Category Archives: Analysis

Kurdish-Arab Rebel Alliance May be Key to Obama’s Syrian Strategy

*Kurdish-Arab Rebel Alliance May be Key to Obama’s Syrian Strategy

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By Mutlu Civiroglu and Wladimir Van Wilgenburg

Now that the anti-ISIS coalition has struck Raqqa in Syria, it must seriously consider the Kurds as its most effective on the ground partners. The Obama administration needs local partners in Iraq and Syria to fight against the jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State) if it hopes to maintain any gains resulting from its attacks on ISIS positions.

A spokesperson of the main Kurdish armed group in Syria highlighted the importance of Kurdish assets. “Whoever wants to destroy ISIS should take YPG into consideration. Let me say clearly that any strategy in Syria without YPG is doomed to fail,” the People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Polat Can said in our interview with him. Given the Kurds’ extensive experience and professionalism, they represent the best the best chance to revitalize a beleaguered Syrian resistance and help President Obama achieve his objectives.

In his September 10 speech, President Obama ruled out the Assad regime as a partner in fighting ISIS and emphasized strengthening the Syrian opposition. “We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all,” he said. While admirable that the president choose not to work with a man whose preferred strategy involves bombing his own civilian population, it leaves a dearth of effective partners on the ground. However, in Syria—just as in Iraq—cooperation between Kurds and Arabs could play a key role in eliminating ISIS. US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recognized the fact that Kurds constitute an important part of Obama’s new strategy to fight ISIS.

Although Iraq has witnessed firsthand the effects of ISIS-induced instability, neighboring Syria has suffered far more with the advances and atrocities of the extremist group. ISIS has succeeded in wiping out many Syrian nationalist armed groups that comprise the bulk of moderate anti-Assad opposition. Both the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurds have faced attacks by ISIS, leading to incredibly large refugee flows into Turkey.

Nonetheless, the Kurdish YPG forces have successfully fought ISIS and won most of its battles in both Iraq and Syria. Not only was the YPG an asset in the rescue operation for thousands of Yezidis fleeing from Iraq’s Sinjar, it also secured a wide area in northern Syria from the Kurdish city of Afrin to Yarubiya, a town border to Iraq, despite the extremist push against Kurdish villages. These regions maintain relative stability compared to other parts of Syria, allowing Kurds, Arabs, and Christians to live peacefully together, thanks in large part to the ability of the YPG to keep a modicum of security.

Western diplomats have traditionally been reluctant to meet the PYD for their ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), viewed as a terrorist group in the United States and Turkey. After successful operations against ISIS extremists, however, both countries have begun reevaluating their positions towards it. The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials recognize the fact that Kurdish fighters in Syria may play a critical role in the campaign against ISIS, and have conducted talks with Syrian Kurds. The success of the YPG also prompted Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman to write about how the fight against ISIS has given the YPG and the PKK more legitimacy.

For their part, the Syrian Kurds have not only expressed interest and enthusiasm in pursuing Obama strategy against ISIS, they have already laid the groundwork for cooperation with Syrian nationalists. In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), YPG Spokesman Polat Can said, “We are the most experienced military force fighting against IS, and we are willing to actively participate in the international coalition. We are currently meeting many countries on this issue including with those who are decision makers.”

As the YPG continue its fight against ISIS on several fronts, it hosted a former rival on August 22. FSA Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi sought to mend fences with the Kurds by meeting YPG commander with General Commander of YPG Sipan Hemo in the Kurdish city of Afrin, north of Aleppo. Al-Oqaidi, the former head of the FSA’s military council in Aleppo, initially angered the Kurds by fighting jointly with Islamist groups against the Kurds in Aleppo. The FSA said it attacked the YPG for supporting Assad. Kurds allege this led to the killing of nineteen Kurdish civilians and the kidnapping of at least 400 others by the various rebel groups.

