Rojda Felat, a Kurdish revolutionary feminist, is leading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces' offensive on Raqqa, capital of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. A three-year veteran of the struggle against ISIS, she is serving as commander of 15,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US special forces and warplanes, under the banner of the SDF. "My main goal is liberating the Kurdish woman and the Syrian woman in general from the ties and control of traditional society, as well as liberating the entirety of Syria from terrorism and tyranny," she told the London Times.
Felat was previously involved in the liberation of the town of Shadadi, in an operation known as "Wrath of Khabur" for the local tributary of Euphrates River. The town in Hasakah governorate was notorious for its use as a market to sell Yazidi girls as sex slaves captured in the Sinjar region of Iraq. "The Yazidi girls were sold at the Shadadi market, and today we took revenge for them," Felat said.
Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls remain captives of ISIS. This week in Mosul, at least 19 Yazidi girls were burned alive by their captors, activists and witnesses reported. The victims, who had been taken by ISIS as sex slaves, were placed in iron cages in central Mosul and burned to death in front of hundreds of people. "They were punished for refusing to have sex with ISIS militants," local media activist Abdullah al-Malla told ARA News.
But the involvement of imperial powers in the anti-ISIS offensive inevitably complicates things. There was a huge stink in the Turkish press last week when photos emerged of US Green Berets fighting alongside the People's Protection Unit (YPG, the Kurdish militia that constitutes the core of the SDF)—and wearing their insignia. The Pentagon said that special forces troops typically adopt the insignia of local forces they are embedded with, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu issued the requisite protest: "It is unacceptable that an ally country is using the YPG insignia. We reacted to it. It is impossible to accept it. This is a double standard and hypocrisy." (Hurriyet Daily News, May 27) The phrase "double standard" is a reference to ISIS, and a part of Turkey's cynical propaganda game of conflating the secular-democratic Kurdish forces and ISIS as equally "terrorist."
The need to appease Turkey in the face of this cooperation with the Kurds was on display last month when the US, Britain, France and Ukraine blocked a Russian proposal at the United Nations to blacklist Syrian rebel groups Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham for links to al-Qaeda. (Reuters, May 11) These groups have indeed been openly collaborating with the Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, and are bitter enemies of the Syrian Kurds. But they are being backed by Turkey, and not blacklisting them was therefore mandated by the Great Game. As was Russia's move to get them blacklisted—a case of Moscow doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Moscow's bad faith was made dramatically clear in reports of Russian warplanes carrying out bombing raids in Idblib May 30, leaving over 40 civilians dead and two hospitals destroyed. (Syrian Observer, June 1) Russia is continuing to target hospitals in rebel-held areas despite its announced "withdrawal" from Syria. In backing the genocidal regime of Bashar Assad, Russia forfeits all credibility to call out the US and Turkey on their connivance with reactionary jihadist factions.
We can root for Rojda Felat and her offensive against ISIS—without closing our eyes to the complexities and contradictions. In fact, we must.