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Syria Today – PM to Head Delegation to UAE; Kurdish Leader Killed

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

Syria’s representation at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai will be led by its prime minister, though it’s unclear if President Bashar al-Assad will make an appearance at the COP28 event. Meanwhile, the Turkish National Intelligence Organization reportedly took out Mutlu Kacar, a key figure responsible for PKK/YPG activities in northern Syria’s Ain al-Arab (Kobani). Security sources revealed that Kacar, known as “Karker Andok,” orchestrated attacks on Turkish forces in Syria.00

Syria’s COP28 delegation to be led by PM, not Assad, member says

Reuters reports that Syria’s delegation to the United Nations climate summit in Dubai will be headed by its prime minister, a delegate said, without specifying whether President Bashar al-Assad would eventually pay a visit to the COP28 gathering.

Assad was invited by the United Arab Emirates in May, as Arab states warmed up to Damascus following a decade of isolation stemming from his crackdown on protests against him.

Those demonstrations spiralled into a full-scale war that displaced millions, gutted the country’s infrastructure and sank Syria into a devastating economic crisis deepened by sanctions.

Syria’s agriculture industry has been hit hard by those factors. Last year, its wheat harvest amounted to around 1 million tonnes, down some 75% from pre-crisis volumes.

The invitation to attend the climate summit was extended last spring by United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. A COP28 spokesperson told Reuters at the time that an inclusive process could “only happen if we have everyone in the room.”

But a member of the Syrian delegation told Reuters that Prime Minister Hussein Arnous would lead the ministerial delegation and would focus on drumming up funding for climate projects in his war-ravaged country.

“We will present the climate situation in Syria to several parties and organizations. Our primary goal will be to bring in funding,” said Manhal al-Zoaby, who heads the natural resources department at the agriculture ministry and who will also attend.

Zoaby said Syria would seek to “attract projects and funding to implement important climate adaptation activities in Syria.” Zoaby did not say whether Assad would take part.

US troops in Iraq and Syria aren’t ‘keeping the peace’

The regional reverberations of the Israel-Gaza war demonstrate why the White House should scrap, not reinforce, America’s outdated and unnecessarily provocative troop presence in Syria and Iraq.

The Responsible Statecraft reported that President Joe Biden should redeploy these forces to a safer position offshore and leave it to self-interested Syrians and Iraqis to prevent ISIS from reemerging. As Biden’s own policy on Afghanistan demonstrated — and as I observed on the ground earlier this fall — withdrawing U.S. soldiers and Marines can bolster American security by turning the fight against Islamic State over to well-motivated local belligerents while freeing up U.S. personnel to serve in more vital areas.

Likewise, pivoting out of Syria and Iraq will not make Americans any less safe, but it will deny local militias, and their presumptive patrons in Iran, the chance to use unneeded outposts for leverage over our national strategy.

Since October 17, some 900 U.S. troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq have been taking fire from Iran-linked militias and, subsequently, drawing retaliatory air support, including an attack by a C-130 gunship that killed eight members of the Kataib Hezbollah group in Iraq last week. The U.S. service members are the lingering footprint of Operation Inherent Resolve, which began in 2015 to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and succeeded in 2019 in eliminating the physical ISIS caliphate, thereby reducing ISIS to “a survival posture” without territory.

Rather than taking the win and packing up, the Trump and Biden administrations kept in place some troops, who have become a recurring target of opportunity for Iran and its surrogates during moments of tension. In the past five weeks, the Iran-linked militants’ rockets and one-way attack drones have injured over sixty of these Americans.

The prolonged American deployment, driven by policy inertia more than strategic necessity, has added tinder to a potential U.S.-Iranian conflagration that would eclipse the Israel-Gaza War. One Pentagon official has remarked in defiance, “Iran’s objective… has been to force a withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region… What I would observe is that we’re still there [in Iraq and Syria].”

This reluctance to relinquish former ISIS territory to independently-minded governments recapitulates the mindset that made the Afghanistan and Iraq wars so unnecessarily costly. Rather than cutting its losses, the White House and Pentagon have doubled down, with two aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean, an airstrike on an Iran-linked weapons depot in Syria, and an additional 1,200 troops for staffing regional air defenses, and now strikes inside Iraq — over the objections of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, whose coalition is linked to Kataib Hezbollah.

