Part 1: Opening Corridors and Pathways to Peace in the Middle East: Territorial Gains In Syria & Nuclear Agreement Reached In Iran.
With a disaster in Tunisia creating yet more despair.
On Monday 15th June the Syrian Kurdish YPG led forces captured the strategic town of Tel Abayd long held by the jihadi forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) aided by US-led coalition airstrikes. I heard about this on the Tuesday 16th from a Kurdish source viewing the victory as a game changer in the territorial battles in Syria and a step towards self-rule for Kurds or in the fullness of time a Kurdish state.
The YPG (People’s Protection Units), appear to western observers as being the best ground force opposing ISIS in Syria. They secured coalition backing when they won Kobane in 2014 and continuing successes should strengthen their position in future political developments in Syria which concerns some Arabs and Turks alike. The YPG is primarily a military group that co-operates with the YPD (the Kurdish Democratic Union) which is a Syrian Kurdish political party. The YPG/YPD has historic links to Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). A group still considered by Turkey, also intriguingly, the EU and US as a terrorist group.
In opposition to the Kurds there’s the myriad of groupings of ISIS and al Qa’eda affiliates such as al Nursa, plus the Assad regime and their allies such as Iranian backed Lebanese based Shi’ite Hezbollah involved in the multi-ethnic, multi-factional war raging in Syria and much of Iraq. Sadly, its causes and influences are spreading further across the Islamic world where recent tragic events in Tunisia bear brutal witness with 38 tourists shot on the beach front, 30 of whom were British (Telegraph, 2015).
Tunisia was recovering from its political struggles of the 2011 Arab Spring which has been its only success story to date. Its government and economy will now need help after the attack in Sousse and in March 2015 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis (Guardian, 2015). Assistance from international agencies to support its tourist industry and develop its security apparatus should be seen as important in winning both the military and political aspects of the wider regional conflicts. It’s international aid worth giving otherwise the terrorists win.
The Kurdish corridor forming in Northern Syria, covering the cantons of Cizire, Tal Abyad, Kobane and the smaller still separated Efrin by IS controlled Jarablus, is “a shift in dynamics that is permanent,” considers Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services in regard to future talks (FT,2015). Unfortunately, there’s more territorial conflict to follow before future talks can begin.
Both my source and news reports speculate that Kurdish forces may push to secure the towns of Jarablus and Azaz, mixed Arab-Kurdish areas west of Kobane, hopefully linking up with Kurdish canton Efrin. More ambitiously pushing south to engage with IS in their stronghold of Raqqa. What’s better required would be a broader well-backed force of the YPG and Syrian Arabs with support from Turkey, gaining local support as it advances with continue air support from the coalition to subdue ISIS forces and pacify local factions (of Islamist rebels) creating an enduring resolution on the ground.
Towards this end will require conclusive negotiations between the various factions against ISIS and the Assad Regime. Leading to and encouraging bold and conciliatory talks with the Assad Regime/Hezbollah to create something akin to that achieved in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the 1992-95 civil war with the Daytona agreement.
It’s a tall order, of course, but worth pursuing as Bosnia at the time was considered an intractable mess. The maps are even being to resemble each other (Economist, 2015; Wikipedia, 2015).
Interestingly with ISIS controlling fuel supply routes north-to-south and fuel prices rising sharply petrol smuggling thrives amongst rival factions. The Syrian Kurdish forces get supplied from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq along routes under their control or through southern Turkey. This trade and movement of fuel contains a kernel of hope that if deals can be struck for fuel needs. Then by other trade incentives, can co-operation and mutual trust be mustered over time to quell the violence and allow economic activity to recover and lives rebuilt?
Finally, with the Kurdish corridor running along Turkey’s southern border unnerving President Erdogan enough to say he would,” never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria,” highlights Turkey’s concerns over Kurdish self-rule or a state for themselves (Economist, 2015). The Kurdish corridor helps stop supply and communication lines for foreign jihadi forces coming in to Syria from Turkey.
Kurds accuse Mr Erdogan of tacitly supporting IS, although the jihadists are a concern for Turkey too who support other rebel groups in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey needs to build an alliance with someone to protect its porous borders from mass infiltration. Who they choose is vital to quell the hatred and pacify local populations to build a pathway to peace.
If it holds, the Kurdish corridor in northern Syria could be a building block for future negotiations for Kurdish autonomy perhaps in a Balkanised Syria.
In a wider geo-political context the nuclear restricting -sanction lifting deal between Iran and the grouping of the US, China, UK, France, Russia and Germany raises both hopes and fears from all sides for a change in the behaviour and prospects for Iran as a regional powerbroker to use its influence in Syria to gain a wider peace although the pathway here remains pitted with potholes and boulders-please read summer pursuits 2 for further comment and further reading links.
References and further reading-
Economist; (2015); “Drawing in the Neighbours”, The Economist Newspaper Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed 18th July 2015: www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21656692-turkey-and-jordan-are-considering-setting-up-buffer-zones-war-scorched
Financial Times Ltd; (2015); “YPG’s Tel Abyad victory changes the game for Syria’s Kurds”, by E. Solomon, G. Dyer and P. Zalewski, Financial Times Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 17th June 2015. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6f0089f4-143a-11e5-ad6e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3gG04cVvh
Guardian News and Media Ltd; (2015); “The Guardian view on the killings in Tunisia: the Arab spring’s only success needs support,” by Editorial; Guardian News and Media Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/19/guardian-view-killing-tunisia-arab-spring-success-needs-support
Telegraph Media Group Limited; (2015); “Tunisia attack: Only one weapon was ‘used to kill the terror attack victims’ – as it happened July 1”, Telegraph Media Group Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/11701043/Tunisia-attack-shooting-Isil-linked-warning-live.html
Wikipedia; (2015); “Daytona Agreement”, Wikipedia Foundation Inc. Website accessed 18th July 2015: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dayton_Agreement