Whilst the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) was propelled into the limelight in spectacular manner in Iraq, controlling Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory across Iraq, for the Kurds of Syria their deadly battles with the al-Qaeda offshoot over the past year or so have largely failed to make headlines.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has ubiquitously engaged in furious battles against IS militiamen across the areas in Syria under Kurdish control. Those Kurdish areas are of strategic importance, as they straddle the Turkish border — and with it some of the most vital border crossings — and are home to some of Syria’s largest oil fields.
Conversely, the battle of the Peshmerga forces in Iraq has been well noted, as they have formed a formidable frontier against IS rebels, all but saving Kirkuk and many other cities from falling to the IS, which recently changed its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In the same manner as the Peshmerga, the YPG should be acknowledged for its vital role in keeping IS at bay in Syria.
Fresh from their gains in Iraq, a buoyant IS has returned to Syria with a new onslaught on Kobane and other Kurdish towns and villages. However, this time the goalposts have shifted. Armed with significant booty from their Iraq conquests, including Humvees, tanks and artillery — not to mention millions of dollars in funds – IS quickly shifted their guns to the Syrian Kurds once more.
According to Jabar Yawar, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry, “ISIS has different types of rockets, tanks and other heavy weaponry that they got from the Iraqi army and now they use these weapons to attack Kobane.”
Faced with a barrage of attacks on Kobane from different sides, Kurdish forces have fervently confronted IS forces; but they will ultimately struggle under inferior firepower. The co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, warned that IS now possesses “heavy weaponry like mortars and tanks, which concerns our forces. We can’t use our weapons against their bulletproof tanks.”
Furthermore, Syrian Kurds have complained at lack of humanitarian aid over the past couple of years and have been hampered under the cautious eyes of Ankara. YPG spokesperson Redur Xalil called on the international community to “intervene immediately and carry out their duty toward Kobane.”
The Syrian Kurds freed themselves from decades of tyranny and repression and announced self-rule across three cantons. But lack of political unity between the main PYD party and other political parties threaten the existence of the administration in the midst of increasing danger.
The situation has not been helped with lukewarm relations between the PYD and the Kurdistan Region leadership.
There could be no better time for the Kurds to unite and protect the Kurdish population in Syria and also preserve hard-fought Kurdish self-rule. IS is not just an internal matter for the Syrian Kurds: What happens there is very much a problem for the Iraqi Kurds.
Because if Kobane and other major Kurdish cities fall, the IS gets even stronger. That is not good for Erbil, which is also somewhere on the IS priority list of enemies to annul.
For Abdul-Salam Ahmed, co-chair of PYD, Kobane was effectively becoming a factor to “the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement,” the 1916 pact by which the powers of the time redrew the Ottoman Empire borders, essentially dividing the Kurds in the process. Whilst rallying Kurdish unity, Kurdish veteran politician Ahmet Turk emphasized that there is no difference between Kobane and Kirkuk.
PYD head Muslim warned that the unity of the three cantons and ultimately the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region itself depends on Kobane, which he labeled as the “symbol of the Kurds’ identity and resistance.” He urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani to join a common struggle against the Islamic militants, claiming that Barzani “had not fully grasped the nature of ISIS.”
Whilst the Kurdish Region edges towards independence, the importance of a stable, secure and prosperous Kurdistan Region of Syria as a key neighbor cannot be discounted.
To this effect, the Syrian Kurds, who have already imposed compulsory military service, have tried to rally Kurds in Iraq and particularly Turkey. Gharib Haso, an official from the PYD, claimed that “Young Kurds from all parts of Kurdistan are going to Syria.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdul Rahman stated that at least 800 Kurdish fighters had crossed the Turkish border into Syria to join the battle.
“It’s a life-or-death battle for the Kurds. If ISIS takes Ayn al Arab (Kobane), it will advance eastwards toward other Kurdish Syrian areas, such as Hasakah in the northeast,” he warned.
The ultimate success of greater Kurdistan rests with all its four parts. There is no better place to start than with a political alliance amongst Kurdish parties in Syria and the fostering of better ties between the Rojava administration and the Kurdistan Region.