Turkish jets strike Kurdish fighters in Syria, Iraq’s Sinjar

A U.S. military commander (R) walks with a commander (C) from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as they inspect the damage at YPG headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. REUTERS/ Rodi Said

Reuters, by Isabel Coles and John Davison, April 25, 2017:

Turkish planes bombed Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeast Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 20 in a widening campaign against groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

A Turkish military statement said around 70 militants were killed in the operations inside the two neighboring states.

The air strikes in Syria targeted the YPG, a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are backed by the United States and have been closing in on the Islamic State bastion of Raqqa.

The Turkish raids showed the challenges facing U.S.-led attempts to defeat Islamic State in Syria and risk increasing tension between NATO allies Washington and Ankara over Kurdish combatants who have been crucial in driving back the jihadists.

In Washington, the State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which were not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is part of the coalition of more than 60 countries.

“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on a conference call. “These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces,” he added.

Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants. “We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIS and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight.”

A U.S. military officer accompanied YPG commanders on a tour of the sites hit near Syria’s frontier with Turkey later on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, demonstrating the close partnership.

The YPG said in a statement its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s frontier with Turkey had been hit, including a media center, a radio station, communications facilities and military institutions.

“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG center … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said spokesman Redur Xelil.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish politician who co-chairs the political wing of the SDF, said they wanted the United States to provide aerial protection against Turkey.

The Turkish military said the two regions it struck around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) had become “terror hubs” and the aim of the bombardment was to prevent the PKK sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Kurds.

Turkish security sources said 13 PKK militants had been killed on Tuesday in operations backed by the air force in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Two Turkish soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb planted by the PKK blew up in Sirnak province.

“NEW QANDIL”

Turkey has regularly bombed the mountainous border area between Iraq and Turkey where PKK militants are based since a ceasefire broke down in July 2015. But Tuesday’s raid was the first time Turkish forces have targeted its affiliate in the northwestern Sinjar area.

The PKK established a presence in Sinjar, bordering Syria, after coming to the aid of its Yazidi population when Islamic State militants overran the area in the summer of 2014 and killed and captured thousands of members of the minority faith.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not allow Sinjar, around 115 km (70 miles) from the Turkish border, to become a “new Qandil”, referring to a PKK stronghold in Iraq near the borders with Turkey and Iran.

The presence of a PKK affiliate in Sinjar is also rejected by Kurdish authorities who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq and enjoy good relations with Turkey.

Five members of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are also deployed in Sinjar, were killed, and nine wounded in one of the Turkish air strikes, according to the peshmerga ministry, apparently by accident.

It called the attack “unacceptable” but blamed the PKK for being there and demanded the group withdraw from Sinjar.

Also see:

The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan

American Thinker, by Sherkoh Abbas and Robert Sklaroff April 21, 2017:

Now that President Trump concluded that the Syrian gas attack “crossed many, many lines” and reacted accordingly, he must formulate a battle-plan to convert dynamic “talk” into ongoing “walk.”

In the process, he should recognize that it is in America’s best interest to recognize Kurdistan as a sovereign state and to deduce how to proceed thereafter based upon the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.

Its immediate impact would be felt in the Pentagon, as it plans how to defeat the Islamic State, but its long-term import can provide a template as to how to remodel the Middle East to maximize the interests of the United States, American allies, and long-suffering Middle Eastern peoples.

And it would serve as the culmination of regional battle plans we have proposed for almost a decade: in 2008, we focused upon how to confront the major source of global terrorism, and in 2015, we demonstrated why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot.  In 2013, we simply concluded that the Kurds can lead a reborn Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors, and in 2014, we suggested thatNATO must help the Kurds now.

Historically, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was one of 35 treaties addressing the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire following World War I.  It was signed by the Ottomans, French, British, Italians, and Armenians.

Unfortunately, the Turks reneged after initially having accepted it, leading to its being supplanted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that officially settled the conflict.  It was signed by Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Great Britain.

The former advocated for a Kurdish referendum to decide its fate, which was to include the Mosul Province, per Section III, Articles 62-64.  The latter defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic.

Thus, the unfinished business created by the former should yield re-establishment of an independent Kurdistan in the Syrian-Iraqi region.  To accommodate the latter, acknowledged, would be a regional diaspora in Eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, thereby resolving presumed vague territorial claims.

