Why the U.S. Shouldn’t Abandon Syrian Kurdistan

An Interview with Diliman Abdulkader, EMET Kurdistan Project


by Jerry Gordon and Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant (March 2019)

Syrian Democratic Forces and US Special Ops troops in Hasakah, Syria near Turkish border



President Trump stunned our allies and partners in the War against the Islamic State when, on December 19, 2018, he declared that ISIS had been defeated and that he was bringing the 2,500 US troops in Syria back to the US. In a visit to Al-Asad airbase in Anbar Province in Western Iraq in late December, the President reiterated his earlier public statement, but noted that the US still had 5,500 troops at the strategic base just across the border from Syria and could be used to ‘monitor’ Iranian activities in the region. That brought a prompt negative reaction from Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Iran’s Rouhani, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan ‘welcomed’ the prospect of US withdrawal from Syria. In retrospect, The President’s decision was a premature and impetuous action.


Patrick Shanahan at the annual Munich Security Conference told a bi-partisan Congressional delegation that the pullout of US troops in Syria was on schedule for withdrawal by late April 2019. That brought an abrupt adverse comment from US delegation leader Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rejecting Shanahan’s remarks, perhaps reflective of the consternation of fellow US lawmakers present at the Munich Security Conference. Subsequent to this clash there was a trial balloon floated by the Trump White House to withdraw the bulk of US forces from Syria, but leaving approximately 200 US troops, conditioned on the contribution of allies, primarily the French and British, to add, their own contingents resulting in a combined force of upwards of 1,700 troops.


This harsh reality was not lost on the Syrian Kurds. They had created with US backing a Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) of over 60,000 composed largely of Kurds but also Arabs and minority Christians in the northeastern Syria. The SDF had liberated with the aid of US air strikes and special ops troops in a series of battles along the Euphrates River in Kobani, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor province, retaking land held by the self-declared Caliphate of the Islamic State. Lands that encompassed upwards of 90 percent of Syria’s oil and gas fields and the country’s agricultural bread basket. The Syrian Democratic Council had effectively established a self-governing region with diverse leadership. The latter was reflected in the prominent role played by women both in the SDF and the SDC. The co-chair of the SDC, Ms. Ilham Ahmed in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal decision went to Washington, Paris and London seeking to further proposals for an international force and a possible no-fly zone, modeled on the one established to free Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992, to protect the Kurdish controlled northeast region. She was anxious to reach US decisionmakers to reassess the current plans for withdrawal. The SDF had lost more than 10,000 lives of Kurds and others in the defeat and retaking of lands occupied by the Islamic State and many Congressional leaders expressed the view that we could no abandon this valued ally. Ms. Ilham, a native of Afrin in northwest Syria was all too aware of what happened after the January 19, 2018 Turkish and Islamist ally’s invasion of the ancient Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria: ethnic and cultural cleansing, Islamization and ‘Turkification”. Erdogan’s demand for control of a so-called called ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria meant that most of the Kurdish in seven cities along the frontier would be under Turkish occupation. Ms. Ahmed was also interested in continuing the US presence in Syria to address the additional threats of both the Assad regime and Iran and its Shiite proxies.

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To find out the current status of efforts by the US to protect Syrian Kurdistan, US and Israel regional security interests Israel News Talk Radio- Beyond the Matrix invited Diliman Abdulkader of the Endowment for Middle East (EMET) Kurdistan project to discuss these issues.


Jerry: Diliman is most unusual. He was born just about the time that you served in the first Gulf War. He fled along with his family from Iraqi Kurdistan to spend seven years in a UN refugee camp in Syria. That experience taught him how bad it was under the Hafez Assad regime in Syria for the Kurds. Subsequently, the family was admitted to the United States. He is an American citizen. He is well-educated holding a Master’s Degree from the School of International Service of American University in Washington, DC. He is the first Kurdish American advocate for his people. He regularly can be seen going to Capitol Hill to deliver the message of why the Kurds are America’s most important ally in the Middle East besides Israel.


Diliman: Thank you for inviting me to discuss these critical issues. My role at the Endowment for Middle East Truth is Director of the Kurdistan Project. My core issues are the Kurdish issues. It is not specifically Iraqi Kurdistan or say Kurds in Syria, but it is Kurds as a whole, spanning all four regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. What I try to do is to educate lawmakers and their staffs on the Kurdish issues, the Kurdish plight, Human Rights issues and developments on the ground. We try to do this as best as we can, and I think we have seen some improvement.


Rod: When you say improvement are you talking about the openness for politicians to have a dialogue about the Kurds?


Jerry: Diliman, tell us about your background as a Kurd born in Kirkuk who came to the U.S. as a refugee.


Rod: What is the rationale behind President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria? This came as a surprise to both of us as well.



Rod: What is the danger of helping to establish a Kurdish government and a region under their control? How disruptive would that be to the status quo in the region?


Jerry: Diliman, this past weekend we saw evidence that it has been a tough slog completing the capture of the last bastion for ISIS in Eastern Syria at Baghouz. The dead-enders among the ISIS fighters are asking for something that has occurred before to be bussed out to Idlib Province under the protection of Erdogan. What does that say?


