There has been a renewed crackdown on dissent in the areas of Syria run by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). While on Syrian soil, the PKK uses the name Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing is called the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG/PKK is the dominant force in the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), the U.S.-led international Coalition’s ground partner in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS). Continue reading
Since its incursion into Afrin began in January, Turkey has made significant progress in turning the military landscape in Syria in its favour. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that further operations are to come in Syria, and perhaps in Iraq, too. These next operations would present new challenges, particularly politically, an area where Turkey has not made quite as much progress. Continue reading
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry (IICI) on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up in 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Council to track human rights abuses in Syria.
Naturally, this has meant that most of the Commission’s work is focused on the industrial-scale crimes against humanity committed by Bashar al-Asad’s regime and his enablers in Russia and Iran. Later, as non-state terrorist and extremist groups intruded into Syria, the Commission documented the atrocities by the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which works under the label of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and dominates the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the U.S.-led Coalition works with against IS. The Commission has also recorded abuses by rebel groups.
The Commission’s latest report, released on 6 March 2018, “draws from more than 500 interviews and encapsulates the trends over the past six months in the Syrian Arab Republic, with particular focus on the impact of the offensive against [the Islamic State] and the use of siege warfare on the civilian population.” The report, therefore, has something of a focus on the SDF/PKK human rights violations, though IS’s horrific treatment of religious minorities and so on, plus the pro-Asad coalition’s ongoing campaign of massacre and displacement in areas such as East Ghuta, are given ample attention. Continue reading
A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly
The city of Minbij in northern Syria has become a source of severe political tension between the United States and Turkey. It might also be the key to reducing tensions and normalising relations. Continue reading
Nearly a year into Donald Trump’s administration, the president has followed the track laid down by his predecessors in Syria, accelerating it in some cases, and reinforcing the negative trends of Barack Obama’s defective policy that will undo even apparent successes, like the destruction of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) “caliphate”. Continue reading
It was announced on 15 November that Talal Ali Silo, the official spokesman of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had fled to the EUPHRATES SHIELD zone in northern Aleppo, run by rebels operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brand that are dependent on Turkey. The SDF is the partner force in Syria for the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Though the SDF presents itself as a multi-ethnic coalition of Kurds and Arabs, it was initiated as a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By attaching non-Kurdish units to a PKK core and using the SDF banner, it circumvented various legal and political obstacles for Coalition states. But all real power has remained in the hands of the PKK, which has systematically purged all genuinely independent power centres within the SDF. Silo, a Turkoman, helped further the narrative of the SDF’s ethnic inclusivity, and his defection underlines the reality of the organization’s political exclusivity. Continue reading
In the 101st edition of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter al-Naba (page 8-9), released on 12 October 2017, the organization gave some fascinating details about how they responded to the “defeat” inflicted on them in 2007-08 by the American surge and the tribal Sahwa (Awakening) forces. The article describes how IS switched wholly to insurgent-terrorist tactics, dismantling its conventional fighting units and even its sniper teams in March 2008, and training in hit-and-run bombings. The leadership at that time, the emir Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) and his deputy, the “war minister” Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), encountered some initial scepticism, but the rank-and-file soon came on board when they saw its effectiveness. IS says that it is time to return to this form of warfare. In short, IS marked a switch in al-Naba 101 entirely from the statehood and governance phase of its revolutionary warfare, back into insurgency mode. The article is reproduced below. Continue reading
A deal was made between the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” the U.S.-led Coalition’s “partner force” in Syria that is wholly dominated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Islamic State (IS), which ostensibly evacuated the remnants of the IS jihadists—said to be between 300 and 500 militants, plus 400 “hostages” (i.e. women and children)—from Raqqa by 15 October. The U.S.-led Coalition said at the time, “do not condone” the deal, but the Coalition acknowledged that its PKK partner had to make these tactical calls, and there was a lot of local pressure from local tribal leaders to reach this deal given the devastation visited on the city. It now transpires, however, that this deal was the worst of all worlds: the Coalition ruined the city in its efforts to overcome IS’s tactical adaptations to the air campaign, and then allowed a scandalous number of IS jihadists to escape. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading