The Kurds of Kobanê are fighting for their lives against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) writes Sarah Parker. Assaults on the area began two years ago but have increased in intensity since 2 July after mixed ISIS and Baathist forces took control of western Mosul in Iraq, strengthening their grip on the Syrian / Iraqi border and enabling the movement of heavy weapons and tanks up through Syria to use against Kobanê. The area is strategically important for the Kurds because it links to the other two cantons of the new self-declared autonomous areas of Syrian Kurdistan, Afrin in the west and Cizire in the east. It is strategically important for the ISIS / Baathist alliance because if they can take it, it will be very hard for the other autonomous areas to survive, and because ISIS/ Baathists want a land link between two areas that they currently control, Girespi (Tel Abyad in Arabic) and Jerablus.
The fight for Kobanê is probably critical for the revolution in Rojava (“West”, meaning the west of Kurdistan). Appeals are going out to Kurds everywhere to support the struggle for Kobanê , as have appeals to foreign governments to work to restrain ISIS, and appeals to the world public generally for solidarity. But the People’s Self-Defence Forces (YPG) have a hard fight on their hands to drive out ISIS and the Baathists (possibly both Iraqi and Syrian), given that these forces have no lack of money, weapons, backers, or countries apparently happy to ignore them.
As Salih Müslim, co-chair of the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Unity Party), has recently explained in a interview, there is evidence that forces going under the name of ISIS have been working closely with the Turkish state. The Turkish state wants to make absolutely minimal concessions to the Kurds in Turkey and certainly does not want to see autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria contiguous to Kurdistan Turkey. There are also grounds for suspicion that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is co-operating to some degree with the ISIS / Baathist groups, both in Syria and Iraq – in recent months the KDP has sometimes shut its border posts with the easternmost Syrian Kurdish area, at times preventing the movement of people and of supplies, thus immensely increasing the pressure on the three autonomous areas. The KDP does not like the challenge to its own undemocratic system posed by the efforts of Kurds in Turkey and Syria to develop democratic ways of organising, it maintains an increasingly close relationship with the Turkish state and with Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, and it is in the ascendant in Northern Iraq politically at the moment on account of the fragmentation of its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Furthermore there appears to be a tactical alliance in Iraq between the ISIS / Baathists and the KDP, since the former have largely avoided entering substantially Kurdish areas such as eastern Mosul or Kirkuk, and did not attempt to block the Kurdish peshmergas’ entry into Kirkuk after the collapse and withdrawal of the Iraqi army from the area.
For more than a week now Baathist leaders have been popping up in Erbil, the main KDP-controlled city, doing TV interviews. It should be pointed out that whatever the legitimate grievances of Iraqis who have suffered in recent years from the sectarianism, keenness on revenge and general incompetence of the Maliki government, aiding ISIS with the aim of crushing the Kurds of Syria would be completely criminal. It would also be a highly hazardous tactic to work in alliance with ISIS / Baathists in Iraq in such a way as to strengthen them, since they will both to run a very repressive regime in any area they control, which will cause suffering both to many ordinary people and to anyone who opposes them, and they are also likely to look for an opportunity in the future to recover areas such as Kirkuk and perhaps even the rest of Kurdistan Iraq. It is true that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), essentially at present an emergency national unity government which was briskly formed within a few days of the fall of Mosul, has called up retired peshmergas, is taking steps to secure the new borders of the Kurdish region militarily, has now seized the Kirkuk oilfields, and is also offering protection to hundreds of thousands more refugees, including Christians of various denominations, Shabaks (a Shia Kurdish minority) and Yezidis, (a Kurdish group with pre-Islamic religious beliefs), fleeing before ISIS from the Nineveh Plains area and elsewhere.
But the people of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq and Syria would be best served by a policy exclusively of self-defence from the parties within the KRG, without any deepening of entanglements with ISIS, the Baathists, Turkey, or for that matter Iran. It is to be hoped that pressure from many sides, and indeed recognition that the Kurds and their allies of other ethnic communities participating in the experiment of self-organisation in Rojava, are following a reasonable path, unlike the ISIS fanatics and mercenaries, will induce the KRG to ease tensions from their side with Rojava, and will perhaps even induce some states to press backers of ISIS to stop their support for such a an utterly reactionary organisation. Demonstrations by Kurdish people around Europe in support of Kobanê and Rojava as a whole will be ongoing, and hopefully socialists will support them as much as possible, not least to show our own governments that we are aware of what is going on and will not tolerate their complicity, either through inaction or active assistance, with the assault on Kobanê.