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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