The Mess in the Middle East
As Kurds Advance, Arabs Enlist to Fight for ISIS

As Kurdish forces approach the ISIS capital, some of the locals may have decided that living under the tyrannical but predominantly-Arab boot of ISIS is better than liberation at the hands of the Kurds. Ben Wedeman at CNN reports;

One might expect that the long-suffering inhabitants of Raqqa, who have been under ISIS’ heavy black yoke since 2013, would welcome the approach of their liberators. But according to a tweet put out in English by the activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, “the strategy of taking Raqqa by SDF… push a lot of people to join ISIS to Defense for their city.”
In other words, rather than preparing to welcome their would-be liberators, some Raqqa inhabitants are choosing to throw their lot behind ISIS.
The problem lies in who those would-be liberators are.
Backed by the United States, the Syrian Democratic Forces are a coalition of Kurdish, Assyrian, Christian, Arab tribal and other forces. But they are dominated by the Kurdish YPG, the Popular Defense Units.
In other words, it’s a Kurdish armed force with a multi-ethnic façade, and the Arabs of Raqqa could well be worried about their intentions in a post-ISIS Syria.
The SDF says its current offensive north of Raqqa is not aimed at the city itself.
Wedeman goes on to give a history of local Arab-Kurdish interactions that’s worth a read. The nub is that:
Arabs have long suspected the Kurds of trying to carve a separate state from Syria and Iraq. Turkey, struggling with a restive Kurdish minority, has the same preoccupation. Those are some of the macro concerns.
The micro — or perhaps more correctly, the local — concerns of the people of Raqqa include the worry that a well-armed, U.S.-supported, predominantly Kurdish force will expel or subjugate them and take their land, and as they say in Arabic, “land is honor.”
Westerners may find it hard to imagine anything worse than living under ISIS. While many Arabs agree, clearly not all of them do—not even all those who are repelled by ISIS’ fanaticism and barbarism. Tribalism and other forces are real, and this news comes as a reminder that policy must take them into account.
This points in turn to an even bigger policy problem than the Kurds. Many Westerners, wary of further involvement in the Middle East, imagine that Assad, bad as he might be, could (perhaps with Russian and Iranian help) crush ISIS and keep Syria quiet again. But if this is how the locals react when the Kurds approach, imagine how they will when the forces of the Iran-backed, Alawite Assad approach—or, on the other side, when the forces of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government, backed by sectarian militias under Iranian “guidance”, move forward.
Ultimately, as hideous as ISIS is, it’s a symptom of the Assad regime, rather than the root of Syria’s troubles. And ISIS will never truly be defeated until Assad is dealt with.
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