Tag Archives: Peshmerga

Faced with a common enemy, a new front pitching Kurd against Kurd is a travesty

Even in the face of a common enemy, and at a historic juncture, relations between Rojava and the Kurdistan Region have been blighted by political differences. A prime example is the ongoing presence of the PKK and its affiliated armed wing, Shingal Resistance Unit (YBS), in Shingal region.

Although these forces played a crucial role in breaking the Islamic State (IS) siege on Shingal in 2014, and later in fighting alongside Peshmerga forces against IS, that critical juncture has been passed.

PKK’s continued presence has been a ticking time bomb.

In recent days, an armed confrontation between the YBS and Peshmerga forces in Khanasor that resulted in casualties and scores of wounded culminates the severity of the tensions between the two sides.

There are already many battlefronts facing each side, and it’s most regrettable to open a new front that pitches Kurd against Kurd.

In the dawn of the new Middle East, which has placed both Rojava and KRG in strategic positions, Kurds have an opportunity to rewrite many of the wrongs of history.

To realize such goals, Kurds need unity within borders, but also across their geographical divide; however, political motivations usually blight relations among Kurds and division harms their aspirations.

The disconnect among Kurds is illustrated in their difficulty of arranging a symbolic pan-Kurdistan national conference over past few years. Even those arranged, such as the recent one in Moscow, were never representative, owed to ongoing friction.

The Ezidi community has endured more than its share of tragedy in recent years, and using the local community as political leverage by the PKK will only prolong suffering.

Turning the Kurdistan Region landscape into a patchwork of militias will fuel further animosity and disintegration. Ezidis and Christians have every right to protect their population, but only under the umbrella of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Ultimately, only the Peshmerga forces have the right to be deployed in Kurdistani territories of Iraq.

Anything else results in the formation of unnecessary cantons, susceptible to influence by outside forces, and potentially pitching locals against Peshmerga forces and the KRG.

Motives behind the continued PKK presence are intended for controlling the strategic cross-border area and to maintain political and regional leverage.

A statement from the Kurdistan Region Presidency warned, “No party is allowed to interfere in the Kurdistan Region’s affairs or restrict Peshmerga movement in the Region.” President Barzani had given an order to Peshmerga Ministry to bring “the situation under control and prevent it from escalation.”

The armed clashes in recent days led to accusations from both sides of initiating the conflict. The commander of the Peshmerga forces in Shingal, Sarbast Lezgin, blamed the PKK for creating problems and urged them to leave the area, while also warning that “we will not ask for PKK’s permission to move forces in the Kurdistan Region.”

Lezgin’s call echoed similar statements from the Ministry of Peshmerga affirming that they do not seek authorization from anyone during force changeover, or deployments within the borders of Kurdistan Region.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, Ezidi leaders including members of the Ezidi Religious Council (ERC) urged a stop to intra-Kurdish fighting and asked the PKK to leave the region.

“The wounds of Ezidis are still not cured, and we don’t want to face more injuries,” the announcement pleaded.

The friction centers on the presence of a 5000-strong Rojava Peshmerga force trained in the Kurdistan Region that is close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and endorsed by Turkey. In spite of the grave battle against IS in Rojava, these Peshmerga forces have not been allowed to enter owed to mistrust.

The dominant Rojava parties aligned to PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and those close to the KDP, have signed three peace agreements, yet none have been implemented.

The YBS and Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), an umbrella organization of the PKK, in separate statements, alleged the recent confrontations were a result of Barzani’s recent visit to Turkey.

The YBS see any deployment of the Rojava Peshmerga in Shingal as an “occupying force,” as they allege financing and training from Turkey.

For the PKK, it’s not just about Shingal, but keeping these Peshmerga forces off the vital border zone between Rojava and Kurdistan Region.

As many of the political leaders have condemned the incident, a political deal is needed to diffuse tension. For example, the KRG could open the border crossing, in return for PKK leaving the area.

YBS helping to stem IS in Shingal at a vital time, followed by Peshmerga forces assisting their brethren in Kobani, when the town was at its greatest hour of need, should have set the foundations for cross-border harmony.

