Category Archives: My Views

EU Countries Agree to Arm Kurdish Forces in Iraq

EU ministers agreed today to back the arming of beleaguered Iraqi Kurd fighters by key member states, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after three hours of talks. One diplomat said the agreement was “strong and sends the desired political message.” VoR’s Brendan Cole has more.

In the strongest statement of British support for the Iraqi Kurds yet, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said today that the UK would consider any request for British arms from Kurdish forces. Downing Street said no such request has yet been made.

It comes as European Union ministers agreed to helping arm Iraq’s Kurds to halt the relentless advance by Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) militants.

The United States and France have already begun to supply weapons to the Kurds and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised a lack of action by the West.

He said: “The objective is to rebalance the fight, because the terrorists have highly sophisticated weapons that they took from Iraqi forces, and these are weapons of US origin. And so we don’t want to wash our hands of this we want to help the Kurds, the Iraqis, to avoid massacres.”

Amid warnings of a genocide, several European countries as well as the United States have dropped aid to the imperiled Yazidi population which is being targeted by the IS militants.

US President Barack Obama said the US had broken the siege on Mount Sinjar and saved many lives.

Mr Obama said: “The bottom line is the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts. Because of the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.” 

Amid the debate for arming Kurds fighting in Iraq came support from all around the world.

Jabar Hassan is director of the Iraqi Association in London and he believes that arms would be welcomed.

He told VoR: “It does enable the Kurdish forces that can be depended on. What sort of weapons they will get I don’t know, it seems they are in desperate need of air cover and light tanks to defend themselves.”

But there is doubt as to whether simply arming Kurdish forces would be enough to stop ISIS.

Shoshank Joshi is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. He told VoR: “Depending on the nature of the support the Kurds, receive it could upset the balance between Kirbil and Baghdad.”

“Mission creep is part of the mission”

The West claims it would not contribute to boots on the ground but already there are more than 1,000 US military personnel deployed to Iraq.

But the ability of the West to withdraw from Iraq is of course key.

Joshi said: “To some extent, mission creep is part of the mission. The US has said we are not going to step in and save Iraq until there is political reform. We are now seeing that more inclusive government taking place before our eyes.”

Hopes have grown for a more inclusive Iraqi government after the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resignedand conceded power to Haider al Abadi.

Washington-based Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu told VoR: “I am not optimistic, the problem was not Maliki, the problem is one of democracy. The picture is more serious, it is a culture of democracy.”

The Peshmerga fighters currently used dated Soviet weapons and would welcome an influx of hardware and expertise from the west.

Its long term goal however – in addition to seeing off the threat of the Islamic State – could be seen as a desire to strengthen its resources for an independent Kurdistan.

Mutlu Civiroglu told VoR: “The Kurds are trying to create a joint front. As far as Kurdish independence is concerned, Kurds want it, it is no secret, they have the right to demand an independent state. They fear that the Iraqi state is not capable of protecting their interests.”

The offensive by the self-styled Islamic State, has drived an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.

The UN has declared the situation in the country a “level three emergency”, its highest level of humanitarian crisis.

(AFP, VoR) 
Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/uk/news/2014_08_15/Britain-ready-to-supply-Kurds-with-arms-8256/

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…

Syrian Kurds Declare Autonomous Government Ahead of Talks

Kurds in Syria have declared the formation of an autonomous government after saying they had not been invited to Geneva-2 peace talks, Russia Today reported Tuesday.

North and Northeastern Syria will see the installation of a president and 22 ministries.

The decision followed repeated calls and requests from the Kurds to form their own independent delegation at the talks, which began today in Switzerland, one separate from the exiled coalition and other groups.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) earlier stated that it would reject any resolution reached at the talks.

Kurdish anger over exclusion at Geneva spilled over Twitter pages in the past weeks with hundreds of Kurdish activists demanding Kurdish representation at the Geneva conference.

In a recent interview with Ahram Online, Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst said: “Kurds are discontented that conference organizers are trying to leave them out of Geneva II. They want to attend this conference and speak up with their own demands.”

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/92244.aspx

The Kurds and Geneva II

Wladimir van Wilgenburg, January 20, 2014

The Syrian Kurds have failed to get support from the United States and Russia to have an independent delegation for the upcoming Geneva II Syrian peace conference, slated to begin on January 22. They now fear that the Kurdish issue will be ignored in the conference, despite the fact that Kurds control a significant part of northern Syria, including many oil-producing areas.

At first it was unclear if the Syrian Kurdish political organizations could solve their differences, which have been exacerbated by tension between Kurdish groups in Iraq and Turkey. Competition between Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the main Kurdish party in Turkey, over the leadership of the Kurds, were at the core of the differences between Kurdish parties in Syria.

Regional Kurdish Disputes

The PKK backs the powerful Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and it’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), that control significant parts of the Kurdish areas in Syria. Its main rival, the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which brings together several Kurdish parties, is backed by Barzani.

