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Battle for the Syrian desert

Battle for the Syrian desert

Articolo tratto da Al-Ahram Weekly by Bassel Oudat

The countries involved in the Syrian conflict are now competing for control of oil-rich desert areas of the country, suggesting that they are drawing up further goals, writes  Bassel Oudat  in Damascus

Battle for the Syrian desert

All eyes are on the battle for Raqqa in northern Syria this week, where Islamic State (IS) group fighters are holed up, and the Turks, Russians, Americans, Kurds and Syrian regime are all trying to coordinate the fighting to match their goals in an attempt to take control of this important city that marks the military border with Turkey.

The forces are fighting in Syria because Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have now taken back control of Mosul in northern Iraq, previously the IS headquarters, and the US has decided to open a key military base to oversee Syrian desert areas.

Since the beginning of this year, the US has begun to become more involved militarily in Syria, not only by air but also on the ground, with troop numbers climbing every month. It has opened ground bases, the most notable being the Al-Tanf base which now houses hundreds of US and Norwegian soldiers and is being used to control the area from Palmyra in central Syria to the Syrian-Iraqi border in the east.

In June, US forces targeted Iran-backed forces attempting to penetrate the Syrian desert in order to establish a strategic route connecting Iraq and Syria and thus to the Mediterranean. Iran is hostile to the US intervention in Al-Tanf because it blocks the expansion of Iran-backed PMF forces in Syria, and it has responded by attempting to open a second route connecting Iraq and Syria between the Al-Tanf border crossing in the south and the Al-Qaim border crossing in the north.

Iran has sent hundreds of PMF fighters from Iraq into Syria and increased the presence of militias it supports in the area. It has also been able to create military outposts, alarming the US because they are close to the Al-Tanf military base and road between Baghdad and Damascus. Iran-backed forces have targeted combatants in Deir Al-Zor in eastern Syria, claiming that these were IS fighters as a pretext to cover up the advance of its forces in the region.

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