Kobani: A Battle In Multiples Wars

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Despite recent gains by Kurdish fighters in and around Kobani, aided by the delivery of small arms and other supplies yesterday, Kiran Nazish reports that the situation in the area remains tenuous:

Firas Kharaba, the leader of a Kurdish group, has been coordinating and managing the return of many wounded fighters from Kobani into Turkey. With the help of spies that, he says, infiltrated ISIS, “we found the power hub. … After the U.S. hit that building, they [ISIS] suffered a full blow.” More than 30 top fighters and commanders were killed, he said. Recently the Islamic State has been bringing in new fighters, but many of themaccording to Firas’s sourcesare not professionally trained fighters, but mere managers, organizers, and account keepers, with little experience in the battle field.

The main concern for YPG fighters now, is their on-the-ground force. What they need even more than manpower, says Kobani government official Idris Nassan, are “weapons on the ground.”

U.S. intelligence has assisted them, says Nassan, but it is not a substitute for weaponry and ammunition. Despite this weekend’s air drop, “the coalition is not ready to send weapons on the ground,” says Tarek Doglu, a foreign affairs analyst based in Ankara. “No one wants to intervene the matters between Turkey and PKK. That is the basic complexity.”

Dettmer talks to some of the town’s few remaining doctors, who paint a harrowing picture of the humanitarian conditions:

Dr. Kurdo Abdi, gave me a first-hand account of the extraordinary demands that have been placed on the 15 doctors and nurses who remained in Kobani throughout the siege. They have struggled to provide rudimentary care for wounded fighters and civilians while dodging bombs, rockets and bullets. “The main hospital was destroyed ten days ago by rockets,” says Abdi. The ISIS militants bombed the hospital on purpose. “Since then we have been treating people in makeshift clinics in different parts of Kobani, mainly in apartments. We have very little medicines. We got a few re-supplies from some fighters and civilians who smuggled it across the border, but very little. The situation is very bad.”

ISIS’s recent retreat, he adds, has been oversold in the press:

Despite widespread media reports that the Islamic militants have left the town and are now just on the outskirts, that is not accurate. Both doctors say the jihadists have been pushed back on the West of the town but they are still inside parts of the center and that there is street fighting in the east and south.

Yusuf Sayman defends Turkey’s actions, pointing to its massive refugee relief effort, and laments that “refugees running from the war in Syria are stuck in the political war in Turkey”, between the government and Kurdish activists:

While the Turkish government wants to play the good guys by helping the refugees, the opposition — including the HDP, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party — refuses to allow them to reap the political benefits of this goodwill gesture. Some refugees now stay in camps run by the office of Suruc’s mayor, who is from the HDP, which act as a sort of Kurdish counterpoint to the camps run by AFAD [the Turkish government’s humanitarian relief agency].

Thus, the refugees find themselves on the front line in a propaganda battle. Hazal, a 24-year-old activist from Kobani volunteering as a health worker, speaks negatively about life in the HDP camps: She says their sanitary conditions are very bad, water-borne illnesses are widespread, and there is constant YPG propaganda. People are forced to refer to each other as “heval,” or comrade — a term used by both PKK and YPG fighters. She even recalls a YPG member telling her, “If you visit your relatives staying in the AFAD camp, we will consider you a traitor.”

Intra-Kurdish politics, Hannes Cerny observes, add another dimension of complexity:

[President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud] Barzani is playing a long game, as he benefited for years from his status as the main Kurdish leader that the West could do business with. Dialogue now between the U.S. and the PYD/YPG threatens his position; the YPG could even become as indispensable in the war against IS in Syria as Barzani’s peshmerga are in Iraq. Furthermore, if the PYD holds off IS in Kobani and becomes the West’s new Syria partner in the process, it would strengthen the form of local autonomy that the PYD has been exercising in northeastern Syria over the past two years. This political model, an anarchist communalism of Kurdish confederations, poses a direct ideological challenge to the KRG.

(Image: a UN satellite photo shows details of the street fights between Islamic State militants and Kurdish fighters in Kobani. Via Rick Noack.)