But in January last year, alliances started to change, when the Free Syrian Army clashed with ISIS, and lost huge swaths of territory in Syria, including Raqqa and the oil fields in Deir Ezzor. This led new cooperation between rebel groups and the Kurds, resulting in an agreement between the YPG and the Ahl as-Sham operation room in April last year to fight ISIS in Aleppo, and to cooperate against Assad. On August 22, al-Akidi and an FSA-delegation apologized for the FSA’s past mistakes, saying that Kurds, Christians, and Arabs, should work for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. “We want to work with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the FSA if they accept the rights of Kurdish people and correct past mistakes,” Hemo said in a video.

In an exclusive interview, the Defense Minister of local Afrin Canton government Abdo Chilo, who took part in the meeting between the YPG and the FSA in Afrin, also told the Atlantic Council that the FSA wants to open a new page with the Kurds. “We told him we accepted his apology and we valued his visit. He realizes the power of YPG and wants closer relations with us, something we have long desired as well.”

The Kurds appear ready to fight alongside any secular group that will work for a pluralistic and democratic Syria against ISIS and the Assad regime. “We value Akidi’s visit and his request of help from YPG. It shows his willingness to work and create something good. We are ready to form a joint front with FSA and work against IS thugs and the brutal Assad regime,” Chilo added.

YPG spokesman Polat Can told Turkey’s daily Radikal that they are ready to work with anyone who is willing to fight against ISIS. “It has been over two years that we have been fighting against ISIS and like-minded extremist groups. We are keen on collaborating with moderate that respect to democracy, human rights and accept our national rights as Kurds.”

This historic meeting signifies a major starting point for effective cooperation against ISIS as well as the Assad regime. The meeting led to the formation of a new joint FSA-YPG operations room named “Euphrates Volcano” on September 10 in Kobane, which will carry out operations in areas surrounding Kobane, including the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqah. One day after its formation, the joint operation room carried out its first attack against ISIS in Qara Qawzak.

Abdurrahman Saleh, a spokesperson for ISIS, confirmed in our interview with him an alliance between Syrian anti-Assad rebels and Kurds, but suggested it to be a local alliance rather than a cohesive policy. “Some battalions of al-Tawheed brigade in Aleppo cooperate with the YPG against ISIS, but I do not know if this is a general decision, or a specific case. It may be a local agreement, rather than an overall strategy,” he said.

The new rebel alliance between the Kurds and the FSA could provide a determining factor to stop the expansion of the ISIS caliphate. If the FSA and the YPG can maintain a joint front, it will likely have a major impact on the success of fight both the militant group and the Assad regime in the longer run. The YPG, with its experienced and skilled fighters and strong popular support can provide a morale boost for the secular and moderate Syrian opposition and be a determining factor in preventing ISIS expansion in Syria. For Obama and the anti-ISIS coalition, keeping the Kurds incentivized to be their boots on the ground will be the key to fighting this war.

Mutlu Civiroglu is a Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. He has been closely monitoring YPG’s fight against IS and other jihadist groups. You can follow him on Twitter @mutludc

Wladimir van Wilgenburg is an analyst of Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation and a contributing writer for Al-Monitor

* This article was originally published on Atlantic Council Website on September 23,  2014

In Day 50, A Synopsis of the Situation in Kobane

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Mutlu Civiroglu https://twitter.com/mutludc

According to military, political and civilian sources in Kobane, in the day 50 of the resistance,  YPG has been gaining a momentum after successfully repelling strong ISIS attacks in eastern front which aimed at seizing the border crossing. Despite excessive man power and close combat in eastern front, YPG forces did not allow ISIS to advance.

With recent offensive in eastern front, ISIS hoped to seize the border gate to Turkey to totally suffocate the city and force YPG to surrender. Senior YPG sources report ISIS resorted to more than 20 car bombs in recent days, and all of these attacks were thwarted successfully with only some light YPG injuries.

One other reason for the recent ISIS attack on east was to prevent arrival of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas and heavy weaponry they brought along. As of November 3, the situation in eastern front is stable and ISIS members were further driven out from the border area. Kobane sources report that the failure of recent ISIS push caused demoralization of ISIS, and killing of 3 princes in last 48 further even worsened the situation on the ground.

