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How France could help save the Syrian Kurds

By Paul Iddon 25/12/2018
The Eiffel tower lit up with the French tricolour and motto of Paris - fluctuat nec mergitur – ‘meaning she is tossed by the waves but doesn’t sink,’ in tribute to victims of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks. File photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
The Eiffel tower lit up with the French tricolour and motto of Paris - fluctuat nec mergitur – ‘meaning she is tossed by the waves but doesn’t sink,’ in tribute to victims of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks. File photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
Following US President Donald Trump's shocking announcement that he is pulling all US troops out of Syria in the near future, the one country that gave the Syrian Kurds some immediate much-needed assurance was France. This isn't the first time Paris has spoken up for the Kurds or come to their aid in their time of need.

When representatives of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) visited Paris immediately after Trump's declaration, advisers to French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly "passed on a message of support and solidarity and explained to them the talks France had with US authorities to continue the fight against [ISIS]."

The Kurds fear that a withdrawal of US forces will result in a major attack on the Syrian Kurdish regions, known as Rojava, by either Turkey or the Syrian regime. Furthermore, while ISIS has lost the vast majority of its self-described caliphate, it still poses a potential threat as a ruthless non-state actor which, if given some breathing room by a US withdrawal, could well make a resurgence and threaten the Syrian Kurds once again. 

France has given highly formidable support to the SDF in its various offensives against ISIS. Paris has, by some estimates, about half the number of special forces as the US in Rojava, despite having far smaller armed forces, and has carried out a large number of the coalition's supporting airstrikes to Kurdish-led ground offensives against the entrenched jihadists. 

For now France, along with the United Kingdom, says it will retain its military presence in Syria. So long as these two significant Western powers have troops in Rojava they could at least partially fill the security vacuum Trump's planned withdrawal will create in that region, prevent Rojava from being destroyed, and also keep pressure on an undefeated ISIS. 

If France can spearhead such an endeavour in the face of a short-sighted American withdrawal, then that will amount to another humane deed that the European power will have done for the stateless Kurds. 

Iraqi Kurds remember France's first lady Danielle Mitterrand's historic visit to their region in 1991 when Saddam Hussein's helicopter gunships were massacring them.

"That was my first time seeing a foreigner weeping for the Kurds," said Masoud Barzani upon meeting Mrs. Mitterrand at that time. 

"We have lots of girls with the name of Danielle Mitterrand," remarked Jalal Talabani around the same time. 

Those dire weeks for Kurds in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, and the initial American inaction, may well give some historical precedent for the present situation. 

Then-President George H.W. Bush had recounted Saddam's previous atrocities against Kurds when building his case for war against Baghdad to expel the Iraqi dictator from Kuwait. 

Following Iraq's swift routing from Kuwait and the subsequent ceasefire deal between Baghdad and the US-led coalition, Bush went fishing, as the Iraqi tyrant he had compared to Adolf Hitler once again began slaughtering Kurds. 

The late columnist William Safire, an ardent and eloquent supporter of Kurdish rights, lambasted Bush over this. 

"If a whole people can be decimated while the president of the United States goes fishing, no nation will put faith in US security guarantees," he wrote at the time. "When our troops come home to a ticker-tape parade, perhaps room can be found for a small float carrying maimed Kurdish refugees."

A similarly bitter description could soon be used to aptly describe the current US president's decision to prematurely withdraw from Rojava.

President Bush initially attributed his seemingly cold indifference to simple realpolitik. Nevertheless was pressured into intervening as the world's attention fixated on Saddam's unfolding crime against humanity.

Mitterrand's outspoken advocacy on their behalf proved decisive in ensuring the Kurds were not permitted to once again suffer and die in vain. Similarly, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then just a few months out of office, lambasted her successor John Major for not doing anything to help the Kurds and successfully compelled him to join Mitterrand in calling for a decisive intervention to aid and protect them.

