Iraq, Syria and the Kurdish Fingerprint

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Iraq, Syria and the Kurdish Fingerprint

We reap what we sow. Many countries did not pay attention to the fact that maps need constant maintenance to prevent them from aging and rotting, and that relations between entities should be continuously repaired as well.

The first condition of maintenance is to prioritize the notion of citizenship and to build a state that deserves to be called as such; which means a state of law and institutions, a state that guarantees equal rights and duties.

Discrimination against citizens creates a hole in the map; a hole that allows the infiltration of winds and foreign influence. The ruler believes that power can silence the people forever. He has forgotten that the balance of power can be distorted and twisted and that the oppressed can grab any opportunity to take revenge. Grievances can make them jump out of the map.

The ruler commits a fatal error when he gives power the last say and when he refuses to listen to people’s complaints or demands. He believes that he has an endless ability to silence them and that fear can make the wounded and the disadvantaged forget their injuries and the injustice against them.

The worst scenario of all is when the ruler regards a group of citizens as a foreign body that was planted by destiny inside the map, and when he believes that the solution is to abolish the features of this group, separate it from its heritage, weaken its language and force it to gradually relinquish its identity.

The call for holding an independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan region on September 25 has ignited the Kurdish issue. Baghdad opposed the call. Iran rejected it. Ankara saw it as a huge mistake. The reactions of those parties are not surprising. Countries that have scattered Kurds across their maps following World War I, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, can disagree over anything but on the necessity to abort the Kurdish dream of having an independent state.

Masoud Barzani is aware of this truth. It is clear that the referendum will not lead to immediate measures. Lessons have taught Barzani to differentiate between dreams and illusions. He understands that rushing to completely leave the Iraqi entity could make the province an easy prey for major players in the region.

It is widely believed that Barzani is hopeless over the future of Iraq as a whole, especially in the wake of the ongoing rivalries between the Sunni and Shiite entities.

However, Barzani knows well that reviewing the borders involves major risks unless it is achieved under an international umbrella that sponsors a process of such size and nature.

ISIS’ invasion of Mosul has accelerated the dismantling of the Iraqi entity. It has intensified conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shiites. It has also increased the distance between Erbil and Baghdad.

ISIS attempted to invade the Kurdish province to fortify its presence in its mountains and take advantage of its location on the border of three countries. The Kurds engaged in a fierce battle to defend their region. They paid heavy prices. The Kurdish leader has once again concluded that the Sykes-Picot entities are artificial and not endlessly viable. He considered that “new maps are drawn with blood.”

Barzani knows that a Kurdish state in northern Iraq is a quasi-impossible dream. Yet, perhaps he is trying to consolidate the right to independence, even if it was not possible to be achieved in the near future. Some people believe that he is ready to accept a less-than-a-divorce formula. A formula that is based on confederate states that would save Erbil and Baghdad from being entangled in complex relations.

However, such formula needs a dance partner. It needs a realistic partner in Baghdad. Without the presence of such collaborator, Baghdad might be pushed towards a new conflict following the fall of ISIS: a conflict that can be triggered in “disputed areas”, beginning with Kirkuk. Some people do not exclude an upcoming confrontation between the Peshmerga and the Popular Mobilization Forces, with all the consequences that may imply on the Iraqi and regional levels.

While talking about Iraq, one should not neglect the deep transformations taking place in Syria. Syria’s Kurds today are different from those who were living there six years ago when the war broke out. Syria’s Kurds did not rush to engage in the country’s uprising. They took the role of spectators and were preparing for the worst. ISIS’ insistence to target their areas has offered them several opportunities. Their victory in Kobani has given them a much longed-for legitimacy. The Democratic Union Party, led by Saleh Muslim, succeeded in militarizing a society that felt threatened.

It was widely believed at the beginning that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has not cut its relations with the regime, and that the latter was able to manipulate it at the right time to suit its own interests. Nonetheless, the Kurds proved to be coherent forces at a time when the Syrian opposition was being struck on several sides. Syria’s Kurds have found a major role in fighting ISIS. They received training and arms. Washington was betting on their role, despite Erdogan’s anger and warnings.

It is true that the Turkish Army succeeded in preventing geographic communication between Kurdish areas, but this did not keep the YPG from changing the landscape in several Syrian regions.

Saleh Muslim says that the Syrian regime has practically collapsed. He means the single-party regime. He also says that it was impossible to revert to the pre-war situation in 2011. He notes that the Kurds will live in self-administered zones. The role of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa reinforces the belief that the Kurds will not have a marginal role.

