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