Turkey launched its assault on the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria Oct. 9, with air-strikes and artillery pounding areas along the Syrian-Turkish border. Hundreds of civilians have fled the bombardment, headed south into areas still held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish offensive comes days after President Trump announced that he is withdrawing US forces from Kurdish-held territory in Syria, a move widely condemned by Washington's allies. "The [US] statement was a surprise and we can say that it is a stab in the back for the SDF," said militia spokesman Kino Gabriel. (MEE, BBC News)
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.
A disturbing report from the Assyrian Policy Institute provides details on an incident in the northern Syrian town of Qamishli in which Kurdish militia fighters supposedly opened fire during a protest by local Assyrian Christians. Footage of the incident was first posted on YouTube, and tweeted by opponents of the Kurdish autonomous administration. According to the report, the unrest began on Aug. 28 when private Assyrian schools in Qamishli were invaded by a mixed force of "militiamen belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)," and allied Sutoro and Dawronoye militias. The PYD militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), is the central pillar of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Sutoro, affiliated with the Syriac Military Council, and Dawronoye are both leftist Assyrian formations in the orbit of the PYD. The militia forces attempted to order the schools closed; staff resisted, and protesters gathered. Children reportedly held signs reading "Don't deprive us of our right to education" and "We want our schools, our freedom, and our childhood." Protestors chanted, "We will remain Assyrians and die in this land." The report actually said it was Sutoro fighters that fired in the air to break up the protest—contrary to representations on YouTube and Twitter portraying Kurdish troops firing on the demonstrators.
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
The mutual hypocrisy of the Russo-Turkish game for control of Syria continues to become more grimly amusing. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today accused Russia of attempting "ethnic cleansing" with its air-strikes in northern Syria. "Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in the northern Latakia [region] to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni populations who do not have good relations with the [Syrian] regime," Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, according to the BBC News. He added that the Russian air-strikes are "strengthening" ISIS. Turkmen areas in Latakia have indeed been coming under vicious Russian aerial bombardment, and it is plausible that these air-strikes are ethnically taregted. But Turkey has also been conniving with ISIS and other jihadist forces that are bent on "cleansing" Kurds, Yazidis and Assyrians. The fact that Moscow (for its own propagandistic purposes) is now making such charges doesn't mean that they aren't true! And Turkey's plans for a "buffer zone" in northern Syria are clearly aimed at expunging the Kurdish autonmous zone in the region. What's more, Turkey is arguably already commiting ethnic cleansing in its renewed counter-insurgency campaign against Kurdish rebels within its own territory.
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.
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
A new coalition of 13 armed organizations announced the formation Oct. 17 of the Democratic Forces of Syria (DFS), which is now planning a major offensive against ISIS. The DFS, which has established a military council and joint field commands, includes the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG), the Christian-led Syriac Military Council, and various Arab-led formations. Prominent among these is the Burkan al-Fırat Command Center, an alliance of secular militias aligned with the overall Free Syrian Army coalition, but which formed a bloc of their own this July in rejection of the growing Islamist role in the FSA. Another is the Jaysh al-Thuwwar, which merges two secular-led factions, the Syria Revolutionaries Front and Hazm Movement. It also includes Arab tribal militias such as the al-Sanadid Forces, of northern Syria's Shammar tribe. The statement announcing formation of the DFS asserts that current political realities in Syria "require that there be a united national military force for all Syrians, joining Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and other groups." The statement says that the DFS calls on "all young men and women to join its ranks for their country Syria."