In the past century, maps were sketched on the detriment of the Kurds. It looked like they were confined inside the borders. Abstaining from treating the Kurds with equity while preserving our maps has led us to the explosion.

It is clear that the Kurdish fingerprint will be seen when drawing the future of Iraq and Syria, which raises the fears of Turkey and Iran.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Erdogan Says Turkey, US Can Turn Raqqa into ISIS ‘Graveyard’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

Erdogan Says Turkey, US Can Turn Raqqa into ISIS ‘Graveyard’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Ankara and Washington can join forces to turn ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria into a “graveyard” for the jihadists.

“The huge America, the coalition and Turkey can join hands and turn Raaqa into a graveyard for ISIS,” Erdogan told an Istanbul meeting.

“They will look for a place for themselves to hide,” he said.

Erdogan’s comments come ahead of a meeting with President Donald Trump on May 16 in Washington.

Erdogan said Friday that Washington’s support for Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria damaged “the spirit of solidarity” with Turkey, but that he believed a new page would be turned in ties under Trump.

The US believes the YPG is essential in the fight against ISIS.

But Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Ankara since 1984.

Turkey this month announced that it had completed its half-year Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria against jihadists and Kurdish militia, although it is keeping a presence to maintain security in towns now under control of pro-Ankara Syrian rebels.

Ankara is keen to join any US-led operation to clear Raqqa of ISIS jihadists, but without Syrian Kurdish militia forces.

Erdogan on Saturday said he would present Trump at their meeting next month with the “documents” proving YPG’s links to the PKK, which is designated as a terror group by Ankara and Washington.

“We are telling American friends so as not to take a terror group along with them,” the Turkish leader said.
Tension between Turkey and the YPG has been rising. Turkey conducted airstrikes against Kurds in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday, prompting clashes.

Turkey’s military said Saturday that it killed 14 PKK members in air strikes in northern Iraq.

Six fighters were killed around the area of Sinat-Haftan and eight in the countryside around Adiyaman in two separate air strikes, the military said in a statement.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Turkish Military Bombs U.S. Backed Kurdish Militia Forces Fighting Against ISIS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) The Turkish military on Tuesday killed more than 20 members of Kurdish militia groups, some of which the United States is assisting in the fight against ISIS.

Five of the casualties were among Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga.
Others were reported by the YPG, a Kurdish group in northern Syria.
Both groups have proven to be some of the most effective fighting forces on the ground against ISIS. Yet Tuesday’s airstrikes exposed the complicated tangle of Kurdish militant groups in the region, and the tough choices that the United States faces in its regional alliances in the battle against ISIS.
The five Peshmerga fighters were killed apparently in error when Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes on nearby positions of another group that Turkey considers to be terrorists, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, which is usually based in Turkey.
The strikes hit at dawn on Mount Sinjar, west of Mosul, Iraq, according to a spokesman for the Peshmerga ministry.
Nine others were injured and transferred to a nearby hospital. The Peshmerga later released a statement blaming the strikes on the presence of the PKK group, which it said it has long asked to leave the Mount Sinjar area.
“One of our Peshmerga military posts is located very close to the airstrikes and was hit by mistake,” Halgord Hikmat, spokesman for the Peshmerga ministry, told CNN.

YPG calls attack ‘cowardly’

YPG militia members were also killed in Turkish airstrikes Tuesday.
In a statement, the YPG said Turkish planes launched a “large-scale attack” on its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s border with Turkey, killing “a number of our comrades.”
A YPG spokesman said in a later statement that 20 fighters were killed and 18 others wounded. But it’s not clear if all the dead and injured were members of YPG, or People’s Defense Units.

A YPG fighter surveys the site of Turkish airstrikes Tuesday in northeastern Syria near Turkey.

“We as the People’s Defense Units say that this cowardly attack will not discourage our determination and our free will to fight and confront terrorism,” the YPG said.
The YPG is a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces — backed by the United States in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Those forces have been closing in on the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa.
But Turkey opposes the YPG because it fears Kurdish separatism.

Turkey says PKK was the target

Turkey’s operations Tuesday were targeting the PKK, which Ankara, the United States and the European Union consider to be a terror group.
For decades, Turkey has been facing a violent insurgency from the PKK — a banned group that first took up arms in 1984 seeking an independent state for the Kurdish minority concentrated in the country’s southeast.
Turkey has often suggested that the PKK and YPG operate closely, although the YPG denies such ties.
Tuesday’s airstrikes were not the first time that Turkish warplanes have targeted PKK positions in Iraq and Syria.
In a statement issued via Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, the Turkish General Staff said the airstrikes hit PKK targets in both countries.
It described the strikes as a “counterterrorism” operation “within the scope of the international law” to prevent the PKK from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives” to Turkey.

