After Afghanistan, demands for the US troops to withdraw from Syria have increased and are being raised from several quarters. Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Iraqi president Barham Salih, speaking at two different events on Wednesday, September 22, raised the issue and demanded that all foreign military intervention in the region should end.
While addressing the UN General Assembly’s 76th session through video conference, Raisi emphasized that “the American presence in Syria and Iraq constitutes the biggest obstacle to achieving democracy and activating the will of the people” in the region, Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.
Iraqi president Salih, who is visiting New York to attend the UN session, also asked the international community to reconsider its approach to Syria and make attempts for a political solution to the conflict.
Salih asked the world, including the US, to acknowledge the fact that its present policy in Syria has “totally, utterly failed” with devastating humanitarian consequences that “are unquestionably too high and unacceptable, morally and politically,” The National reported.
Commenting on US president Joe Biden’s speech at the UN conference, where he had mentioned that the use of armed forces should be the last resort in a country’s foreign policy, Russia’s permanent representative at the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said that this declaration needs to be “tested in practice with the withdrawal of the illegitimate US forces from Syria,” SANA reported.
The comments by Salih and Nebenzia come at a time when US congressman Jamal Bowman has introduced a crucial amendment in the US’ annual defense spending bill last week, which, if passed, would stop all funding for the US military presence in Syria. The amendment has been supported by some of the Democratic representatives in the house, and is part of their larger attempt to cut the country’s massive defense budget.
Bowman, in a press release last week, had criticized the US policy, saying that “too many Syrian lives have been lost as a result of disastrous US policy.” He also demanded that as in Afghanistan, president Biden should stop all military intervention in Syria “as quickly as possible.”
The US has around 900 troops in Syria, mostly in the eastern part of the country in the provinces of Deir El-Zur and Hassaka. In complete violation of Syrian sovereignty, the US has also created a military base in al-Tanf in the Homs province. Though the US Central Command describes its military presence in Syria as training and assistance to its allies, it has often been accused of carrying out military operations by the Syrian government.
US occupation of Syria
The Syrian government has called the US military presence in the country “occupation”. It has often accused the US forces in the country of aiding the rebels in order to prolong the war and steal the country’s resources, including oil from Deir El-Zur province, using the conflict in the country to finance them.
The US had initially supported the rebel groups against president Bashar al-Assad’s government when the war broke out in 2011. US troops were sent to Syria following the ISIS takeover of a large part of the country in 2014. After the defeat of ISIS in 2019, the US mostly works with its regional Kurdish ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are seeking to create an autonomous region within Syria.
The war in Syria, which has been going on for a decade now, has caused the deaths of over 500,000 people and displaced almost half of the Syrian population, with at least 5.6 million Syrian refugees now forced to live across the world. Though the Syrian government has been able to take back most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, there are still rebel strongholds in the country’s north which are backed by Turkey, as well as SDF-controlled areas in the north-east.
Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Biden’s agreement last month with Iraq to withdraw all combat forces by the end of the year, there is growing speculation that the US will withdraw its troops from Syria as well. Earlier this month, Iranian media had reported that the US had withdrawn from some of its bases in the north-east, which was later denied by the US.