As a result of these efforts, Operation Provide Comfort was launched, a military and humanitarian intervention in Kurdistan that saved countless numbers of innocent lives and also led to the creation of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. 

While France did pullout of the no-fly zone established over the Kurdistan Region and enforced by Anglo-American warplanes from 1991 right up until the 2003 invasion of Iraq, its initial intervention was decisive and could serve as a precedent for a similar action in today's Rojava.

In 1991, France was undoubtedly an instrumental country in establishing a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds. In 2018 Paris exerted its considerable influence into ending a different kind of no-fly zone imposed over Kurdistan which needlessly harmed its residents. 

After the Kurdistan Region's September 2017 independence referendum Baghdad reacted harshly by completely shutting down the airspace of the region to civil aviation in a clear bid to isolate and pressure it. 

French President Emmanuel Macron invited Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani to Elysee Palace in Paris, literally rolling out the red carpet for the Kurdish leader in a clear slap in the face to Baghdad's attempt to isolate Kurdistan from the rest of the world. By the spring, the needlessly punitive flight ban on Kurdistan and its people was finally lifted by Baghdad. 

Last April, Macron also sought to dissuade Trump when he initially suggested pulling American troops out of Rojava as soon as possible. It's therefore not surprising that the SDF sent a delegation to Paris immediately after Trump's latest announcement. 

Macron unambiguously criticized the US president's decision to withdraw by insisting that "an ally should be dependable."

"To be allies is to fight shoulder to shoulder," he declared. "It's the most important thing for a head of state and head of the military."

Ultimately, it's unclear how much France will, or can, actually do to successfully protect Rojava for the foreseeable future. Paris invariably says its military presence in Syria is solely aimed at destroying ISIS and is remaining in place there for now since the group is still not defeated – contrary to Trump's wildly contradicting statements. 

Macron also argued last April, following the joint Anglo-American-French missile strikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons facilities, that France and other coalition members’ "responsibility goes beyond the war against ISIS and that there is also a humanitarian responsibility and a responsibility to build peace over the long term."

This indicates that France is unlikely to pullout in the near future. Nor will it withdraw in such a brisk and haphazard way as Trump is trying to do. In the meantime its presence could potentially help shield the Kurds from more catastrophic attacks leveled against them by either regional powers or ISIS. 

In other words, Paris may well prove itself to be a valuable ally and friend of the Kurds once again.


Mr. Kurd | 25/12/2018
Another joke another lie. But those who wasted 2 years of their live supporting Trump and now insult Trump under different names because they are ashamed to admit they believed America are stupid enough to belive now that France is trustworthy.
logic | 25/12/2018
France is just running after its interests and they don t care about the kurds. Which country made the borders in near east and forgot the kurds? The west people are brothers and sisters and the kurds are not part of this relationsship.
Tron | 25/12/2018
the only real hope is china since it sufffered from the turkish mongols and european colonists as well and very well defeated both. france will stop their support after the turks staged one or two terror attacs on paris through their mosques that seems to be like holy cow for european law enforcement. beside all china is already big in anti isis and anti turkish fight. and the chinese could finally take revenge and put the west under big shame for its bigotery-.
The observer | 26/12/2018
Bravo Macron, bravo France. Shame on Trump, who shamefully has surrenderd to the Turkish despot who during the infamous phone call has threatened Trump with war and insulted the American president who at once got scared and cowed before the Islamist Hitler.
HBP | 26/12/2018
Trump is a Russian intelligence asset. His sudden about face on Syria and abandoning the Kurds to Turkey's aggression does long term damage to American credibility as an ally and protector. Terrible for the Kurds, the US and the parts of the world protected until now by the US security umbrella. Trump is using this stupid government shutdown to distract from the much more serious situation in Syria he's created. This is one of his best gifts to Putin so far. I hope France, Britain and the Pentagon will figure out how to protect the Syrian Kurds. -an appalled American

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