Syrian Kurds Demand Autonomy Before Merger With Assad’s Army

(Bloomberg) -- Syrian Kurds will merge their forces into President Bashar al-Assad’s military if he agrees to grant them some measure of political autonomy, an envoy in Moscow said.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces can incorporate their fighters into Assad’s army “if there is agreement on a new constitution guaranteeing the rights of all peoples in Syria rather than keeping central control,” Reshad Bienav said in an interview in the Russian capital on Monday.

But he also warned against any attempt by the Syrian government to use force in the Kurdish-controlled northeast. “If they attack us, we’ll fight back,” he said.

The alliance with the U.S. has left the Kurds with the largest region outside of Syrian central government control following the defeat of Islamic State. President Donald Trump’s administration last month reversed course on plans to pull out all 2,000 American troops in Syria, committing to keep 400 soldiers in the country to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State and protect the Kurds, the U.S.’s wartime allies.

U.S. Protection

As the Syrian civil war winded down, Kurds have looked for American protection against a possible offensive by Turkey, which views the Kurdish forces as a terrorist organization. The Syrian Democratic Forces are led by an affiliate of the PKK, which took up arms against the Turkish state in the 1970s and has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths since.

Further complicating matters, the U.S. also classifies the PKK as a terrorist organization. The U.S.’s partnership with the group’s Syrian group has brought ties with NATO ally Turkey to the breaking point.

“The presence of American troops can help to avoid a new attack by Turkey,” Bienav said. “It could guarantee that the situation on the border between Syria and Turkey remains calm.”

Ankara has been pushing for support to establish a buffer zone inside Syria and ensure that armed Kurdish fighters don’t have access to the Turkish border. Russia, which opposes the idea, has unsuccessfully been trying to broker a settlement between the Kurds and the Syrian government that would restore central authority and allay Turkish concerns.

A top aide to Assad last month rejected giving the Syrian Kurds autonomy, which would effectively recognize the partitioning of the country. There have been no talks between the Kurds and Damascus for the past six months after previous rounds ended in deadlock, Bienav said.

“These people think that Syria can go back to what it was in 2011” before the civil war, he said. “It can never be the same.”

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