Middle EastPoliticsWar

Kurds aim for decentralized Syria in talks with government

The Syrian Democratic Council said on Saturday that it is seeking a roadmap for a decentralized Syria after meetings with the government in Damascus this week.

The SDC – the political arm of the U.S.-backed Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which controls more than 20 percent of the north and northeast, including some of Syria’s most oil- and gas-rich regions – said in a statement it had agreed to form joint committees with President Bashar al-Assad’s government “at various levels” to continue discussions, after talks on Thursday and Friday.

“The aim of this meeting was to lay the foundations for wider and more comprehensive dialogues to resolve all outstanding problems and resolve the Syrian crisis,” and to “chart a roadmap leading to a democratic and decentralized Syria,” the statement said.

Riad Darar, the co-chair of the SDC, told Al Jazeera that the council will pursue its goal of a new system for Syria in future talks.

“What took place was the outcome of an initiative that we took after Assad said that it is time for the SDF to get ready for dialogue or to fight,” Darar said. “We know that we are not ready to combat the Syrian government forces because our battle was against [Islamic State].”

“The main objective of these talks is to work together towards a new, democratic, decentralized Syria with a new system and a new form,” he added.

Darar said that no date was fixed for future talks.

Sihanouk Dibo, an adviser to the largest political party in northern Syria, the mainly Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said he expected the negotiations to be tough.

“It is still very early to talk of an agreement but we are working on it,” AFP reported Dibo as saying.

“The negotiations will be long and arduous because the Damascus regime is very centralized.”

Before civil war erupted in 2011, Syria had a highly centralized form of government which provided no constitutional recognition for the rights of the Kurds and other minorities.

But after government forces pulled out of Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, the Kurds to set up their own administrations, enabling them to implement longstanding demands such as Kurdish-language education.

The SDF formalized the new administrative arrangements in 2016 with the creation of autonomous cantons in areas under its control that it regards as a model for a federal system nationwide.

The Damascus government has opposed the scope of the self-rule sought by the Kurds but late last year Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said a “form of autonomy” was “negotiable.”

In late May, Assad said the government was prepared to open talks with the SDF but stressed that it remained ready to use force if necessary to ensure the return of government troops and state institutions to SDF-held areas.

Between them, Assad’s Russian-backed government and the SDF control around 90 percent of Syrian territory following major defeats for the rebels as well as Islamic State over the past two years.

Assad’s bluff may double as a gain for Syria’s Kurds

With reporting from AFP

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