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Russia And Turkey Reach Deal To Force Out Kurds In Northern Syria


We're following some dramatic developments in Syria, two weeks after the United States announced it would withdraw troops, which in turn paved the way for a Turkish invasion. Last night a U.S.-brokered cease-fire between Turkey and Kurdish Syrian forces expired, and that threw the ball to Turkey and Russia. The leaders of those two countries have now agreed on a plan that would replace American patrols near the border with Russian ones. NPR's Jane Arraf is in Iraq and has been following all of this. Good morning, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: OK. So explain exactly what this Russia-Turkey agreement could mean here.

ARRAF: Well, three main things. The first is loss of territory for the Syrian Kurds who had been U.S. allies in that fight against ISIS and possibly even the beginning of the end of their autonomous region that they created in northeast Syria. It also allows Turkey to expand the zone it wants to clear of Syrian Kurdish fighters near its border. That territory they're demanding those fighters pull out of, it's much bigger than the one in the agreement brokered by the U.S. And finally, it gives Russia quite a lot more power, as Russia moves into the vacuum that was created by the withdrawal of those U.S. troops.

GREENE: What's the reaction so far, I mean, especially among some of the powers you're talking about who are involved here?

ARRAF: Well, the U.S., of course, is billing this as a success because the fighting has stopped. But there is profound concern in Washington and a lot of other places over abandoning an ally. Those Syrian Kurdish forces lost more than 10,000 fighters battling ISIS. Syrian Kurdish officials are still looking at what is really quite a vague agreement. Now, they're caught between the Syrian regime, Russia and Turkey, which sees a lot of them as terrorists. So there's a lot to absorb there.

Seven years ago, they created this Kurdish-led secular, multiethnic autonomous region in northeast Syria. Iran - they seem happy. The foreign ministry this morning said it was a positive step to stability in the country. And in a significant sign of the fear of those living in the Syrian Kurdish areas, another 1,200 people crossed the border over into Iraq early this morning, most of them so desperate to leave that they traveled at night with smugglers, and that now makes more than 8,000 recent new refugees in Iraq.

GREENE: And that's where you are, right? I mean, you're in Iraq, which is where the U.S. defense secretary, Mark Esper, arrived, in Baghdad, this morning. And this is where the Trump administration has been planning to relocate troops that it has withdrawn from Syria, right? But that sounds like that might be more complicated.

ARRAF: Absolutely. So the defense secretary said a few days ago that, basically, the troops that we've seen coming across the border from Syria into Iraq would be sent to a base in west Iraq. But he spoke too soon, it seems, because the Iraqi government put out a statement saying that while those troops had the permission to transit, they did not have permission to stay. It doesn't really seem that there was a lot of consultation there. So yesterday in Saudi Arabia, he said that he would come to - he would come and speak with the Iraqi defense minister, and that's what he's doing today.

There's also another hitch there because the U.S. has said it plans to keep a few troops in northeast Syria, both at a base near Jordan and also to protect oil installations. But Russia said this morning that those oil installations need to be controlled by the Syrian government.

GREENE: NPR's Jane Arraf following all of this for us. Jane, thanks.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.