The US Treasury department’s recent decision to lift sanctions in areas, where the Assad regime has no real control, will largely benefit the YPG/PKK terrorist group, according to experts.
The US decision to lift sanctions from the part of Syrian territory which is under the control of YPG terrorist organisation has once again highligthed the convoluted foreign policy Washington pursues for the region.
The US Treasury Department issued a new directive on Thursday in which it removed certain business areas such as telecommunications, construction and banking from its sanctions list.
This basically opens the way for American and other foreign companies to invest in a vast swath of land in northern Syria that is controlled by YPG, an offshoot of the PKK, the extreme left terror outfit behind deadly attacks in Türkiye.
The US and the European Union along with Ankara consider PKK as a terrorist organisation. But the US has closely cooperated with the YPG to the chagrin of Türkiye.
Türkiye strongly condemned the decision, seeing it as “a US effort to legitimise the YPG/PKK” presence in Syria, according to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. "It's not possible for us to accept this mistake by the US," said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today.
While the US portrayed its decision as a move to help civilian life and promote private investment in northeastern Syria, the decision will likely benefit the YPG/PKK more than any other groups, according to experts.
“I would guess the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which consists in part of the PYD/YPG, will most likely benefit from the US Treasury's decision to lift sanctions in northern Syria,” says Matthew Bryza, the former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, a country which neighbours both Türkiye and Iran, where different PKK outfits have led to tens of thousands of deaths in the past 40 years.
While the PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by the US, Türkiye, the EU and NATO, Washington has continued to back its Syria wing despite fierce protests from Ankara, poisoning relations between the two NATO allies. Türkiye believes the SDF is merely a political guise to hide the YPG/PKK presence in the US-backed structure.
“After all, they (YPG/PKK) are the ones who are working with the US military forces. They are playing to be the leaders of Kurdish population in northern Syria. They are the ones who are in control of oil resources, which are permitted to be purchased under the decision by the US Treasury to lift sanctions,” Bryza tells TRT World.
While Bryza is not sure whether the main US motivation to lift sanctions in YPG-controlled territories is to further support the terrorist group, Washington’s move will likely produce “the outcome” of enriching it. The US decision will allow the YPG to sell oil products like gasoline produced in the region to countries, which are not sanctioned by Washington.
The US backing has helped the YPG take control of oil fields, dams and agricultural land across northern Syria during the course of the civil war.
"Private sector investment in these areas will help reduce the likelihood of ISIS (Daesh) resurgence by combating the desperate conditions that enable the terrorist groups' recruitment and support network," a senior US administration official said, regarding the Syria sanctions decision.
But Türkiye strongly believes that backing a terrorist group to fight another one can not be a good strategy to uproot extremist groups like Daesh.
"We emphasised once again that the fight against Daesh through terrorist organizations such as PKK/YPG will not be successful," said Cavusoglu during a meeting of Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh in Morocco’s Marrakech this week.
Is the US empowering the YPG separatism?
While the US has long insisted that its sanctions on the Syrian regime would weaken the Assad family’s hold on power, it has not produced the desired result. Instead, it has empowered illicit businesses and groups like the YPG.
Washington, which takes pride in imposing compliance of its sanctions, did little to stop the YPG from selling oil to Damascus during the war.
“Over the past years, the sale of oil to the Syrian regime has not stopped. Isn't this a violation of sanctions? Does the USA not see it?” asks Omar Alhariri, a Daraa-based Syrian journalist. The Syrian journalist sees a separatist agenda behind the US sanctions relief over northeastern Syria.
The US sees the territory outside of the Syrian regime’s influence, says Alhariri.
“They [Americans] are there militarily, economically and politically. Removing or changing sanctions is only a mirror of what the US is trying to establish in that region,” Alhariri tells TRT World, referring to alleged US designs to establish a YPG-controlled region in Syria.
Türkiye has long opposed the division of Syria and the creation of an autonomous or separatist region like Iraq’s Kurdish region in the northeastern part of the country, where a significant Kurdish population lives.
Ankara has secured its presence in critical border territories in northern Syria with its back-to-back anti-terror operations since 2016, showing its determination against the YPG’s separatist agenda.
Alhariri believes that by lifting sanctions, the US helps the YPG’s separatist political agenda. “Sanctions are only part of this big picture. It doesn't surprise us as Syrians what happens there. This is an area that they do not want to be part of the Syria we know,” he says.
Alhariri also draws attention to the fact that sanctions have largely hurt not the Assad regime but ordinary Syrians like they have done to other populations in different countries. “We see countries that have begun to normalize with the regime one by one without any effect of sanctions,” he says.
On the other hand, sanctions have made sending support to the Syrians by their expatriate relatives more difficult, according to Alhariri. “Even many humanitarian organizations have begun to face difficulties in their operations in Syria, specifically the northwest, for fear of sanctions,” he says.
US sanctions have continued over Idlib, a northwestern enclave under anti-Assad opposition forces, where nearly four million people live according to latest estimates. Many people in Idlib are poor and live in refugee camps.