Yet, following defeat of the Islamic State, the only superpower that could subsequently protect the Kurds (and Kurdish Yazidis) from Turkish, Iranian, Russian, and Syrian attack is America.

And the only way to prompt Moscow to act to oust Iran from Syria is for America to ante up and – functioning as a player who no longer is following from behind – to encourage implementation of a Grand Plan to end this half-decade civil war by creating key spheres of influence:

Russia would legitimize its military presence along the Mediterranean, while America would both provide a buffer between Damascus and the Golan Heights (in southern Syria) and protect the Kurdistan region of Syria (currently and historically heavily populated by Kurds) south of Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris River (in northern Syria).

Indeed, it may be the pendency of this Grand Plan that explains both why President Trump had avoided criticizing President Putin and why relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been delayed.

In any case, militarily, by introducing troops into Syria in conjunction withOperation Inherent Resolve, America would help create safe zones to which Syrian refugees could be relocated (from Europe, Turkey, and Jordan), within which they could be able to work with non-Islamists to found a country led by freedom-loving Kurds and to defend it against barbaric terrorists.

Two constituencies would have to become convinced of the wisdom of assuming this limited leadership role: myriad Kurdish factions and American public opinion.

The former would have to adopt a unified structure that maximizes its independence from foreign influences, and the latter would have to be educated as to how the United States would benefit from achieving stability in this volatile region.

Pivotal would be creation of a coalition government composed solely of Kurds who share Western values, thereby precluding inter-Kurdish conflict as occurred in the 1990s in Iraq.

Under American leadership – respecting “facts on the ground” – the pro-Assad YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) in the northeast would join with the pro-American KurdNAS (“Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria”) in the northwest to create a solitary administrative unit.

Positive public opinion could be mustered from Europeans (and their governments) to gain support from the NATO alliance, for they are increasingly recognizing that many restless refugees may be “overstaying their welcome.”

It would then be easier to muster domestic support for this limited incursion – already presaged by the presence of  about 5,000 special forces in the arena – behaviorally answering Iran’s “slap America in the face” threat.

This region would be contiguous with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq – that some feel should have become an independent entity after the Gulf War – and, thus, could subsequently become the Kurdish homeland envisioned a century ago.

Re-establishing Kurdistan would resolve the agitation of the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers’ Party”) in eastern Turkey, for the Turkish Kurds would constitute a diaspora that would no longer rebel against Ankara.

Sensitivity to this concern were reflected by delay in American provision ofheavy armaments to the Kurds, who are leading the assault on Rakka, until after the upcoming Turkish referendum, a posture that perhaps was enhanced by recapitulation of the demand that Ankara release an American pastor.

American’s military and diplomatic moves during the past fortnight – as also detailed at the DebkaFile – are consistent with these strategic goals, including U.S. helicopters having dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters west of Raqqa, and Secretary of State Tillerson having met with embattled Russians and Islamist Turks.

Thereafter, absent Iranian involvement, Turkey suddenly ended its “Euphrates Shield” invasion of Syria, and the Syrian army and rebel groups signed an agreement that will allow an estimated 60,000 people to depart from four besieged areas of the country.

Any residual Turkish resistance to this negotiated outcome would be resolved by providing President Erdoğan the corner of Syria that encompasses the Tomb of Suleyman Shah – who was the grandfather of Osman I (d. 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire – that arguably triggered his military to invade.  He would no longer feel compelled to purchase missiles from the Russians.

The exit strategy could, unfortunately, allow secular President Assad to remain in power if elected in a referendum conducted within a shrunken country, for myriad governmental and non-governmental militias would be left to determine the character of the resulting entity, including Christian forces.

Unfortunately, the Alawite-Russian bond has strengthened following ex-President Obama’s initial failure to honor his “red line” pledge and his ongoing blind neo-isolationism.

Kurdistan’s oil reserves and ingenuity – born of its sustained ancient culture – would allow her to continue to flourish economically, American support for this entity would undermine claims of anti-Muslim religious posturing, and the outcome could help resolve longstanding political conflicts such as friction between Baghdad and Erbil and conflict among myriad Kurdish factions.

Thus, at long last, America must recognize Kurdistan and, by serving as midwife for a new country, would defeat the Islamic State and obtain both immediate and long-term dividends.

