During the International Institute for Strategic Studies 14th dialogue in the Bahraini Capital Manama, Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State group (ISIS), took leave of his designated function by expressing unusual solicitude for Syria when he said it is “necessary for the Iran-Backed militias to leave Syria to ensure a stable and independent country”. The US presidential special envoy also said he is looking forward to promoting “mutual US-Iraq interests and for the Iraqis to strengthen their own interests and sovereignty”.
McGurk, who was directly involved in the formation of the Iraqi leadership (Speaker, President and Prime Minister) in the last few months, didn’t manage to return his favorite candidate Haidar Abadi to power and failed to prevent Faleh al-Fayyad from coming to power. According to private sources in Baghdad, al-Fayyad will be nominated as Interior Minister, a position that requires coordination with US forces in Iraq. McGurk clashed with Fayyad on several occasions when he unsuccessfully sought to limit the activity of Iran and Hezbollah in supporting the formation of the new Iraqi leadership in Baghdad.
The US is mustering all its diplomacy against Iran in preparation for unilateral implementation of full sanctions against the Islamic Republic, expected on the fourth of November. This is why McGurk is attacking Iran in Syria and Iraq.
Nevertheless, the new Iraqi government is reversing Abadi’s concession to the US: the new prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has ordered Hashd al-Shaabi (The Popular Mobilization Forces, PMF) to deploy its forces along the Syrian-Iraqi borders. Abadi kept the PMF away from borders where the US forces are deployed and where they occupy part of Syrian territory and the al-Tanf crossing between the Levant and Mesopotamia.
Washington wrongly believes its forces can limit the influence and movement of the Iranian and allied forces in Syria by keeping the Marines in the country. Iranian influence is well established in Syria today, following its unlimited support to the government of Damascus. Even in Iraq, the US presence failed to limit Iran’s leverage on the new government.
US concern is indeed justified: Washington and its allies have lost and failed to “change the regime” in Damascus despite seven long years of war. The Americans used all possible tools and pressure to no avail. US leadership used the “chemical attacks” excuse to bomb the Syrian army without creating any change on the ground. It has used also the card of the Syrian refugees, trying to block their voluntary return. It failed to keep the Jordanian-Syrian crossing at Naseeb closed to prevent Syria from recovering part of its economy. It is also keeping al-Tanf under occupation to stop the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of Damascus from the considerable trade between Iraq and Syria.
The US establishment did not hesitate to support al-Qaeda in Idlib indirectly – after its direct military and training support to al-Qaeda throughout the years of war – by launching a serious warning to Assad in case of any attack against rural Idlib and Latakia where jihadists are based, and Turkey has failed to dislodge them. Moreover, Washington is using the Kurds of al-Hasaka province as human shields to protect the US forces occupying the province. And last but not least, the US is using the UN to try and alter the Syrian constitution, a move only the Syrian parliament can do.
All the above didn’t stop McGurk from calling for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces “to ensure a stable and independent Syria”. The US envoy forgot that the US forces were never invited to Syria and are considered an occupation force. Moreover, it is Damascus who asked for Iran’s support against the jihadists when the US and its allies (Saudi Arabia and Turkey) allowed a free passage to these hoping to create a fail state. Therefore, it is not up to Washington – nor to Moscow, as Russian officials have reiterated – to seek the withdrawal of any non-Syrian forces from the Levant.
During the seven years of war, the US never ever aimed for the stability of Syria nor did it work in harmony with the “interests of the people”. Νo Syrian institution gave the right and freedom to the US to speak on its behalf. US forces are blocking al-Tanf crossing in order to impoverish the Syrian population. The US has protected ISIS in the north-east enclave without destroying the jihadists. Not only that, ISIS attacked, imprisoned and killed dozens of the Kurds acting as US proxies in north-east Syria who allowed ISIS to move in and occupy areas around Hajin. When units of the Syria army looking to combat ISIS moved hundreds of meters east of the Euphrates into an ISIS-controlled area a few months ago, the US destroyed them, thereby supporting ISIS’s ongoing presence in the region.
The US establishment is in denial. It has not come to terms with its defeat in Iraq and Syria. Today, it is moving unilaterally against Iran to implement further sanctions that can certainly harm the Iranian economy. Nevertheless, the Americans will not be able to uproot the Iranian ideology that has taken root in Iraq and Syria precisely because of the failed US foreign policy and regime change strategy that was meant to protect its hegemony and dominance in the Middle East.