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January 28, 2020

Syria: Army Liberates Maarat al-Numan - U.S. Plans New Mischief

Today the Syrian Arab Army liberated the city Maarat al-Numan in south-east Idleb. Before the war on Syria the city had some 60,000 inhabitants. This followed after several week of steady progress during which two dozens villages were taken from the Jihadis who currently rule the Idleb area.

Southeast Idleb Jan 28 2020


Coming from the east the Syrian army crossed the M5 highway north and south of the city in a pincer movement. The Jihadis who had held the city fled westwards towards Kafranabel and Al Barah on the only roads left to move out. The city itself was taken without a fight. The map above does not yet reflect this latest development. Pictures by a Russian photographer show Syrian troops within the city. There is significant damage within the city from the bombing campaign that preceded the attack.

According to a BBC producer in Syria the Jihadis confirmed the takeover:

Riam Dalati @Dalatrm - 2:36 PM · Jan 28, 2020

#Syria rebel accounts seem to confirm pro-regime narrative of #MaaratalNuman takeover. 'Dear God, we're placing Maarat under your custody. Please preserve it with your care'. A repeat of #KhanSheikhoun takeover when #HTS evacuated during the night through #SAA intentional gap.

The move cuts off a Turkish observation point south of Maarat al Nunman. It is the third such point that is now surrounded by Syrian government forces. Earlier today a convoy of some 30 Turkish vehicles had entered Idleb governorate from Turkey. It is expected to erect a new observation point near Saraqib where the M4 and M5 highway come together. Saraqib will be the next target for the Syrian army campaign.

This advance comes while the Turkish government is hiring Idleb Jihadis to send them to Libya as mercenaries on the side of the so called Government of National Accord in Tripoli. At least 2,000 have already been deployed there and the total number is expected to reach at least 6,000. This is a significant reduction of the forces the Syrian army will have to confront as it proceeds with its campaign to regain Idleb governorate.

Meanwhile the banking crisis in Lebanon has hit the Syrian economy very hard. The Syrian pound further devalued over the past month and imports have become nearly unaffordable.

The economic trouble makes it necessary for Syria to find an understanding with its neighbor Turkey. Turkey has supported the Jihadist rebel in Syria since its very beginning and it occupies several areas in north Syria. Russia has been pressing the two countries to find an agreement and to end the war:

The ramped-up Russian efforts finally translated into a high-level direct dialogue between the two sides when Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and his Syrian counterpart Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk met in Moscow on Jan. 13. Despite ongoing low-profile contacts, the face-to-face encounter of the two represents the first high-level meeting between the two sides since 2011.

Aware of the fact that the Syrian crisis cannot be settled without mending bridges, Russia is pushing for restoration of ties on the basis of the 1998 Adana accord, which envisages enhanced security cooperation against terrorist organizations. The two spymasters are said to have agreed on a nine-point road map to advance the dialogue, including a goal to cooperate against terrorism, according to Turkish reports.

Terrorism to Turkey means the PKK/YPG Kurds in Syria which also fight Turkish forces within Turkey and Iraq. In east Syria the Kurds are cooperating with U.S. troops who occupy the Syrian oil resources. Turkey wants Syria to at least disarm the Kurds. The Kurds though use their U.S. relations to demand autonomy and to prevent any agreement with the Syrian government.

Neither Ankara nor Damascus seem yet ready to make peace. But both countries have economic problems and will have to come to some solution. There are still ten thousand of Jihadis in Idleb governorate that need to be cleaned out. Neither country wants to keep these people. The export of these Jihadis to Libya which Turkey initiated points to a rather unconventional solution to that problem.

The U.S. has still not given up its efforts to overthrow the Syrian government through further economic sanctions. It also pressures Iraq to keep its troops in the country.

After the U.S. murder of the Iranian general Soleimani and the Iraqi PMU leader al-Muhandis its position in Iraq is under severe threat. If the U.S. were forced to leave Iraq it would also have to remove its hold on Syria's oil. To prevent that the U.S. has reactivated its old plan to split Iraq into three statelets:

Nine months ago, a group of Iraqi politicians and businessmen from Anbar, Salah al-Din and Nineveh provinces were invited to the private residence of the Saudi ambassador to Jordan in Amman.

Their host was the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer bin Sabhan al-Sabhan, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s point man for the region.

It is not known whether Mohammed al-Halbousi, the speaker of parliament with ties to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, attended the secret Amman conference, but it is said that he was informed of the details.

