How the battle for Kobane and Peshmerga deployment eroded borders between Kurds
Barely a few weeks ago, Kobane was surrounded on three sides by heavily armed Islamic State (IS) forces and in danger of imminent collapse. Now, Kobane has propelled itself as the symbol of the international battle against IS but more importantly it has placed the Syrian Kurds under great international spotlight.
Few would have imagined that this small dusty town would have brought together in one way or another, Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkey, the US, European Union, Saudi Arabia and various coalition partners.
Events on the ground as well as the political dynamic have transformed to the extent that John Allen, the retired US general in charge of overseeing the US campaign against IS, stated that the town is no longer in danger of falling into IS hands.
This week in a highly symbolic move, 150 Iraqi Peshmerga forces crossed the Turkish border to help in the defense of the town. 150 troops is an important but nevertheless symbolic figure, however the heavy weaponry that accompanies them add to their considerable clout.
Of greater significance is the boost in morale and optimism that Kobane and the local Kurdish population have received with this reinforcement. The journey of these Peshmerga, to rapturous welcome of Turkish Kurds, was also symbolic as it crossed three parts of Kurdistan.
With Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria cheering equally resolutely, the deployment of the Peshmerga forces greatly enhanced Kurdish unity. The deployment also opens a new channel that will not remain closed, if the situation dictates the path is clear for further Peshmerga reinforcements to arrive.
Just weeks ago, Kobane was confounded to a local problem. It is now cross-border Kurdish problem as well as a firm strategic goal of the coalition forces.
Kobane has not been without its ironies. Turkey has faced a backlash over its stance on Kobane. Although it has welcomed Iraqi Kurdish and FSA forces, at the same time it has loathed any support for the People Defense Unit (YPG) forces for their sympathies to the PKK.
In parallel with Peshmerga reinforcements, FSA forces recently entered to support Kobane, a key demand from Turkey to try and give the Kobane battle a more Syrian and anti-Assad feel, than a united Kurdish campaign based on nationalism. Although it won’t transform the historically cautious relations between FSA battalions and Kurdish forces overnight, this latest cooperation may pave the way for a joining of forces to oust Assad once the IS headache is resolved (as Ankara has long demanded)
This week, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahem Davutoglu hit back at growing critics, stating his refusal to be part of a ‘game’ for a few weeks to satisfy American or European opinion.
The battle for Kobane has marked the brave resistance of Syrian Kurdish forces but it has also placed into clear context the strength of IS. On Wednesday alone, there were 10 US led air strikes against IS positions in Kobane with dozens more since the allied campaign intensified in recent weeks.
Yet, even with other front lines in Iraq and other parts of Syria, and an avalanche of air strikes, IS has become weakened but largely prevailed. Literally hundreds of IS armored vehicles and positions have been destroyed – this only shows how much of a force and a problem that IS had become.
It developed tremendous strength over the past 2 years, especially since its conquests in Iraq, but the West ignored this stark reality and reacted too late. Indeed for the YPG, the bloody battles with IS over the past year or so often with little support and recognition, is not new.
Now a vicious war rages against IS in Syria and Iraq. What makes all this a remark- able irony is that this is only a war within a war. A greater Syrian civil war still rages with over 200,000 killed and with Bashar al-Assad firmly in power, regardless of how the battle against IS now dominates the headlines.
It was the Syrian civil war, security vacuums and lack of a clear Western policy that created IS. Now, with much more investment, intense fighting and a great deal of sacrifice, IS will be defeated but what then for Syria and the other fronts of war?
Defeating IS is one thing, letting them re-spawn is another matter entirely that the West cannot overlook.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally admitted a wellknown reality, that the campaign against IS is benefitting Assad even if their long-term target remains his removal from power.
Syrian and IS need a comprehensive solution. Above all, both regional and global powers now need to look at the new realities of the war in Syria. The situation can never return to any pre-civil war era. With every sacrifice and valiant resistance, the Syrian Kurds consolidate their hard fought and deserved autonomy. Kobane could well serve as the iconic bridge that brought all of great Kurdistan together both now and the future.