Unfortunately, all too often, political affiliations and party interests quickly resume center stage.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Reliance on militia forces sows more sectarian cracks in Iraq

With much focus on the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS), there lacks a full consensus on the political future of the city, especially, how to maintain security.

As the Iraqi army, Peshmerga, Sunni tribal militia, and Shiite-led Population Mobilization Units (PMUs), painstakingly clear Mosul of IS fighters, an active local security force will be vital to keep the hard-fought gains.

Well-armed Iraqi forces wilted away as IS launched its lightning advance on Mosul in 2014.

It was the PMUs or Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella of mainly Shiite militia factions formed after a fatwa from influential cleric Ali al-Sistani, that stopped IS at the doors of Baghdad which was also instrumental in ousting IS from Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit.

The effectiveness of militia forces, when government forces already exist, speaks volumes about the sectarian undertones that continue to undermine Iraq.

The most effective forces are those motivated by sectarian or political loyalties, which poses a grave long-term dilemma for the Iraqi government.

The reliance on sectarian militias raises the prospect of more communal fuelled violence and revenge attacks. Reports of sectarian crimes marred the liberation of Fallujah and Tikrit.

In many ways IS capitalized on long-running Sunni discontent to assume power. Many tribal forces sided with IS as they saw them as a lesser evil than Shiite-dominated Baghdad.

A demand of the Sunnis has long been greater autonomy, and it is unclear what Baghdad will do to maintain long-term security in Sunni heartlands such as Mosul.

Leaving weak state forces in control of Mosul is risky, but at the same time, the presence of more powerful Shiite militias is a red line for Sunnis.

With even state forces lacking the overall trust of Iraqis as a sectarian neutral force, the only solution may well be to empower Sunni tribal militias. The PMU have already incorporated some smaller Sunni militias to give the flavor of a national force, but these are Sunnis with positive affiliations with Baghdad.

The Sunni Sahwa or Awakening councils were capable of driving out al-Qaeda at the heart of the Sunni insurgency in 2007-2008. While the PMUs were given a legal status in November 2016, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, refused to incorporate Sahwa councils into state security apparatus for fear that they may turn their guns on Baghdad.

As an official independent entity of the Iraqi Armed Forces, the PMU in theory come under the command of the Prime Minister. However, it’s doubtful if Baghdad has jurisdiction of the many disparate groups such as Badr Organization, Sayara al-Salam, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

It’s hard to ensure that these militia forces will cut political or social group affiliations, if not impossible.

The presence of many powerful militias also raises prospects of intra-fighting amongst sects. For example, it could lead to the marginalization of rival militias, Iraqi forces or allows a political party to dominate power.

According to Lt Gen. Stephen J. Townsend of the US-led anti-ISIL coalition, if the PMU forces could resemble more of a national guard and not a “puppet” of Iran, it could make Iraq more secure.

Many of the groups within the PMU already have strong connections with Iran, and this only adds to animosity with Sunnis and a sense of Iranian leverage over Baghdad. Commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has personally overseen many PMU battles raising suspicion.

But with their official status ensured, there is a danger that the powerful PMU forces may become the equivalent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, a force that serves political and sectarian loyalties than that of the state alone.

Hezbollah similarly mirrors this in Lebanon. They became a powerful parallel security structure that enjoys vast political and security influence.

Animosity and potential for clashes also stretch to Peshmerga forces, and there has been heightened rhetoric leading to skirmishes between both sides.

After a recent attack by a sub-unit of Hashd al-Shaabi on Peshmerga positions in Shingal, Sarbast Lezgin, a Peshmerga commander, warned of “loosely supervised groups within Hashd al-Shaabi who wish to create tension.”

According to Lezgin, “in December of last year alone, our positions were targeted four times.”

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani has emphasized the need for a comprehensive political solution post-IS to ensure same sectarian-fuelled environment does not lead to more instability. Barzani underscored in addition to fighting on the battlefield, “the intellectual, financial, political and social support for ISIS should be eliminated.”

However, although Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi replaced Maliki to heal the long neglected sectarian divide, Iraq remains at the mercy of sectarianism and violence.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

The liberation of Mosul rest on the Kurds

If the liberation of Ramadi, Tikrit, Sinjar and more recently Manbij in Syria proved painful and tricky leading to streams of refugees, then Mosul will prove much worse.