Kurds would become the buffer for Europe and America’s allies in the region by interdicting Iran’s dream of creating a Shia Crescent to the Sea and Turkey’s aspiration to recreate an Ottoman Empire.  American inactivity would constitute a lost opportunity that might become irretrievable.

Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.  Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.

Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Why It Matters so Much in the Fight Against Radical Islam

Iraqi Kurdish students attend the first day of the new school year in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (Photo: SAFIN HAMED / AFP / Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Jennifer Breedon, April 19, 2017:

The recent rejuvenated referendum on Kurdistan Independence will likely draw a few questions from people. Namely (1) What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it? (2) Why does an independent Kurdistan really matter? And (3) Is it really helpful to have another independent government in the Middle East in an already volatile area?

What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it?

Becoming a state provides autonomy and self-determination that allow a government to aid their people, provide security to their region, build infrastructure, among many other things. Even autonomous regions within a state are subject to the official national government decisions and therefore cannot enter into alliances with potential allies. In this situation, it matters for the United States because the modern Kurds and the Kurdish government in Northern Iraq are extremely pro-America and pro-democratic freedoms.  In an age where the Middle East is constantly laced with sectarian violence, the Kurds are a secular governing force that rejects extremism. However, since it is merely an “autonomous” region of Iraq, they are subject to alliances of the Iraqi government and cannot be a strength of secular democratic governance that is so desperately needed throughout the Middle East.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 outlined the four main requirement of statehood. Those are: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, the capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states. However, meeting the Montevideo requirements doesn’t automatically gain independent statehood today. That requires recognition by the international community (and recently done via the United Nations).

The Kurdish region was officially recognized as semiautonomous in the 2005 Iraqi constitution following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, that region and the territories closest to it have become the only safe zone for refugees and IDPs fleeing from the wrath of ISIL in Iraq.

Why does an independent Kurdistan state really matter?

When I was meeting with Kurdish government officials in January this year, I asked this very question to Dr. Dindar Zebari, a top official in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Dr Zebari: “…you cannot have a success story within a failure story [Iraq]. Sectarian violence in the Middle East-and especially Iraq-will continue. There is a problem and that’s religious engagement in government and it holds all of humanity back: the case of Shia vs. Sunni. Yazidi, Christian and other minority communities will be under religious extremist governments because the ethnic cleansing under these governments will never stop. Kurdistan has been successful as an accepting autonomous region and our government has never and will never turn away minorities. Our constitution is based on individual human rights and not religious identity.

JB: What makes Kurdistan as a state unique in this region?

Dr. Zebari: We are unique in that we already have self-determination and friendly relations with many other governments. The only forces that have EQUALLY protected all the religious minorities since ISIS began their violence, are the Peshmerga forces. We have already delivered more for the rights of minorities and protecting from ISIS than many other independent states in this region even though we aren’t yet a recognized nation-state.

According to the CIA World Factbookthere has been voluntary relocation of many Christian families to northern Iraq” since the rise of ISIS. An article in the Council for Foreign Relations noted in 2015 that, “even while asserting their autonomy, Iraqi Kurds are still considered by policymakers as the ‘glue’ that holds [Iraq] together amid sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Arabs.

Today, almost all the U.N. refugee areas for ISIS victims are in or near the Kurdish region because it has been secured by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, since the Kurds are not an independent nation-state, they are not privy to U.N. practices in refugee camps, nor are they invited to talks on the humanitarian situation in the region. Additionally, when money is sent to the “refugees” and IDPs living in camps in the Kurdish region, none of that money goes to the Kurdish Regional Government because they are not a recognized state. The money is either given directly to the United Nations OR the “recognized” government of Iraq in Baghdad.  Considering that Iraqis have fled Baghdad for safety in Erbil and the Kurdish region, this seems to make very little sense in helping those that need it most and supporting the forces protecting the victims.

Jennifer Salcido, a humanitarian filmmaker in Iraqi Kurdistan, recently met with a small group of Assyrian Christians. When she asked them why they didn’t go to Baghdad for safety from ISIS, they responded, “Because they will murder us in Baghdad. We are much safer in Erbil [Kurdistan region capital].

Is it really helpful to have another independent government in an already volatile Middle East region?

The answer is 100% yes if that independent government is friendly to the United States, Israel, and secular governance including human rights and not Islamist sharia implementation. The Kurds have no sharia laws or desire to impose Islamist laws. They’ve been persecuted by Islamist governments for far too long and the modern Kurdish parties, such as the KDP, have adopted a secular democratic constitution.

