After years of fighting, it was finally time to dance.
As their commanders on Saturday declared final victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the soldiers of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) unfurled their yellow flag atop a bullet-ridden building in celebration.
They danced the Dabke, a folk dance, and embraced, though with tears in their eyes for the loss of 11,000 fellow fighters killed in the long war against ISIL.
Mazloum Kobani, general commander of the US-backed Kurdish-led forces, appeared on a stage erected at the Omar oilfields near Baghouz – ISIL’s last enclave in eastern Syria and the site of heavy battles in recent weeks – and told the world that it was the efforts of the SDF that led to the defeat of the armed group.
SDF had freed “five million people from terrorism” and “liberated 52,000 square kilometres of Syrian territory”, Kobani said.
“We’re so happy today, we raised the names of our martyrs and didn’t waste their sacrifices,” Smako Shekaki, a Kurdish field SDF commander, told Al Jazeera on the phone.
‘Won’t forget our revenge’
The SDF is led by the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), but it also includes Arab and Christian brigades and tribal fighters, including members of the Shaitat tribe.
In 2014, hundreds of the tribe’s men were shot dead or beheaded after being captured by ISIL in eastern Syria.
Ayman Allawi, a Shaitat commander with the SDF, dedicated the victory to the mothers of his slain fellow tribesmen.
“We are so happy, and the fighters are enjoying the taste of victory, as now the atrocities and unfairness of Daesh are over,” he said, using ISIL’s Arabic acronym.
“We have lived bitter days because of them. The happiest are the mothers of the martyrs of 2014.”
Tamim al-Shaiti lost three of his cousins in the killings five years ago.
“We’re all happy for the defeat of Daesh but won’t forget our revenge even after 100 years,” he said from his village in Syria’s eastern Deir Az Zor province. “The blood of our brothers won’t be in vain. We will look for Daesh’s supporters and sleeper cells and bury them.”
Future autonomy within Syria
The SDF’s Kurdish fighters, the main ground ally of Western powers in the fight against ISIL, are now hoping that their military victory will help win them future autonomy within Syria.
US President Donald Trump has reversed a previous decision to withdraw all US troops, giving assurances he would maintain a limited mission in eastern Syria.
Nonetheless, following ISIL’s defeat, there seem to be fears within the SDF that he might again change his mind.
What is Syria’s future after eight years of war?
In his speech, Kobani said that while the SDF would continue to ensure stability in the area, by targeting ISIL’s sleeper cells in the post-war phase, a dialogue with Damascus leading to a political solution was necessary.
Last week, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened to retake SDF-held areas by force if necessary.
“We call on the central government in Damascus to prefer the process of dialogue and start practical steps to reach a political solution based on the recognition of elected self-administrations in northeast of Syria and acceptance of the special nature of the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Kobani said.
General Kobani also appealed to Turkey to talk and resolve its differences with Syrian Kurds, instead of “interfering in Syrian internal affairs”.
Aron Lund, a fellow with The Century Foundation, said the Kurds were in a difficult position.
“The moment the US leaves, if not before, they’re going to be sandwiched between a hostile Turkey and a hostile Syrian government, with ISIL remnants doing what they can to exploit the chaos,” Lund told Al Jazeera.
“So SDF leaders are trying to pre-emptively put a new security architecture in place, by asking for some form of autonomy under Syrian government auspices.”
Possible ISIL resurgence
Following the SDF’s declaration of the elimination ISIL’s self-styled caliphate, which at its peak covered an area across Iraq and Syria roughly equivalent to the size of Britain, a number of international leaders hailed the development but cautioned against remaining dangers.
Analysts and locals – whether Kurd or Arab – echoed the warning, sounding the alarm against losing sight of the threat the group still posed and its potential reemergence under the right conditions – including taking advantage of regional ethnic rivalries.
Lund, of the Century Foundation, noted that ISIL would look for “power vacuums and exploit every opportunity to stage a comeback”.
Meanwhile, Shekaki, the field commander in Baghouz, struck a chord of unity and said ISIL’s defeat was a victory for all the people in Syria.
“It’s the day when Daesh was defeated by the Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian brothers. It is a day to bring happiness to all of us,” he said.
Vietnamese envoy hails KRCS’ global humanitarian efforts
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation…
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation for the society’s aid to the Vietnamese Embassy during the coronavirus crisis.
The ambassador added that they discussed providing his country with aid to face the impact of the recent floods and landslides, considered to be the worst in decades. Sayer said he was pleased with the ambassador’s visit and affirmed that KRCS will continue exerting humanitarian efforts to aid those affected by natural disasters and crises everywhere. – KUNA
Pain, frustration: Expats lose jobs to new rules and COVID
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the…
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel
After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the government sector who were being laid off.
As part of its Kuwaitization policy, Kuwait is replacing expats with locals in the government sector. The government has also stopped issuing work permits to expats over 60 years of age without a university degree. These new rules have had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of expats in the country, leaving many with no choice but to pack their bags and leave.
Gulf countries are facing an exodus of foreign workers as the coronavirus pandemic pushes out foreign workers. In the midst of the COVID-19 and financial crunch, the National Assembly approved a draft law to slash expat numbers over the next five years.
As the budget deficit widens and economic conditions worsen, Kuwait is grappling with an economic downturn as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world. The combined shock of collapsing oil prices, the pandemic and joblessness is reshaping labor policies in the region, thus bringing anti-foreigner sentiments to the fore again.
While Kuwait’s expats struggle to secure their jobs, the government is calling for an increase in workforce nationalization in government entities. “Why will foreigners take the jobs meant for us (Kuwaitis)? They can work anywhere – but not in the ministries,” argued Abdullah, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti.
Buttressing Abdullah’s viewpoint, Fatma, an unemployed Kuwaiti woman, complained of the difficulty in competing with foreign workers for jobs in the private sector. “Foreign workers can work longer for less, unlike us Kuwaitis. So most companies prefer to hire non-Kuwaitis. This leaves us with only one sector (the public sector). I think this is why the government introduced Kuwaitization, so as to give unemployed Kuwaitis an opportunity,” she explained.
For Lyon, justice and fairness should override anti-expat sentiments. “It is understandable that ministries would give preference to locals for jobs during these tough times, but it would be fair to consider the efforts of the old staff who have put in their best to build this country,” Lyon, 61, and some of his co-workers who were laid off recently lamented, as they worry about their future.
Expats make up the majority of the population of Kuwait. Residency is tied to employment and Kuwait does not easily offer citizenship routes to non-nationals. “We have been here (in Kuwait) legally for over 20 years. It will be difficult to go back and start afresh in our home countries. More so, Kuwait’s residency is linked to the work permit – when you lose your job, you automatically lose your residency. I worry about my children who are still in school. The three-month notice will not be enough to relocate them,” Mustapha, an Egyptian expat who recently lost his job, said in dismay.
Abdurazak Hamad, an African expat, is in a dilemma. “I feel miserable leaving my family behind. I don’t want to go alone, but I can’t make my wife quit her KD 450 job since she is now the sole breadwinner. Starting afresh in my home country at this age (62) will be very difficult. I wish I can get a permit (residency) to stay here with my family,” said Hamad, who was recently sacked.
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