Well, here's a bizarre irony. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today warned Turkey that "only 24 hours" were left for Ankara to remove forces it sent into the north of his country. "We must be prepared and ready to defend Iraq and its sovereignty," said Abadi. "The air force has the capability…to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces." (Al Jazeera) Turkey says it has deployed the 150 soldiers to the town of Bashiqa to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. (BBC News) So Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its strongman Masoud Barzani have invited in Turkish forces, while the Baghdad regime is demanding that they leave. Turkey is doubtless motivated by the need to police northern Iraq against the growing influence there of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KRG and PKK are ostensibly allied against ISIS. But the KRG is shamefully acquiescing in Turkey's bombing of PKK fighters within its own territory—a terrible blow to Kurdish solidarity and the anti-ISIS struggle. Now this contradiction has just become clearer—and more urgent.
Ezidi Press, website of Iraq's Yazidi minority, reports that the Turkish force that has set up a base in Bashiqa (a Christian-Yazidi town) are from the Bordo Bereliler (Maroon Berets) special forces unit—known as the "Kurd butchers" among Kurds from Turkey for their brutal counterinsurgency campaigns against the PKK. The newly formed Yazidi militia is in the political orbit of the PKK and has resisted pressure to join Barzani's machine.
New offensive against Rojava Kurds
The PKK-aligned autonomous Kurdish region in across the border in Syria has meanwhile declared a state of emergency, warning that the Nusra Front and its ally Ahrar al-Sham are threatening the area. The state of emergency affects Afrin canton, westernmost of the three self-governing cantons in the Kurdish autonomous zone and the last one separated from the other two by a thin strip of ISIS-controlled territory. A Kurdish seizure of this strip would finally unify the Kurdish autonomous zone—known as Rojava—but would cross one of Turkey's declared "red lines" in northern Syria.
Now, rather than fighting ISIS to take the strip on its eastern border, the Afrin Kurdish forces must defend their canton from the Nusra advance to the west. It is hard not see a Turkish hand behind the new offensive against Afrin—especially given mounting evidence of Ankara's connivance with the Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front.
Fighting was also reported from Aleppo between Islamist factions and Jaysh al-Thuwar—an Arab militia now allied with the Kurds in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This is further evidence of a split within the Syrian rebels between Islamist factions backed by Turkey and secular elements allied with the Kurds. (Now Media)
Russia backing Syrian Kurds?
A big propaganda push is on to portray the Syrian Kurds as in league with Russia—Turkey's imperial rival. There is obviously some poltical logic to such an alliance, but it would also be seen as a betrayal by Syria's Arab and Turkmen rebels (and civilians in rebel-held areas) who have been coming under vicious Russian aerial bombardment. Now the first report has emerged that Russia has joined the US in air-dropping military equipment to Rojava Kurds. The air-drop was apparently made to Kurdish forces "north of Aleppo," which would mean Afrin canton. The report comes from the Barzani-aligned BasNews, citing a statement by the Local Coordination Committees, the Syrian civil resistance network. The statement is not linked to, and we were unable to find it elsewhere.
Orient News reports for the first time Russian air-strikes in support of Syrian rebels fighting ISIS—rather than in support of regime forces. Counter-intuitively, the named rebels are not Kurds but the Islamist-dominated Shamia Front, which is said to have just taken Jarez village in Aleppo governorate from ISIS with Russian air support.
In another possible sign of shifting alliances, the US is reported to have to have carried out its first air-strike on regime forces in Syria. According to the BBC, the Syrian government said three of its soldiers were killed in a strike by the US-led coalition on an army camp in Deir al-Zour governorate, calling it an act of "flagrant aggression." The coalition denied responsibility.
The Guardian, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile reports that at least 26 civilians were killed in a US air-strike on ISIS-controlled al-Khan village, north of Raqqa, the ISIS capital. The Pentagon says it is investigating the claim.
Propaganda push against Kurds
El-Dorar al-Shamia website (seemingly aligned with the Islamist factions) is the latest to make claims of rights abuses by the Rojava Kurdish forces. The report cites unnamed "local sources" as telling Shahba Press that Kurdish militiamen with the SDF "committed a massacre" of some 25 residents in Azaz town, Aleppo governorate. We continue to be highly skeptical of such claims.
Lines drawn over Rojava's fate
The Rojava Kurds and their local allies—including Arab and Assyrian organizations—have announced a meeting in al-Malikiyeh town, Hasakeh governorate (Jazira canton) to arrive at a shared vision for the region's future. The meeting was called after Rojava Kurdish leaders were not invited to a meeting on Syria's future to be held this weekend in Riyadh. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said that all ethnic groups were invited to the Riyadh talks, which are aimed at hashing out a common platform ahead of potential negotiations with the Damascus regime. But it is again difficult to believe that the failure to invite the Kurds was a mere unintentional oversight. (France24)
All signs point to an imminent Turkish or Turkish-instrumented campaign to eliminate revolutionary Kurdish forces in both Iraq and Syria. Nothing would be more destructive to the supposed shared aim of defeating ISIS. The Saudis have evidently closed ranks. Let us hope that Washington will not.