On Sunday night clashes continued in East and South with some YPG advance reported. In Western front Kurdish peshermergas first time actively involved in a major assault. In this front YPG, “Euphrates Volcano” and Peshmerga forces carry out attack against ISIS positions in Abrus, Albalur and Minaz villages.

YPG Kobane

One other note is that US led coalition airstrikes have been playing a major role in destroying heavy ISIS weaponry which caused serious damages and destroyed many houses in the city. Sources in Kobane add that ISIS shelling decreased thanks to successful airstrikes.

However, it is still too early to conclude that the danger is over and ISIS is defeated. It is not secret that ISIS has made Kobane a matter of honor and will not give up easily. Therefore, despite recent major setbacks, ISIS forces in Kobane still receive reinforcements from Raqqa and surrounding cities, and some field commanders were replaced with new ones.

It is also reported that the arrival of peshmergas has brought a positive atmosphere for the Kurds and considerably lifted the spirit of YPG fighters on the frontline as well as the civilians in the city.

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If you want my participation to a show, interview me or get a quote on Kobane and other Kurdish related issues, please contact me at mciviroglu@gmail.com

You can follow me on Twitter for latest updates from Kobani  https://twitter.com/mutludc

How Kurdish YPG Has Successfully Fought Off the Islamic State

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         Female YPG fighters

As the Islamic State has continued its shocking military advances throughout Syria and Iraq recently, much has been written about its seemingly unstoppable battle capabilities.

But there’s one force that has scored a number of successes against its forces: the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Fierce battles are raging between the Islamic State and the Kurds on several fronts extending from the Syrian border town of Rabia to Sinjar and, further south, from Kirkuk to Jalawla. The Sunni militants have been defeating reputable Kurdish peshmergas in some important battles, forcing them to withdraw.

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To read the rest of the article, please visit the following link at Vice:

https://news.vice.com/article/how-kurdish-militias-have-successfully-fought-off-the-islamic-state

ISIS Ultimatum to Yezidi People: Convert or Be Killed

Yezidi Civilians
Iraqi Kurdistan is the northern part of Iraq and the most stable area, where minorities are protected and women play a high role in society.
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Click for the brief video of TakePart Live show:
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ISIS invaded Shinjar to target non-Muslim Kurds. Kurdish women have been raped, murdered, and sold as sex slaves. ISIS refers to them as infidels, with the option to convert to Islam or be killed.
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Kurds have only basic weapons to protect themselves, but ISIS uses American weapons to kill Kurds.
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Original link: https://www.takepart.com/video/2014/08/06/isis-ultimatum-kurdish-women-convert-or-be-killed

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For  questions, feedback and interview requests: mutciv@gmail.com         +1202-241-0506

A Brief Analysis of the Situation in Hasakah

HasakahIslamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has launched an offensive against Hasakah for few days, and took control of Regiment 121, a major military installation in south of Hasakah province.

Since then Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) took preemptive steps to protect the city from all directions. According to YPG sources in the city there is no ISIS presence in the city, and the suicide attack resulted death of 17 regime forces was immediately interfered by YPG before additional ISIS reinforcement arrive to the city.

As far as regime forces concerned, there is still some military presence in the city center and government building are still controlled by the regime officials. However, majority of regime soldiers are demoralized due to lacking clear motivation to fight. Local sources earlier reported that different sort of regime weapons were seized by YPG in Hasakah in last few days.

In a phone interview, Cochair of the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK) Abdulselam Ahmed confirms that vast majority of the city is currently under YPG control. Ahmed, himself a Kurd from Hasakah, says the life in the city is normal and electricity is available in the Kurdish side of the city.

When asked about the timing of IS attacks on Hasakah, Ahmed says IS thought this as the best time to seize Hasakah as they thought YPG was preoccupied with fight in other fronts.

“Because of fierce fight in Kobane as well as Serekaniye and other regions, ISIS thought it is an appropriate time to attack Hasakah. Expecting no resistance from dispirited regime forces, ISIS was expecting an easy seizure of Hasakah. However, YPG took all necessary precautions to prevent ISIS from entering the city.”

