Power vacuum in Syria and Iraq
December 23, 2019 - The U.S., Russia, Turkey, Iranian proxies and Syrian government forces are vying for control of territory once dominated by so-called Islamic State (IS), while the terrorist group restructures in Iraq.
Since October 6 when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria, ending U.S. support for Kurdish allies -- the 85,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- Moscow and Ankara have rapidly moved to fill the power vacuum. Three days later, Turkey invaded northeastern Syria, occupying land liberated from Islamic State control by the SDF, forcing some 200,000 people from their homes.
A Russian-Turkish cease-fire deal resulted in joint patrols, seeking to take over areas abandoned by U.S. forces, while Syria’s parliament approved two oil exploration contracts with Russian firms, Mercury, and Velada.
Russia has also opened recruitment centres in the northeastern Syrian towns of Amuda and Tal Tamr to build an allied force with SDF fighters abandoned by Washington.
And now, a report by Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq estimate that IS has regrouped and is about 10,000 strong with between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters, and a similar number of sleeper cells and sympathisers.
According to Lahur Talabany, a Kurdish counter-terrorism official, the militants have spent the past 12 months rebuilding its so-called Caliphate from the caves of Iraq’s Hamrin Mountains.
Kurdish Peshmerga commander Major General Sirwan Barzani told the BBC that IS now controls a vast area of no man’s land in northern Iraq.
“In the delta between the Great Zab and Tigris rivers we can say they are permanently there,” warned Barzani. “If the situation continues, they will become more organised in 2020,” he said.
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