Senator Lindsey Graham of the US Congress questions Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the links between Kurdish groups in Turkey and those fighting ISIS in Syria back in April. (full transcript here, pp 98-101). Turkish media went agog, and they still do, about Secretary Carter’s admission of the links which has long been an open secret.
There are other open secrets too. Turkey’s alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra terrorists, which is on the US terrorist lists, is well-known to all political actors and people following the events. Turkey’s blind eye to ISIS jihadism and its hand-in-glove fight against it was also witnessed by the world in Jarablus. Turkish military and al-Qaeda terrorists took the town without firing a shot. There are credible reports that ISIS fighters simply switched sides in Jarablus.
What is interesting in Senator Graham’s questioning of Secretary Carter is that he seems to care more about the open secret bothering the Turks than those that should bother Americans. According to Senator Graham, a ‘dumb policy’ is when the US supports the YPG who are fighting for a secular democratic government in Syria. The US support for Turkey, which supports enemies of America and the YPG, is not dumb policy by his reckoning.
If I were a journalist with an opportunity to question Senator Graham, it would be as follows:
Q1: Senator, is al-Qaeda responsible for killing Americans?
Q2: Is al-Nusra Front on the US terror list as the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda?
Q3: Is Turkey supporting al-Nusra and other jihadi rebels fighting our allies in the Kurdish YPG and Kurdish-Arab alliance of SDF?
Q4: Then how dumb is it that the US should let Turkey and our jihadi terrorist enemies kill our secular Kurdish friends?
In the Middle East, fortunes can change in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they change for the better as slow as shifting sand dunes. Other times they can change overnight like an earthquake. One moment we nearly had a Kurdistan on the map as was the case in the aftermath of First World War. Then came a century during which all traces of Kurdistan were lost except to those who could still dream of it.
Instead, we had in Syria a nation state re-invented by the French who empowered the minority Alewites over and above Sunnis and Kurds. And where Kurdistan was supposed to be, we had Iraq, a nation state invented by the British who made Sunni minority the overlords of Shias and Kurds.
Take now the changing fortunes in Syria’s civil war. No one thought Assad regime would last when the uprising began in 2011. No one thought Free Syrian Army rebels would be so radicalised as to be indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. No one expected the rise of an even worse jihadi outfit in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
And no one gave much chance to Kurds, who were the weakest and the most marginalised community in Syria when the civil war began, to emerge as the fiercest of all fighting forces with the international coalition’s air power above and the world’s goodwill behind them. The Kurds were not only the best fighters, men and women alike, but represented the secular democratic values that civilised nations held dear as well.
The ever shifting alliances in Syria’s four-sided civil war make the three-sided global wars involving Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia in George Orwell’s 1984 look like a simple game of checkers. Unlike in 1984, however, this is not a ruse to keep the populace occupied with war. This is a real existential battle to stay alive as individuals and as communities.
Each one of the four sides, the Assad regime, the FSA jihadis, ISIS and the Kurds, have found themselves on the brink of defeat at some stage of the war, and yet they have managed to recover. Each one of them have had to fight the other three at the same time at some stage.
Today it is the Kurds’ turn to face attacks from all three sides. Having recovered from the brink of defeat in Kobani a year ago with the late-coming US air support, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab allies went on to inflict ISIS a series of defeats. Manbij was liberated only two weeks ago.
Now, however, the YPG is warding off assaults from the Russian-backed Assad regime in Hasakah, Turkish-backed FSA jihadis near Jarablus and Saudi-backed ISIS in al-Shaddadi. And now Kurds cannot count on the US-led coalition air power any more because the US has just decided to shift its support to FSA jihadis again.
By abandoning the Kurds, the USA is repeating their mistake in Iraq. Not the historic mistake that Henry Kissinger made in mid-1970s when he betrayed promises to the Iraqi Kurdish leader Melle Mustafa Barzani. That mistake ended up strengthening Saddam Hussein and hastened the end of Shah of Iran, both of which proved wrong and very bloody in the long run.
The mistake the USA is repeating today is the one that they made after the overthrow of Saddam in 2003: not investing in a Kurdistan as a lasting reliable western ally and not placing sufficient trust in the regional government (KRG) to the benefit of untrustworthy partners in Baghdad. That too have come back and will continue to come back to haunt the USA.
For example, during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Mosul and many nearby towns were captured from Saddam and later from the Sunni insurgency with the KRG help. Yet, the US forced the Kurds to hand them over to the Shia Arab government in Baghdad. In June 2014, the Iraqi army rapidly surrendered those towns and several billions dollars worth of arms back to the ISIS-led Sunnis.
Now it seems we are about to watch the same movie in Manbij. The USA is ordering the YPG to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates after liberating the city from ISIS. Why? Because the FSA jihadis are at hand to take over the crucial crossroad city that the Kurds and their Arab allies took at the cost of 300 lives.
Assuming the YPG did that, sooner or later the myriad of FSA jihadis will fight among themselves for full control of the city, or ISIS will return to capture it, or even the regime will march re-take it. And then the US will again ask the Kurdish forces to go liberate the city from whichever extremist group controlling it, just as it is likely to happen again across the border in Mosul.
This must stop. This vicious cycle must be broken. In Syria as well as in Iraq, Kurds must refuse to surrender lands they liberated from Assadist fascists, Sunni and Shia jihadis, and from medieval ISIS barbarians. I am heartened with the YPG’s statement that “in the west of Euphrates [we] are in our own country. We will not withdraw because Turkey or someone else wants it.”
For us Kurds, our once-in-a-century opportunity to establish an independent state is in danger as regional alliances have once again shifted against our national interests. We owe it to future generations to not let this opportunity slip away.
Now it is time for a greater Kurdish national unity. Now we must put aside all party politics and all petty tribal and personal squabbling, and speak to the world in a single united voice: “We are here in our own land and we are not giving it up without a fight!”