Ahmed says it is likely that there are some ISIS supporters are in the city. “After the suicide attack they were expecting more reinforcements from surrounding villages and around Mount Abdulaziz, but thanks to YPG interference this possibility was prevented.”

In regards to YPG casualties in Hasakah, Ahmed says 3 YPG fighters lost their lives while defending the city.

“3 of YPG fighters were martyred by IS mortar attacks in south of the city. We received a news that 2 more YPG fighters martyred today, but we do not have the details yet.”

Ahmed confirms that Christians in the city asked Kurdish protection against ISIS and YPG is taking measures to protect the community.

Hasakah has always been one of the major goals of ISIS as it would allow further expansion of their control in Syria. After the group seized the control of Mosul, it wants to include Hasakah into its territories as well. Considering close ties between Arab tribes in Mosul and Hasakah, ISIS believes the city should be a part of its caliphate.

Besides, Hasakah is an important road junction near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Main road connecting Aleppo and Damascus are passing through Hasakah. It is also an important agricultural region; wheat, rice, cotton etc.

If Hasakah falls into ISIS, Jazira Canton of Kurds, cities like Qamishli, Derik (Malikiyah), Dirbesiye, Serekaniye (Ras al-ain) and Ramalan oil fields will also go under ISIS control. Such a development will mean a big blow for Kurdish achievements in Syria.

July 27, 2014

For question and comments mutciv@gmail.com

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ISIS Attacks on Kobane and YPG’s Response

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Mutlu Civiroglu

After taking over Mosul and some other cities in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) or with its new name Islamic State (IS) has launched a large offensive against Kobane (Ain al-Arab) on Wednesday, July 2. ISIS attacks supported by 10 tanks and other armored vehicles including US Humvees, were concentrated in the west of Kobane around several villages mostly against Zormixar, a strategic village overlooking town of Jarablus.

One important difference of these recent attacks is that ISIS has been employing many Western made heavy weapons seized from Iraqi army around Mosul in the past weeks. Moreover, YPG sources are stating that Iraqi generals from the Saddam era have joined ISIS and are coordinating the attacks against the Kurds. The main questions for Syria analysts was whether or not the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) had advanced weaponry and military capabilities that could repel these attacks and keep control of the region.

Two days after the offensive, on Friday, the YPG withdrew from Zormixar and other villages after ISIS bombarded the region with over 3000 mortars. Although YPG forces stated that this was a tactical move, some analysts interpreted this as a sign of possible defeat. After fierce clashes between the two sides, YPG forces managed to take back control of Zormixar as well as Khrab Ato, Bayadia, Ziyareteh and Jadidah villages. Currently some smaller scale clashes continue with remaining ISIS fighters, but local sources say the situation is pretty much under YPG control and the morale of the people of high.

YPG Media Office announced on Sunday, July 6 that ISIS offensive had been broken and around 200 ISIS fighters were killed. Sources that I spoke with in Kobane also verified that a lot of ISIS fighters had been killed and that their unburied bodies were scattered all over the battle field. Local sources also report that some of the fighters were blonde haired and bright skinned in appearance. According to YPG statements around 40 of their own fighters lost their lives in these recent attacks.

YPG also announced that its forces destroyed several ISIS tanks and other vehicles as well as seizing a wide range of weapons and ammunition.

Why Does ISIS Focus it’s Attacks on Kobane?
ISIS attacks against Kobane are significant for several reasons. First, with the recent confidence gained by taking over Mosul and other cities in Iraq, ISIS wants to expand its control over a larger territory of Syria as well. After seizing two oil fields from a rival extremist group, ISIS wants to seize Kobane which remains in the middle of territories under its control. ISIS currently controls Girsespi (Tall Abyad), Jarablus and Raqqah. It desperately wants Kobane to connect the regions under its control and make it a part of the “Islamic State”. Taking control of such an important city will enable ISIS to seize new territories from the direction of east and west, in addition to connecting Tall Abyad and Jarablus.