Most Kurds are Muslim, but reject religious rule in favor of secular governance so that all religious people and ethnic minorities can have fair and equal representation. The Kurds have adopted secular lifestyles seen just by visiting the capitol city of Erbil where you’ll hear American music, see a booming economy, or have conversations about new business enterprises.  If you’re lucky, you may run into the Erbil Men’s Club. Kurds don’t identify as “Sunni” or “Shia” at the outset. While they will openly say what religion they practice, they refuse to allow their identity to be encompassed in the sectarian strife they’ve witnessed throughout the Middle East. They want no form of oppressive sharia law in their governance to promote the rights of women and minorities. In fact, Kurdish government mandates that 30% of Parliament members be women. I witnessed that firsthand and it looks a lot like the United States: churches, mosques, and synagogues side-by-side with equal numbers and mutual respect between all religious leaders.

The issues in the Middle East come down to proxy wars and one important differentiation: Does the country have a theocracy or a secular government that governs the people with basic freedoms of life and liberty to freely worship? The Kurdish government maintains the latter and thus makes their application for statehood a necessary element in upholding human rights and providing for a more stable and violence-free Middle East.

Jennifer Breedon is an attorney and the legal analyst for Clarion Project. Jennifer’s specializations are in international criminal law, Middle East policy and U.S. Constitutional Law. To invite Jennifer to speak please contact us.

Meet Iraq’s hipsters: Incredibly well-groomed Kurdish men launch clothing brand to prove Iraq is not just a country of war and terrorism

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country's reputation

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country’s reputation

  • Synonymous with constant, bloody battles with Islamic State terrorists, the men’s region has been plagued
  • Mr Erbil is a gathering of stylish Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first ever gentlemen’s club 
  • With snappy suits, manicured beards and sharp hairstyles – they are trying to change the way Iraq is perceived
  • The group are also fighting for women’s rights and have recruited an Iraqi popstar to help spread the word 

Daily Mail, by Gareth Davies, Feb. 23, 2017:

A group of well-groomed hipsters are attempting to change the way people perceive Iraq by giving it an injection of style with a new clothing brand.

Usually synonymous with constant and bloody battles with terrorists from Islamic State, their region of Northern Iraq has been plagued by civil war, but the pin-ups want to change that.

Mr Erbil is a gathering of Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first gentleman’s club and have done away with the traditional tatty outfits of the area and replaced them with snappy suits, perfectly-manicured beards and sharp hairstyles.

With around 30 core members and more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, the group is not only trying to make a statement with their clothes, but want to make a political stand too.

Dressed in Western-style suits, the men are attempting to promote cultural diversity, and are fighting for women’s rights.

Three days ago, they invited Dashni Morad – an Iraqi popstar – to fron up their Girls Inspiration campaign.

Along with a picture of the glamorous singer, they said: ‘A very young soul and a Kurdish girl who has dedicated all her time helping refugees, especially the children with the Green Kids campaign, opening two new Libraries for the Syrian and Mosoul displaced children in northern Kurdistan.

‘A brave enough soul to give leadership workshops to the Yazidi women survivors from ISIS.

‘Also known as the female voices of the World, the effort she puts for the humanity love and peace is so impressive

‘Keep up the good work Dashni Khan, you are making us proud.’

Not only is Mr Erbil a political movement, it is also a clothing brand.

The website is currently being built, but on its Facebook page, the company states: ‘We organise local and international – in the near future – trade shows and cultural events to promote the fashion system as the aesthetic expression and evolution of taste.’

The group have garnered a worldwide following with fans from the Middle East, Europe and the US.

***

More on Kurdistan region :

The Kurdistan Region in Brief

With a population of 5.2 million and increasing, the four governorates of Erbil, Slemani, Duhok and Halabja cover approximately 40,000 square kilometres – larger than the Netherlands and four times the area of Lebanon. This includes the governorates administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government but does not include areas of Kurdistan outside of KRG administration, such as Kirkuk.

• The Region is geographically diverse, from hot and dry plains to cooler mountainous areas with natural springs and snowfall in the winter.

• Foreign visitors are warmly welcomed. Among the growing number of visitors are international media and business people as well as those returning from the Kurdish Diaspora.

