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Don't jump to conclusions about the situation in Afrin

March 21 · Issue #82 · View online
MENA Roundup is a weekly publication containing insightful articles on politics in the Middle East, focussing on Syria and Iraq.

  • This Roundup has focussed on Syria lately, but Susannah George’s latest reporting from Iraq has illustrated an important (and familiar) dynamic that I want to address: People in Iraq’s Anbar province (which was a stronghold of the Islamic State) who are now displaced by Shia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that the government in Baghdad recently acknowledged as equal to the Iraqi Army will keep their resentments - and likely resistance - against the corrupt central state. Additionally, the Iraqi society has to find a way to deal with the thousands of detained ISIS families, members and sympathizers. Not only will many of those detainees radicalize themselves even more, but every execution will leave sons, daughters, brothers, cousins, uncles (…) behind and in anger. Mass executions cannot lead to justice and sustainable calm. 
  • Back to Syria, where similar dynamics will be of importance soon. Afrin has been taken by the Turkish army and allied rebels. Instead of fighting, the YPG has retreated - and left booby traps behind that already killed civilians. 
  • While the YPG has declared to switch to guerilla warfare (indeed, they already ambushed Turkish personal), footage of rebels looting the city of Afrin circulated in the media. Personally, I would not jump to conclusions: Sadly, it always comes to looting and for now, it is hard to estimate the extent. The National Army leadership declared that it suspended and charged the responsible individuals. The pro-Turkish alliance’s true face will become clear within the next weeks and months. 
  • The same applies to media commentary pointing out that the pro-Turkish rebels look like ISIS fighters. Be careful with such judgements. It is also hard to distinguish some pro-Assad militias from rebel factions. Why? Because they are mostly Arabs, mix civilian clothes with some military gear and carry Kalashnikovs. It is true that radical fighters are supporting Turkey’s offensive, but it doesn’t help anyone to portray the situation as a jihadi pilferage. 
  • Rebels in Eastern Ghouta launched small counterattacks but defenses collapse more and more. The usage of different kinds of weapons in such a small area is sadly impressive: Indenciary bombs and chlorine gas have been used regularly by the Assad-regime. Now, Russia has even used bunker-buster bombs to wipe out underground facilities. Apparently, Ahrar al-Sham has reached a deal. Fighters and civilians might be transferred to Idlib. Questions is if such evacuations are an option for the at least 100-150.000 remaining civilians and fighters from Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman.
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