Furthermore, being a border city with Suruc of Sanliurfa province of Turkey, seizing Kobane will also allow ISIS to control the Mursitpinar Border Gate with Turkey as well. It is well known that ISIS gives specific importance to border gates especially for trade, easy crossing for fighters and logistics, the treatment of injured fighters etc. In this regard, it is increasingly likely that ISIS will plan attacks on other border crossings controlled by the Kurds like Serekaniye and Til Kochar (Yarubia), and crossings controlled by rival Islamist groups in Azaz.

In addition, ISIS also wants to cut Kobane from the Kurdish Mountain Region (Kurd Dagh) or Canton of Afrin and Canton of Jazira (Hasakah). As of now, moving between three Kurdish Cantons is difficult. According to local officials, currently hundreds of civilians are also held hostage in Jarablus and Tall Abyad. Also some 130 Kurdish students who were kidnapped by the group remain in captivity for over a month after they were kidnapped as they were returning from school exams in Aleppo. Despite all calls from international human rights groups those children and other civilians are still not released and are being used as a bargaining chip to pressurize YPG, according to local human rights defenders.
If Kobane falls to ISIS, such a possibility will bring some additional advantages for ISIS to further pursue its goals. It is apparent that ISIS does not hesitate to use any means to seize the city including kidnapping civilians and crucifying them, destroying houses and taking properties and even cutting off the water of the city.

Due to the fact that the taking of Kobane will be very advantageous for ISIS, it is not holding back from committing all sorts of cruelty against the people. ISIS is kidnapping civilians, publicly crucifying them and killing them by torture. Local sources are frequently reporting that ISIS is ransacking civilian homes and confiscating civilian property. As a matter of fact, it is well known that ISIS has on several occasions cut off the drinking water supply to Kobane.

One other factor to remember is that Kobane is the first city in Rojava to have been freed from the Assad regime on July 19, 2012. Therefore, the city has a special meaning for Kurds in Rojava. If the Kurds lose this city it will also have a demoralizing impact on them and their struggle for self-rule. Therefore, attacking Kobane is also attacking the massive gains of the Kurds in Syria, and a message for Kurds that ISIS [and its regional supporters] will not allow Kurdish autonomy in Syria. YPG sources and local officials expect that ISIS will be very likely to intensify its attacks as the second anniversary of the Kurdish takeover of the city approaches.

In fact, already news has come in that on Monday and Tuesday July 7and 8, ISIS launched new attacks on Kobane from the south and the east. YPG announced that in the fighting that occurred 35km south of Kobane close to Kunheftar, 40 members of ISIS were killed and that 2 YPG fighters had lost their lives.

YPG, along with the Kurdish Front (KF) and some other Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades, also managed to break ISIS attacks from the east of Kobane which were aimed at sandwiching in YPG forces from both directions. It is known that there was intense clashes between YPG fighters and hundreds of ISIS fighters supported by tanks from Tall Abyad who had launched an attack that began on Monday, the 7th of July and continued on Tuesday and Wednesday. Local sources reported that the YPG had destroyed several tanks and killed tens of ISIS members while also adding that the YPH had also suffered serious losses.

On the 9th of July, news came in from Kobane that 2 of the YPG fighters had possibly lost their lives as a result of a chemical weapon. It is worth reminding that the internationally respected Syrian Observatory For Human Rights also reported on this allegation on Wednesday.

As of now, despite ISIS’s possession of advanced weaponry from Iraq, it has been unable to gain the upper hand over the YPG, known for its high military capabilities, its discipline and its popular support. However, as stated above, it is highly likely that ISIS will continue its attacks. In this regard, the statements of the administration of the Kobane Canton, PYD leader Salih Muslim and, on behalf of the KCK, Murat Karayilan on Kobane are very important. Local officials say hundreds of Kobane residents are returning home from neighboring countries to defend their city. Also, hundreds of Kurds from Turkey crossed border to fight against ISIS alongside YPG forces. It is without a doubt that the future of Kobane is both significant for the Kurdish gains in Rojava, and also for the Kurds in other parts.

ISIS Attacks on Hasakah

In the long run reaching Hasakah is one of the major goals of ISIS. But, Hasakah is currently controlled by three different forces, YPG (in Kurdish side of the city), Assad and the opposition. So, it is not that easy for ISIS to take control of Hasakah, but they certainly want to expand their control in Syria.

