They Saved Kobane — But Can the Factions Battling Islamic State Get Along?

Uncategorized April 26, 2015 0

They Saved Kobane — But Can the Factions Battling Islamic State Get Along? Spoiler alert — no by KEVIN KNODELL In September, Islamic State militants surrounded Syrian Kurdish YPG guerrillas...

They Saved Kobane — But Can the Factions Battling Islamic State Get Along?

Spoiler alert — no

by KEVIN KNODELL

In September, Islamic State militants surrounded Syrian Kurdish YPG guerrillas and Free Syrian Army fighters defending Kobane, a Kurdish town in northeastern Syria.

The battle was furious and long. Thousands of Kurdish refugees streamed into Turkey, fleeing the fighting. As militants pressed their attack, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and the U.S. Air Force rushed to aid Kobane’s defenders.

More than once, YPG and FSA commanders announced the city’s liberation — only for the gunfire and explosions to shatter the purported peace. But today, eight months after the siege began, it seems Kobane is finally secure.

And the region being what it is, the alliance wasn’t going to last. “The Peshmerga are departing Kobane because they’ve completed their mission, especially since the Islamic State group has been expelled from the city by the joint forces,” a YPG member told Syrian Kurdish news outlet ArasNews.

Emergencies can bring rival Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian factions together — but only briefly. And that helps explain why the war with Islamic State will be a prolonged one. The armies fighting the militants struggle to get along in all but the most dire circumstances.

Above — Kurdish spectators in Turkey watch the battle of Kobane across the border in October 2014. At top — Iraqi and Syrian Kurds gather on opposite sides of the Iraq-Syria border to transfer the body of a slain Rojava Peshmerga fighter back to Syria. Vager Saadullah photos

The Peshmerga had secured special permission to travel through Turkey to reinforce YPG forces in Kobane. Not long ago, such an agreement would have been impossible. The Turks have traditionally opposed Kurdish armed groups — in particular the PKK, which has branches in Turkey and aligns with the YPG.

But strengthening economic ties between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are changing that relationship.

So an initial force of around 150 Peshmerga crossed into the Kobane area from Turkey. Turkish soldiers even allowed the Kurdish fighters to bring their heavy artillery with them.

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad condemned Turkey for allowing the Peshmerga to cross. No doubt, the Syrian government didn’t like seeing Kurdish Peshmerga, YPG and FSA fighters all working together, any more than Islamic State also disliked it.

Though all these groups oppose Islamic State, many equally despise Al Assad, himself no friend of the militant group.

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While the Iraqi Peshmerga have deployed into Syria, the Syrian YPG and PKK have themselves deployed into Iraq. When the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq fell to Islamic State back in August, PKK and YPG fighters traveled from Syria to fight the militants and help refugees.

The Syrian and Turkish militiamen opened a land route between Mount Sinjar and Kurdsh Syria to allow refugees to get out … and additional fighters to get in. As in Kobane, the delicate alliance succeeded in pushing out the militants.

Even so, there’s tension between Iraqi Kurdistan’s leaders and the Syrian guerrilla fighters.

The YPG and PKK entered Iraq without alerting the Iraqi Peshmerga first. Though they’ve periodically worked together since, both sides have accused each other of being uncooperative and having ulterior motives.

Both groups possess very different notions of what an independent Kurdistan might look like — as well as who should be in charge.

It’s worth noting that of all the Peshmerga who have fought in Syria, none of them have been members of the Rojava Peshmerga — Syrian Kurdish refugees who trained in Iraq to fight against the Al Assad regime. Disagreements between Kurdish leaders have kept the Rojava Peshmerga out of Syria.

Many of them have said they wouldn’t want to fight alongside the YPG, anyway. Some have accused the YPG and other Syrian Kurdish groups of allying with Al Assad. While not closely aligned, several Syrian Kurdish groups do have tacit agreements not to fight the regime — and instead to focus their efforts against Islamic State.

So instead, the Rojava Peshmerga are fighting only in Iraq. They represent just one splinter among many in the constantly fragmenting alliance against Islamic State — an alliance that seemingly devotes as much energy to bitter infighting as it does to killing militants.