Syria: Kurds to join regime offensive on Idlib?

As the Assad regime and its Russian backers prepare an offensive to take Idlib, the last area of opposition control in Syria, the people of the northern province have been holding demonstrations, organized by the civil resistance, waving the Free Syria flag and calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. Hundreds of civilians have fled the front-line area in the south of the province, as the first Russian-led air-strikes opened this week. A summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran is underway in Tehran to try to arrive at consensus over Idlib’s fate, but Moscow and the Islamic Republic refuse to abandon their commitment to an invasion of the province of 3 million, which already faces grave humanitarian conditions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Syrian army is “getting ready” to clear the “cradle of terrorism” in Idlib  (EA Worldview, AFP, Al Jazeera, BBC News) Reuters ran gut-wrenching photos of Idlib residents fitting their children with improvised gas-masks—fashioned from plastic sheeting and plastic cups filled with cotton and charcoal—in anticipation of a chemical attack.

Dozens of Kurdish fighters who had fought in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the US-backed campaign against ISIS, are now reported to have joined the regime offensive on Idlib. The SDF’s civilian wing, the Syrian Democratic Council, over the summer sent a delegation to Damascus to open talks on coming to some kind of accommodation with the Assad regime. (The Guardian, Atlantic Council)

Despite these overtures, the regime continues to reject any recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava. “We cannot give any Syrian province something which differentiates it from other provinces or ethnicities, or [allow it] any situation which strikes at the idea that Syria is one country and one society,” the regime’s “reconciliation” (sic) minister Ali Haidar said in an interview with Russia’s Arabic-language Sputnik news agency, refering to Rojava. (Reuters)

The Rojava Kurds have had to make some very hard decisions. First, despite their anarchist-influenced politics, they allied with US imperialism against ISIS. And now they appear to be closing ranks with the Assad regime—because Turkey, which wants to crush them, is backing the Free Syrian Army. The Kurds and Arabs have been pitted against each other by Great Power machinations.

But just as the Kurds are likely to be betrayed by the US in an imperial carve-up deal with Turkey now that ISIS is effectively defeated, we foresee that they will be similarly betrayed by Assad once the Free Syrian Army is effectively defeated. And indeed, even as Kurdish forces were reported to have joined the Idlib offensive, news also broke of deadly clashes between Kurdish militia fighters and regime troops in the Rojava town of Qamishli. The fighting apparently started Sept. 8, when a Syrian army convoy entered the town, and was met with resistance by the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG). It is unclear who now controls Qamishli, and the town may be divided. (Reuters)

The fundamental contradiction over Rojava’s autonomy may prove an obstacle to Kurdish accommodations with Assad. And the fighting in Qamishli may prove an effective tonic. Even if it appears to be in their short-term self-interest, any Kurdish deal with Assad will only entrench the trajectory toward Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria. And (we hate to say it) it could make the Rojava Kurds, who so heroically stood up the ISIS forces that were bent on genocide in 2014, complicit with Assad’s genocide—already being carried out in areas of Syria under regime control, and now clearly being prepared for Idlib.

While thoroughly understanding the pressures they are under, we can only hope that the Rojava Kurds will reject the Assad regime’s toxic bait.

Photo: EA Worldview