• Not a single coalition soldier died in Kurdistan during the Iraq war, nor has a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). With the cooperation of citizens, the Kurdistan Region’s security forces have kept the area safe and stable. Security responsibility was formally transferred from the Multinational Forces to the KRG in May 2007.

• The capital and the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government is Erbil, a city known in Kurdish as Hawler. The Citadel in Erbil is considered the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. The next largest cities are Slemani and Dohuk. Please note that Slemani is the KRG’s official English spelling, but it can also be found with other spellings such as Sulaimani, Suleimani, Sulaimaniyah, and Suleimaniah.

• The Kurdistan Regional Government exercises executive power according to the Kurdistan Region’s laws as enacted by the democratically elected Kurdistan Parliament. The current government, led by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, assumed office in the spring of 2014.

• Iraq’s Constitution recognises the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament as the region’s formal institutions and the Peshmerga forces as the Region’s legitimate security guard.

• The current coalition government consists of several political parties that reflect the diversity of the Region’s population, which includes Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Arabs and Kurds living together in harmony.

• More than 65% of destroyed villages have been rebuilt since being razed during the Anfal campaign perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

• The Kurdish language is of Indo-European origin and is among the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian and Pashto, and is distinct from Arabic. The two main dialects are Sorani and Kurmanji.

• The Kurdistan Region has 11 public universities and several licensed private universities. Some of them use English as the main language of teaching and examination, most notably the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUI-S).

• A new, liberal foreign investment law was ratified in June 2006, providing incentives for foreign investors such as the possibility of owning land, up to ten-year tax holidays, and easy repatriation of profits.

• To rapidly benefit from its oil and gas resources, the KRG has signed dozens of production sharing contracts with companies from 17 countries.

• The Kurdistan Region has international airports in Erbil and Slemani, with direct flights to and from Europe and the Middle East. A new international airport is under construction in Duhok.

The Trump Administration and the Kurds — A Conversation with Sherkoh Abbas

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President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria talks chaos in Turkey and hopes for Kurdish statehood.

Front Page Magazine, by Joseph Puder, November 16, 2016:

Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) in both Iraq and Syria have exhibited courage, determination, and a unique pro-American attitude in the Arabic speaking world.  In Syria, however, the Kurdish forces combating the Islamic State bravely and successfully are being attacked by the Turkish army as ordered by President ErdoganHuman rights activist Dilovan Mirkhan told ARA News (November 13, 2016) that “The Turkish army stationed on the borderline with Syria, bombed residential buildings in the Mosako town in Afrin, adding that the bombardment led to massive destruction in the area.” Mirkhan reported that “Dead bodies of eight civilian victims were collected subsequent to the attack, and many others remained stranded under the rubble.”

It should be unacceptable for the incoming Trump administration to allow Turkey’s dictatorial president Erdogan to attack the very forces (the Kurds) who are liberating portions of Syria from the IS. Moreover, it is also high time for the U.N. and the U.S. to recognize the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination.  The U.N. has held endless sessions in support of Palestinian rights and requests for statehood. The Kurds, numbering tens-of-millions, deserve much more from the international community.  There are 22 Arab states but no Kurdish state.  Given the critical role the Kurds are playing in liberating Iraq and Syria from the barbarism of the IS, the time has come to reward the Kurds with a state of their own.

Kurds have been oppressed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and gassed in Halabja. Hafez Assad, the dictator of Syria expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from the Al-Hasakeh region, with similar numbers becoming stateless.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has equally oppressed its largely Sunni-Muslim Kurds. It has denied political and cultural rights to its Kurdish citizens.  Turkey, where the Kurds count for almost 20% of the population, is currently bombing the Kurds at the Kurdish-majority region of southeastern Turkey, and in Syria.

This reporter asked Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S), to respond to the current situation in Syria.

Joseph Puder (JP): With Donald Trump becoming the new occupant of the White House, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, what would you like the new administration to do in Syria?

Sherkoh Abbas (SA): I hope to see the Trump administration abandon the outdated policy of maintaining the unjust legacy of the colonial Sykes-Picot agreement. Similarly, Trump should reverse the previous U.S. administration’s investment in cozying up to ruthless Middle East regimes at the expense of its existing allies.  Instead, the new administration should support its natural allies such as the Kurds in the Middle East and the Amazigh people (Berbers) in North Africa.

