Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the United States can do "what we want" with the oil-fields now under its control in northeast Syria. The Dec. 2 remarks are provided via White House transcript: "And I wanted to say that, in keeping the oil, ISIS was trying to, as you know, regain control of the oil. And we have total control of the oil. And, frankly, we had a lot of support from a lot of different people. But, right now, the only soldiers we have, essentially, in that area, are the soldiers keeping the oil. So we have the oil, and we can do with the oil what we want." This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump's 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: "I'll take the oil"—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon!
Turkish occupation forces are building a three-meter high security wall through Afrin, the enclave in northern Syria that was a canton of the Kurdish autonomous zone before being taken by Ankara's troops and allied Arab and Turkmen militia last year. Local residents report that lands in the villages of Kimare and Cilbil (Sherawa district) and Meryemin (Shera district) have been confiscated to erect the wall, with some 20 houses destroyed. Reports indicate the wall is ultimately to be 70 kilometers long, stretching from Afrin to Azaz, encircling much of the Turkish "buffer zone" in northern Syria, and completely cutting it off from the now-reduced Kurdish autonomous zone. Construction of the wall spurred the first public protests in Afrin under Turkish occupation, as farmers marched against the land seizures May 2.
Reports of rights abuses in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin, taken by Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army allies from Kurdish defenders in March, continue to mount. An Amnesty International alert issued Aug. 1 charges that Afrin residents have been arbitrarily detained and tortured, with houses and businesses looted and confiscated, and schools destroyed or taken over by militia forces. These abuses mostly took place "at the hands of Syrian armed groups equipped and armed by Turkey," while "Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye." Thousands of children have had their education disrupted by the take-over of their schools for use by rebel militias and even directly by Turkish troops.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels announced March 18 that they have seized "full control" of Afrin, following a two-month offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in the northern Syrian town and surrounding enclave. One of the three "cantons" that make up the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava has now been lost. The statement announcing the seizure of the enclave was published on the Twitter page of "Operation Olive Branch," as the offensive was officially dubbed. Once "Olive Branch" forces actually penetrated Afrin town, the YPG apparently withdraw to prevent the civilian population from being caught in the fighting. In the prelude to the town's fall, residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish air-strikes. The "Nothern Brigade" of the Free Syrian Army was named as the key ground force taking control of the enclave under Turkish direction and protection. (NYT, Syria Direct) Turkey's official Anadolu Agency also names Syrian Turkmen militia forces as involved in taking the enclave, and explicitly appeals to ethnic resentment, stating: "Arab tribes welcome liberation of Afrin."
As results come in from the Kurdistan Regional Government's referendum on independence from Iraq, the Baghdad government is rejecting the vote as illegitimate, refusing all talks on the matter and threatening punitive action. "We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional," said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a speech broadcast on state TV. Raising the stakes, Abadi has given the KRG until the end of the week to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.
Thousands rallied in Erbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, on Sept. 13 in support of the upcoming historic referendum on independence. But one day earlier, Iraq's parliament passed a resolution rejecting the referendum, and demanding that Kurdish authorities "cancel" it. Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani retorted in kind: "I say clearly to the Iraqi parliament to reconsider your decision because the will of the people of Kurdistan will not be broken by you." A particular sticking point is the inclusion of Kirkuk in the vote scheduled for Sept. 25—not within the Kurdistan Regional Government's formal borders, but under its de facto control since Kurdish forces occupied the city with the collapse of the Iraqi army during the ISIS offensive of June 2014. The Iraqi parliament resolution made special note that the referendum is proceeding within "disputed territories, including Kirkuk."
Fierce clashes broke out between Syrian rebel factions and Kurdish fighters in Aleppo province this week, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to battle ISIS in Raqqa. Fighting erupted in Derat Ezza in the western Aleppo countryside on June 13, after Kurdish fighters attempted to take a rebel base in the area, opposition media reported. The assault was thwarted after the rebels regained the positions with support from Turkish artillery. At least 32 fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups were reported killed in the clashes, as well as dozens of Kurdish militants. (The New Arab, June 14)