Conflict of interests behind Semalka-Fishkhabur crossing closure

Semalka border crossing between Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan (North Press Agency)

Semalka border crossing between Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan (North Press Agency)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

A few days after the closure of the Semalka-Fishkhabur border crossing between northern Iraq and the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), media outlets close to the Kurdish-led authority began to say that the closure came under Turkish pressure on the Erbil authorities, to push for the opening of the regime-held Nusaybin crossing with Turkey, northeast of al-Hasakah governorate.

Researchers and observers told Enab Baladi that the possibility of negotiating the opening of Nusaybin is low in the short and medium term and that the strategy of the crossings in the region is far beyond the interests of the SDF and the Syrian regime and could overlap with the interests of Turkey, the Erbil government, and even the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad.

Crossing dispute

The closure of the Semalka border crossing in northeastern Syria is not considered a new event in the region, as its closure has been repeated in the past, causing several crises in terms of the living situation in the region. The reasons for the closure are always attributed due to differences between the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the political umbrella of the SDF, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (the ruler of Erbil).

There are many interests in this regard, as Erbil supports Kurdish forces that are considered the least influential in the region, represented by the Kurdish National Council, while the SDF is accused of being run by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is stationed in the Qandil Mountains between Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

On May 12, the Fishkhabur administration closed the crossing to the movement of travelers, goods, and commercial materials until further notice, as the National Council said that the SDF prevented invitees from its leaders from crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan in response to an invitation from the President of the region, Massoud Barzani, to attend the opening ceremony of the National Museum.

Hawar Agency, which is close to the SDF, prepared a report in mid-2022 that presented the vision of the authority of northeastern Syria regarding the repeated closure of crossings in the region, attributing the reasons to the common view towards the region between the Syrian regime and the authorities in Erbil.

Hoshank Osi, an expert in Kurdish affairs, told Enab Baladi that the Autonomous Administration speaks for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in terms of “raising accusations and issuing justifications.”

Osi considered that linking the Kurdistan region of Iraq and its decisions to Turkish interests is the PKK’sPKK’s rhetoric, which the SDF has repeated in a parrot manner, and that it cannot be taken seriously.

The expert believes that in terms of the repeated rumors about the opening of the crossings with Turkey, the SDF is the one who would most like to operate these crossings, along with its comrades in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is run by the PKK from the Qandil Mountains, just as it runs the SDF.

In mid-2022, Mansour Mahmoud, member of the General Directorate of Trade of the AANES, said about the closure of the region’s crossings with northern Iraq that it comes as part of “a siege plan pursued by Turkey, the Syrian regime, and the government of Erbil to put pressure on the region.”

The SDF shares with the areas of influence of the Syrian regime six internal crossings and four crossings linking it with Turkey, but it has been closed for more than ten years from the Turkish side, and two crossings link the areas of influence of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army with the SDF-controlled areas.

In addition to the previous completely closed crossings, if we exclude the crossings with the Syrian regime, the SDF is linked to four land crossings with Syrian National Army, and their closure is repeated from time to time.

Turkish pressure?

The Kurdish researcher and director of the Geostrategic Network for Studies, Ibrahim Kaban, told Enab Baladi that the repeated closure of the Semalka-Fishkhabour crossing is linked to Turkish pressure on the Erbil authorities and the Iraqi authorities, especially since these crossings are not officially included between Syria and Iraq.

Kaban believes that the strong relationship between the Syrian regime and the Iraqi government in Baghdad could be reflected in the form of pressures on the Erbil government, pushing it to close the crossing from time to time.

Assistant researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Osama Sheikh Ali, believes that the closure of the Semalka crossing is a result of partisan differences between the Kurdish parties and cannot be generalized on the nature of the reasons for closing the Nusaybin crossing with Turkey.

This can be seen through the mediations that take place from time to time with the Americans to reopen the crossing after every dispute between the two parties, as it is the only artery in the region, according to Sheikh Ali.

In April 2013, Erbil closed the Semalka crossing for nine months and then reopened it, and in 2014, the crossing was closed by the Erbil authorities for four months and then reopened.

In early 2016, the Kurdistan Democratic Party closed the crossing from its side, and the closure lasted for four months.

At the end of 2019, the crossing was closed due to the outbreak of COVID-19 for several months then reopened after the pandemic was over.

In December 2021, the crossing was closed, causing a crisis in the standard of living for the people of northeastern Syria, and the closure lasted for several months.

On May 10, the Erbil authorities closed the crossing after a dispute with the Autonomous Administration, and the crossing remains closed.

Possibility of Nusaybin operating

On May 1, 2022, the regime’s official media reported that its forces had raised the Syrian flag at the roundabout of the Nusaybin border crossing with Turkey and the roundabout of the Grand Mosque next to the main bus station, north of Qamishli.

Although the regime’s official media outlets portrayed raising the regime’s flag in an area controlled by the SDF as a victory, this propaganda gradually faded with the continued closure of the crossing from the Turkish side, and the absence of any actual change on the practical level in the region.

A few days before the flag of the regime was raised in the crossing yard, news was reported that restoration and cleaning work had started at the border crossing in preparation for reopening it with a Russian guarantee, and in agreement with the AANES, provided that the revenues of the crossing would go to the three parties.

One day after talking about opening the crossing, the governor of al-Hasakah, Ghassan Halim Khalil, denied to the pro-regime al-Watan newspaper the existence of any agreement on opening a crossing with Turkey.

Researcher Sheikh Ali believes that the possibility of opening the crossing today is more logical than before, especially since there are features of convergence of interests that have formed between Turkey and the Syrian regime recently, but we must ask, “Is it possible for the SDF to accept the opening of the crossing without participating in its management?”.

He added that, of course, Turkey cannot accept the SDF managing a crossing on its borders, and it is too early to talk about the possibility of an agreement between the SDF and the Syrian regime to manage one crossing.

The researcher believes that the regime’s management of the crossing’s affairs may give it a greater margin of movement in the area, which cannot be considered in the interest of the SDF, and therefore the possibility that the latter will reject any step to open the crossing is more likely than others.

The Nusaybin crossing connects the Turkish border with Syria from the Qamishli side, and it has been completely closed since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, with the exception of the entry of international aid through it, but in rare cases.



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