Are Kurds, Shiite Militias and the Baath Gov’t allying against Turkey’s Afrin Op?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Fundamentalist Salafi militias, some linked to al-Qaeda, and backed by Turkey, have allegedly taken three new villages in the Afrin canton away from the leftist Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Over all, the Turks and their allies claim the conquest of 71 villages in northern and western Afrin.

A Turkish airstrike, in the meantime, allegedly destroyed a YPG vehicle convoy nearing Afrin with armored vehicles and weapons, creating a massive set of explosions.

Turkey and its Sunni Arab allies are seeking to establish a buffer zone between the Syrian Kurds and the Turkish border in the region west of Aleppo. This effort requires removing Kurdish populations from Afrin and its surroundings and replacing them with pro-Turkish Syrian Sunni Arabs.

Although Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan maintains he is pursuing this fight to stop Kurdish terrorist against Turkey, there is no evidence that Afrin was a threat to Turkey, and indeed the region was relatively quiet. It is likely that Erdogan is attacking Afrin to send a message to the United States that he will not permit the regularization of a semi-autonomous Kurdish military force on his borders. Wars are also useful in shoring up public support, and Erdogan is widely viewed as increasingly dictatorial outside his own party. He has had war critics, and indeed tens of thousands of other critics, summarily fired or arrested.

Financial Times: “Syria war flashpoint in Afrin enclave”


In response to a series of battlefield losses, the YPG in Aleppo has allegedly coordinated with the Baath government of President Bashar al-Assad, turning over to the Syrian Arab Army the areas of Aleppo and immediate vicinity it controlled. This move freed up YPG fighters to go defend Afrin.

The official Syrian news service, SANA, which is a mouthpiece of the Syrian regime, alleges that Shiite militias have reached the enclave of Afrin, ready to fight the fundamentalist Salafi rebels deployed by Turkey as an adjunct to its invasion of the Kurdish-majority canton. It says that hundreds of residents of the city of Afrin came out into the square to welcome the support, and chanted slogans in favor of their citizenship in the Syrian nation. They opposed the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory.

Commenting on the ongoing situation in Syria is made extremely difficult by the fog of war and the contradictory reports from the various propaganda arms at work to shape public perception of the situation. All we can do is try clearly to identify the sources of allegations and attempt to weigh their reliability.

Syria’s Kurds have been badly treated by the Arab nationalist Baath government in the past, and most Syrian Kurds likely dream of independence or at least a large amount of autonomy. Some of Iraq’s Kurds, however, are cautioning them not to be overly rash or ambitious, given the debacle the latter faced over Kirkuk in a standoff with the Iraqi government.

That the Syrian Kurds in Afrin were enthusiastically chanting about being part of Syria and welcoming fundamentalist Shiite militias could be true, but both would be a function of desperation. Turkey is attempting to chase most Afrin Kurds away from any area near the Turkish border, and is deploying the impressive fire power of a NATO member to do so. The US abandoned the Afrin Kurds to their fate, despite having depended on the Kurdish YPG militia to defeat ISIL in Raqqa. Afrin as a Kurdish canton is substantially to the West of the other two Kurdish enclaves in Syria, Jazira and Kobane, and while US special operations forces are embedded with the latter, Afrin is not in the US sphere of influence.

How many Shiite militiamen have actually gone to Afrin and how effective they will be against the Turks and their Salafi allies is unclear as yet. These pro-Damascus militias typically include Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Iraqi Shiite militias freed up by the fall of Mosul to the Baghdad government, and Afghans shanghaied into service by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

If these various reports are true, a YPG Kurdish and Shiite militia coalition is forming to fight the Salafi guerrillas allied with Turkey, and the Damascus regime of al-Assad is coordinating with the Kurds to take over territory formerly under YPG control in the Aleppo region so as to free up YPG fighters in the struggle against Turkey.

9 Responses

  1. I have heard a theory, floating around reddit, that a primary strategy of the Turkish government is not to grab land so much as to bleed out the cream of the YPG forces in a long term conflict. The Kurds will then be more likely to agree to a political and military solution that is more bearable. Turkey can afford to do this for a couple of years as most of the casualties are not citizens. If this is true, then the gathering of other groups to help YPG is not a game changer

  2. The present situation simply cannot go on much longer. By whatever tortuous means it looks possible some accommodation will come about between Ankara and Damascus to end it. Such an outcome would, though, seem to depend somewhat on whatever can be agreed between Damascus and the Kurdish Syrians. Relatively speaking it looks as if Assad could get the best of it in the end, particularly as he is aided by being the focus of the solidarity evoked when a nation, however divided, comes under external attack.

  3. “Turkey and its Sunni Arab allies are seeking to establish a buffer zone between the Syrian Kurds and the Turkish border in the region west of Aleppo. This effort requires removing Kurdish populations from Afrin and its surroundings and replacing them with pro-Turkish Syrian Sunni Arabs.”

    The word you’re looking for here is Ethnic cleansing.

  4. The Kurds in Afrin were NOT enthusiastic re having to get help from Syria’s sadist leader, dammit, Usania deserted them to NATO’s second largest military and its jihadist shock-troops — even the waterworks were bombed and medical supplies run out while mass media in the West ignores Afrin — we have democratic tolerant eco-feminists forced to ask for Assad’s help. They are blameless. We deserve to be infamous ingrates for ages. The sweet guardians of peace helped us at great sacrifice to fight ISIS and we let jihadists protected by NATO jets and tanks attack them. Our disgusting cowardice will be recalled for a hundred years! (please note that i speak as a progressive and not from the right.)

    • If you know Kurdish history, you know that everyone betrays the Kurds. That’s what you do to the stateless.

  5. “Some of Iraq’s Kurds, however, are cautioning them not to be overly rash or ambitious, given the debacle the latter faced over Kirkuk in a standoff with the Iraqi government.”

    Just want to know whether the Iraqi Kurds are at all worried for the Syrian Kurds being attacked by the Turks, or in support of it. Read somewhere else that the Peshmerga and Iraqi Kurdish leadership, which leans right and has relations with Turkey, have actually arrested, tortured and sometimes killed the YPG Syrian Kurd fighters who’ve entered their territories, due to their opposition and rivalry against their leftist political ideals. It’s confusing.

    Any news in regards to where the Sunni Gulf Saudi bloc and Qatar stand on this and if they’re active participants too? Don’t think they probably mind what Turkey’s doing, particularly if it’s in support of Arab or foreign Sunni Islamist militants over those areas.

    Just to note something interesting, that highlights the weakening global position of the US. The US continues to avoid calling out and does tolerate the alleged Al Qaeda links of fundamentalist or extremist groups that are being backed by Turkey or the the Saudis earlier. However, in a recent Times of India article, at some financial forum, the US were blocked (or rebuked) by China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in regards to punishing Pakistan with sanctions for their Taliban support, which the US military has been peeved about for a long time. Thought this was relevant in regards to how US power and influence is waning.

    This all may just drag Iraq (Iraqi Shiite militias), Iran and Syria in collision with Turkey and will also have repercussions with what Russia and the US will do. And again, it’ll be people in Syria suffering the most, being cleansed everywhere.

  6. The president of Turkey is another person who ought to be arrested and sent to the Hague for trial. Not nice.

    given Turkey is a member of NATO, it is about time the rest of NATO kicks them out. They may keep them there to keep them from be coming part of the Russian “group” but really, when you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas and given what Turkey is going, I as a citizen of Canada don’t want this case of fleas. Time to write my P.M. once he gets back from dancing in India.

    • If NATO embraced Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar, what’s the case to be made against Turkey?

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