“Russian forces will defend the contested majority-Arab town of Manbij in northern Syria against Turkey if and when US forces withdraw under the terms of a verbal agreement struck two days ago between Russian commanders and the Manbij Military Council,” reports Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman, the first to break the news last week.
“Fears of a Turkish invasion grew when President Donald Trump announced in December that US troops would be pulled out of all of Syria within 30 days,” writes Zaman. “Around 300 Syrian regime forces deployed near Manbij in Arima in response to the YPG’s [Peoples Protection Units] calls to help them stave off a Turkish attack. Trump has since said around 400 US forces would remain in Syria and [Manbij Military Council Co-Chair Mohamed] Mustafa said there were no signs of a US withdrawal from Manbij so far. … But if they did leave, regime forces would ‘definitely’ move in together with the Russians, he said.”
“Given a choice, all of the Manbij leaders who spoke to Al-Monitor said that they would rather have the Syrian regime come than Turkey,” concludes Zaman, “but that the best outcome would be for the Americans to stay.”
Barzani: Syrian Kurds should negotiate with Damascus
In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, said, “The Kurds of Syria should try to find a solution within the framework of a united Syria. They should be engaging in dialogue and negotiations with the regime.”
“It’s not a matter of ignoring the Americans,” Barzani told Amberin Zaman. “The reality is that the regime is still there and that the Kurds of Syria should be talking with the regime in order to gain certain rights. … Currently the regime feels that it has the upper hand, but the reality is that there is still a lot of instability in Syria. The minute the government regains sovereignty over all of Syria there will be more stability and the regime will feel confident enough to give the Kurds their rights. The regime will need to deal with the reality that the Kurds are there, that they exist and they have power, they control territories and they have to find the way to solve their problems with the Kurds.”
Asked who can be the guarantor of a deal between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government, Barzani replied, “Us to a lesser extent, we are ready to step up to the plate. But this role can be played even more effectively by the Russians. It’s important for all of us to have a stable neighbor such as Syria, but it’s especially important for Russia. They are very clear on this point. Their strategy is geared toward securing a stable Syria. They can be key players in negotiating a settlement between the Kurds and the regime.”