Islamic State (IS) has held Mosul for over two years. If the liberation was anything other than bloody and complicated, then it would not have taken months of planning.

The battle for Mosul raises more questions than answers for Baghdad. IS would not have rolled into Mosul with such ease if it did not have support of some locals and various other armed Sunni groups. Without addressing the sectarian discord that plagued Mosul and Sunni heartlands long before IS was even established, the post-liberation of Mosul will provide much trickier to manoeuvre.

Then there is the thousands of civilians that will flee the city, mostly like to the relative safety of Kurdistan. Kurdistan already houses 1.8 million internally displaces persons at a great financial burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

The Iraqi Defence Minister Khalid Obeidi recently warned that the Iraqi government will not allow the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate the city of Mosul. This was compounded by threats from Shia Popular Mobilization Units for Kurdish forces not to enter Mosul.

Ironically, the Shiite militias are likely to play a more effective role than the actual Iraqi army in any battle for Mosul. If Peshmerga are deemed as too sensitive to be deployed within the mainly Sunni city, then the presence of these militias will hardly soothe sectarian tensions. At least, there is a large population of Kurds in Mosul.

For all these warnings, there is no way that Mosul can be liberated without the support of the Peshmerga regardless of any coalition firepower. This was acknowledged by Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who stated that Mosul operations without the Peshmerga will be impossible. However, Barzani stressed that “they will have supportive role but will not enter the city”.

The importance of the Peshmerga is not lost on the United States who relies heavily on the Kurdish forces. This culminated in a recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between US and Kurdish officials in recent weeks that included provisions of military support to the Peshmerga forces.

Too often US has tip-toed around Baghdad when dealing with the Kurds due to political sensitivities but with the huge sacrifices of the Peshmerga, their critical role both now and the future and the much changed socio-political landscape in Iraq across the Middle East, the Kurds must be dealt with in their own right.

It’s disrespectful to Kurdish sacrifices to deal with Kurdistan through Baghdad when both zones are separated from each other and the Kurds have been all bu

Time to give Kurds in Iraq and Syria their due

As the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) dominates international attention, Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria find themselves at the forefront of the battle.

Although, the Kurds have proven to be the most effective forces on the ground, their rightful role in the negotiating table as regional players is often overlooked.

At the same time, the key US allies have not always been provided with the arms and firepower needed to match their strategic importance.

The White House has looked to the Peshmerga forces as key players in defeating IS, yet its stance towards the Kurds is typified by tip-toeing around Baghdad and the obsession of promoting a “unified” Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have not been invited to participate in the Vienna peace process that aim to provide political settlement to the crippling Syrian civil war as the U.S. deemed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as the “representative” for Iraq at the conference.

This ironic position is a continuation of past policy when the Kurds were omitted from key international security conferences.

This creates somewhat of a contrary approach to the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan is all but independent with very limited influence from Baghdad. Baghdad has not paid the regional budget for several months nor has it truly supported the Peshmerga forces.

The recent bill passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would authorize the U.S. to directly arm and train the Kurdish Peshmerga is a welcome move, even if it will not be received warmly by Washington or Baghdad.

The notion of an effective central government or a unified Iraq has long evaporated. U.S. will only alienate the Kurds the more it insists on any rational that Baghdad still represents the Kurds.

At the same time, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been the most effective military force against IS in Syria. They are essentially key U.S. allies that Washington is too hesitant to showcase in public.

Whilst a myriad of Syrian opposition parties were invited to a recent conference in Saudi Arabia that sought to unify opposition ranks ahead of proposed negotiations with the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG were notable absentees.

How can the U.S. and regional powers expect the Syrian Kurds to carry the fight to IS and yet it discards them for vital talks that directly implicate their future?

U.S. policy towards both Kurds in Syria and Iraq is dominated by political sensitivities and the need to appease Ankara, Baghdad and other regional voices, and is tarnished by double standards.

The Syrian National Council stated that the Kurds were not invited as they were too focused on fighting IS than Assad. The Kurds don’t have endless arms or manpower and they can hardly ignore IS on their doorstep as witnessed in Kobane, when they received little help from the same Arab opposition forces.

