A Turkish operation in Iraq but outcomes cross Syrian borders
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
The mutual accusations between the Kurdish parties in Syria and Iraq intensified after the military operation launched by Turkey in mid-April, after accusations from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to the Iraqi Kurdistan government of supporting the Turkish operation politically and militarily.
The reactions to Turkish Operation Claw-Lock in northern Iraq were not limited to the political and field arena there but also reached the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, as the tension led to obstructing the rounds of dialogue between the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which has political and military influence in the region.
Military operation in Iraq, repercussions in Syria
The accusations were reflected on the ground and were summarized by a series of field events that took place in areas of northeastern Syria, such as the burning of buildings and headquarters of the Kurdish National Council by groups loyal to the SDF.
On 20 April, the Kurdish National Council accused SDF of being responsible for the attack.
The Kurdish Council’s statement at the time stated that “the policy of intimidation practiced by the PYD against our people, through burning the offices of the Council and its parties, in front of the eyes of the International Coalition and the US that is militarily supporting these forces, warns of seeding strife among all components of the region, and would drag it to what is the PKK planning.”
While the National Council accused its Kurdish counterpart of being behind the attacks on its headquarters, the latter denied this, describing what the first party was doing as “subordination to Turkey and treason.”
The Kurdish National Council is known for its closeness to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has power in Iraqi Kurdistan, which Kurdish parties accused of coordinating with the Turkish side in the military operation.
Meanwhile, Kurdish media close to the SDF condemned the Turkish military operation in northern Iraq, which coincided with confrontations between groups loyal to the PKK on the one hand and forces from the Iraqi army backed by the Peshmerga (the military of Iraqi Kurdistan) on the other hand, considering that this is evidence of coordination with Turkey.
Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue is more complicated
A few days before these events, a report by the local North Press Agency, which is close to the Autonomous Administration, talked about attempts to revive the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue in Syria, prompted by the US State Department.
According to a study prepared by the Jusoor Center for Studies on the future of the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue titled “Changing Attitudes,” this dialogue faces many challenges, the most important of which on the military side is the demand of the National Council to allow the return of the Roj Peshmerga forces to the Kurdish areas in Syria, in addition to allowing them to exercise their military work, in order to be a military force that protects the Kurdish National Council and its participation in the political and administrative process.
Meanwhile, the PYD and the SDF reject these demands and stipulate the integration of the Peshmerga into the SDF as individuals, as the SDF does not want a second military force in the region.
For its part, the PYD proposes to postpone the discussion of the issue of the return of the Peshmerga until after the end of the dialogue, and agree on the rest of the points, and suggests that the agreement and dialogue on this issue be between the SDF and the leaders of the Peshmerga directly.
Differing agendas constitute an additional obstacle to dialogue
According to a study prepared by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, the Kurdish arena between Syria and Iraq witnessed dozens of meetings and dialogues that did not lead to a result in which the different agendas played an important role, and therefore the military operation in Iraq is not the only reason for impeding the Kurdish dialogue that was launched Since years.
The study considered that the tincture of the PKK coming from Turkey, and the agendas it says it is working to achieve, which do not touch the interests of the Syrian Kurds, exceed their energies, and are far from their interests, play an important role in obstructing this dialogue.
According to the study, the ideology of the cross-border Kurdish party (PKK) and devoting everything it owed to the cause of its leader imprisoned in Turkey (Abdullah Öcalan) makes the agreement with the Kurdish National Council difficult, especially with the nature of the Council and its affiliation to the Syrian environment, which differs from the nature of the PKK in which the party was born.
The Kurdish National Council is considered part of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group, which is based in Turkey and is close to the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is not in line with the PYD which engages in the PKK agenda.
According to the study, the Kurdish parties that constitute the nucleus of the SDF in northeastern Syria are part of an alliance to which the Syrian regime is a party and Iran is a party to it, in addition to another military alliance with the US to fight the Islamic State group.
In view of the two different positions of the two sides of the dialogue and the different agendas on which each one stands, their standing in two divergent alliances makes it difficult to reach an agreement between them.
The researcher in Kurdish affairs and the eastern Euphrates, Abdulrahim Saeed Tkhoubi, considered during an interview with Enab Baladi that the relationship between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, and the PKK led by Abdullah Öcalan, is one of the most important factors affecting the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue in the Syrian region negatively.
Both sides of the Syrian-Kurdish dialogue are closely linked to the two parties (the KDP and PKK), and the differences of these two parties were a major cause of the Kurdish parties’ conflicts in Syria, which have increased in frequency since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the emergence of an administrative, security, and political vacuum in the Kurdish areas and the seek to control the economic and natural resources in those areas.
