Iraqi Kurds en­ter Syria, but only ‘tem­po­rar­ily’

Turkey opens gate against Is­lamic State

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JA­COB RESNECK

ISTANBUL | About 150 Iraqi Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers have crossed over from Turkey to re­in­force Kurds de­fend­ing the north­ern Syria city of Kobani in a week­s­long siege by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants — an op­er­a­tion an Iraqi Kur­dish leader called a tem­po­rary mea­sure in the ef­fort to de­feat the ex­trem­ists.

The move­ment of the pesh­merga — pro­fes­sional sol­diers from north­ern Iraq’s semi­au­tonomous Kur­dish re­gion — across the Turk­ish bor­der marks the first time that Ankara has al­lowed a mil­i­tary as­sault against the Is­lamic State from its ter­ri­tory.

“The pesh­merga forces that joined the re­sis­tance in Kobani and our forces launched a co­or­di­nated at­tack,” Kur­dish of­fi­cials in Kobani said in a state­ment, claim­ing that 43 Is­lamic State mil­i­tants had been killed over the week­end.

In the north­ern Iraqi city of Irbil, Necher­van Barzani, prime min­is­ter of the Kur­dish Re­gional Gov­ern­ment, said the pesh­merga forces will stay in Syria only “tem­po­rar­ily” to help re­in­force fel­low Kurds in Kobani, adding that U.S.-led airstrikes alone will not de­feat the Is­lamic mil­i­tants, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Mr. Barzani said the pesh­merga’s in­volve­ment in Syria isn’t in­tended to achieve any po­lit­i­cal goals, but rather is geared at the short-term goal of aid­ing fel­low Kurds in the em­bat­tled city along the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der.

“Our role is to back up the peo­ple who are strug­gling on the ground in Kobani,” he said in an in­ter­view with the AP. “I don’t … ex­pect ma­jor changes in the po­lit­i­cal equa­tion of the re­gion as a whole.”

Kur­dish of­fi­cials in Kobani said a co­or­di­nated at­tack on the Is­lamic State over the week­end in­cluded the use of Rus­sian­made Katyusha rock­ets and other an­ti­tank weapons by pesh­merga forces bol­ster­ing the be­sieged city’s lightly armed Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) mili­tia.

Turkey has balked at al­low­ing heavy weapons or vol­un­teer fight­ers cross from its ter­ri­to­ries to reach the YPG be­cause of its links to the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), which has been fight­ing a decades­long guer­rilla war for au­ton­omy for Turkey’s own eth­nic Kurds.

Turkey’s gov­ern­ment points out that it al­ready is host­ing more than 1.6 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees — in­clud­ing 200,000 re­cent ar­rivals from around Kobani — and ar­gues that com­bat­ing Is­lamic State alone won’t bring sta­bil­ity to war-wracked Syria.

That stance has strained re­la­tions among al­lies — es­pe­cially the United States, which has been lead­ing an air war against Is­lamic State tar­gets in Iraq and Syria. If Kobani falls, it would hand the ex­trem­ists a strate­gic and sym­bolic vic­tory.

Ozgur Un­luhis­ar­cikli, an an­a­lyst with the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund in Ankara, said Turkey’s in­sis­tence that the an­tiIs­lamic State coali­tion be broad­ened to top­ple Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad is strain­ing re­la­tions be­tween Turkey and the U.S.

“The U.S.-Turkey re­la­tion­ship can now be de­scribed as a trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship in which they co­op­er­ate on is­sues that they agree on but don’t have a shared strate­gic vi­sion,” Mr. Un­luhis­ar­cikli said Sun­day. “Turkey’s ap­proach to give strong pri­or­ity to re­mov­ing al-As­sad — which is turn­ing into an ob­ses­sion — is not shared by the U.S. and is the main source of ten­sion be­tween the two al­lies.”

But al­low­ing heav­ily armed pesh­merga fight­ers to cross into Syria ap­pears to be the prod­uct of a com­pro­mise be­tween Turkey and its al­lies, said Si­nan Ul­gen, a for­mer Turk­ish diplo­mat and vis­it­ing scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

“The decision to al­low pesh­merga fight­ers to join the bat­tle against [the Is­lamic State] in Kobani helped Ankara to ac­com­plish a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ob­jec­tives at the same time,” Mr. Ul­gen said. “It re­lieved the in­ter­na­tional pres­sure and crit­i­cism over Turkey’s in­ac­tion. … It al­lowed a new bal­ance of forces on the ground with the more pro-Turkey pesh­merga.”

