Roadmap for Manbij contradicts with Trump’s Iran strategy

Though Turkey and the United States agreeing on a roadmap for the Syrian town of Manbij after months of tension in relations is good news, the deal may undermine U.S. President Trump’s Iran strategy in the Middle East, Bloomberg News columnist Eli Lake said on Thursday. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday agreed to a roadmap over the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij, following months of negotiations.

Turkey recognises YPG as a terrorist organisation and analogous to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984. The YPG forms the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region.

According to Sinam Mohamad, the head of the U.S. mission of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurds were excluded from the deal between Turkey and the U.S. and are worried that Turks may end up ruling Manbij.

Lake pointed out that the threat from Turkey could force the Kurds who fought against the Islamic State to seek their own peace with the Assad regime and this may jeopardise president Trump's Iran strategy as the U.S. needs the support of the Kurdish militia as ground forces to drive Iran out of Syria. 

Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert at the Institute for the Study of War, said the future of areas captured from ISIS in Syria would be the main factor shaping the YPG’s decisions. However, Lake noted that the Trump administration had not yet clarified whether it would support local rule for these regions or allow them to be dominated by the Assad regime or a foreign power.

Sinam Mohamad told that the Syrian forces preferred a federation rather than separation in Syria. According to Mohamad, her council is prepared to negotiate with the Assad regime, though it would prefer to do so after reaching an agreement with the U.S. for long-term support. 

Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey during the George W. Bush administration, said that the U.S. should commit to a long-term relationship with the Syrian Kurds. “We have to have a continuing presence, provide them with continuing support, and where they have control of areas with Kurdish populations, they should maintain that control and not hand it over to others,” Edelman told Bloomberg.