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The Safe Zone Northern Syria Needs

The Safe Zone Northern Syria Needs
The Safe Zone Northern Syria Needs

2019-01-25 00:00:00 - Source: Baghdad Post

Shervan Derwish

Whether the United States and the international coalition

against ISIS will protect Manbij and areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic

Forces in northern Syria from an unknown future is a significant test of their


I am writing from Manbij, a city of 700,000 people in

northern Syria governed by a civilian administration made up of Arabs, Kurds,

Turkmen and Circassians. Thanks to the Kurdish fighters who liberated Manbij in

2016, we have been able to enjoy freedoms unimaginable under either ISIS or the

Syrian government.

In Manbij, where women were once bought and sold as slaves by

ISIS terrorists, now they run economic cooperatives, serve in the Manbij

Military Council and have equal representation in elected councils.

For the first time in Syrian history, we have held free

local elections. We have reopened or built several hospitals and 350 schools

attended by 120,000 students. We have given 2,000 licenses to factories and

flour mills. The physical reconstruction of our city has been slow but steady.

Most important, people are living without fear.

Our civilian administration has given people the courage to

rebuild their lives and, for the first time, participate in building democracy.

We formed the Manbij Military Council, a security force composed primarily of

local Arabs, to hunt down terrorists and sleeper cells, fighting to ensure that

terrorist groups can never again threaten the people of Syria.

Without international support, none of this might have been

possible. Coalition forces fought alongside the women and men of the Syrian

Democratic Forces, and coalition jets hit ISIS as we battled the group on the

ground. Together, we liberated more Syrian territory from the terrorist group

than any other force. Statistics show that fewer people around the world have

died in terrorist attacks each year since 2015 — something attributable partly

to the sacrifices our forces made to eliminate the Islamic State.

The inclusive and democratic political system established

across northeast Syria has undoubtedly succeeded in Manbij and it threatens

dictators and terrorists who want to see our country divided along religious

and ethnic lines.

But we are grappling with a precarious future since

President Trump announced his decision to withdraw United States forces from

Syria. The American political class might not fully understand it, but these

soldiers who served with us do. After Mr. Trump’s announcement, one American

officer told us: “I am at a loss for words. I can’t tell you why. I can’t.

These are our orders!” Tears streamed down his face.

Though ISIS is nearly defeated, we face threats every day

from a new enemy: Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan has

repeatedly announced his plans to invade our region, claiming that the Peoples’

Protection Units, or the YPG, have a presence here.

We have repeatedly emphasized that the YPG has left Manbij

and that our forces pose no threat to Turkey’s national security. We believe

that Mr. Erdogan fears not the presence or the absence of any given military

force but the peaceful and democratic coexistence of Arabs, Kurds, Christians and

others in northeastern Syria.

Mr. Erdogan cannot exploit such coexistence. He plans to use

the Turkey-backed Islamist opposition in Syria to invade Manbij, just as he

used it in the nearby Azaz, Jarabulus and Afrin areas.

While Turkey claims to be returning these territories to

their “true owners,” Mr. Erdogan is instead dooming Syrians to foreign

occupation and militia rule and making the prospect of peace after eight brutal

years of war even more elusive.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Afrin, where Turkey has

been accused of enlisting former members of ISIS and militias with ties to

al-Qaeda to decimate the peaceful region and its autonomous administration.

Turkey’s incursion into Afrin in northern Syria displaced around 300,000

people, and the militias backed by Turkey seized, looted and destroyed property

of Kurdish civilians.

If the United States allows Turkey to attack Manbij, that

will be our fate, too.

Unfortunately, it seems that global powers are still willing

to play Turkey’s games. Mr. Erdogan’s “road map” for Manbij does not serve and

reflect the interests of its people. He also proposes the establishment of a

“safe zone” in the wake of an American withdrawal, a plan that Mr. Trump appears

to have, in some form, agreed to.

We are not opposed to the concept of a safe zone. We believe

that it is possible for the United States to withdraw its forces from our

region without abandoning our people. However, we will not accept any Turkish

incursion into the areas we have liberated, no matter the words used to

describe it.

Any “safe zone” in northeast Syria must be guaranteed by

international forces and not by the Turkish troops and jihadist militias

massing at our borders. An international safe zone would ensure that Turkey’s

borders are protected, without subjecting the people of northeast Syria to the

mercy of Mr. Erdogan’s proxies. It would also facilitate the continuing

reconstruction efforts taking place in our region, which are key to peace and


And the United States and other members of the coalition

must support efforts for a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict and

ensure that our administration is represented in those talks. Since the

beginning of the war, we have fought to build a stable and equal future for all


Together with the coalition, we won historic battles in

Kobani and Raqqa. Now that the war is coming to an end, we believe that the

international forces that fought with our people must play their moral role in

securing our dignity, safety and our vision for Syria’s future.

In Manbij, where ISIS once planned attacks against the West,

children now grow up in a world free from fear. The world has a responsibility

to ensure that their future continues to be safe, secure and peaceful. We ask

our partners to rise to the occasion for this last moral task.

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