Then there is Turkish anxiety of Kurdish nationalism that leads to a narrow and unrealistic foreign policy. For example, are all Syrian Kurds simply affiliated to the PKK? It is unlikely that Syrian Kurds would back down from their hard fought autonomy which they have maintained at great cost in recent years.

Without a broad solution in Syria that covers every angle, true peace will never be achieved.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Barzani heads for talks with Obama, has the battle against the Islamic State served to unify Iraq or merely underscored its division?

The Islamic State (IS) has rapidly occupied the Middle Eastern equation over the last year and the Kurds find themselves at the centre of the battle.

While the Kurds assumed control of disputed territories as the Iraqi army wilted away amidst the IS avalanche, they have endured great atrocities under the hands of IS and with the Peshmerga suffering hundreds of casualties.

The battle against IS is far from just a military conundrum. At the heart of the matter is a political crisis underlined by a fractured landscape and deepening sectarian lines. The Sunni dilemma has not been addressed and IS merely took full advantage.

This begs the question of the repercussions of remaining as part of the Iraqi state for the Kurds. The statehood ambition of the Kurds is hardly a secret or a new phenomenon. If you ask any Kurd when statehood aspirations arose and the answer is most likely long before the artificial map of the Middle East was even drawn.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani is scheduled to commence an official visit to the US where will meet both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Barzani’s visit comes soon after the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The fight against IS is likely to dominate the agenda, but according to statements by Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency, the issue of independence will also be discussed.

The notion of Kurdish statehood at a sensitive time in the struggle against IS is hardly music to Obama’s ears. On the contrary, the Washington administration has tried hard in recent months to reinforce the principle of a “unified federal, pluralistic and democratic Iraq”. Key to this has been coordinating coalition’s efforts and weapons supplies via the central government.

Barzani is likely to repeat the calls for more arms but the US tip-toeing around Baghdad has been a big hindrance.

A great example was the recent international anti-IS conference in London, where despite their crucial role in the fight against IS, the Kurds were not even represented in the conference as the presence of al-Abadi was deemed sufficient to represent all Iraqis.

A key condition of the US intervention in Iraq last year was the ouster of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the onset of a more liberal and inclusive government. In fact national reconciliation and unity has been a common theme of the US list since 2003.

A US spokeswoman confirmed that Barzani’s visit will include talks on Wednesday with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken to discuss “the combined campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

A key litmus test will be the liberation of Mosul. But this is not without its own perils. Ultimately, it must be Sunni sentiment and the local population that play the key role in driving out IS in conjunction with the Iraqi army.

And this is where Iraqi fault lines are best summed up. It is the Shia militias that are arguably the strongest force at the disposal of Baghdad and their presence in Mosul is hardly going to bode well for the locals.

The Kurds, who have shouldered tremendous sacrifices in largely liberating Kurdish areas, will have little appetite to lead the charge in Arab dominated areas such as Mosul but will ultimately still play a key support role.

Once IS is driven out, who is then responsible for the security and policy of the area? Without Sunni control over security, any Shia or Kurdish control of Mosul will simply stoke further unrest.

This ultimately leads to the question of arming Sunnis and creating an official Sunni force. Whilst it may be effective in the short-term, it will merely deepen the fractures in the Iraqi state.

Regardless of whether Obama entertains the notion of formal Kurdish independence or US insistence that the battle against IS has somewhat served to unify Iraqi ranks, IS has merely served to underscore the division of Iraq.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With Kurdish forces in ascendancy against IS in Syria and Iraq – coalition must focus on empowering vital allies of today, not training of Syrian and Iraqi forces that may come too late

As the barbarous threat of the Islamic State (IS) has become the top global concern, Kurdish forces have taken center stage in the fight in Iraq and Syria.

Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in breaking any notion of invincibility of IS. Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), have proven that on both sides of the border, the US-led coalitions biggest bet against IS are the Kurds.

Since the siege of Kobane was broken after months of fierce battles with the help of Peshmerga forces and hundreds of coalition airstrikes, YPG forces have been on the offensive, retaking hundreds of villages in the area and dealing a blow to IS.

Advances also included sections of the vital highway that connects IS forces from Aleppo to Raqqa, as YPG and Peshmerga forces closed on another vital border crossing with Turkey – Gire Sipe (Tel Abyad).

