Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Significance of the Battle for Kobani in Syrian Kurdistan.

“There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border. After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe. This isn’t how a Nato ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border.”-Unnamed US official, quoted in the New York Times.
“Turkey is determining what larger role they’ll play broadly as a part of the coalition moving forward, and that conversation is ongoing,”-State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki,
Turkey's military stance, in doing little or nothing to assist the Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, the symbolic stronghold of Rojava ( Syrian Kurdistan ), is one determined by the fact Erdogan and Davutoglu regard the Kurdish Workers Party ( PKK ) and ISIS both equally as official terrorist threats.

Unnamed officials within the Obama administration in the US may voice criticism of Turkey failing to act to prevent a massacre but this is 'public diplomacy'. The Turkish position on the Kurdish cause in Syria is nothing new nor it its previous preferntial backing for Sunni jihadist groups against Assad.

The US does not want the humanitarian pretext for intervention used to justify air strikes in Iraq to prevent the Yazidis and Kurds from being slaughtered to be shown up as hollow by Turkish inaction in Syria. But the fact remains that US military intervention in Iraq was mostly about protecting oil supplies.

Syrian Kurdistan is nowhere as nearly rich in oil as the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. As the power of the Free Syria Army crumbled and became limited to the far north west of Syria bordering Turkey, the north east has become essentially a battleground between the Kurds and ISIS.

Turkey has no interest in either the Kurdish YGP or Islamic State winning out and controlling the contested Rumelian oil fields of the far north east, the largest oil reserves in Syria. The YGP is dominated by the PKK, an organisation which is on the US list of official terrorist groups.

Until April 2014, when ISIS was clearly ascendent in both Sunni Arab parts of Syria and Iraq, the Sunni militant group Al Nusra was not even on the Turkish list of proscribed terrorist organisations. So the attempt to prevent Turkish Kurds fighting to protect Kobani has led to violent outrage at the double standards.

The riots against Turkish border forces and the clashes that left 14 Kurds dead could well lead to the militant Kurdish factions dominated by the PKK to threaten an insurgency against Turkey. The fact the Turkish security state collaborated with Sunni militants has led to accusations it directly backs ISIS.

The fate of Kobani is being used as a political chess piece in the proxy conflict between warring militias in Syria and the geopolitical ambitions Turkey has in alliance with Qatar in overthrowing Assad. The Turkish backed Syrian National Council would not tolerate the Kurds dominating Syrian oil reserves.

This is why Ankara has tried to strike a deal in which the YGP would have to fight with the FSA if military assistance were to be given from Turkey. This would mark a complete reversal from the situation in 2013 when the FSA was aligned with ISIS in fighting against the Kurds.

Despite the Kurdish YGP wanting freedom from Damascus, it was prepared to make an informal truce with Syrian government forces so that the FSA would be fighting on two fronts against Assad to the west and south of Syria and in the north and west. So Turkey and Qatar upped the aid to the Sunni militants.

The consequence of all this shoddy realpolitik is that Turkey faces the ultimate nightmare of being in a position where the only way of avoiding being in the firing line against ISIS is to use the threat to cajole the Kurds into supporting an FSA that colluded in 2013 with those wanting to exterminate them in 2014.

Ankara is anxious that if it assisted the Syrian Kurds it would give impetus towards the movement for a Greater Kurdistan. Yet if the Kurdish region of Rojava is completely taken by ISIS it would mean the IS caliphate would be within clear striking distance from the southern border of a NATO state.

Moreover, if an Islamic State is created contiguously with the Turkish border with the Kurds ethnically cleansed, not only would there be the threat to Turkey from ISIS. Kurdish militants would resume their campaign against Ankara. The PKK leader Abdullah Ocelan made that plain in a message from prison.

If the Kobani is allowed to fall, the YGP could even align with Damascus: the PKK had a history during the Cold War of allying with Hafez al-Assad and these links were once more cultivated after the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011 as a check upon Turkey's support for Sunni Arab militants.

For ISIS the stakes are no less important: if it were to control most Syrian oil and moved towards the Turkish border, it would keep open the supply lines for Sunni militants crossing and also the revenues from the illicit sale of oil, most of which is smuggled in across the long 640 km long border.

Turkish forces are still having a huge task closing down these pipelines from Syria into Turkey where most of ISIS's oil is channelled ( despite Cameron's claim that it is Assad funding ISIS through buying its oil ). It is thought certain corrupt members of Turkey's 'deep state' profit from these sales.

If ISIS plants itself on the southern flank of NATO, the consequences could be that Turkey faces a Kurdish insurgency and attempted ISIS attacks which would then mean, in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO charter, that all the western member states would be drawn in to defend Turkey.

While NATO and Turkey insist there are contingency plans in place to prevent ISIS attacking the southern border by creating a security zone in the border zones,  this could well be menaced by ISIS whose apocalyptic ideology has it that the west and its regional allies are in a cosmic struggle with 'true' Islam.

The prospect of sucking the entire west into the Syrian quagmire is going to be tempting for ISIS. The Turkish Defence Minister İsmet Yılmaz already invoked NATO's  collective responsibility 'If there is an attack on Turkey, Nato will bring about the provisions of Article 5 of the Washington Convention."

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