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February 9, 2017

THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS ALSO MY ENEMY: Battle to Retake Syrian City Turns Into a Geopolitical Test of the War.

The complication is that the advancing forces — the Syrian Army and pro-government militias backed by Russia, and Syrian rebels backed by Turkey — are sworn enemies.

Their simultaneous race to seize the city, Al Bab, has turned into a test of how a global realignment of powers supporting Syria’s antagonists could help reshape or end the nearly six-year-old conflict.

Al Bab, which had roughly 100,000 people when the war began in 2011, is the last urban area held by the Islamic State west of its proclaimed capital, Raqqa, where the group remains entrenched.

Russia and Turkey have swerved in recent months from outright hostility to working more closely in a diplomatic effort aimed at resolving the conflict, after fitful and repeated failures led by the United Nations and the United States.

But in the battle for Al Bab, Russia and Turkey must transform their newfound understanding into results on the ground, with the ambitious goal of pushing their Syrian partners into de facto military cooperation. Otherwise they risk creating a new flash point.

The coming days will show if the Syrian foes, who do not always obey their patrons, will work together for the first time against the Islamic State, or drive out the extremists and then try to kill one another.

The smart money should go on the latter rather than the former.