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The Middle East Aflame
Kurds Advance Against ISIS in Northern Syria

Syrian Kurds are advancing against ISIS in an offensive that has the potential to knit together a geographically contiguous Syrian Kurdistan. The Wall Street Journal reports that the successful Kurdish forces (joined by other groups) are now butting up against the strategically important city of Tal Abyad:

Control of Tal Abyad would help the Kurdish militia clamp off a key Islamic State supply route. Since falling to the extremists in 2014, Tal Abyad has served as a transit point for both supplies and foreign reinforcements to militants coming through porous segments of the Turkish-Syrian border. […]

Situated between Kobani and the majority-Kurdish city of Hasakah, where the YPG is under siege by Islamic State, a victory in Tal Abyad could open the way to connect Syria’s disjointed Kurdish-populated regions or cantons. Unlike in neighboring Turkey and in Iraq, where Kurds control a semiautonomous region, Syrian Kurds are scattered throughout the country’s north.

“It was very important for the YPG to connect the free Kurdish enclaves,” said Jamestown Foundation analyst Wladimir van Wilgenburg.

With Kurdish success in the recent Turkish elections and Saudi Arabia’s endorsement of an independent Kurdistan, circumstances have rarely seemed more promising for the group. Factional infighting in Turkey last week in the wake of the elections was a timely reminder that nothing ever comes too easily for them (and internal Kurdish divisions could well trip things up yet), but nevertheless this military success does add some ‘oomph’ to the contention that the Kurds are rising.

The fortunes of war could turn and nobody should think beating ISIS will be an easy thing. But it does appear that the Kurds under the YPG are doing well. The contrast with the much better-armed and better-financed Iraqi Security Forces is startling. In this latest war, time and again it’s been the ethnic fighting forces, be they Shi’a militias, Sunni ISIS fighters, or the Kurds, who have proven willing to fight and not run away.

Of course, what each of those ethnic groups are fighting for matters a great deal. Of those three, the Kurds are the most friendly to long-term US interests. These developments, therefore, could give increased ammo to those calling for a strategy based less on the central government in Iraq (which is either a weak reed or a cover for Iran, depending on whom you ask), and more on empowering minorities that seek traditional nation-state arrangements—and are willing to fight for them.

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  • ljgude

    I think it is fair to say that the Iraqi government is both a weak reed and cover for Iran and has been all along. But the big news came with this line: “Saudi Arabia’s endorsement of an independent Kurdistan.” Maybe things really are promising.

    • Kevin

      Of course if the Saudis recognize and support the Kurds while the U.S. continues to oppose them and instead tries to put the states that repress them back together, we could end up with a Kurdish movement/state that is very Islamacist in nature rather than vaguely liberal/nationalist and store up a great deal of resentment for us among another rising national group. Fortunately we’ve got “Smart Diplomacy” working on this….

      • ljgude

        Indeed, when I said ‘Maybe’ I was thinking how little immediate hope there was that the Kurds might get more support under the current administration. When I think about it, I recall that Both Bushes, Bubba and the Bama have all used bombing to defend the Kurds, but never given them the full support I believe they deserve and need. I hope their desire to modernize and prosper is more than skin deep and that they will not turn to radical Islamism as the solution to their problems. I actually think that is unlikely for deep seated cultural reasons given their generally sane behavior throughout the ongoing schlimazel. All through the Iraq war they just got on with running a quasi independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. Most significantly the capacity of the Syrian Kurds to throw their women into the fray indicates a very different mindset compared to Arab Sunnis. That they have a successful political party in Turkey may or may not create a way forward where an independent Turkistan in Iraq and Syria can coexist with Turkey.

        • Ellen

          Good points. The Kurds are NOT Arabs and do not want to emulate them. Their collective spirit comes from Kurdish nationalism, not from the lunacy of militant Islam. The Kurds are tribalistic, and this has hobbled them for a hundred years by making them very much like the Arabs; they haven’t been able to overcome these clan-based divisions to create a national interest that overrides tribal selfishness.

          Now, that the Kurds of Iraq are effectively independent of Arab domination (the younger generation of Kurds don’t even learn Arabic anymore), they are emerging as a real nation willing and able to fight for national interests. That is why they will succeed in establishing one and perhaps 2 independent states, while the Arab states disintegrate into warlordism.

  • Fat_Man

    Just about the only move open to the US, that would have any chance of impacting the current spiral into a war of all against all in the Middle East, is for the US to recognize and aid an independent Kurdistan.

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