Supporting an independent Kurdistan would help finish the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and reduce Iran’s influence in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.  Working with the Kurds would also sever the Shiite Crescent.  Moreover, open support for the Kurds would check Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ambitious Neo-Ottoman Empire.

The U.S. under the Trump presidency, should provide full and direct support to the Kurds on all levels, including the delivery of arms, unlike the Obama administration.  Arms to the Kurds should bypass Baghdad, and go directly to the Kurds.

During the primaries, Trump expressed support for the Kurds.  We will call on him to do just that.  The Kurds share the same values with the U.S. and they are eager to work with America.

JP: What do you expect from the Trump administration with regards to an independent Kurdish state in Syria?

SA: Syrian Kurds are currently fighting on behalf of humanity in their struggle with the Islamic State.  As quid-pro-quo, the Kurds would like U.S. help in creating a federal system in Syria to start with, and ultimately supporting outright Kurdish independence in Syria. Israel, Russia, and some European nations are promoting a federal state for the failed states of Iraq and Syria.

JP: Are the leaders of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) ready for an independent Kurdish state in Syria?

SA: The YPG needs to distance itself from the Assad regime as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and work with all the Kurds, including over 5,000 Syrian Peshmerga forces currently fighting to take Mosul.  It must become inclusive instead of a dictatorial regime.  The YPG does not enjoy the overwhelming support of the Syrian Kurds.  The majority of Syrian Kurds want democracy and independence.

The YPG is vacillating between its work with the U.S., Russia, and the Assad regime.  The YPG has to face the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and IS, as well as other terror groups. The Arab Gulf states, particularly Qatar, is supporting the FSA, which is ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood.  Turkey, a NATO-member, is too close to the IS and al-Qaeda, and their agenda is to get rid of the Assad regime and the Kurds.

JP: What influence can you and the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S) exert on the powers that be in your home town of al-Qamishli and Kurdish Syria?

SA: Most of the Syrian Kurds are loyal to Kurdish tribal and civic leaders, and have strong alliances with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The YPG opposes such relationships, and thus is not a consensus organization.  The Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S) is aligned with tribal and civic leaders and the KRG in Iraq.  We could deliver the “Kurdish street,” and additional soldiers to finish IS.

This year KNA-S has assembled a wide-ranging delegation of Syrian Kurds, including YPG officials, to come to Washington for talks with U.S. administration officials.  Unfortunately, the State Department did not furnish visas to the delegates from Syria to enter the U.S.  Hopefully, the Trump administration will invite the KNA-S to re-assemble the same delegation for talks in Washington.

JP: Given Erdogan’s dictatorial behavior toward the opposition in Turkey, and especially toward the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey, what would you advise the incoming President Donald Trump to do with regards to Erdogan and Turkey?

SA: Turkey ruled by Erdogan is a lost case, and it is not a friend of the U.S.  Turkey’s intimate relationship with radical Islamic groups requires explanation.  Erdogan’s regime has its eyes focused on Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the formation of an independent and contiguous Kurdistan, comprised of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan.

The Trump administration should prevent the Turkish army forces from entering Syrian territory under the guise of fighting IS.  The reality is that Turkey is only interested in fighting the Kurds, and preventing the creation of an independent Kurdish state, or an autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria.

Behind the lines: Syria’s interlocking conflicts

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES commanders announce an offensive to take the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last week.. (photo credit:RODI SAID / REUTERS)

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES commanders announce an offensive to take the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last week.. (photo credit:RODI SAID / REUTERS)

Jerusalem Post, by Jonathan Spyer, November 11, 2016:

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces last Friday announced the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.  The operation was designated ‘Euphrates Wrath.’

Raqqa is the capital of the ‘Caliphate’ maintained by the Islamic State organization.  In tandem with the effort currently under way to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from IS, the loss of Raqqa would represent the final eclipse of the Islamic State as a quasi-sovereign entity.  At this point, it would revert back to the guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist force which it constituted prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

Conquering the city is likely to be a slow business.  However, the final outcome is not in doubt.  The Islamic State, whose main slogan in Arabic is ‘Baqiya watatamadad’ (remaining and expanding) has been in reality contracting since the high point of its advance in the autumn of 2014.  Its eventual demise, at least as a quasi-state entity, is assured.

