PKK-aligned Yazidi militia battles ISIS
An Aug. 7 account on Daily Beast reports that young Yazidis—including women—are returning to the Mount Sinjar area of Iraq from which they were "cleansed" by ISIS last year, and fighting to reclaim their homeland from the jihadists. They also hope to rescue hundreds of Yazidi women and youth who remain in ISIS captivity. They are organized in a militia called the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), which the article portrays as trained by and in the political orbit of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Young Yazidi fighters are quoted saying they feel betrayed by the Peshmerga of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, which they say abandoned them to ISIS. But we've noted before the problemetic nature of Daily Beast's reportage on Syria and Iraq, and this is no exception. The PKK is called a "Marxist and allegedly terrorist organization" (the word "allegedly" apparently having been added after publication, to go by the cache as it appears on Facebook). It states that the PKK was "[b]uilt on Marxist-Leninist ideals and Kurdish nationalism," without stating that it has in recent years moved away from both towards an anarchist-influenced politics.
Then there's the headline: "Yazidi Child Soldiers Take Revenge on ISIS." Most of the fighters are still in their teens. Accusations of use of child soliders have been levelled against the PKK before. On July 15, Human Rights Watch published a report accusing the PKK's allied militia in Syria, the People's Protection Units (YPG), of violating a June 2014 "Deed of Commitment" it signed with the non-governmental organization Geneva Call pledging to demobilize all fighters under 18 within one month. Some 150 such fighters were indeed demobilized, but HRW finds that the YPG has again been recruiting underage fighters in the escalated war with ISIS. HRW linked to a response issued by the YPG pledging to investigate the charges.
One welcome addition to the Daily Beast story is a quote from David L. Phillips, a former State Department advisor and now director of the Peace-Building and Rights Program at Columbia University who has been a strong advocate of the revolutionary Kurds. He states that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "took steps deliberately to provoke the PKK" by bombing their positions in Iraq. "By responding, the Western countries are going to put on the back burner any talk about taking the PKK off the FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization] list."
Presumably, this means that the PKK response of escalating attacks within Turkey will provide the State Department and European Union an excuse not to remove the PKK from their "terrorist organization" lists—which they had been under growing pressure to do as the PKK and allied forces such as the YPG have proved themselves the most effective force on the ground against ISIS. Thus far, the Turkish air-strikes have mostly been on PKK targets in Iraq, but Phillips predicts, "I would say it's only a short matter of time before [Erdogan] starts bombing YPG facilities in Rojava," or northern Syria.
Perhaps there is still time. We say again: This is the moment for urgent pressure on the Turkish state. There must be an immediate halt to air-strikes on anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, and no extension of the air campaign to Rojava.