Two currents within the Kurdish SDF;US and interests halt the clash

Mazloum Abdi, commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Mazloum Abdi, commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

From time to time, statements are issued by first-rank officials in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which some of the same movement disagree with at times, and agree on at other times.

The difference and contradiction, and the agreement at times, are interpreted by observers as clear evidence of the formation of two currents within the SDF, separated by the US ally, expressing its support for a specific approach.

The most prominent of these statements was the denial of the commander-in-chief of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, of his faction’s relationship with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in an interview with the American Al-Monitor website last January, after which Ilham Ahmed, the Chairwoman of the Executive Body of the SDC, appeared in an interview with the Saudi Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, confirmed that there is a relationship between the SDC and the Kurdish parties, including the PKK in a way that suits the “interest of the Kurdish people.”

PKK issue

The PKK is still one of the problems facing the SDF in every matter related to its foreign and domestic relations.

This relationship is considered a justification for the Turkish military intervention in Syria, and it also constitutes an obstacle to the consolidation of the relationship between the Syrian Kurdish currents themselves, some of which disagree with the PKK orientations.

While the SDF reduces the frequency of its talk about its relationship with the PKK from time to time, the Autonomous Administration (SDF’s local governing and administrative wing) organizes marches in the streets of Arab-majority cities such as Manbij and Raqqa, in which the participants raise pictures of the founder of the PKK imprisoned in Turkey, Abdullah Öcalan.

Hosheng Ossi, an expert in Kurdish affairs, told Enab Baladi that SDF’s commander Mazloum Abdi had previously admitted, during an interview organized by the International Crisis Group (a non-governmental organization) in Belgium, that there are non-Syrian personalities trained by the PKK in northeastern Syria.

Abdi “expressed his desire to reduce the escalation with Turkey, with American mediation.”

Ossi added that what is meant by the foreign elements within the SDF are the Turkish or Iranian elements of the PKK or, more clearly, the non-Syrian Kurds.

He considered that these elements were brought to the region at the beginning of the establishment of the SDF, which was mentioned by Abdi during the same interview, while the researcher indicated that the foreign elements took control of the security and economic backbone after they came to northeastern Syria.

Although there has been repeated talk about the withdrawal of the PKK from the SDF in light of the continuous Turkish bombardment of the region, Ossi believes that Mazloum Abdi is unable to bring about change in this regard, even if he wants to.

Ossi added that Abdi is currently just a front for the SDF, meaning that he is unable to influence the spread of the PKK within the military formation, and at the same time, the party is unable to remove Abdi from the head of the SDF because he is protected by the Americans and has a network of relationships that may have reached the Gulf countries.

US holds the stick in the middle

The Kurdish expert, Ossi, said that the state of competition between the two movements in the SDF is regulated by the US support for the Abdi movement, whose influence does not constitute any weight in the region, and considers the PKK more influential than him within the SDF, which reflects the conflict of orders, or inconsistent statements or even inconsistent behavior.

Ossi believes that the SDF is completely under the control of the PKK, while Abdi has influence over a small group within the faction which may not exceed his personal protection elements.

He added that the US support for Abdi spared him the targeting of the PKK cadres and even the Turkish targeting, which may be in the interest of the PKK if it happened.

The PKK was founded in Turkey during the 1970s as a leftist armed group, and it branded itself as a separatist movement with an intellectual mixture of Kurdish nationalism and socialist revolution.

In the 1980s, it entered into military confrontations with the Turkish army in order to obtain political and cultural rights and to achieve the fate of Turkey’s Kurds.

In the 1990s, the Turkish authorities arrested the founder of the party, Abdullah Öcalan, who was residing in Syria, and it is believed that the Syrian regime handed him over in a political deal, and Turkey put him in one of its prisons, where he is still staying today.

The PKK is linked to a group of Kurdish parties similar to it in terms of national principles and ideology, such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and the Free Life Party in Iran.

Osama Sheikh Ali, a fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said that the US has focused its attention on stability in the region, and it does not care about anything less than that.

Sheikh Ali added that it is not possible to talk about an American desire to bring about an armed conflict that might cause instability in the region.

With regard to talking about the possibility of escalation in the region, Sheikh Ali believes that the Mazloum Abdi movement, for example, or the Qandil movement, have no desire for a clash between them.

He added that the two sides cannot actually raise the level of tension to the point of no return and expose all their gains over the past years to the threat again.

Qandil’s control is stronger than Abdi’s wishes

Sheikh Ali considered that the recent confrontations that took place in Deir Ezzor are an example of the state of disunity in the SDF as some field commanders refused to carry out the orders of Abdi, which appeared in an audio recording of the leader of the Deir Ezzor Military Council, Ahmed al-Khabeel, during his forces’ confrontations with SDF to which the Council belongs.

Sheikh Ali told Enab Baladi that features of the formation of two currents within the SDF cannot be considered a rift in the literal sense and are closer to a “disagreement of views.” However, if it develops, there is no chance for the oppressed Abdi movement to bring about change.

Omran’s fellow believes that what can be called a division in the leadership, a difference in viewpoints, or a difference in visions about managing the region, has re-emerged recently after the events of Deir Ezzor and the security events that followed.

According to the audio recordings that emerged from the closed rooms of the Deir Ezzor Military Council by al-Khabeel, the latter stated that he had reached an agreement with the SDF at a time when the clashes were still going on.

He added that Qandil’s control is stronger than the desires of Abdi, Ilham Ahmed, and others, as Qandil’s leaders constitute the striking force in the SDF and control the joints of the Autonomous Administration that takes orders from Qandil, and the SDF may sometimes abide by Abdi’s decisions as a member of the PKK and not because he is the general commander of the SDF.

Opposite directions

Points of view differed when discussing the reasons for the dispute between the SDF currents in northeastern Syria, as the writer and researcher on Kurdish affairs, Hosheng Ossi, believes that the dispute is related to economic gains and other reasons related to the security dominance of the region, while Osama Sheikh Ali believes that it is linked to the different views on the region’s management.

Sheikh Ali believes that the American-backed current, represented by Mazloum Abdi, tends to preserve the gains of the Syrian Kurds east of the Euphrates and to administer the region internally.

Regarding the second movement, the researcher said that the faction represented by the PKK is trying to exploit the gains of the SDF in northeastern Syria in its war against Turkey.

While the Americans support the first part, the second has been on its terrorist lists for decades.

During his interview with the Al-Monitor website, Abdi said that the SDF does not pose any threat to Turkey, its borders, or its national security, pointing out that its forces are composed of Syrian Kurds, and they want a “peaceful relationship with Turkey.”

According to Abdi, the SDF has never attacked Turkey from within Syrian territory, and it has never acted in “legitimate self-defense” except when Turkey targeted its areas of influence, and the SDF responses are always concentrated within the borders of Syria only.

Abdi also added, “We have no hostile intentions towards Turkey, either now or in the future.”

The statements were preceded and followed by missile strikes from military points controlled by the SDF in northern Syria, targeting Turkish territory during separate periods of time.

Last June, Turkish media reported that a missile attack launched by the PKK and the PYD in Syria targeted the vicinity of Kilis province in southern Turkey, referring to the SDF.

According to what was published by the Turkish Sondakika website, five missiles launched from northern Syria landed on the Turkish side of the Bab al-Salama border crossing, leaving several people wounded.




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