But Syria is host not only to the war against IS, but to a series of other, interlocking conflicts.  And one of these additional conflicts pits the two main candidates for the leading role in the fight against IS in Raqqa against one another.

Observe: there is in Syria today no less than five identifiable conflicts taking place.

These are: Turkish-backed Sunni Arab rebel and Islamist organizations against the Assad dictatorship, western backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the Kurdish YPG) against IS, Kurdish YPG against the Assad regime, the aforementioned Sunni rebels against IS and, lastly, the Sunni rebels against the SDF.

The problem for those seeking to cobble together a force to take Raqqa city and by so doing destroy the Islamic State, is that the two eligible forces to carry out this action are the mainly Kurdish SDF and the Turkish-backed, mainly Islamist Sunni rebels – but these forces are at war with one another.

After the SDF announced the commencement of the Raqqa campaign this week, Turkish President Recep Tayepp Erdogan expressed his opposition to the decision, repeating his assertion that the Kurdish YPG are merely ‘another terror organization…a side branch’ of the PKK.

Following the SDF’s announcement, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met with Turkish Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar in Ankara. After the meeting, Dunford said that the US would work together with Turkey to develop a long term plan for ‘seizing, holding and governing’ the city.

Dunford stated that the US considered the largely non-Arab SDF ‘wasn’t the solution’ for ‘holding and governing’ largely Sunni Arab Raqqa.

A judicious reader will notice that Dunford’s statement doesn’t say that the SDF is unsuitable for the job of capturing the city, only for holding it afterwards.

The root of the deep differences between the SDF and the Turkish supported rebels are to be found not only in the soil of northern Syria. Rather, they are inextricably linked to the long insurgency fought by Turkey’s Kurds against a succession of governments in Ankara since 1984.

The fragmenting of Syria formed a historic opportunity for the Syrian Kurds, which they have seized.  The PYD, the Syrian Kurdish franchise of the PKK organization, established three self-governing cantons along the Syrian-Turkish border in 2012.  In 2015, against the background of the fight against IS, they managed to unite two of these  – Jazeera and Kobani.  On March 17, 2016, the ruling coalition in these areas announced the formation of the ‘Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava.’

The US has since October 2015 found the Kurdish YPG to be a formidable and useful ground partner to coalition air power against IS.  But the Kurds themselves, while welcoming the alliance with the US, have long sought another objective – namely to unite the three cantons, connecting Jazira/Kobani with Afrin in the far north west of the country.

From a Turkish point of view, the prospect of a PKK-linked party controlling the entirety of the 800 km border between Syria and Turkey is entirely unacceptable.  Since mid-2015, a Kurdish insurgency is once again under way against the Turkish government.  As part of the general post-coup crackdown, Erdogan this week arrested Turkey’s most prominent Kurdish politician, Salahattin Demirtas of the HDP.

Since 2012, the instruments Turkey chose to use to contain the Syrian Kurds were the mainly Islamist rebel movements of northern Syria, from the more moderate elements across to Jabhat al Nusra and possibly at one time also ISIS.

By mid-2016, supporting ISIS was no longer an option, and the rebels by themselves were too weak for purpose.  So in August, Turkey boldly launched a direct intervention into northern Syria.  ISIS were the ostensible target.  But the clear purpose was to bisect Syria’s north, rendering a sufficient area impassable that the danger of the Kurds linking up their cantons would disappear.

This process is not yet complete.  The Kurds are still west of the Euphrates, in the town of Manbij. And the crucial IS-held town of Al-Bab remains unconquered.  The Turks would like to help their rebel clients take the town and end any further possibility of Kurdish unification.  But here, in the usual labyrinthine way, other players enter the picture.  Al-Bab is close to Aleppo.  It is possible that the Russians have warned Erdogan that the town remains out of bounds.

But the point to bear in mind is that the process of coalition building against IS in Syria is complicated by the fact that two potential members of the coalition – the US-backed SDF and the Turkish army with their Sunni Arab allies, are currently engaged in a direct conflict with one another.

In this regard,  it is worth noting the yawning gap between the military achievements of the Syrian Kurds and their dearth of similar successes in the diplomatic and political fields.  While YPG commanders call in US airstrikes against IS, no country has recognized the Federation of Northern Syria, and it has received little media coverage.

Dunford’s hurried visit to Ankara reflects the diplomatic state of play.  Namely, that the agenda of a Turkish government, even one that openly supports Sunni jihadis, must be indulged. That of a Kurdish ally can be dismissed.  The Kurds may have little choice in the matter. But they should be careful not to find themselves quickly abandoned once Operation ‘Euphrates Wrath’ is done.

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All-out Turkish-Kurd war. Barazani goes to Tehran

5DEBKAfile, Aug. 29, 2016:

An all-out Turkish-Kurdish war has boiled over in northern Syria since the Turkish army crossed the border last Wednesday, Aug. 24 for the avowed aim of fighting the Islamic State and pushing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia back. Instead of falling back, the Kurds went on the offensive and are taking a hammering. This raging confrontation has stalled the US-led coalition offensive against ISIS and put on indefinite hold any US plans for campaigns to drive the jihadists out of their Syrian and Iraqi capitals of Raqqa and Mosul.
The Kurdish militia ground troops, who were backed by the US and assigned the star role in these campaigns, are now fully engaged in fighting Turkey. And, in another radical turnaround, Iraqi Kurdish leaders (of the Kurdish Regional Republic) have responded by welcoming Iran to their capital, in retaliation for the US decision to join forces with Turkey at the expense of Kurdish aspirations.
The KRG’s Peshmerga are moreover pitching in to fight with their Syrian brothers. Together, they plan to expel American presence and influence from both northern Syria and northern Iraq in response to what they perceive as a US sellout of the Kurds.

DEBKAfile’s military analysts trace the evolving steps of this escalating complication of the Syrian war and its wider impact:

  • Since cleansing Jarablus of ISIS, Turkey has thrown large, additional armored and air force into the battle against the 35.000-strong YPG Kurdish fighters. This is no longer just a sizeable military raid, as Ankara has claimed, but a full-fledged war operation. Turkish forces are continuing to advancing in three directions and by Sunday, Aug. 28 had struck 15-17km deep inside northern Syria across a 100km wide strip.
    Their targets are clearly defined: the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria and the Kurdish enclave of Qamishli and Hassaka in the east, in order to block the merger of Kurdish enclaves into a contiguous Syrian Kurdish state.
    Another goal was Al-Bab north of and within range of Aleppo for a role in a major theater of the Syrian conflict. To reach Al-Bab, the Turkish force would have to fight its way through Kurdish-controlled territory.
  • The Turks are also using a proxy to fight the Syrian Kurds. Thousands of Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) rebels, whom they trained and supplied to fight Syria’s Bashar Assad army and the Islamic State, have been diverted to targeting the Kurds under the command of Turkish officers, to which Turkish elite forces are attached.
  • A Turkish Engineering Corps combat unit is equipped for crossing the Euphrates River and heading east to push the Kurds further back. Contrary to reports, the Turkish have not yet crossed the river itself or pushed the Kurds back – only forded a small stream just east of Jarablus. The main Kurdish force is deployed to the south not the east of the former ISIS stronghold.
  • Neither have Turkish-backed Syrian forces captured Manbij, the town 35km south of Jarablus which the Kurds with US support captured from ISIS earlier this month. Contrary to claims by Ankara’s spokesmen, those forces are still only 10-15km on the road to Mabij.
  • Sunday, heavy fighting raged around a cluster of Kurdish villages, Beir Khoussa and Amarneh, where the Turks were forced repeatedly to retreat under Kurdish counter attacks. Some of the villages were razed to the ground by the Turkish air force and tanks. At least 35 villagers were reported killed.
  • In four days of fierce battles, the Kurds suffered 150 dead and the Turkish side, 60.
  • DEBKAfile military sources also report preparations Sunday to evacuate US Special Operations Forces and helicopter units from the Rmeilan air base near the Syrian-Kurdish town of Hassaka. If the fighting around the base intensifies, they will be relocated in northern Iraq.
  • Fighters of the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga were seen removing their uniforms and donning Syrian YPG gear before crossing the border Sunday and heading west to join their Syrian brothers in the battle against Turkey.
  • The KRG President Masoud Barazani expects to travel to Tehran in the next few days with an SOS for Iranian help against the US and the Turks. On the table for a deal is permission from Irbil for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to win their first military bases in the Iraqi Kurdish republic, as well as transit for Iranian military forces to reach Syria through Kurdish territory..

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