The American-led Coalition’s partner against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), presents itself, ideologically and in terms of the governance structure it controls, in universalistic liberal and democratic terms, emphasizing ecological and feminist themes. The reality is that the SDF is under the politico-military control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has run a four-decade-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK has brought some measure of stability to the areas it controls, but it continues to struggle for legitimacy and without locally-legitimate government IS and other jihadi-Salafists will find political room to operate. The PKK’s continued monopolization of power and abusive governance practices undermine the chances for the “Rojava” system to evolve into a long-term solution to the jihadist terrorists that have used Syrian territory to threaten the region and the wider world. Continue reading
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) controls areas of northern Syria, operating under the name of the Democratic Union Party or PYD (its political wing) and the People’s Protection Units or YPG (its military wing). On Tuesday, President Donald Trump approved plans to arm the YPG directly, abandoning a fiction that the U.S. was only arming the Arab parts of an ostensible coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is in fact controlled by the YPG/PKK. This is in preparation for the U.S. backing the “SDF” to liberate Raqqa City, the Syrian capital of the Islamic State’s (IS) caliphate. Leaving aside the geopolitical implications of the U.S. decision for NATO and regional order, and putting aside, too, the likelihood that this decision will defeat its own purposes and give IS a new lease on life, there is a purely humanitarian dimension that deserves more attention. In March the PYD effectively legalized its one-party state in northern Syria and escalated its already-severe persecution of the Kurdish opposition. That crackdown has continued. Continue reading
The United States has tried to engage in Syria almost solely in a counter-terrorism capacity, against Daesh (IS) and—in a recently-escalating campaign—against al Qaeda. The narrowness of the focus on jihadist terrorists led to the US disregarding wider political dynamics in the war in Syria—and to a degree in Iraq, too—and partnering with forces that over the long term will undo even this narrow mission.
The announcement yesterday that President Donald Trump will now arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to expel Daesh from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, is the end-point of this policy, setting up a very dangerous medium- and long-term situation that will redound to the benefit of terrorists. Continue reading
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian front of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is the leading group in the administration of the Kurdish areas in north-eastern Syria. The PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have become the preferred instrument of the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) and as a by-product have been assisted in conquering some Arab-majority zones of northern Syria—and perhaps soon of eastern Syria. The PYD/PKK has always treated all dissent harshly and the Kurdish opposition in recent days has reported an escalation in repression by the PYD, which the West—as has become a habit in cases of PYD misbehaviour—has made no public protest about. Continue reading
Last week, a member of the Kurdish militia that is the primary instrument the U.S.-led Coalition is using in Syria to defeat the Islamic State (IS) was killed. Examining his biography underlined that this militia is the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist-separatist group that is registered as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Turkey. The Western powers continue to obfuscate, if not outright deny, this fact, but Coalition support for the PKK—questionable morally and legally in and of itself—is producing negative results on the ground that help IS over the long-term. Continue reading
Published at NOW Lebanon.
The Pentagon-run train-and-equip (T&E) program had intended to take Syrian rebels, stop them from being rebels by preventing them from fighting the Assad regime, and repurpose them into an American-directed strike force against the Islamic State (ISIS). Unsurprisingly, there were few takers and the program ended in disaster and humiliation. In the wake of this failure, President Barack Obama has turned away from the Arab rebels and looked to the Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS. This is a strategy that is not only doomed to fail—since Sunni Arabs taking responsibility for their local security is the only way to sustainably defeat ISIS—but would, if implemented, make the ISIS problem worse. A report from Amnesty International this week documenting crimes, including ethnic cleansing, by the armed Kurdish forces against Arabs and Turkmens in northern Syria also provides an occasion to look more closely at a force with a history of regime collaboration, political extremism, and terrorism. Continue reading