On the agenda was a plan to push for a Sunni autonomous region, akin to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The plan is not new. But now an idea which has long been toyed with by the US, as it battles to keep Iraq within its sphere of influence, has found a new lease of life as Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence and dominance.

Anbar comprises 31 percent of the Iraqi state’s landmass. It has significant untapped oil, gas and mineral reserves. It borders Syria.

If US troops were indeed to be forced by the next Iraqi government to quit the country, they would have to leave the oil fields of northern Syria as well because it is from Anbar that this operation is supplied. Anbar has four US military bases.

The western province is largely desert, with a population of just over two million. As an autonomous region, it would need a workforce. This, the meeting was told, could come from Palestinian refugees and thus neatly fit into Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” plans to rid Israel of its Palestinian refugee problem.

Anbar is almost wholly Sunni, but Salah al-Din and Nineveh aren’t. If the idea worked in Anbar, other Sunni-dominated provinces would be next.

At least three large meetings have already been held over the plan, the last one in the United Arab Emirates. The timing indicates that the plan was initiated when John Bolton as Trump's national security advisor.

To split Iraq into three statelets the U.S. would control is a long standing neoconservative dream.


At the height of the war in Iraq Joe Biden publicly supported it. The original plan failed when in 2006 Hizbullah defeated Israel's attack on Lebanon and when the Iraqi resistance overwhelmed the U.S. occupation forces.

It is doubtful that the plan can be achieved as long as the government in Baghdad is supported by a majorities of Shia. Baghdad as well as Tehran will throw everything they have against the plan.

After the U.S. murder of Soleimani Iran fired well aimed ballistic missiles against U.S. forces at the Ain al Assad airbase west of Ramadi in Anbar province and against the airport of Erbil in the Kurdish region. This because those are exactly the bases the U.S. wants to keep control of. The missiles demonstrated that the U.S. would have to fight a whole new war to implement and protect its plan.

From the perspective of the resistance the new plan is just another U.S. attempt to rule the region after its many previous attempts have failed.

Posted by b on January 28, 2020 at 16:28 UTC | Permalink

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"The missiles demonstrated that the U.S. would have to fight a whole new war to implement and protect its plan."

I believe that is indeed the plan. You can't have a war with Iran without US troops inside Iraq (at least on Iran's actual border with Iraq, if not elsewhere in the country.) Since Iraq is not going to support a US war with Iran, this means the US *has* to go war with Iraq *again* either before or during a war with Iran.

Richard Steven Hack | Feb 1 2020 0:19 utc

What plan??!!

1. Trump has scant political justification for "fighting a whole new war" after the last resolution in Congress
2. More precisely, the murky status of "war authorization" and a vote in the Senate seemingly allow to do it regardless, but remember what kind of soft noodles voted against. They did it PRECISELY because the war is unpopular. It is one thing to hoop with joy that "a very bad terrorist leader" got liquidated, and another to cherish casualties in hundreds, plus headlines about damaged oil facilities, stopped tanker traffic etc. BECAUSE OF AMERICAN INITIATIVE.
3. The puny force currently in Iraq can defend itself up to a point, and use drones and other aerial attacks. If this force would be used "energetically", how much safer Kuweit bases can be than those near Erbil and Baghdad?

Bottom line: a war will ANY losses is a political suicide for Republicans, war without losses is not implemented yet, robot soldiers etc. Would the situation be different with 100k troops in Iraq?

Secession of "Sunnistan" is not easy to implement, there are no "local Sunni forces" apart from ISIS hidden cells, and rebellion of Sunnis in Iraqi military is a very long shot, in my opinion. That would be a hot war, and direct American intervention helping secessionists could trigger all kinds of repercussions.

Second bottom line: USA can maintain status quo using "purchased" Iraqi politicians and economic blackmail that Trump announced. But if they will use to to "project force", like with the murder of Suleimani, they would better have a ready helicopter fleet to evacuate.

One consequence is that stopping Russian flyover of Iraq for urgent supplies in Syria is out of the question.


On similar note, Erdogan will not stop SAA/Russia/militias advance, although it can slow it down by supplying missiles to rebels etc. Turkish planes over Syria can be shot down and allegedly, there was already a case of chasing them away. Erdogan plays USA and RF against each other, but that goes only so far.

I theorize that with a pro-jihadi constituency, Erdogan had to show some additional verbal effort.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Feb 1 2020 17:50 utc | 101

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