Since Turkey announced the start of a series of military operations in the Qandil Mountains and other areas in the Kurdistan region against the PKK, the latter accused Erbil of colluding with Turkey, opening the way for it and cooperating with it in its military operations against PKK fighters, according to Tukhoubi.
These accusations caused a campaign of arrests and harassment at various times against the leaders of the Kurdish National Council parties, which are considered to be allies of Erbil in Syria.
With the continuation of the Turkish military operations in the Kurdistan region, the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue in Syria is becoming more and more complicated, Tukhoubi said.
The researcher believes that the dialogue will lose many of the success factors that were related to the calm state that prevailed in the relationship between the KDP and the PKK.
It is expected that the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue will stop and may end in failure in the future if the intensity of Turkish military operations inside the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan increases.
SDF stance “is an obstacle”
Since the 1990s, the PKK has based its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains on the border triangle between Iraq, Iran, and Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan and has constantly launched security operations and imposed royalties within the regions of Iraqi Kurdistan, while Turkey uses the presence of the PKK in the region as a pretext to carry out security and military operations.
All of these parties have branches in Syria, or to be more precise, all the conflicting parties in the Qandil Mountains region have parties they support in northeastern Syria, according to the study published by the Harmoon Center last February.
The study indicated that the PYD, which constitutes a mainstay of the SDF and is allied with the PKK, is always trying to put pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan by restricting the Erbil-backed Kurdish National Council.
The PYD has also started using Syrian territory as a base for carrying out security and military operations against the Turkish forces or their allied factions.
It even went so far as to send a group of PYD from Syrian territory to attack sites inside Iraqi Kurdistan in mid-December 2020, when the group attacked a center of the Peshmerga forces affiliated with Erbil in the Suhaila area near the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The PYD repudiated the claim of the attack, considering that it was nothing more than a “miscoordination” between the two parties.
While Turkey does not hide its categorical rejection of the presence of the PKK near its geographical borders with Syria, the latter does not hide its hostility to it as well, as it uses the Syrian territories as a platform to raise slogans against Turkey and demand the release of the leader of the PKK (the Turkish national) Abdullah Öcalan.
“A sham settlement”
With the Kurdish National Council sticking to its demands to be a real partner in managing the northeastern region of Syria economically, militarily, administratively, and politically, and the PYD’s explicit opposition to these demands, it has become difficult to reach a clear picture of the shape of the expected settlement between the two sides of the Kurdish dialogue.
In addition, the PYD refuses to dissolve and dismantle the administrative and military bodies in the ranks of the SDF, whose existence is a problem for several countries, the most important of which is Turkey.
On the future of this dialogue, researcher Abdulrahim Tukhoubi said that the two parties are not expected to agree to the demands put forward during the negotiations held between them in the near future.
He also considered that the terms of abolishing forced conscription, canceling school curricula, and putting an end to the control of PKK cadres in the institutions of the Autonomous Administration are considered major demands of the Kurdish National Council which the PYD cannot agree to.
Tukhoubi ruled out that the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue would succeed in its current form, and if any agreement occurred, it would be a “sham.”
He considered that the rapid application of this type of conditions on the ground is unlikely, as it is not expected that there will be calm in the near future between the PKK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Erbil), and this means that the relationship of the Kurdish parties in Syria will also not witness a calm during this period of time.
Regarding the possibility of a US intervention to impose this kind of calm, Tukhoubi said that the possibility of applying great American pressure to the point of ending disputes and making this dialogue a success is considered unlikely, especially since the PYD, which is close to the outlawed PKK, dominates the northeastern region of Syria and considers the demands of the Kurdish National Council a threat to its influence and hegemony in the region.
What is the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue?
The Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue began with an initiative launched by the leader of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, after the Turkish Operation Peace Spring in eastern Syria in October 2019 and the announcement by former US President Donald Trump of his country’s decision to withdraw from some of its bases in Syria.
The two main poles of dialogue are the Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council, whose offices were previously closed, a number of its members were arrested, and its military arm was expelled from the SDF’s area of influence.
On 17 December 2021, the Kurdish National Council issued a statement about its meeting with the US Deputy Envoy for Northeast Syria, Matthew Perle, and his predecessor, David Brownstein.
The statement said that the US delegation affirmed support for Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue in Syria and the need to “resolve differences between the Kurdish National Council and the Kurdish national unity parties,” stressing the importance of the Council in the political process of the current situation in Syria.
In a briefing statement issued by the Kurdish National Council on 11 April, the Council demanded the PYD to allow the resumption of the “long-stalled” negotiations and the cessation of media campaigns against it and its parties and allies.
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