goal is to re-establish regime authority and fight away all other parties of the country.

Alliances. All vs All and all against all.

It is no lie that it is hard to see how alliances are formed and who is against whom. To the eyes of a simple observer there is a major blur on who fights who, who are co-operating, who are fighting each other and in the end which are the ultimate goals for such a hot issue to reach an end.

The following picture might be able to give a draft and temporary look on all parties and how are things presented at this moment at Levant region.

Header picture shows the complexity that characterizes the relations and conflicts between all parties. It is also presenting that most of the times behind the opposed “first role players” at the region, there are certain countries that apply a very distinctive “proxy policy” by maintaining ties and confrontations with them. What is though very clear, is that DAESH is the enemy of all with only allies being foreign fighters.

What is happening now.

All forces and players in these strange and weird conflict have some very specific goals in their agenda. Influence and power over the other parties. However this sounds very generic, so this should be elaborated it a little bit.

1. The most important goal for all is to maintain power. No matter who is the player they all want to be the ones who will play a key role to the new border agreement that will be formed and presented in a few years. It is no lie to claim that this violent border change has moved populations, changed balances and gave birth to new parameters at Syria and Iraq. Very obvious examples on that is the recent uprising of Peshmerga and its importance to influence land and energy control. Kurds position at Northern Iraq and Syrian borders with Turkey has presented a very obvious change, ready to take place. It’s name will be Kurdistan. A new nation-state (opposing to state-nation that was formed under Sykes-Picot) that will stabilize the region and even enforce policy. A moderate Muslim country next to Israel, Lebanon and Turkey which will be favored also by countries of the west along with Russia, Iran and Egypt. Question here resides on how this will be dealt by Turkey and Iraq which do not favor such an outcome along of course with Assad who will see a big portion of his country moving under Kurdish authority. Kurds and their possible state will be a very important parameter of the new status quo there.

2. Second goal of most is to eradicate DAESH. Its presence is being hit in a severe way by all. During late days of April – June 2016 terrorist group of Al-Baghdadi has suffered a lot of losses, both in power and occupied lands. Raqqa, Aleppo, Palmyra, Fallujah, all cities that slowly are brought under Peshmerga or Pro-Assad control. DAESH in its turn tries to shift its power at Libya and moves more power there, but Levant is a region that is supposed to be its “birth-land” so if they lose control at Iraq and Syria, then its end is very near. Of course a total destruction of it is not possible due to the nature of the organizations structure and diaspora, but it will be diminished to a very small entity that eventually it will either be absorbed by al-Qaeda once more, or end on its own.

3. Third goal is to re-establish borders and control at Syria and Iraq. This is the most hard and complex goal of all. These countries has suffered a lot by war, internal conflicts, regime atrocities and last but not least… they are state-nations and not nation-states which means that there is no strong central core that will be used as a foundation to build upon. However they are both rich in religious variety. Sunni, Shi’a, Baathists, etc. All demand their share on this future land control agreement where maybe new borders will be formed and new states will be created. Problem here is that they are not the only ones affected by this. As said at the start, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan are all countries which will be pretty much affected by this change and all want their opinion to override others interests. Which is also why it is very hard to distinguish today, who is in favor or against each other. 

This whole issue at Middle East was and is not the only one that has troubled the globe. Since this problem started, there are also other issues growing bigger like Huthis and Yemen, Libya, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, frictions between Iran-Saudi Arabia-Turkey-Egypt and all of the above are scaled up cause besides the idea of this region should stabilize at a point, all of those countries have something in common that interests the rest of the planet. They control 65% of planet’s energy resources. A reason that started the whole problem one century ago with the famous agreement mentioned at the beginning of the article.



[1] https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Sykes-Picot_Agreement
[2] http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/
[3] https://www.freewordcentre.com/explore/daesh-isis-media-alice-guthrie
[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/02/syrian-rebels-call-commander-sacking-coup-2014219172827173502.html

Alexandros Niklan
Sr. Security Consultant

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