It isn’t just Iran in question in Syria, the YPG is as well
The first question is this: Does the U.S. have any right to complain about Iran’s influence in Syria as the country who presented Iraq on a silver platter to Iran some 15 years ago?
Here is the second question: Does using the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), i.e. the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), and renaming it as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) erase the terrorist designation given to it by the U.S. and eliminate all its acts of terror?
The third question is: If put under pressure by the Syrian regime, with full backing of Russia, which side will the SDF, or the YPG, or the PKK pick? The U.S. or Syria-Russia?
Those questions make sense, especially after Israel’s request for Russia’s help to keep Iran away from its borders with Syria, as Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman asked Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on May 31. And after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who owes his endurance to Russia, urged in an interview with RT on the same day that the U.S. should leave Syria and the SDF should either talk to Damascus or should expect to be asked to leave from northeastern Syria, which it holds with the help of the U.S.
The U.S. priority in Syria right now is not only to defeat ISIL, but also to neutralize Iranian influence, as it has been said by officials. Israel’s security complaints about pro-Iran military groups posing threat to areas on its border with Syria are another major concern for the Donald Trump administration. That’s why there are those in Israeli political circles liking the idea of the establishment of a Kurdish (in this case the PKK) controlled region in Syria/Iraq as a buffer zone between them and Iran. But it was the U.S. which led the Iranian influence to expand in the region following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the toppling of its dictator Saddam Hussein.
Coming back to the second and third questions, the PKK had been based in Syria and Syria-controlled parts of Lebanon between 1982 and 1998 to carry out its war against Turkey with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state. In 1998, then Turkish President Süleyman Demirel threatened Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current one, with war. With the assistance of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and then Iranian President Muhammad Hatemi, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was expelled from Syria. Öcalan tried to seek refuge in Russia, Greece and Italy but after a Presidential Directive by then U.S. President Bill Clinton, he was arrested by the Turkish intelligence organization MİT with the help of the CIA after he was forced to leave the Greek Embassy in Kenya, where he was hiding in February 1999, to be sentenced to life imprisonment in Turkey.
To cut the long story short, the PKK, or if you like to call it the YPG or SDF, has a history with the Baathist regime in Syria. The PKK’s headquarters is not in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, which is next to the Turkish and Iranian borders. Will the PKK chiefs prefer to stick with the U.S. and hope to be given a land in Iraq and Syria (since Iran and Turkey could be more difficult) or go back to its former alliance: to Damascus? On May 31, as his defense minister was hosting the Israeli counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his special Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. As the Turkish foreign minister is scheduled to meet with his American host Mike Pompeo on June 4 to discuss Syria and mainly YPG issues, it is not hard to guess that similar issues, including Iran’s existence in Syria and pressure from Israel, will be mentioned. With a number of political rifts with its long-time NATO ally the U.S., Turkey has been in strategic connections with Russia, namely a gas pipeline to Europe, a nuclear power plant and the recent purchase of the Russian air defense S-400 systems.
The outlook seems really complicated, doesn’t it?