YPG forces also took control of the strategic town of Tel Hamees in the Hassakah province in recent days, clearing dozens of villages along the way. The battle against IS, cannot be confined to local battles in Iraq or Syria – the battle is one and the same.

With the Peshmerga continuing to choke IS supply lines around Mosul, Shingal and key areas on the border with Syria, YPG led advances break a vital IS bridge linking forces across the border.

However, as symbolic as Kurdish gains appear to be in Syria, they are by no means irreversible. IS may have lost strategic ground and their pride will be hurt, but they far from a spent force.

Whilst coalition air strikes have been pivotal in Kurdish advances on both sides of the border, it brings into full view the lack of short-term urgency in the US strategy.

The US plans to start training the first batch of moderate Syrian fighters as part of its wider initiative to defeat IS. Unfortunately, the 5000 or so fighters will only be ready by end of year and in total there may be 15000 fighters after 3 years.

This is where the vast cracks in policy appear. The battle against IS is now, not end of the year or in 3 years’ time.

Crucially, the YPG were supported by Syrian rebel fighters. It proves that as fractured as the opposition forces are in Syria, alliances can be affective. YPG forces need support now if they are to firstly hold onto their gains and secondly if they are to continue their vital push into IS strongholds.

Syrian Kurds have proved an affective fighting force but they remain somewhat in the shadows of Turkish suspicion and anxiety over empowering them any further.

Turkey has to choose between a strong Kurdish force that will be vital to defeating IS and bringing stability to the Turkish border, which has been the real gateway for IS, or seeing that IS regains the upper hand whilst moderate Syrian forces get trained.

The people greatly afflicted by IS cannot wait whilst Syrian rebels or Iraqi forces are trained. Only this week the militants abducted over 200 Christian Assyrians in the same area that YPG forces later liberated.

If US continues to focus on Syrian and Iraqi forces, the gains against IS will be diluted. As much as YPG forces need arms, Peshmerga forces are in need of heavy weaponry and equipment. Yet the US has focused on training Iraqi battalions to retake Mosul.

Ironically, the same Peshmerga forces are then expected to make further sacrifices in joining the battle for Mosul, when local Arabs have not been enticed to fight.

With coordinated action across the borders, IS can be split further and their effectiveness greatly hampered. Does the US provide necessary arms and support to the Kurds now in their ascendency, or do they drag out the war waiting to train Syrian forces?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Peshmerga continue advance on Mosul, Kurds repaid with no seat at international anti-Islamic State conference

When the Islamic State (IS) launched rapid attacks on Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of Iraq, the well-equipped and sizeable Iraqi army wilted away. Ironically, IS took large quantities of US-supplied heavy weaponry and laid siege on more Iraqi cities and then Kurdistan.

The United States led coalition has spent billions and several hundred air-strikes destroying a large proportion of their own weaponry.

As the Iraqi army evaporated, the Kurds took center stage in the battle against IS. The sacrifices of the Peshmerga have directly resulted in the IS staying largely on the back-foot and on the defensive.

It was highly symbolic that in the same week that Kurdish force took control of several towns and villages in an offensive west of Mosul bringing Mosul center firmly within range, that Kurdistan leadership was not even represented at the international anti-IS conference in London.

Kurdistan forces have gained international-wide coverage and respect as the champions of the war against IS and Western powers, seeing the strategic importance of the Peshmerga in the fight against IS, have supplied heavy weaponry and ammunition to the Kurds.

The Kurds hoped that their ever increasing strategic standing would have enshrined their quest for independence. After all, they were the real defenders of the so-called disputed territories in Iraq, it was their forces that led the push-back against IS and it was their bastion of peace and tolerance that IS wanted to break.

The Kurdish role took on greater significance for the West but yet again it appears that the Kurdish effort is diluted by the Western obsession of a united Iraq. It was as though, Iraqi Prime Ministers Haider al-Abadi presence was all that was necessary.