Since 2011, the PYD has become the largest Kurdish party in Syria, as a result of its military power through the YPG. The KNC, on the other hand, has been increasingly marginalized as a result of its corresponding lack of military influence. Its leadership is now based outside of Syria and it has affiliated itself with the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Syria’s main exile leadership, which is endorsed by several Western and Arab nations, as well as by the PKK’s and PYD’s main enemy, Turkey.

As I have previously written at Al Monitor, the KDP and PKK managed to solve some of their differences in December 2013, and they agreed that the Syrian Kurds should have a united voice in Geneva II as part of an independent Kurdish delegation. However, the National Coalition and several influential foreign nations have opposed the idea of a separate Kurdish delegation. In the end, it appears that only the Kurdish National Council (KNC) will go to Geneva II, as part of the National Coalition’s delegation—assuming the conference is held and the National Coalition attends—while the PYD is left out entirely.

PYD’s Plan for Kurdish Transitional Rule

The PYD argues that if the Kurds do not have an independent delegation at the Geneva II talks, there will be no recognition of special status for the Kurds in Syria. There is historical precedent for such fears, considering how the Kurdish national tragedy began in the 1920s. The PYD-leader Saleh Muslim Mohammed has warned of a repetition of the 1923 treaty of Lausanne that created a Turkish state and ignored the option of Kurdish independence that had been promised in the earlier treaty of Sèvres in 1920.

Ultimately, the PYD seeks international recognition for its plan to form a transitional Kurdish government in northern Syria, similar to the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. The West has so far opposed this idea, and it has been harshly criticized by the National Coalition. But for the PYD and many Syrian Kurds, it is of crucial importance. Having their own delegation at the talks would have allowed the PYD to raise this demand and bargain for its approval in the proceedings.

Turning the PYD Against Geneva

“There is frustration towards Washington, Moscow, and the UN,” says the Washington-based Kurdish affairs specialist Mutlu Civiroglu, who argues that Syrian Kurds now feel left out of the Geneva II process. “To provide the Kurdish point of view, Kurds should be there and they should be allowed to speak and raise their own demands. The Kurds have stopped radicals, protected their own areas, and protected ethnic minorities. Not allowing Kurds to come [in a separate Kurdish delegation], means that they want Kurds to live the same life as they did during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule before the revolution.”

At the end of the day, the YPG is the clearly dominant military power in Syrian Kurdistan and the Geneva conference will not change the reality on the ground. Even the KNC realizes that the Kurdish issue will most likely not be discussed during Geneva II, and the PYD and its affiliates are turning hostile to the entire process.

On January 16, a pan-Kurdish body controlled by the PKK said that since the Geneva II meeting is “ostracizing” Syrian Kurds, its outcome “will not be recognized by the Kurds.” This hardening of the PKK’s position didn’t take long to filter down to its affiliates in Syria. Earlier on Monday, a PYD-affiliated organization threatened the KNC by saying that if it goes to Geneva without trying to secure “well-deserved Kurdish rights,” this “will be considered high treason against the Kurdish people and against all of Syria.”

It seems that after its demand for a separate Kurdish delegation was refused, the PYD has now decided to reject the Geneva II meeting entirely.

http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54247

Syrian Alliance Says ‘Yes’ to Geneva 2 but Other Groups Still ‘Sceptical’

Nadeen Shaker , Monday 20 Jan 2014
Ahead of the peace talks on 22 January, Ahram Online’s Nadeen Shaker says the conference will fail to unite all opposition groups, leaving door open for prolonged divisiveness and conflict

An alliance of Syrian opposition forces have decided to take part in internationally-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian crisis.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) met in Istanbul on Saturday and voted to attend the peace talks, ending a prolonged debate over the group’s participation that has led to the conference being delayed twice since June.

In May, Russia and the United States announced plans to organize a conference dubbed Geneva-2 that would bring warring sides to the negotiating table and ideally close the lid on a dire situation that has left 130,000 dead in nearly three years. Plans were suspended in June, and again in November.

The current talks are now slated for 22 January and will open in Montreux, Switzerland.

The summit is set to convene despite the risk of angering many opposition members who have either favoured non-participation or claimed misrepresentation. Opaque and contentious, the conference agenda could threaten the very viability of the talks.

Issues of representation

In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote in Istanbul, some blocs within the deeply-divided and broader Syrian National Coalition (SNC) vehemently condemned attending the talks.

The Syrian National Council, one of the coalition’s most influential blocs, refused participation on the grounds that “no international power has been willing so far to actively force the Assad regime to stop its barbaric killings of the Syrian People,” SNC member Obeida Nahas told Ahram Online.

Large parts of the opposition are opposed to attending the summits, said Yezid Sayigh, a Syria expert and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, in a Skype interview with AO.

Sayigh pointed to rebel groups on the ground like the Islamic Front, which have completely withdrawn their recognition of the opposition coalition.

He added that other groups such as the Kurdish National Council (KNC), the umbrella group of several Kurdish parties, and the Syria-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCBDC) are not opposed to attending, but do not wish to come under the National Coalition’s umbrella.

The UN along with the two states spearheading the talks — the United States and Russia — have stipulated that the opposition form under or be represented by a single delegation in the talks, thereby partnering internal oppositional groups with the exiled coalition.

