Feb 19 2018

Troubles in Syria's Manbij belie rich history

A political crisis between the United States and Turkey over Manbij overshadows the Syrian city’s rich cultural history, Sami Moubayed wrote in the Asia Times.

Manbij has an ancient past and locals pride themselves in knowing that Omar Abu Risheh, one of the greatest Arab poets of modern times, hails from the city. Manbij was also known for its fierce resistance against French colonial rule, Moubayed said.

But now the enclave is almost exclusively recognised as a hotly contested territorial prize for Washington, Ankara, Tehran and Moscow, as well as Islamic State (ISIS), as regional powers battle for influence in the war-revaged country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  pleaded with President Barack Obama to allow the Turks to liberate Manbij from ISIS after the group took the city in January 2014. Instead, Obama tasked the Kurds with freeing it and they have administered the city since 2016.

Turkey’s operation across the border into Syria's al-Bab in November 2016 was meant to be a precursor to taking Manbij, but in February 2017, the government announced the incursion would stop there.

Now the United States may agree for U.S. and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) troops to jointly manage the city, with the Kurds withdrawing, following meetings between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top Turkish officials last week.