Turkey had been crit­i­cized not only abroad for its un­will­ing­ness to strike against the Is­lamic State. Turkey’s restive Kur­dish mi­nor­ity — an es­ti­mated 20 mil­lion peo­ple — have been protest­ing in ci­ties across the coun­try. Last month, the protests turned vi­o­lent, and more than 40 peo­ple were killed in armed clashes be­tween ri­val groups or at the hands of se­cu­rity forces.

Pro-Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal par­ties called for mass ac­tion Satur­day but urged demon­stra­tions to re­main peace­ful. Tens of thou­sands marched in the pre­dom­i­nantly Kur­dish city of Di­yarbakir. Thou­sands also protested in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

At a Satur­day rally along one of Istanbul’s most fa­mous pedes­trian streets, Omer Agin, a colum­nist for the pro-Kur­dish Ozgur Gun­dem news­pa­per, said the ar­rival of Iraqi Kurds in Kobani is a ma­jor step in unit­ing Kurds — di­vided by na­tional bound­aries — find­ing common cause in Syria.

“Now the fact that the pesh­merga are go­ing there means a form of sol­i­dar­ity among the Kur­dish peo­ple,” Mr. Agin said. “It has to be seen that way. The whole world wel­comes this.”

In cen­tral Istanbul, more than 2,000 peo­ple chanted pro-PKK slo­gans and waved ban­ners of the group’s im­pris­oned leader, Ab­dul­lah Ocalan — both il­le­gal un­der Turk­ish law — but se­cu­rity forces broke long-stand­ing prece­dent and did not in­ter­vene.

“What we are wit­ness­ing with Kobani is a new phe­nom­e­non for the Kur­dish peo­ple,” Mr. Agin said. “It is a peo­ple that says ei­ther we live as a peo­ple or we die. Death or free­dom.”

Pro­tester Dilek Ozer, 40, said the world can­not al­low Kurds in Kobani to fall into the hands of the Is­lamic State.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant that Kurds as peo­ple and as hu­man be­ings stop the mas­sacre in Kobani,” Ms. Ozer said. “There’s a hu­man crime go­ing on, and the whole world is silent about this.”

In an in­ter­na­tional show of support for Kobani, smaller ral­lies also took place in Euro­pean ci­ties in Ger­many, France, Bel­gium and the United King­dom.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing be­tween Turkey and the PKK over pro­long­ing an 18month cease-fire and find­ing a long-term peace set­tle­ment over mi­nor­ity rights and au­ton­omy for Turkey’s Kurds.

But Mr. Ul­gen warns that a long-term set­tle­ment that sat­is­fies Kur­dish de­mands for lan­guage rights and au­ton­omy will not be an easy sell for many Turks con­sid­er­ing that more than 40,000 peo­ple have been killed in the con­flict with the PKK since the 1980s.

“The com­plex­ity of th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions can­not be overem­pha­sized,” Mr. Ul­gen said. “Ankara is squeezed be­tween the de­mands of the Kurds and a do­mes­tic pub­lic opin­ion that is not ready to ac­qui­esce to th­ese de­mands. The gov­ern­ment fears a na­tion­al­ist back­lash at the end of the process.”

Over the past year, the Is­lamic State has carved out a proto-state on the ter­ri­tory it holds be­tween Syria and Iraq, rul­ing with its own harsh in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Shariah law. It has cap­tured weapons and found means for mak­ing money along the way, help­ing fuel their in­tense of­fen­sive.

The group’s of­fen­sive on Kobani and nearby Syr­ian vil­lages has killed more than 800 peo­ple, ac­tivists say.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.


Iraqi pesh­merga fight­ers have en­tered the north­ern Syr­ian town of Kobani to join the Kur­dish re­sis­tance. The forces have co­or­di­nated at­tacks against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, who have been be­sieg­ing the strate­gic city for weeks.

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