Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kurds Plan to Declare a Federal Region in Northern Syria

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kurds Plan to Declare a Federal Region in Northern Syria

Article excerpt

BEIRUT * Syrian Kurds are preparing a plan to declare a federal region in the area they control across northern Syria, saying Wednesday it is a model for a more decentralized government in which all ethnic groups would be represented.

The idea was promptly dismissed by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels who oppose him, both fearing it would lead to a partition of the country.

Turkey also opposes it, wary of the Kurdish influence in the border region of northern Syria and its effect on its own Kurdish minority.

But Ahmad Araj, a Kurdish official in northern Syria, insisted that a federal system containing such a region, which would in effect combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas, is in fact meant to preserve national unity and prevent Syria from breaking up along sectarian lines.

"After all the blood that has been spilled, Syrians will not accept anything less than decentralization," Araj said.

By making the announcement as U.N.-sponsored peace negotiations take place in Geneva, Syria's main Kurdish faction was trying to become a player in whatever central government emerges. The faction has been excluded from the talks.

The idea of a federal region appears to have gained some traction lately. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week said such a federal system is one possible option if the Syrian people agree to it. The U.S. also has been an ardent supporter of the Kurds in the region, helping them navigate the delicate rivalries in Iraq after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the U.S. opposes declarations of autonomous federal zones prior to a negotiated political resolution in Syria.

"We're focused on advancing a negotiated political transition toward an inclusive government that is capable of serving the interests of all the Syrian people," Toner said. …

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