Wednesday,28 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Wednesday,28 June, 2017
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The US embraces the Kurds

The US has intervened to save the Kurdish militias in northern Syria, helping them to prepare for further inter-ethnic conflict in the region

The US embraces the Kurds
The US embraces the Kurds

At the end of April, Turkish artillery bombarded a military camp belonging to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Karatchuk Mountains in northern Syria, killing or injuring dozens of people. Turkey destroyed the camp, including its arms depots, triggering an unexpected reaction from the US that could ruin US-Turkish relations.

Reports from the camp reveal that most of those killed were members of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), labelled a terrorist group by Turkey and headed by Abdullah Ocalan who has long been in a Turkish prison. Sources in the area said Kurdish forces had evacuated senior PKK leaders to protect them from air and artillery strikes.

Turkish army commanders said that Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq had been sending weapons from the regions of Sinjar in northern Iraq and Karatchuk in Syria to Turkey to be used in terrorist attacks against the Turkish security forces.

John Dorian, a spokesman for the US-led International Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, said the Turkish strikes had been against “allied forces” in a reference to this Kurdish-controlled region of northern Syria. He complained about the lack of coordination with Turkey as a partner in the coalition, but said he understood the problem the PKK in Iraq and Syria posed.

Escalation along the Syria-Turkish border then began, and a state of high alert was declared. Mosques in Turkey warned against approaching the country’s border with Syria, the Kurdish militias in Syria vacated their headquarters, and fighters dissolved into the civilian population to protect themselves against a larger Turkish attack.

It was expected that the Turkish strikes against the Kurds would escalate, but the US, an ally of both sides in the conflict, contained the situation and restored the balance of power in northern Syria by sending in armoured forces to be symbolically present alongside the Kurdish forces in areas under Kurdish control.

The Pentagon announced that International Coalition forces began deploying patrols along the Syrian-Turkish border. The US said the patrols were “to de-escalate tensions between the two partners fighting IS” and called for boosting efforts to fight the group.

The Kurds then launched a media and social media campaign calling for a no-fly zone over what they call Rojava, West Kurdistan in Arabic, a large swath of northern Syria controlled by the Kurds. If implemented, this would be a no-fly zone similar to the one the US enforced in Iraq after forces loyal to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein were driven out of Kuwait, and it would mean establishing Kurdish rule.

The Turkish strikes on the PKK positions in Iraq and Syria were a message to the Kurds and the US. They were a warning to the Kurds that they should not contemplate being hostile to Turkey and must observe Turkish and Arab interests. The message to the US was that Turkey would never accept a Kurdish province in Syria, and that if Washington ignores Turkey’s interests in Syria the north of the country could explode.

US and Russian policies in northern Syria have been relying on the Kurdish militias, which are not welcome to Turkey or the Syrian people. The vast majority of Syrian Arabs reject the Kurdish project in Syria and view it as being in line with the interests of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Russia.

This gives the Turks and the Syrians a common interest in confronting the Kurds.

“The Syrian Kurds do not realise that the fact that northern Iraq had a majority of Kurds was the reason for the no-fly zone that gave the Kurds a political advantage. But the Iraqi Kurds were still unable to declare their independence and continued to be connected to the capital Baghdad. In fact, they were forced to have good relations with it,” explained Saeed Moqbel, a member of the Syrian opposition.

“The Syrian case is nothing like the Iraqi one because northern Syria does not have a Kurdish majority, but is a mixture of Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians. It is a blend of various ethnicities and religions. Any [Kurdish] solution imposed in that region will be rejected by the Arabs and Turkey.”

The timing and scope of Turkey’s sudden intervention could undermine the Kurdish role in northern Syria if it is resolute in expelling Turkish Kurdish fighters from Syria. But it could also be the start of Turkey slipping into the Syrian quicksand, luring Ankara into the hit-and-run war on Syrian territory which the Turkish PKK has always wanted.

Many Syrians believe that the Kurdish militias in northern Syria are connected to the regime’s forces. The regime has given weapons to these forces, led by Saleh Musallam, leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to use against Kurds and Arabs involved in the Syrian armed opposition.

The regime also supported the PKK against Turkey and other Kurdish parties in Syria decades before the uprising against it began.

The Kurds have tried to manipulate the US by taking advantage of its intention to become involved in Syria by calling for a US-enforced no-fly zone. They hope the White House will not object to a flight ban in favour of the Kurds while the Syrian Arabs are in a state of chaos.

The US “symbolic” accompaniment of Kurdish troops has forced the Turks to de-escalate and stop bombing the Kurdish camps. This will assist the Kurds in forging ahead on land and taking control of more towns and cities, chasing out IS and Syrian opposition fighters under cover of air strikes by the International Coalition. It will then bring them closer to the city of Raqqa, which many view as the capital of IS in Syria.

Under Musallam, the Kurds in northern Syria are building up intense enmity against the Arabs through policies hostile to the Arabs and not to the regime. This animosity has been shored up by the lack of inter-Kurdish criticism of these policies, which poses the risk of a civil war between the Arabs and the Kurds in Syria if the Kurdish militias continue.

The US wanted to use the Syrian Kurds to blackmail Turkey and put pressure on Syrians disagreeing with Washington. Turkey, meanwhile, is using the armed Syrian opposition factions it sponsors to fight the Kurds and blackmail the US.

At the same time, Russia is using what remains of the regime in Syria to boost its interests. And Iran is forging ahead in the pursuit of its Persian nationalist plot to destroy the region without a thought for these differences. Tehran continues to work on economic and social change in Syria, politicising Syrian ethnicities and sects to lead to confrontation with one another.

“Syria is one nation with multiple ethnicities,” Iyad Barakat, a leader of the opposition Free Syrian Army, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “We respect this diversity and have been happy with it for centuries, and it must be accommodated in all respects.”

“People must understand that the Kurds are walking towards their demise because of the short-sighted policies of Musallam. The Arabs refuse to see the situation in Syria with open eyes. The armed Syrian opposition will not allow this to happen. We hope the Kurds read the present and future better in order to avoid further conflict.”

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