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Uncle Sam vs. Russia in Eastern Syria: the Nightmare Scenario

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From Counterpunch

From youtube.com: Putin: Only the Syrian people can remove Assad
From youtube.com: Putin: Only the Syrian people can remove Assad
(Image by YouTube, Channel: Fox Business)
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The impending collapse of ISIS has touched off a race for territory in the oil-rich eastern part of Syria pitting US-backed forces against the Russian-led coalition of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. This is the nightmare scenario that everyone wanted to avoid. Washington and Moscow's armies are now converging on the same area at the same time greatly increasing the probability of a conflagration between the two nuclear-armed superpowers. The only way a clash can be avoided is if one party backs down, which seems increasingly unlikely.

The situation can be easily explained. The vast swath of territory captured by ISIS is steadily shrinking due to the dogged perseverance of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) which has liberated most of the countryside west of the Euphrates River including the former ISIS stronghold at Deir Ezzor, a critical garrison at the center of the fighting. ISIS is also getting pressure from the north where the US-backed SDF is pounding their capital at Raqqa while deploying troops and tanks southward to the oil fields in Deir Ezzor province.

Washington has made it clear that it wants its proxy-army to control the area east of the Euphrates establishing a soft partition between east and west. The US also wants to control Deir Ezzor's vast oil resources in order to provide a reliable revenue stream for the emergent Kurdish statelet.

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Syrian President Bashar al Assad has said many times that he will never agree to the partitioning of the country. But the decision will not be made by Assad alone. His coalition partners in Moscow, Beirut and Tehran will also help shape the final settlement. As far as Putin is concerned, it seems extremely unlikely that he'd risk a protracted and bloody war with the United States simply to recapture every square inch of Syrian territory. The Russian president will probably allow the US to keep its bases in the northeast provided that critical areas are conceded to the regime. But where will the line be drawn? That's the question.

The US wants to control the area east of the Euphrates including the lucrative oil fields. This is why they deployed troops from the SDF southward even though they're still needed in Raqqa. Earlier in the week, it looked like the Syrian Army had a leg up on the SDF as troops and armored vehicles crossed the Euphrates headed east to the oil fields. But reports that appeared late Thursday indicate that the SDF has beaten them to the punch. This is from South Front:

"On Thursday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ...captured Tabiyeh and al-Isba oil fields in the northwestern Deir Ezzor countryside, according to pro-Kurdish sources. ... If these reports are confirmed, the SDF will be in control over a half of Syria's oil reserve. Moreover, that will mean that the SDF at least partly blocked the SAA way on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river." ("Syrian Democratic Forces Capture Key Oil Fields In Deir Ezzor," South Front)

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This is a major setback for the Russian coalition. It means that the SAA backed by the Russian Airforce will have to fight a group which, up to this point, has been an ally in the war against ISIS. Now it's clear that the mainly-Kurdish SDF is no ally, it's an enemy that wants to steal Syria's resources and carve a state out of its eastern flank.

The news about the SDF's arrival at the oil fields came just hours after the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov issued a terse warning to the US and SDF that Russia would retaliate if SAA positions were attacked again by SDF mortar or rocket fire.

Quote: "Russia unequivocally told the commanders of US forces in Al Udeid Airbase (Qatar) that it will not tolerate any shelling from the areas where the SDF are stationed (") Fire from positions in regions [controlled by the SDF] will be suppressed by all means necessary."

In retrospect, it looks like the SDF had already decided to make a clean break with the government leaving no doubt of where they stood. Washington is using the SDF to seize the oil fields and to claim the entire east side of the Euphrates for its own. There's no doubt that these combat units of the SDF are accompanied by US Special Forces who are providing critical communications, logistic and tactical support. This operation has Washington's fingerprints all over it.

On Friday morning, loyalist forces led by the 5th Assault Corps ISIS Hunters, established full control over Khusham village on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River near Deir Ezzor city. The strategically-located village blocks a key road linking the area held by the SDF to the Omar oil fields.