Baghdad has proven anything but a true representative of the Kurds. When IS attacked Kurdistan and the disputed territories that Baghdad so stubbornly refused to hold referendums over, the Iraqi army was nowhere in sight. In fact, for over a decade Baghdad has refused to fund the Peshmerga forces even though they have protected Iraqi cities amidst al-Qaeda and inter-sectarian conflict, never mind the fight against IS today.

Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani, who expressed his disappointment at the organizers of the conference, stated “it is unfortunate that the people of Kurdistan do the sacrifice and the credit goes to others.” Barzani highlighted that the Peshmerga “are the most effective force countering global terrorism today” and that “the people of Kurdistan bear the brunt of this situation and no country or party can represent or truly convey their voice in international gatherings.”

Meanwhile, Abadi pleaded for more weapons. The problem is not providing heavy weaponry to the Iraqi army, they have already received plenty. The underlying problem is that sectarian animosity, lack of belief in a national cause and no common loyalty, means that such provisions were quickly wasted.

It is time for the Kurds to receive military assistance and the due credit they deserve. The continuous illusion of US and European powers of a unified Iraq was one of the main reasons for the IS onslaught in the first place. If Iraq as a nation was fractured before the events of 2014, it is now firmly beyond repair.

Stable, secular and pro-Western forces are values and allies that the US should be running to protect and endorse, they have hardly got them in abundance in a rapidly deteriorating Middle East.

With a major assault to retake Mosul mooted for the spring, already hesitant Kurds must be thinking twice of further sacrifices in fighting Baghdad’s war.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Bravery, selflessness and sacrifice of the Peshmerga – words are easy, real deeds are not

Bravery, selflessness and sacrifice are easy words on the tongue but on the battlefield in the midst of bullets, mortar fire, machine guns and all sorts of explosive devices, these virtues and actions cannot be portrayed by mere words. We live in a day and age where some people will not sacrifice $50 for their poor neighbor let alone his life for his country, where someone will not intervene in a gross injustice in the streets in front of their very eyes for fear of reprisal.

This week we received the tragic news of another Peshmerga martyr in our family fighting the Islamic State (IS). The dedicated, passionate, loyal and long-serving Peshmerga, Ibrahim Sabir Ismaeel, was killed by a mine-trap left by the ever vicious and inhumane IS forces.

Leaving behind his wife, sons and daughters, not to mention his elderly and grieving parents, the hundreds of Peshmerga such as Ibrahim face the enemy not with mere words but real actions and in the face of the ultimate sacrifice.

I grew up in the devastating war of the 80’s against the Kurds. I may not have fought or held a gun but the tragic circumstances of those years will forever live in my memory. Witnessing the destruction of your village, been left homeless, believing that your father was dead for many years and seeing the bodies of scores of relatives executed by Saddam or killed in battle are not memories that simply vanish.

My father was confined to been disabled from a young age after been severely wounded as a Peshmerga. His mobility, health and sense of enjoyment in life were never the same. But it’s a sacrifice that he and thousands of other Peshmerga have made.

He often tells me the tales of battle of the Peshmerga forces. The tales are harrowing enough to listen to let alone for someone actually in the heat of battle under fierce gun-fire, knowing that with every battle they may pay the ultimate price and never see their families again.

2014 will be year that will serve in the memory of all Kurds much like the massacre of Halabja in 1988 or the Kurdish uprising in 1991. It’s a war that no Kurd asked for and most Kurds never imagined will return to their much scarred and blood-soaked lands.

Kurdistan was an island of peace and stability, far from the destruction and sectarian violence in Iraq or later in Syria. IS may have broken more mothers hearts but not the valor and determination of the Kurds. There are armies much stronger and tougher than IS that failed to break down the will and spirit of the Kurds and IS will be defeated.

As we enter 2015, we hope and pray for a peaceful dawn in Kurdistan and that dark forces such as IS will be swiftly broken and forever purged from these lands.

Our great gratitude, appreciation and debt will forever linger for the brave Peshmerga that sacrifice so much to protect these lands.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

2014 in review – a year that will long echo in the history of Kurdistan

2014 proved a remarkable year for Kurdistan that will long serve in the memory and echo for many generations to come.

Kurdistan started the year on a historic footing with oil flowing, stored and read to sell via its new oil pipelines to Turkey. It completed a symbolic quest for self-sufficiency and opened a new chapter in its strategic standing with first oil exports a few months later in May. It finished the year on the attack against the Islamic State (IS) after breaking the siege of Mount Sinjar, just a few months after IS threatened to knock on the doors of Erbil.

