There were certainly good reasons why the U.S. chose the YPG as partners (not least Turkeyʹs unwillingness to itself tackle the jihadists). But it must have been clear from the outset that Turkey would never accept a situation where the Syrian PKK offshoot might gain a foothold along its southern border. This is why Turkey has launched military action against the YPG in northern Syria twice already, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening a new offensive for weeks. Following the U.S. troop pull-out he may well deliver on his pledge and carry out an attack.

In this situation, the Kurdish militia may have no other option but to seek the protection of President Bashar al-Assad and allow the government to return to Kurdish territories. "Facing a choice between a Turkish invasion and an agreement with the government in Damascus, the Kurdish group will certainly go for the latter and attempt to attain a form of genuine decentralisation as well as the integration of its own militia into government armed forces," says the German expert on Syria Volker Perthes.

The end of the Kurdish autonomy project

Kurdish YPG fighters at an outpost near Ain al-Arab, Syria (photo: Getty Images/A. Sik)
On a losing streak: for the Syrian Kurds, the withdrawal of the Americans is a bitter blow. In the fight against the jihadists, the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG have borne the brunt of the burden and suffered heavy losses. At the same time, the USA's weapons, advisers and air support have allowed the YPG in recent years to extend its rule over large areas outside the Kurdish settlement area

As a result, the end of "Islamic State" could also soon bring about the end of the Kurdish autonomy project in the northeast of the country. Assad has left no room for doubt when it comes to his plans to bring the whole of Syria back under his control. In negotiations with the Kurds to date, he has shown no willingness to grant them autonomy. Even though Assad wonʹt be keen to see Turkey occupying further areas of northern Syria, after the U.S. troop withdrawal there is little reason for him to fulfil the wishes of the Kurds.

So what should Europe now do in this situation? No one can be happy about the fact that after all the bloodshed, the person emerging victorious from the battle is Assad, the one who bears the greatest responsibility for the Syrian tragedy. But if Europe rejects reality, this will also be unhelpful: ultimately, Assad will not only remain in power, but he will also re-assert his control over the entire country. If the Europeans want to have an influence on the post-war order, there will be no way around talks with Assad.

Reconstruction aid as a means of exerting influence

Although it will go significantly against the grain for many, the Europeans should offer to assist in the reconstruction process. Neither the Russians, nor the Iranians or the Turks (let alone Assad) are in a position to finance the rebuilding of this ruined nation. Only the Europeans and the Gulf States can do this.

But they should deploy their aid as a way of exerting influence on the post-war order, linking it to strict conditions such as de-centralisation, a right to return for refugees, protection from expropriation and the engagement of civil society.

Not that the Europeans have any other choice: following the defeat of the jihadists, leaving the Syrians to their own devices in their ruined cities would be a guarantee of new conflicts and ultimately, the potential resurgence of IS.

Ulrich von Schwerin

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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