Get the picture? US-backed forces and Russian coalition members are now operating cheek-to-jowl in the same theatre trying to seize the same oil-rich scrap of land. This has all the makings of a major head-on collision.

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Putin is a cautious and reasonable man, but he's not going to hand over Syria's oil fields without a fight. Besides, Assad needs the oil receipts to finance the rebuilding of his decimated country. Equally important, he needs the territory east of Deir Ezzor to for an overland route connecting Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran, the so-called Arab Superhighway. Putin's job is to glue as much of the country together as needed to create a viable state. So while he may allow the SDF and US military to occupy parts of the northeast, he's not going to surrender crucial resources or strategically-located territory.

So what does it all mean? Does it mean that Russia will support Assad's attempts to liberate the oil fields even if it could trigger a broader war with the United States?

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.


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Michael Morrissey

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We need a lot more of this:

From commons.wikimedia.org: HandsOffSyria emergency rally & march {MID-166772}
HandsOffSyria emergency rally & march
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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Submitted on Sunday, Sep 24, 2017 at 8:32:01 AM

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John Rachel

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The aggression, the wars, the death, destruction, and chaos will never end without a decapitation strike in Washington DC. We can "demand" jobs, schools & healthcare as in the poster above until we're red, white and blue in the face, and they're dumping shovels full of dirt on our coffins, but those now in power WILL NEVER LISTEN because all that they hear in the Washington DC and national media echo chamber is war and more war.

Why is this so difficult to grasp?

We must topple the neocon/neoliberal regime in Washington DC. That is done either by force -- promising the most violent and bloodiest revolution in history -- or by uniting and using what's left of the mechanisms of our fast-disappearing democracy.

Make people pay attention! Make them demand an end to the military madness. Talk to the masses, not fellow peace freaks. We've got the message. We're on board! THE PEOPLE need to hear the message. Talk peace in terms they understand. 150-200 million U.S. citizens know they're being lied to, know they're being defrauded, know they're being cheated out of a decent life, know the future of their children is being stolen by a ruling elite that is greedy beyond comprehension, bloodthirsty and ruthless.

Let me be absolutely clear: I'm advocating that peace activists stop preaching to everyday citizens and start telling them THE TRUTH, a truth that makes sense out of the suffering they endure just trying to feed their families and stay alive. Is that really too much to ask, Dennis Kucinich and David Swanson and Medea Benjamin and Michael Moore and Bernie Sanders? How about you William Ayers, Glen Ford, Ron Paul, Ann Wright, Tom Englehardt, Amy Goodman, Tom Hartmann, Oliver Stone, Jeffrey St. Clair, Lee Camp, Justin Raimondo, Abby Martin? You got the tall podiums. Are we going to keep wringing our hands or actually do something before hundreds of millions -- probably we exceptional Americans are going to take some serious ordnance this next time -- die?

PEACE DIVIDEND


Submitted on Sunday, Sep 24, 2017 at 11:54:33 AM

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Roger Gilbert

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Reply to John Rachel:   New Content
Amen brother!

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 24, 2017 at 3:39:16 PM

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ThirdEyeOfTheStorm

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Live free or die, there is no other choice.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 24, 2017 at 6:19:51 PM

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Michael Morrissey

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I agree that what is missing is a coalition of all the people you mentioned plus a lot more. I've thought of just trying to make a list of "anti-war" websites but even that would be a big job. I think we need to get the individuals heading all these websites, plus all the prominent voices, to join together in a permanent, active "progressive coalition."

The principle is simply this: How can millions of people be expected to form a coalition, much less a "movement," if the individual leaders are capable of doing exactly that and setting the example?

Submitted on Monday, Sep 25, 2017 at 8:38:02 AM

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BFalcon

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"Putin is a cautious and reasonable man"

Submitted on Wednesday, Sep 27, 2017 at 12:56:14 AM

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