These two events demonstrate the turbulence and emotional journey of Kurdistan in the last 12 months.

Independent oil exports were a significant stride for Kurdistan. It threatened to cut the last remaining umbilical cord with Baghdad. The first half of 2014 was tainted with much of the same relations with Baghdad – disagreements, distrust and marginalization policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Relations with Baghdad turned so sour that Maliki effectively launched an economic siege on Kurdistan, withholding budget payments.

Iraq may have held national elections on April 30th 2014 but any sense of unity or reconciliation amongst Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds was as distant as ever. Maliki’s State of Law coalition may have won but for the Kurds a third term for Maliki was a firm red line.

The Kurds themselves took several months after parliamentary elections to form their own government owed to changing political realities on the ground.

The real game changer undoubtedly came in June. IS, already prominent in parts of Anbar province, launched a whirlwind attack on Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas leaving Iraqi security forces in disarray. As IS took over town after town, not to mention oil installations and vast amounts of heavy weapons, it made mockery of US President Barack Obama’s assessment of groups such IS as minor players just six months prior.

Iraq was shaken with IS threatening to break down the door to Baghdad. The Kurds quickly assumed the security vacuum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories as IS forces closed in. It may have been far from an ideal scenario, but the lands that Kurds failed to get in 11 years of diplomacy and political jockeying, were swiftly in Kurdish control in merely hours.

Add to Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani’s public declaration to hold a referendum and independence never felt so close.

If Maliki’s days were already numbered, then the IS onslaught laid to rest any faint chance of retaining premiership. Such was the frayed relations with Kurds, that even under immense pressure and with Shiite militias effectively the last barrier between IS and Baghdad, Maliki resorted to launching a fierce tirade at the Kurds accusing them of hosting IS and other insurgents.

The Kurdish borders were no longer with Iraq but with the Islamic State. As IS seemed determined to head south, Kurdish forces became complacent and events thereafter will live in the memory much like other atrocities against the Kurds.

The Kurds, caught off-guard, were overrun in Sinjar and several other towns. Religious minorities were already the subject of widespread atrocities after the initial IS invasion in June, but what was to follow shocked Kurdistan and world. Thousands of Yezidis were slain with thousands of women taken captive, not to mention the thousands more that died in harsh conditions on top of Mount Sinjar under searing heat and threat of IS.

IS didn’t stop at Sinjar as it quickly took Zumar, Makhmur and threatened the very doorsteps of Erbil.it was at this moment that IS was no longer a regional problem that could be ignored. It became an international crisis and an international dilemma, even if the Kurds bore the brunt of the battle.

With threat of humanitarian catastrophe increasing by the day, the US and its allies finally intervened in August, a campaign that was later extended to Syria in September, helping Kurdish forces push back heavily armed IS forces.

The first casualty of US intervention was the end of Maliki. An already reluctant US was not going to intervene without their own preconditions for fractured Iraqis.

The struggle and determination of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces received wide coverage across the globe. US and European powers soon felt compelled to supply key arms to the Kurds.

Now the Kurds were at the forefront of the battle against IS that continues valiantly and with much sacrifice to this day. Syrian Kurdish forces were already engaged in deadly battles for many months before, but the latest battle for Kobane was a much different prospect. Surrounded on 3 sides, it was coalition airstrikes that gave much needed relief to Kurdish forces even as Turkish tanks on the border stood and watched on.

So iconic and defining was Kobane for Kurds across the border that it even threatened the end of the peace process in Turkey with the PKK.

The deployment of 150 Peshmerga to help Syrian YPG forces was symbolic in that it eroded borders of Kurdistan as Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq came together.

With such widespread media coverage of Kobane, the bringing together of Kurds across the region and not mention regional and international players involved, Kobane transformed the regional dynamic.

Kurdish forces in Rojava received much acclaim as a bastion against IS in Syria as ties with the US slowly blossomed, much to the annoyance of Turkey whose relations with the US were already strained over Syria.

