Home / Article / The Impact of Supporting the PKK in Syria on the Barzani’s KRG in Iraq

The Impact of Supporting the PKK in Syria on the Barzani’s KRG in Iraq

On March 15, The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of President Masoud Barzani issued a communique condemning what it called “The wide-spread attacks on political offices belonging to the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS) across Rojava (Syria’s Kurdistan) by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)”. The communique accused the PKK of “imposing itself on the region and its people”. ENKS is a non-YPG, non-PKK Kurdish representative council that is trying to make its voice heard in a YPG-PKK controlled area.

“The PKK in Rojava, under the name of PYD [the ruling Democratic Union Party], has banned the Kurdish flags, and considers membership in any political party, except PKK, as a crime. It ideologically and practically stands against the Kurdish values and independence,” reads the statement. The statement followed a series of attacks by PYD affiliates (YPG) against the political office branches of the ENKS in Girki Laki town, 70 km east of Qamishli. (The People’s Protection Units-YPG is the main armed wing of the PYD, which is in turn an extension of the PKK).

According to Joost Hiltermann, Program Director for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at International Crisis Group, the people in the Kurdish areas of Syria live in relative stability but deprived of essential services and are controlled by a single party, in this case the PYD. Militarily, says Hiltermann, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which has been in control in Rojava for several years, isn’t willing to share power. But, he suggests, it has to share power politically and administratively.

He adds that the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) and other parties and “are going through a very difficult time right now.” He also believes that good fighters the PYD men may be, they are not very experienced in governing the area. (Those are the same guys who some experts suggest they should control the Raqqa region!)

“We have spoken with them about the importance of power sharing, especially politically,” Hiltermann says. “These are people who have been hardened by the fight against Turkey in the past, but they are not good at administering. So, they need to work with the local population and professionals who have been trained. But unfortunately, because they are imposing their political control with an ideology that many people do not accept, many of the capable administrators are not willing to make the switch.” Hiltermann said.

These are the same guys who US military commanders want to assign to liberate Raqqa, spread tolerance, build bridges with Arabs, administer the region in cooperation with local Arabs and Kurds, and establish “good governance” in north east Syria and north west Iraq. One would imagine that military and academic integrity would compel commanders and researchers to recognize all the facts as they are before they fall victims of the “mission accomplished” mentality. But optics are a way of life.

And the fact is that the Kurdish-Kurdish conflict is indeed escalating.

According to Kurdish media reports from north east Syria published March 16, “The Kurdish Union Party’s (Yekiti) office in Syria’s northeastern Qamishli city was burned by an “unknown” group of armed men most likely linked to the PYD, local sources reported on Wednesday (Published word by word as quoted in local Kurdish media). This happened while Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) security forces opened fire on a protest in Sinjar district and killed a 21-year old women.

Yekiti media reporter in Damascus said that a group of armed men affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) stormed their office in the al-Siyahi neighborhood in Qamishli and burned it down. “Members of the PYD attacked our main office and destroyed everything in the office,” a member of the Yekiti party told ARA News on condition of anonymity. The Kurdish Union Party (Yekiti) is a member of the Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) backed by Masoud Barzani.

More than 40 members of pro-Barzani parties in Syria were arrested by the PYD-linked Asayish forces or kidnapped by unnamed groups, this while the KDP arrested 32 PKK supporters in Erbil during an anti-KDP protest, of which six are still in jail. Here, we find the idolized YPG resorting to kidnapping, killing of political opponents even if they are Kurds, and other terrorist acts. Please, meet the new allies of the US military in Syria.

Then again, on March 14, tensions re-erupted in Sinjar, when the PKK brought Kurds from Syria and Yezidis from the Newroz camp in Derik by buses to Sinjar to protest against the KDP-backed Rojava Peshmerga. Enchante Messieurs Dames.

Obviously, the YPG, armed heavily by the US now, is actively moving against Barzani and his moderate Peshmerga. Moreover, the moves of the US military in north east Syria may also have a negative impact on the KRG in north Iraq. As obvious from the above, there is a fierce confrontation between Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the PYD (YPG). Enabling the PYD (YPG) in north east Syria will weaken Barzani in Iraq. Just a thorough examination of the situation in Sinjar and even in KDP territories will shed some light on the intra-Kurdish fight in that region, and add a dimension to the terrible mistake in construction right now by short-sighted US military commanders.

To make the mistake ever far-reaching, checking what happens on the ground lead to a worse picture. As printed in Kurdish local media, the fight is not restricted within the Kurds. Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) have enlisted hundreds of Kurdish people in Halabja for missions in the Khurmatu and Kirkuk areas in southern Kurdistan, according to a recent recruit.

One Kurdish young man from Halabja Province who recently joined the Hashd al-Shaabi, said to Kurdistan24 that the high rate of unemployment in his area pushed many Kurds to enroll with the Shia forces. “They have told us the salary would be at least IQD 1,100,000 [USD $930] per month,” the youth said.

Hashd al-Shaabi has often been reported by Amnesty for committing war crimes in different parts of Iraq. But in late 2016, the federal government of Iraq recognized the militia as a national armed force. The young man explained that their missions would be in or south of the Kirkuk Province, including Khurmatu town which is one of the most tensioned areas between the Kurdish Peshmerga and PMF.

“The Commander of the Brigade is a Kurd from Halabja. The unit will be made of Kurds from Sharazur, Hawraman, and Halabja,” he added. The PMF would also provide weapons and military equipment just like the Iraqi Army and other Shia forces, Salim revealed.

According to Kurdish young man, the whereabouts of their missions were not determined yet, but they had to be ready whenever the PMF called on them. He indicated that the PMF had told the Kurdish recruits they were “are all from Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region was part of it.” Unconfirmed data reveals Hashd al-Shaabi has so far recruited about 450 Kurds from the Halabja Province. The PMF has a history of attacks against the Peshmerga which we previously covered. One question, though, for the military geniuses who devised the US strategy in north east Syria: Should Barzani, a US ally, get ready to change camps?

Well, Iran will dominate north east of Syria, it is recruiting, through the PMF, Kurds from north of Iraq to force the KRG to accept its dictates, all the while Barzani is coming under attack from the US ally PKK. Mind boggling indeed. It is a moment when people of the caiber of Bob Gates are really missed.

In response, all Barzani can do is condemn the aggressive behavior of the PKK, the YPG and the PYD, all of them are now armed and backed by the Pentagon. “The PKK in Rojava, under the name of PYD [the ruling Democratic Union Party], has banned the Kurdish flags, and considers membership in any political party, except PKK, as a crime. It ideologically and practically stands against the Kurdish values and independence. The PKK is placing Rojava under “ideological and political terrorism” by attacking rival parties, imprisoning their members and preventing any political activity outside their party’s power”, a statement from Barzani party said.

Does anybody listen?

23 March, 2017

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