Sunday, May 18, 2014

Islamic extremists fighting brutal war against Kurds in Syria

Jonathan Spyer
The National Post

A dirty little war is grinding on in northern Syria, off the West's radar and beyond the reach of much of its media, writes Jonathan Spyer, who has just returned from a visit to the besieged Kurdish enclave of Kobani.

The conflict between the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the Kurdish upstarts provides a glimpse of what the future might hold for the country, now in the fourth year of a punishing civil war — wars within wars.
Syria is now fractured into a multitude of interests, split along ethnic, religious and regional grounds — and each badly disposed to the others.
Last year, Syria's Kurds seized the opportunity to declare independence from Damascus in areas along the border with Turkey. Today, they control three separate enclaves — Jazira, the largest, in the northeast, Kobani and Afrin. These are among the most peaceful and well-governed areas of the country.
In Kobani (Ayn Al-Arab in Arabic), about 80,000 people live under the rule of a Kurdish administration dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a movement closely allied with the separatist Kurdish movement, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), in neighbouring Turkey.
However, the enclave has the misfortune of being located in an area the ISIS is eyeing as part of the Islamic state it is seeking to establish — a wide swath of territory from Anbar and Ninawah provinces in western Iraq through eastern Syria to the Syrian-Turkish border. It already controls a substantial part of eastern Syria, lapping around Kobani.
Now, the area is under siege, as the Islamists seek to starve the Kurds into submission. Jihadi fighters assault its borders with a daily barrage of mortar fire and sniper activity, and occasionally launch all-out ground attacks.
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