Turkey’s Erdogan Will Not Tolerate Peace With The Kurdish People!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

TURKEY AIRSTRIKES KILL OVER 160 SYRIAN KURDS NORTH OF ALEPPO, MILITARY SAYS

The Turkish military said its jets conducted 26 raids Wednesday night.

The Turkish air force has conducted strikes against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia north of the besieged city of Aleppo, killing at least 160 members of the militia, Turkey’s state-run news agency said Thursday.

The military conducted the raids late Wednesday and targeted 18 Kurdish positions in the Maarraat Umm Hawsh region, according to Anadolu news agency. The strikes mark a significant escalation in Turkish action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria and are likely to exacerbate tensions between Ankara and Washington, two NATO allies.

It comes as Iraqi and Kurdish forces are battling to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Ankara instead backs Syrian rebels against ISIS in northern Syria, ratcheting up tensions with Kurdish forces who had also made advances against the radical Islamist group.

AleppoMembers of the Syrian Civil Defence search for victims amid the rubble of a destroyed building following reported air strikes in the rebel-held Qatarji neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo, October 17. Turkey conducted airstrikes against Syrian Kurdish forces Thursday north of Aleppo.KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY

Turkey is suspicious of Kurdish intentions in northern Syria. The Kurdish YPG militia says it is defending the region from ISIS, beating them back into Raqqa province near its de-facto capital of the same name. But Ankara views Kurdish advances as an attempt to join up two administrative blocs to form a semi-autonomous state, known locally as Rojava, on the country’s southern border.

Turkey opposes any Kurdish moves towards self-determination, viewing the militiamen as linked to the Kurdish militant group outlawed in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The group has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkish authorities in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead.

A fragile two-year ceasefire between the PKK and Turkish forces collapsed in July 2015, leading to further PKK attacks and a Turkish military operation in southeastern Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish areas. Turkey subsequently sent Syrian rebels into northern Syria in August to oust ISIS from territory but to also slow Kurdish advances in the region and prevent what it viewed as a land grab.

While Turkey views the YPG as an extremist organization, Washington views them as valuable partners on the ground in the battle against ISIS, and the most effective fighters to combat the group in Syria.

Erdogan Will Never Ever Allow Turkish People To Live In Peace With The Kurds

(This article is courtesy of Reuters News Agency)

Turkey will never allow ‘artificial state’ in northern Syria, PM says

A demonstrator reacts during a peace rally to protest against Turkish military operations in northern Syria, in Istanbul, Turkey, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
By Hamdi Istanbullu and Melih Aslan | ISTANBUL

Turkey will never allow the formation of an “artificial state” in northern Syria, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday, referring to the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters whose advance Ankara is now aiming to stop.

Turkey and its allies opened a new line of attack in northern Syria on Saturday, as Turkish tanks rolled across the border and Syrian fighters swept in from the west to take villages held by Islamic State and check the advance of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG.

Turkey launched its operation in Syria, called Euphrates Shield, on Aug.24 to drive out Islamic State and stop the YPG militia, fearing its growing control of northern Syria.

“We will never allow the formation of an artificial state in the north of Syria,” Yildirim said in a speech in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, where he announced an investment programed to rebuild parts of the largely Kurdish region that have been destroyed by security operations.

“We are there with Euphrates Shield, we are there to protect our border, to provide for our citizens safety of life and property, and to ensure Syria’s integrity.”

Turkey is fighting a three-decade-old Kurdish insurgency in the southeast and fears that the YPG’s advances will embolden militants at home. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

While the United States and Europe also regard the PKK as a terrorist group, Washington sees the YPG as a separate entity and as its most effective partner in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. That position has caused friction with Turkey, a NATO member and a partner in the fight against Islamic State.

OBAMA MEETING

Yildirim’s comments echoed those of President Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 gathering of world leaders in China, who told reporters following a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama: “It is our wish that a terror corridor not be formed across our southern border”.

Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkey’s allies should not be making a distinction between Islamic State and the YPG as both groups pose a threat to Turkey.

Separately, state-run Anadolu Agency said Turkish jets hit four Islamic State positions late on Saturday evening in Syria’s northwestern Aleppo province as part of the operation, citing security sources.

The warplanes hit three targets in the al-Kaldi area and another in the Wuguf region, Anadolu said, citing the sources.

(Writing by David Dolan, editing by Louise Heavens)