Diliman: Basically, that says what the Kurds have been saying all along that Erdogan’s biggest threat is not ISIS. Erdogan would rather have an Islamic state than a Kurdish state. Unfortunately, the Americans need to look at Erdogan through a different lens. This is not your friendly NATO ally that you are used to. This is not the same Turkey that wants to be part of the European Union. This is much different. They have changed their foreign policy. They have shifted towards the east and it is time for the United States to realize this and pick their allies for what they are. It doesn’t look like that is Turkey any longer, but that it is the Kurds. Erdogan is protecting a major Al Qaeda hub in Idlib Province under his control. The fear is that he will use these forces to go across East of the Euphrates River to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces.


Rod: Speaking of Syrian Democratic Force how large is this force and what have they accomplished?


Rod: Have they done this without heavy armor and artillery?


Diliman: Exactly. They have done this without modern weapons. Yes, the U.S. is supplying them with airstrikes. What they need, which would be very much helpful, are modern weapons to sustain their positions. Remember they are fighting other enemies. The biggest threats are Iran from the South and Turkey from the North.


Jerry: Erdogan is proposing Turkish control of a safe zone in Syria from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi Kurdish frontier. How dangerous is that?


Rod: And we also know that if they can get a chance to grab oil land, they are going to do that as well. That is a very good point.


Jerry: We also had evidence of Erdogan’s intentions regarding the Syrian Kurds given his incursion in the ancient Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Northwest Syria.



Rod: What percentage of your proposal is based on this no-fly zone? What do you think would be the major component?


Jerry: There was a recent interview with one of the SDF Commanders General Mouslam Abdi in which he proposes a mixed force on the ground of 1,500 troops composed of essentially French, British and U.S. contingents. Is that even feasible?


Rod: How optimistic do you feel now, Diliman—about protection for the Kurds?



Jerry: What do you think Putin’s objection would be for an area controlled by the Kurds with western allies?


Rod: One would think that the Putin would be happier with a NATO zone than a Turkish zone.


Rod: That was not news we heard at the time.


Jerry: Diliman, what is essentially the logistical support for a possible no-fly zone of the type that you were talking about in Northeast Syria?


Jerry: What is the Israeli stake in freedom for the Kurds at this point?


Rod: Thus, if we can help establish a safe zone for Kurdish self-rule, we could bring a tremendous amount of security to the region.


Diliman: You are right. This is the idea behind it. The Kurds have always been, have had the most success as far as security. We have protected the Christians who ran to the Kurds for protection. The minorities in the Middle East are being protected. Their churches are being rebuilt. Even Muslims are converting to Christianity under Kurdish protection without any fear. This is what the Kurds in Syria have created and what the Kurds in Iraq have created throughout the years as an example of what the Middle East could be. We should take advantage of that because the Kurds have done what the United States has been advocating for years, democracy in the region. The United States must just take the step of acknowledging this reality.


Jerry: Diliman, how representative is the Syrian Democratic Council of the Northeast Region in Syria?


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Rod: How much of the culture, mindset and philosophy of the Kurds has to do with their moral position in the world about wanting equality amongst religions and pluralism. Has that representative of the Kurdish people for centuries?


Rod: During the break I asked you who came up with the brilliant acronym for the organization EMET which those who are Hebrew speakers in our listener audience would know right away means truth. Was that on purpose or was it completely by happenstance?


Jerry: Speaking about advocacy on the Hill what has been the sense of your encounters with members of Congress about support for these proposals that we have talked about during this interview and how much of that is being filtered through to the White House?


Rod: Is there a website that individuals can go to keep informed of what is going on in the region and with EMET itself?


Diliman: Our website is EMETonline.org. I publish articles. We do fact sheets on each conflict, each region and each country as well. It is not just focused on Israel or the United States or the Kurds. It covers the Middle East from Yemen and Saudi Arabia to Iran and the Gulf.


Rod: We really appreciate your coming on to the program. Your focus is very encouraging. I really appreciate the fact that there is somebody there beating down the doors of Congress trying to get some attention and it is comforting for us and we hope that you are not a stranger to Beyond the Matrix. We would like to have further discussions in the future about what goes on in the region.


Jerry: What we heard during this interview with Diliman Abdulkader is that there is hope. There is light there in the context of furthering the Kurdish cause and developing an important ally for American and Israeli security in the Middle East


Rod: You, our, listeners can help us by sharing this program with as many people you can so that we can inform the public. You have been listening to Beyond the Matrix here on Israel News Talk Radio. Shalom for now.


Listen to the Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix interview with Diliman Abdulkader.



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Jerome B Gordon is a Senior Vice President of the New English Review and author of The West Speaks, NER Press 2012. Mr. Gordon is a former US Army intelligence officer who served during the Viet Nam era. He was the co-host and co-producer of weekly The Lisa Benson Show for National Security that aired out of KKNT960 in Phoenix Arizona from 2013 to 2016. He is co-host and co-producer of the Middle East Round Table periodic series on 1330amWEBY, Northwest Florida Talk Radio, Pensacola, Florida. He is producer and co-host for the weekly Israel News Talk Radio-Beyond the Matrix program that airs on-line out of Jerusalem.

Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant is the creator and host of the weekly Israel News Talk Radio-Beyond the Matrix that airs on-line out of Jerusalem. He is he Director of Education and Counseling for Netiv Center for Torah Study in Houston, Texas. He was a successful former Evangelical Christian minister, who advocates Torah-based principles for the non-Jew.

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