Iran’s proxies cooperate with longtime enemy PKK against Turkey in Syria

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Pro-Syrian regime fighters wave the regime flag as they ride on pickup trucks upon arriving in Syria's northern region of Afrin on February 20, 2018, with the YPG flag seen flying in the background. (AFP)

There have been reports of a deal between the YPG and the Syrian regime on Afrin to stop Turkey’s operation. Russia opposes the plan unless the YPG hands over all its arms provided by the US. Iran supports the plan that its proxies control the city.

By Monday, the 31st day of Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin against the YPG, Turkey had taken control of around 300 sq km of land. Losing territory to the Turkish-backed opposition forces, the YPG had reportedly reached a deal with the regime. According toSyrian State TV, the regime forces would enter the city in exchange for the YPG withdrawal and handing over its arms to the regime.

The only link Afrin has to regime areas is actually controlled by the Iranian-backed militias.

On Tuesday, pro-regime and Iran-backed Shia militias consisting of a convoy of 20 vehicles departed from the Nubl al Zahraa region and tried to advance into the Afrin region.

The convoy turned back after Turkish artillery fire, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Even though a small number of Iran-backed militias claimed they were in Afrin, it was never confirmed.

The latest situation in the northern Syria can bee seen from this coloured map
The latest situation in the northern Syria can bee seen from this coloured map (TRTWorld)

Ankara-Moscow deal for Afrin?

During a press conference in Amman, Jordan on Monday, responding to reports that the regime was preparing to enter Afrin, Cavusoglu said the reason behind such an entry, if it happens, is important.

“If the regime enters here [Afrin] to clear it of the YPG/PKK, then there is no problem,”  he said.

Ankara’s main concern on such a deal is for the YPG to give up all of its arms, and Moscow’s efforts are also in this direction, a Turkish diplomatic official told TRT World.

If they agree, the weapons that had been provided by the US to the YPG would be in the hands of Russian-backed regime forces, the sources continued. Afrin would come under regime control, and the YPG militants in Afrin would return to Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsoud town through the regime-held territory.

Iran pushes for the agreement

The same diplomatic source also said that Russia is concerned about the possible presence of Iranian-backed militias in Afrin and the possibility of the arms ending up with those militias.

While Iran pushed its proxies to enter Afrin, some YPG members saidon Monday that “Russia is responsible for the failure to reach a deal with the government up until now. Russia wants us to lay down our weapons. The government wants to fight alongside us.”

When the talks between the YPG and the regime reportedly failed, Iran’s proxies were sent to Afrin.

The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is considered a terror organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU. It has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years. Turkey fears its growth near its borders will threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity.

The PKK has another affiliate in Iran, called PJAK, which has been fighting the Iranian state since 2004. Iran has waged massive military operations against PJAK militants on its own territory.

Turkey has come to an agreement with Russia, which has been controlling Syrian air space for more than two years, to conduct air strikes against the YPG in Afrin. A small number of Russian troops were based in Afrin for the last couple of years. These troops withdrew before Turkey’s operation started.

Iran, on the other hand, has been calling Turkey to halt its operation in Afrin against the PKK affiliates.

Turkey intensifies its operation

Meanwhile, Turkey intensified its air operations in both the south of Afrin and in the east, near Marea, close to the path pro-regime militias would use to enter Afrin.

The Turkish Armed Forces have also taken over several residential areas on Monday in Afrin’s south and west.

Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Syrian war. However the two countries along with Iran have cooperated under the Astana talks, which started at the end of 2016 to help bring an end to the war. The leaders of the three countries will hold a trilateral summit on Syria in Istanbul in the coming weeks.

Turkey and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20 to clear Afrin of the YPG/PKK terror organisation, whose presence at its border Turkey views as a direct threat to its security. Likewise, the eight-month Euphrates Shield operation launched in August 2016 aimed to prevent the YPG from consolidating its claimed territory near Turkey.

YPG-regime cooperation in the past 

It would not be the first time the regime and YPG discussed cooperation in Afrin. Before Turkey launched its Afrin operation on January 20, the YPG spokesman announced they could not reach an agreement with the regime regarding YPG entry into the city.

The YPG and the regime had collaborated in March 2017, as Turkey prepared for an offensive in Manbij as a part of Operation Euphrates Shield. At the time, Turkey was prevented by a Russia-established practical buffer zone made of regime forces.

The regime also facilitated YPG movement from Manbij via Iranian-backed militias and regime-held territories to fight against Turkey in Afrin since the operation started.

Despite this past cooperation, the virtual erasure of Daesh from Syria and the YPG’s movement towards creating an autonomous territory in northern Syria has highlighted their diverging interests, particularly as the regime seeks to consolidate its control over the whole of Syria.

Source: TRT World