Hasakah City is the administrative center of the Hasakah governorate. It is an important road junction near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. It is also an important agricultural region; wheat, rice, cotton etc. It is also close to the oil fields in north (Ramalan area). In a way, controlling Hasakah will provide any group with an important advantage over the others.

Given YPG’s superior military capabilities, discipline and its large popular support base it makes it very difficult for ISIS to defeat YPG in Kobane, Hasakah or elsewhere. Even with advanced Western weaponry ISIS obtained from Iraq seem to have not helped the group to seize Kobane thus far.

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Trenches Between KRG and Rojava

ImageThe issue of trenches on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Rojava has been one of the most important issues for the Kurds in last several weeks.

Barzani led Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) says these trenches are intended for preventing ISIS and other extremist groups from crossing the border. Yet, this notion has not convinced many.

Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), who has successfully been fighting against ISIS and other radical groups, is strongly rejecting the idea that Islamic extremists ever use the region where trenches are dug. Democratic Union Party (PYD) also believes the trenches are dug by KDP to further deepen the ongoing embargo on Rojava, and punish the people for supporting the PYD.

In Iraqi Kurdistan Region there is generally a consensus among political parties against these trenches with the exception of KDP. Indeed, in regards to Rojava generally, Goran, PUK, Islamic parties and other smaller parties have a different view than KDP; they are more supportive of PYD and Cantons declared in three regions of Rojava. Since the KDP is the strongest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, and control much of the government, none of these parties really have power to stand against KDP’s policies.

Something certain about these trenches is that they have caused deep wounds in the conscious of many Kurds. Regardless of what political parties say, people commonly view these trenches as something further dividing them and legitimizing the borders which they never accepted. That is the reason for the strong reaction coming from Kurds living in different parts of the world against these ditches.

Finally, it should be noted that people in both sides of the trenches are close relatives that were divided by those borders. Despite those borders they continued visiting each other facing many difficulties. Now they fear that these trenches will separate them forever…

Major Reasons of ISIS Offensive on Kobane?

Female_YPG

ISIS attacks against Kobane (Ain al-Arab) very significant for several reasons:

First, ISIS wants to expand its control over a larger geography but Kobane in the middle of ISIS dominated areas, stands as a big obstacle in front of this goal. ISIS currently controls Girsespi (Tab Abyad), Jarablus and Raqqah. It desperately wants Kobane to connect the areas under its control and seize the border gate with Turkey as well.

ISIS also wants to cut Kobane from Kurdish Mountain Region which Afrin is the center and Jazira (Hasakah). As of now, moving between three Kurdish Cantons is difficult. If Kobane falls to ISIS, the situation for Kurds will get much worse. Such a development will also demoralize Kurds psychologically, and will provide advantage to pursue its further goals. ISIS does not hesitate to use any means to seize the city that’s why they even cut off the water of the city.

One other factor to remember is that Kobane is the first city in Rojava to be freed from Assad regime. Therefore, it has a special meaning for Kurds in Rojava. Taking control of such an important city will enable Kobane to seize new territories from east and west direction.

Such an ISIS achievement will also be a message for Kurds that ISIS [and its regional supporters] will not allow Kurdish autonomy in Syria.

ISIS Attack on Kobane and Hasakah

In the long run reaching Hasakah is one of major goals of ISIS. But, Hasakah currently controlled by three different forces YPG (in Kurdish side of the city), Assad and opposition. So, it is not that easy for ISIS to control Hasakah, but they certainly want to expand their control in Syria.

Hasakah City is the administrative center of the Hasakah governorate. It is an important road junction near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. It is also an important agricultural region; wheat, rice, cotton etc. It is also close to oil fields in north (Ramalan area). In a way, controlling Hasakah will provide any group an important advantage over the others.

However, given YPG’s superior military capabilities, discipline and large popular support makes it very difficult for ISIS to defeat YPG and control Kobane.

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Rojava Panel at the Kurdish Conference in Washington, DC

Rojava (Kurdistan of Syria) Panel at the Kurdish Conference in Washington, DC