When it comes to escalating or winding down U.S. military interventions, the deciding factor should not be what Iran’s leaders want in largely deserted corners of Iraq and Syria, but what policies best serve American interests. On this question, Biden’s controversial decision in 2021 to pull all U.S. forces from Afghanistan offers an important lesson. As I have seen firsthand, complete withdrawal can serve Washington’s counterterrorism and strategic goals, even if the policy cedes physical terrain to governments with which U.S. officials do not see eye to eye.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces that would be committed to high-risk, low-reward combat missions in land-locked Afghanistan are available for “deterring and responding to great-power aggression.”

Turkey retaliates PKK attacks by eliminating top PKK leader in Syria

The Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) eliminated Mutlu Kacar, a leader in charge of PKK/YPG in northern Syria’s Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani, security sources said on Monday. Kacar, codenamed “Karker Andok,” was behind attacks on Turkish troops in Syria, The Daily Sabah reported.

Kacar, who joined the organization in 1997 and engaged in terrorist activities in the Haftanin region of northern Iraq in 2009, sustained injuries to his hand and eye in clashes with security forces.

Having operated as a self-proclaimed “head of the Makhmur Rustem Cudi Camp” in northern Iraq in 2013, Syria’s Tel Rifaat region in 2015, and as the so-called chief of local forces in Tal Rifaat for the PKK/YPG in 2020, Kacar assumed the role of the ringleader of Ain al-Arab for the PKK/YPG earlier this year.

In 2022, he went to al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria. The year before, he ordered a terrorist attack on a convoy of Turkish security forces operating in the Euphrates Shield Operation area in northern Syria, resulting in the death of two soldiers on July 24, 2021. He was also behind attacks on the Syrian opposition army in Syria’s north. Turkey has earlier issued an arrest warrant for Kacar on charges of membership of a terrorist group.

4 key priorities to speed up the rebuilding of Syria

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, wrote an article for Arab News, in which he highlights four key priorities to accelerate the rebuilding of Syria:

  1. Economic Reforms: Syria should reintroduce basic economic reforms that promote privatization, modernization, and the opening of the economy. Empowering the private sector is essential to reduce hyperinflation and attract foreign investment.
  2. Legitimacy and Accountability: The government needs to enhance its legitimacy both within Syria and on the international stage by implementing long-term reforms that promote inclusiveness and hold violators of the rule of law accountable.
  3. Combat Drug Trafficking: Address the threat of drug trafficking, which can destabilize society and the economy. Syria should collaborate with other nations to dismantle drug production and smuggling groups, share intelligence, and disrupt funding for drug traffickers.
  4. International Support for Reconstruction: Seek international and global support for the reconstruction of Syria, which is estimated to cost nearly $1.2 trillion. Rebuilding infrastructure and the economy would improve living standards, create jobs, enhance stability, and alleviate widespread poverty.

For the writer, these priorities aim to expedite the recovery process in Syria and promote socio-economic progress in the aftermath of the civil war.


Disability in Northern Syria Prevalence and Impact

Over 12 years of conflict, infrastructure degradation, and ongoing displacement in Syria have exposed millions to injury and trauma; on February 6, 2023, at dawn, a devastating of 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, resulting in thousands of casualties and thousands of injured in Turkey and North-West Syria, a UN website reports

The number of casualties in North-West Syria was 4,540, and the number of injured was 8,786, with many injured losing their limbs or becoming disabled. All these factors compounding risk for persons with disabilities, undermining their access to essential services and support, Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) has employed the Washington Group on Disability Statistics Questions -the most widely used and tested tool in humanitarian environments- with technical support from humanitarian partners specialized in supporting disabilities (Hope Revival Organization & MIDAD Organization), to determine the prevalence of individuals with disabilities appropriate approach pivoting from traditional investigations on physical ailments or function alone. 

The assessment expands to define difficulties and disabilities as an interaction between a person’s impairment and the experience of attitudinal institutional and physical barriers limiting individuals’ ability to engage in their communities and access to services as per the description provided in the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

ACU has prioritized including data on persons with disabilities for all relevant household surveys. This has significantly improved the availability and quality of data on persons with disabilities inside Syria. The analysis further assesses key socio-economic indicators to determine to what extent the persons with disabilities limit individuals or households with members with disabilities, ability to withstand social and economic barriers.

Children with difficulties and disabilities who participated in this study were asked about the common obstacles they faced in formal education. This questionnaire focused on their school enrollment and reasons for discontinuing their education.

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