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Syrian Kurds, allies set to approve new government blueprint

Reuters , Wednesday 28 Dec 2016
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Views: 1819

Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies are this week expected to approve a detailed blueprint for a system of federal government in northern Syria, Kurdish officials said, reaffirming their plans for autonomy as Russia and Turkey seek to revive peace diplomacy.

The aim is to increase the autonomy of areas of northern Syria where Kurdish groups have already carved out self-governing regions since the start of the war in 2011, though Kurdish leaders say an independent state is not the goal.

Increasing Kurdish influence in northern Syria has alarmed neighbouring Turkey, while the United States also opposed the federal plan first announced in March. President Bashar al-Assad also opposes federalism.

The blueprint amounts to a constitution, known as the social contract, and is expected to be approved on Wednesday or Thursday at a meeting of a 151-member council in the city of Rmeilan, according to Hadiya Yousef, who chairs the council.

"I expect ratification because we have discussed the content with all groups and political sides repeatedly, and the draft was worded with consensus," she said in a written message to Reuters.

"We will clarify through the contract ... the means for starting the formation of our institutions and administrative system, and we will start preparations for elections," she added. The first elections would be to regional administrations, to be followed by an election to a central body.

The council, a constituent assembly which officials say includes members of all the main political, ethnic and religious groups in the area, began meeting on Tuesday.

Unilateral moves by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies have taken place against a backdrop of international failure to promote a political settlement to a Syrian war nearing its sixth anniversary.

Russia, Iran and Turkey said last week were they were ready to help broker a peace deal in Syria after meeting in Moscow, where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to.

Arrangements for the talks, which would not include the United States and be distinct from separate, intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations, remain hazy, but Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan, a close ally.

Iran and Russia have given Assad crucial military backing in the war against rebel groups fighting him in western Syria. Turkey has been a major backer of the rebels.

The effort to revive the diplomatic track follows the defeat of Syrian rebels in eastern Aleppo, and the full restoration of government control over parts of the city that had been held by the opposition - Assad's biggest victory of the war.

The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, has served as the military backbone of the autonomous Kurdish regions in Syria.

The YPG has mostly kept out of the war between Assad and rebels in western Syria, while expanding its influence as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance that has seized swathes of territory from Islamic State in a U.S.-backed campaign.

Some 30 million Kurds are estimated to live in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and in Syria. Kurdish groups have enjoyed autonomy in northern Iraq since the 1990s.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey launched a military incursion into northern Syria in August. The campaign aims to drive Islamic State away from the border, while also preventing the YPG from gaining further ground and linking Kurdish regions in northeastern Syria with a pocket of Kurdish-controlled territory in northwestern Syria.

Yousef told Reuters in September that the city of Qamishli at the Turkish border would be named as the capital of the new federal region.

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