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Article: Damascus policy towards Syrian Democratic Forces and Arab tribes
Article, Middle East, News, Syria 17 February 2020

Although Syrian Kurds, after expanding their reign over Kurdish and even Arabic areas located in East of Euphrates river called “Jazirah”, started the system of self-government under support of USA, but their relation with Syrian government was in the state not peace nor war. There were limited engagements between them for time to time but never became a full enmity.

From the beginning of crisis in Syria, to prevent the protests to expand and reach the biggest minority of the country, the government tried to collaborate and give space to Kurds of the area and Democratic Union Party (PYD) to prepare the situation for presence of military forces of the party in Kurdish inhabited areas. In the following sense, two months after the protests started in Syria in the middle of 2012, the government signed an agreement with the party and let them to come back to Syria. Near the end of 2012, Syrian government supported People’s Protection Units (YPG) after attack of opposition militias to Raas al-Ain town and left the service, security, military and economic affairs of Hasakah province, except the security square, to PYD.

Although Syrian Kurds, after expanding their reign over Kurdish and even Arabic areas located in East of Euphrates river called “Jazirah”, started the system of self-government under support of USA, but their relation with Syrian government was in the state not peace nor war. There were limited engagements between them for time to time but never became a full enmity.

In this situation, PYD (close to PKK in Turkey) as the main player of Kurds in Syria started the project of expansion and establishing Kurds in 2012 and from the beginning removed Kurdish National Council (ENKS), as the party close to opposition of Syria and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq (led by Barzani), from the battle.
In fact, in the battle between two idealogies of Barzani and Öcalan, PYD led by Öcalan won.

They established YPG as the military branch of PYD in March 2012 under command of officers from Qandil area as the first step and also formed the security and police forces of Asayish in the same year. In November 2013, formed self-government office in north of Syria, which divides the area ruled by Kurds to three cantons of Island, Kobani and Afrin and in 2014 three councils of lawmakers and executive to govern the three cantons.
In October 2015, they formed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Arabs, of east of Euphrates, Kurds and Assyrians, with proposal of then US special envoy in coalition entitled fighting ISIS and under support of the coalition.

However, the main player was still YPG and SDF was a distraction to avoid Turkey’s bad relationship with PKK forces. After establishment of SDF, Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) was formed as the political branch of it. Then in March 2016 SDF reported of a federal Kurdish government surprisingly which caused Syrian government and regional and international sides engaged in Syria to react negatively. However due to Turkey’s assault to Afrin area and occupying it, the issue of federal Kurdish government was suspended.

In 2018, Kurds stepped down from federal government and just formed self-government system in north and east of Syria by establishing local councils under the names of different regions. (Jazirah, Kobani, Manbij, Raqqah, Deir Ezzor, Tabqah, Afrin)

After the areas under control were expanded in east of Euphrates under support of USA, to manage the Arab-Kurd confrontation, SDF followed both attract and surpass policies using USA and Arabic capacities in Arabic tribes of the area.

On the other hand, to revive the sovereignty on east of Euphrates area, having an upper hand to manage their relationship with SDF and confront USA occupation of the area, Syrian government started to approach tribes of the area by holding numerous sessions in Hasakah town to attract nomads to themselves and confront USA plans in the area. Therefore, the title and agenda of these sessions were more about confronting USA occupation and plans of dividing Syria rather than sovereignty of Damascus on north and east of Euphrates. Currently and after Turkey occupied some parts and after the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia, the situation is ready for return of Syrian army and Russian police to some of the area. Even though the sovereignty of Syrian government has increased in some areas ruled by SDF, they still reject to join central government and relying on USA, they try to have more in their hands in future negotiation with Syrian government.

Therefore, Syrian government tries to use its pressure levers to manage Kurds and lower their bargaining ability in negotiations by approaching the chiefs of tribes there and giving privileges such as dropping charges against them, fixing some issues of local tribes, to make the younger generation to rebel against their chiefs and leave SDF and join the army.
In the same sense, after Ali Mamluk visit to Qamishli and meeting chiefs and seniors of tribes, a high committee representing Damascus met with Salih Muslim, the former co-chairman of PYD, in Qamishli.
In this meeting, the Damascus negotiating team offered the local administration which was contained in the reformed constitution in 2012, for the areas controlled by SDF but Kurdish team did not approve nor reject it. According to Faisal Azuz, presented in the negotiations, both sides tried to reach a plan between self-government and local administration plan that was mentioned in article 107 of the constitution.

In conclusion, Syrian government plan regarding Kurds and Arabic tribes of east of Euphrates is to have full sovereignty in the area and their tactic is to approach and attract Arabic tribes of the area, who are the majority, prepare the situation of division between Kurds and Arabs and eventually having upper hand in negotiations with Kurds. In another word, they want to use the tribes to bring Kurds close to the central government and reduce their demands in the negotiations. However, the primary issue of Syrian government at the moment is Idlib and east of Euphrates comes after it.

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