Jacques Neriah, JCPA
Vol. 13, No. 23 August 15, 2013
Kurdistan is on the verge of becoming the new regional flashpoint in the Middle East. The Kurdish people have long sought autonomy, and the Syrian civil war has created new opportunities for them to achieve their goal.
After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated areas. In July 2012, Syrian opposition activists reported that a group called the Free Kurdish Army had taken control of several towns in northeast Syria on the Turkish border, such as Amuda and Qabani. Few analysts paid attention to this news at the time, since most observers were focused on what appeared to be the disintegrating Assad regime.
Today, for the first time in modern Syrian Kurdish history, Kurds have created an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave.1 Kurdish-liberated areas are being administered by local councils, and Kurdish spokesmen have indicated they are planning to form a provisional Kurdish government due to the absence of any central authority.
The Kurds have faced resistance to their new gains, not just from the Assad regime, but from other rebel forces, namely the jihadist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The jihadists are prepared to fight to maintain control of the Syrian border areas with Turkey and Iraq, respectively, in order to ensure that arms continue to flow into their hands.
The border areas are no less important to the Kurds. For them, control of the border regions means that there can be territorial continuity between Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish, and possibly Iranian Kurdistan – the necessary condition for an independent and united Kurdistan.
In July 2013, the jihadists carried out a series of attacks on Kurdish towns. They killed a respected Kurdish leader, Issa Hassou, with a car bomb.2 Kurdish forces reacted swiftly, and after some major battles with the jihadists, regained lost territory and expanded their control to new areas.
News of the fighting between Syrian Kurds and jihadists spread east to Iraq. The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, was livid. He heard rumors that the jihadists were ransacking Kurdish villages …read more