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US Threat Assessment and Meaning of Visits to Syria and Iraq Regions


*Bu yazı 14/03/2023 tarihinde yayınlanmıştır.

 Doç.Dr. Güray ALPAR/SDE Başkanı


In these days, for some reason, the visits of US senior officials to the Syria and Iraq regions have suddenly increased. According to us, it is the biggest mistake to consider the issue as an ordinary visit. Undoubtedly, this will have meaning and implications for the future. Considering the previous US presence in this region, it is not possible to expect positive results. We will probably start to see the results of these visits in the region in the short and medium term, starting today.

The entry of the US into the Middle East Region, including Iraq, was based on some intelligence assessments in the past. However, it became clear later that all these evaluations were fabrications. In its pre-intervention statements, the Bush administration argued that intelligence reports unwaveringly confirmed the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush administration invaded Iraq on the grounds that this country had weapons of mass destruction.

After the invasion, the country was divided ethnically and sectarianly, people were turned against each other, and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives due to the chaos that ensued, and millions of people became refugees. The country has never been the same.

"Iraq Research Group" concluded that "Iraq has no weapons" in its assessment, but the vice-president at that time, Dick Cheney, rejected the findings, saying, "This report is not correct."
British Prime Minister Blair, who met with the President of the United States one-on-one during his visit to the USA, in an environment where his advisors did not attend, and who was a partner in this invasion for the same reason, saw these fabricated reports as sufficient for the invasion of Iraq. Blair, in his statements to the commissions after it was understood that the intelligence reports were not true, said, "I feel responsible, but I do not regret that we overthrew Saddam Hussein."

It is clear that tailored intelligence reports can justify unjustified interventions, while costing the lives of many people and ravaging areas.

The USA had lost time, power, soldiers and more importantly prestige in the Middle East with false reports after the Cold War Era. Now again, someone is trying to trick the USA and this seems to be their own power center. The mock evaluations have resumed. We will see the consequences of these strategic mistakes for the USA in the short and medium term.

Such an intelligence assessment is on the agenda again, and it does not bode well. The report is dated February 6, 2023, and is titled “United States Annual Threat Assessment” (Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, Office of the National Intelligence, February 6, 2023). The assessment of ISIS (DAESH) on page 32 of this report is also very interesting. Here, there is an assessment that "Daesh continues to pose a threat to the United States in the region, even though it inflicts great losses and is weakened." This forms the basis of US high-level visits to the Iraq and Syria region, although the actual intentions are different. The script never changes. Someone is pulling the US back into the swamp.

In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from Syria after visiting American troops in Iraq. Trump was angry that after spending trillions of dollars, there was still no logical explanation for why his plane couldn't land during the day. “Our goal in Syria was to get ISIS out of its strongholds,” Trump said. “We still haven't left where we went for three months. Today we do the right thing and finish it.” After saying that, for some reason, resistance started within the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis requested his early retirement, and Brett H. McGurk, Special Envoy for Combating ISIS, decided to resign.

During his visit to the French soldiers controlling the former French colony of Chad and its surroundings, French President Emmanuel Macron was among those who opposed the withdrawal due to French interests in Syria and for the French Special Forces in that country. The so-called YPG/PKK terrorist organization, which controls a large part of Syria, especially with economic natural resources, with the support of training, weapons and ammunition from the USA, was not too late to declare that "if the USA withdraws, they will release thousands of ISIS members in prisons". Ultimately, the United States remained in the region. However, according to intelligence reports, ISIS was no longer a threat.

Considering this fact, in the first week of March 2023, Republican Matt Gaetz in US presented a bill the US Congress, the House of Representatives. According to Gaetz "Congress has never allowed the use of military force in Syria". Gaetz demanded the withdrawal of American soldiers from Syria within 6 months. “The fact that these Kurdish groups are in conflict with our NATO ally Turkey further complicates the situation,” said Gaetz, who presented the bill, referring to the YPG/PKK, which is backed by the USA. Gaetz's words were not heard, and suggestion was rejected by a vote of "321" to 103 "yes" votes.

On the other hand, the words of Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said, "Many US soldiers are dying in foreign lands," were not taken into account. According to Greene, no American in the constituency has ever said let's go to war in Syria. From this, it comes to the conclusion that what it means to support a terrorist organization is known at the highest level in the United States and that although the public does not support it, some self-interest is tried to be realized by the administration. So, who runs the USA then?

In fact, there are other issues that need to be brought to the agenda regarding the US administrations in the region. The most important of these are sanctions. The USA has a deep history in this regard and this history cannot be said to be clean. The United States supported both sides during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. In 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, with the knowledge of Reagan, went to Baghdad with a special delegation, and with the permission of the Commerce Committee, American companies sold anthrax and pesticides to Iraq. In 1986, it emerged with the "Iran-gate" scandal, in which the USA sent weapons to Iran, and President Reagan had to admit this in his television speech on November 13, 1987. What was even more interesting was that the money received from Iran in return was being diverted to guerrillas fighting against the government in Nicaragua. Despite this, the report of the Commission investigating the incident was contented with accusing Reagan of merely "lying to the American people".

Sanctions against Syria are still on the agenda. However, these sanctions have a rather arbitrary scope of application. In other words, sanctions that may vary according to random country and company. For example, in order to help the YPG/PKK terrorist organizations more, some American companies operating in the oil field in the Deir ez-Zor region were excluded from sanctions last year. In addition, agricultural and construction businesses can benefit from such exemptions. The US administration, on the other hand, officially states that it has increased the aid it provides to the organization much more. In short, there is an atmosphere of complete lawlessness in front of the eyes of the whole world.

America is confusing the region by giving some money to the people in the region without using its own soldiers, and it also provides the money from the resources of the people of the region.

Now, other activities related to the region are wanted to be put on the agenda and the excuse is ready: DAESH.  It will be explanatory to evaluate successive visits and investigations in this context. And it is also necessary to understand the 6th visit of the region under the control of YPG/PKK in the last 11 months by CENTCOM Commander General Michael Erik Kurilla. During its visit on March 8, 2023, CENTCOM announced in writing that it visited the places where DAESH members were held and DAESH families in Roj and Hol Camps, along with the SDF (YPG/PKK) officials.

Another official showing a sudden interest in the region is Milley, the US Joint Chief of Staff. It is not surprising that he went to Israel before coming to Syria. The point and excuse that Milley emphasized was ready: ISIS. According to him, “US troops are needed in Syria and therefore they will stay in Syria”. The US Chief of Staff inspected the troops in the field and of course did not neglect to say that they would act together with the PKK/YPG as usual.

In diplomatic and academic circles, it is also considered a weakness that a power like the United States is now negotiating with small groups qualified as terrorist organizations rather than serious states in the region.

A few days after Milley, this time the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; paid a visit to Iraq (including, of course, the north of Iraq) as part of his Israel, Jordan, Egypt tour. The date of his arrival coincided with the approaching 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The point he also emphasized was the same as the US Chief of Staff emphasized in Syria: DAESH.

Austin emphasized that they continue to support the Baghdad administration to end DAESH and that they are determined in this regard. It should also be kept in mind that Austin emphasized that any attack on the US presence in Iraq could disrupt the fight against ISIS. This also expresses a stance and intimidation against Iran's so-called anti-US activities in this region.

Another of the most important messages given by the US Secretary of Defense was that the US was ready to stay in Iraq. Although he said “I am here to emphasize US-Iraqi cooperation as we move towards a more secure, stable and sovereign Iraq,” unfortunately, in reality, this message means confusion, conflict, and pitfalls for the region in the days to come. We will probably see this in the coming days.

It is also said that the US Secretary of Defense met with the PKK/SDG ringleader, Abdi Şahin, codenamed Mazlum Abdi, in Erbil, and this is just the beginning of the confusion in the region.

Clearly, the ground is being prepared for the next mixing structure in the region. Austin was the last commander of the forces left in the country after the invasion of Iraq. Although the US is said to have around 2,500 troops in Iraq, the actual number is estimated to be more than twice that. But it seems that the USA wants to achieve its goal by pitting the powers in the region against each other rather than using its own power in this region.

It is clearly understood that the US administration has decided to organize for the future in this region, especially in Syria and Iraq, and lay the groundwork for this. One reason for this may be that the talks between Turkey and the Syrian administration will completely eliminate the US military presence in this region. The United States generally prefers policies that encourage the separation and rivalry of countries rather than coming together.

However, the main reason other than this seems to be the decisions of Iran and Saudi Arabia to "re-establish diplomatic relations", which have been competing in many regions to date. Until now, America was happy that these two countries were competing with each other.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iranian leader Ali Hamaney, evaluated the resumption of diplomatic relations between his country and Saudi Arabia as the end of US hegemony in the region. Moreover, the fact that this rapprochement between the two countries is provided by China is another source of concern for the United States. On this subject, many similar comments were made by the US Think Tanks. According to Jonathan Panikoff, an intelligence officer himself, a Chinese-dominated Middle East will fundamentally affect US trade, energy and, more importantly, security.

In short, all this traffic of visits and conversations makes sense, and it looks like someone pressed the button. It is not wrong to make the assessment that this will be a period in which troubles will be experienced for the region. To date, there are not many examples of peace and stability coming to the regions where the US has intervened. Based on past experiences, some turmoil, events, conflicts and explosions can be expected in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries. On the other hand, it may be possible to prevent all these with the measures to be taken. For this, the groups, wise people and states in the region need to realize the danger and not act as expected this time, and the time has come.