What 2015 brings for the Kurds is unclear. But top of the list of wishes is the end of IS, protection of their communities and renewed peace. Either way, 2014 will long echo in the history of Kurdistan.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

How the battle for Kobane and Peshmerga deployment eroded borders between Kurds

Barely a few weeks ago, Kobane was surrounded on three sides by heavily armed Islamic State (IS) forces and in danger of imminent collapse. Now, Kobane has propelled itself as the symbol of the international battle against IS but more importantly it has placed the Syrian Kurds under great international spotlight.

Few would have imagined that this small dusty town would have brought together in one way or another, Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkey, the US, European Union, Saudi Arabia and various coalition partners.

Events on the ground as well as the political dynamic have transformed to the extent John Allen, the retired US general in charge of overseeing the US campaign against IS, stated that the town is no longer in danger of fallen into IS hands.

This week in a highly symbolic move, 150 Iraqi Peshmerga forces crossed the Turkish border to help in the defense of the town. 150 troops is an important but nevertheless symbolic figure, however the heavy weaponry that accompanies them add to their considerable clout.

Of greater significance is the boost in morale and optimism that Kobane and the local Kurdish population have received with this reinforcement. The journey of these Peshmerga, to rapturous welcome of Turkish Kurds, was also symbolic as it crossed three parts of Kurdistan.

With Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria cheering equally resolutely, the deployment of the Peshmerga forces greatly enhanced Kurdish unity. The deployment also opens a new channel that will not remain closed, if the situation dictates the path is clear for further Peshmerga reinforcements to arrive.

Just weeks ago, Kobane was confounded to a local problem. It is now cross-border Kurdish problem as well as a firm strategic goal of the coalition forces.

Kobane has not been without its ironies. Turkey has faced a backlash over its stance on Kobane. Although it has welcomed Iraqi Kurdish and FSA forces, at the same time it has loathed any support of the People Defense Unit (YPG) forces for their sympathies to the PKK.

In parallel with Peshmerga reinforcements, FSA forces recently entered to support Kobane, a key demand from Turkey to try and give the Kobane battle a more Syrian and anti-Assad feel, than a united Kurdish campaign based on nationalism. Although it won’t transform the historically cautious relations between FSA battalions and Kurdish forces overnight, this latest cooperation may pave the way for a joining of forces to oust Assad once the IS headache is resolved (as Ankara has long demanded)

This week, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahem Davutoglu hit back at growing critics, stating his refusal to be part of a ‘game’ for a few weeks to satisfy American or European opinion.

The battle for Kobane has marked the brave resistance of Syrian Kurdish forces but it has also placed into clear context the strength of IS. On Wednesday alone, there were 10 US led air strikes against IS positions in Kobane with dozens more since the allied campaign intensified in recent weeks.

Yet, even with other front lines in Iraq and other parts of Syria, and an avalanche of air strikes, IS has become weakened but largely prevailed. Literally hundreds of IS armored vehicles and positions have been destroyed – this only shows how much of a force and a problem that IS had become.

It developed tremendous strength over the past 2 years, especially since its conquests in Iraq, but the West ignored this stark reality and reacted too late. Indeed for the YPG, bloody battles with IS over the past year or so, often with little support and recognition, is not new.

Now a vicious war rages against IS in Syria and Iraq. What makes all this a remarkable irony, is that this is only a war within a war. A greater Syrian civil war still rages with over 200,000 killed and with Bashar al-Assad firmly in power, regardless of how the battle against IS now dominates the headlines.

It was the Syrian civil war, security vacuums and lack of a clear Western policy that created IS. Now, with much more investment, intense fighting and a great deal of sacrifice, IS will be defeated but what then for Syria and the other fronts of war?

Defeating IS is one thing, letting them re-spawn is another matter entirely that the West cannot overlook.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally admitted a well-known reality, that the campaign against IS is benefitting Assad even if their long-term target remains his removal from power.

Syrian and IS need a comprehensive solution. Above all, both regional and global powers now need to look at the new realities of the war in Syria. The situation can never return to any pre-civil war era. With every sacrifice and valiant resistance, the Syrian Kurds consolidate their hard fought and deserved autonomy. Kobane could well serve as the iconic bridge that brought all of great Kurdistan together both now and the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc