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Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-03-22
These were: Russian Defense Minister General Sergey Shoigu and before him, the Iranian Army's Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri and the Iraqi Army's Chief of Staff General 'Othman al-Ghanmi. Shoigu was on a mission that was both linked to and separate from that of the Iraqi and Iranian generals. The latter held a series of meetings, hosted by Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Ayyoub.
So, what called for the visit of such a large number of generals and army commanders to Syria? And what can we expect from all this in the coming days?
The war on ISIS and its sister organizations is the most important common denominator between these four parties. Their visits and meetings coincided with Syria's entry into the 'post-ISIS phase' with the end of ISIS's control of al-Baghouz in Northeastern Syria. ISIS is finished as a strategic/military threat, even if it survives as a security threat in Syria, Iraq, and beyond.
However, more importantly, the terrorist current in the region and the world cannot be reduced to ISIS. Other organizations similar to ISIS are in control of Idlib and its surroundings. These pose a threat to the very heart of 'useful Syria,' as well as to [Russia's] Hmeimim Airbase. And there are other terrorists of the same ilk striking inside Iran. The 'Adl Army, for example, is similar to the other terrorist organizations that have struck in Syria and Iraq, and has similar relations, alliances, and extensions.
For all these four parties, it is of extreme importance to know where ISIS's fighters will head to after al-Baghouz, especially in light of reports concerning a 'coordinated intelligence operation' for transferring some of its most hardened and deeply experienced fighters to Iran's borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan to target Iran, as well as facilitating their deployment in the Syrian/Iraqi Badiya where they would be in charge of 'blocking the highway between Tehran and Beirut,' on the one hand, and would pin down the Syrian army and its allies, and perhaps the PMU (largely Shiite Iraqi] Popular Mobilization Units) at some later stage, on the other.
Russia and Syria, with Iran behind them, give maximum priority to purging Idlib and its environs of the Nusra 'emirate' and its fighters. For them, this is a priority that takes precedence over retaking the area East of the Euphrates and the disagreement with Turkey over the safe zone. Iraq is not a party to this rapidly approaching battle, and General Ghanmi has nothing to say or propose to the operations room that has carefully begun to prepare the scenarios for 'liberating Idlib' in a manner that preempts the Western and Turkish fears. In particular, their plans will try as much as possible to avoid releasing of new waves of immigrants and refugees and reduce the battle's human cost, since that could impose political costs on Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran.
This raises the issue of the 'Turkish threat' and Turkey's plans to carry out large-scale operations in the Northeast. At the same time, Ankara is trying to prevent or postpone the operation to recapture Idlib. For its part, Syria views Turkey as an enemy occupying part of Syrian lands and that harbors schemes on other parts. But Iran and Russia do not wish to escalate the situation with Ankara because of their own calculations linked to the need to confront the sanctions imposed on them by Washington on the one hand, and by the two countries' desire to prevent Turkey from drifting back into the American lap again on the other. And Iraq also does not wish to escalate with Turkey, despite the trouble Turkish policies is causing the Iraqi government.
Contrary to what the Syrian defense minister said, and as long as the U.S. military presence East of the Euphrates remains in place, heading towards a military confrontation with the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units) or SDF (Syria Democratic Forces) is not an item on the table of coordination and cooperation between these countries, even if the U.S. preserves a merely symbolic and diminished number of soldiers there. Confrontation is not an option for Russia or Iraq, and I believe that it is also not an option for Iran. And without them, it goes without saying that it is not an option for Damascus either.
Specifying military and security priorities in the coming period is the aim that launched this 'season of migration of generals' to Damascus. Coordination in pursuing ISIS's fragments and remnants is an aim that unites the four parties [Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Russia].
And giving priority to recapturing Idlib is the target that brings them all together– even if with less enthusiasm in this regard from the Iraqi side, as explained above.