In response, the NCBDC withdrew their attendance from the talks on 15 January, according to AFP, citing an imbalanced representation and lack of seriousness.

Syrian Kurds, the biggest ethnic minority in the country, are similarly not allowed to have their own independent delegation.

“The US and the west impose the SNC upon Syrians as their sole representative,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst, speaking with AO for this article.

“The fact that the SNC has been dogged by infighting and a lack of real influence inside Syria is problematic, and will likely not bring any solution to the problems of Syria, including Kurds,” Civiroglu added.

Kurdish discontent has spurred three “Twitterstorms” demanding Kurdish representation at the Geneva conference, Mark Campbell, a pro- Kurdish rights campaigner, said in an email to AO.

He, along with other Kurdish activists and campaigners, began the Twitter hashtag #KurdsToGeneva2 which soon spiralled into an outpouring of Kurdish discontent over why they were not invited and who would be chosen to go to the summit.

Al-Monitor reported that on 18 January, the SNC decided that the only Kurdish representatives at the conference will be members of the Kurdish council’s foreign relations committee. This might exclude key figures like Salih Muslim, leader of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Campbell said that Kurds in north and northeastern Kurdish Syria, an area also known as Rojava, view Muslim as their international leader and representative.

Campbell suggests that the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK) as well as the military forces on the ground in Rojava should be added to the non-materialized list of attendees.

Many KNC members are sceptical about the coalition’s sincerity towards pressing ahead with Kurdish demands, the top of which is Kurdish autonomy, Civiroglu adds.

Much like the main opposition, a major Kurdish demand is the stepping down of incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad. Others include drafting a new constitution based on the principle of ethnic plurality, the abolition of racial laws which target the ethnic group and the advancement of political decentralization and self-rule.

Civiroglu warns that “it is likely that Kurdish members will leave the umbrella group if they realize that the SNC does not have any intention of addressing Kurdish demands.”

Geneva-1 agreement: a basis for talks?

The talks in January are expected to use a previous agreement, known as Geneva-1, as the main framework for negotiations.

However, the stipulations of the Geneva-1 meeting have been hotly disputed since it was held last June. Although concluding with an agreement for the formation of a transitional government and the implementation of a future truce, neither of these things have come to light since then.

Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS), told AO that he thinks the main aim of the talks in January should be putting into effect Geneva-1, namely setting up a main body for the transition process, releasing political prisoners and opening humanitarian corridors.

This was echoed by Nahas, who added that the future governing body or council will be the “only legitimate power in Syria,” but the SNC member made a crucial point in insisting that “neither Assad nor his officials who are implicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity would be part of the future Syria.”

Seeing Assad go is a prerequisite of a large majority of the opposition. Having the upcoming conference focus only on Geneva-1, then, which offers a solution of transition rather than explicit removal, explains why many opposition groups are defiantly refusing to attend the conference in Switzerland.

“The SNC is very sceptical that any outcomes of the Geneva-2 conference will be enforced,” Nahas continued.

However, Nahas said, there is some room for adjustment: “The council’s position will only change if the facts on the ground change: if prisoners are released, bombings stopped, and so on.”

Similar to Saturday’s meeting in Istanbul, nearly 200 Syrian opposition fighters met recently in Cordova, Spain, to flesh out a unified opposition stance to present to the international community, according to an Ahram-Weekly article by the Syrian journalist Bassel Oudat. Assad’s removal and the trail of his henchmen were heavily pressed at the meeting.

Sayigh, the Syria expert at Carnegie, foresees that the Geneva-1 agreement will fail to garner enough support in the absence of a proper debate on the transitional process.

“On one hand, Geneva-1 is supposed to be the basis of the conference and what will be discussed,” he said. “However, it is clear that the US and Russia have not reached sufficient common ground on their understanding of the substance of transition or the sequencing of it.”

In the absence of a strong and dynamic opposition, Sayigh said, the talks will likely digress into agreeing upon “confidence-building measures” like humanitarian aid and ceasefires, instead of finding thorough political solutions.

In fact, to jumpstart peace talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem handed proposals to Moscow on Friday regarding a ceasefire in Aleppo and an offer for a prisoner swap.

US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the efforts to be a diversionary ploy ahead of the talks.

“Nobody is going to be fooled,” Kerry said, according to AFP.

Nahas is worried about the fact that the regime is still behaving like a juggernaut after nearly three years. Also worrying is the opposition’s distrust of major players in the peace process.

Syria has lost most of its national independence because Assad has pursued a policy of “crushing people” rather than reform and democracy, he said. Such a policy, he argues, has allowed Iran and Hezbollah forces to occupy Syria, which has further complicated future political dialogue and resolution.

Perhaps most distressing is the opposition, though, which is becoming increasingly isolated diplomatically.

It has some international support, he says, especially through the Friends of Syria Group, a diplomatic collective which was formed after Russia and China’s repeated vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions.

“But its trust in others is minimal,” he said.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/91936.aspx