YPG and PKK Forces: The Unsung Heroes of the War Against the “Islamic State”

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Re-posted from “The New Middle East

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YPG female fighter attends to young refugee

Guest  contributor, Dr. Saladdin Ahmed, received his Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa.  He taught in the Political Science and Sociology departments at the University of  Duhok during the 2013-2014 academic year.  He is working on a book ms. entitled, “The Destruction of Aura and Totalitarian Space.” 
 The Islamic State’s (IS) fascist agenda regarding Iraq’sYezidi population was not a secret to anyone. Yet the Peshmerga forces of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) president, Massoud Barzani, who had promised the Yezidis of Sinjar and surrounding areas protection, abandoned them without warning after being attacked, leaving them to their fate at the hands of the IS. The result has been genocide.
On the other hand, Syrian Kurds have been fighting jihadists, including the IS, for over a year.  They have mounted this resistance to extremist forces despite Barzani’s refusal to support them, even if only by lifting the economic embargo on Syrian Kurdistan.  It was the Syrian Kurds who came to the rescue of the Yezidis trapped on Mount Sinjar. Amidst growing international intrigue and acclaim for the Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan, the role of the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been seriously overlooked.

PKK female commanders and fighters

PKK female commanders and fighters

To recap: on August 3, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces deserted their positions in and around Sinjar leaving hundreds of thousands of Yezidis and other minorities at the mercy of the Islamic State (IS). Because the KDP forces did not inform the civilians of their so-called “withdrawal,” and because it all happened without any actual fight, people of Sinjar woke up that morning to find themselves under the black flag of the Islamic State.

 

The IS, which sees the genocide of Yezidis as a religious duty, has since captured hundreds of Yezidi girls and women and forced them into sex slavery. At the same time, those Yezidis who had a chance to flee to Mount Sinjar were reportedly misled by false reports from KDP media that Peshmerga had freed Sinjar, leading to some refugees descending the mountain only to find IS militants waiting to slaughter them.

In the following days the KDP peshmerga not only failed retake Sinjar as they promised, but more towns fell into the IS’s hands. As the IS continued to draw closer to the southern edge of Erbil and panic spread among people in the Iraqi Kurdish capital, thousands of KDP security personnel allegedly stopped reporting to their posts, and KRG calls for American military intervention began in earnest.

By August 8, as the world’s attention turned to the US decision to re-engage militarily in Iraq and Barzani’s Peshmerga continued deserting their positions, Syrian Kurdish women and men fighters of the YPG, along with their PKK comrades, had already spread out from Rabiya to Sinjar region as well as to the town of Makhmur to defend the areas vacated by KDP forces. There are even reports that they had sent forces as far south as Kirkuk to stop the offensive of the IS.

 Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurdistan

Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurdistan

Despite their extremely poor equipment, particularly given the IS’s advanced weaponry, much of it abandoned by the Iraqi army in Mosul, and the ongoing struggle across the border in Syrian Kurdistan to fend off the IS from towns and cities in Rojava, the YPG and PKK have emerged as the most competent forces on the ground. As early as August 4, the day after tens of thousands of Yezidis had fled to Mount Sinjar, YPG guerillas were reportedly there protecting the people from the IS’s attacks.

Besides the economic embargo on Syrian Kurds by KDP along with Turkey and IS forces, the KDP also dug atrench along the very border that has always symbolized occupation and injustice for Kurds to reinforce the embargo on Rojava. Nonetheless, the YPG and PKK have put aside all their political disputes with Barzani at this time of crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurds from western (Rojava) and northern (Bakur) Kurdistan have been fighting the IS on the borders of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that were supposed to be secured by Barzani’s KDP.  Moreover, had they not intervened so strongly to fight the IS, perhaps even American intervention would not have been able to save Erbil.

The lessons to be learned from this act of solidarity do not end with effective methods of fighting jihadists – although with the YPG’s extensive experience on that front, advice of that nature should also be solicited by all sides. Iraqi Kurdistan can and should also learn from Syrian Kurdistan how to embrace more inclusive policies in all aspects of governing, including the structure and functioning of the armed forces.

2 YPG fighters northern Syria

2 YPG fighters northern Syria

Like Rojava, Southern Kurdistan should involve all of the diverse peoples of the region, not only ethnic Kurds, and not only men. This way the greater Kurdistan region, in spite of the boundaries that separate each part, will be united in its commitment to setting itself apart from the racist policies that have dominated the politics of nation-states in the Middle East for decades.

Finally, in the likely event that the IS will soon withdraw more forces into Syria under the pressure of the American bombardment of its forces in Iraq, Syrian Kurds will continue to pay a heavy price for the inability of other political actors to put a stop to this Arab-Sunni creation. Indeed, following the Iraqi Army’s abandonment of their posts and advanced American weapons in Mosul on June 9, and in the town of Tikrit just two days later, the IS promptly brought their captured weapons to Syria where they have since been waging attacks on Syrian Kurds with even greater  ferocity.

In this context, not only Iraqi Kurds, but the international community as a whole, should remember Rojava’s sacrifices in the ongoing crisis in Iraq. Rojava has earned the right for the solidarity and support of the international community through its resistance to the forces of darkness.

ISIS seizing Christian women in northern Iraq

ISIS seizing Christian women in northern Iraq

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