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Syrian Kurds challenge Istanbul opposition

November 14, 2013, 12:55 UTC+3 14
As the scheduled Geneva-2 peace conference is drawing near, the parties to the Syrian conflict are beginning to resort to tug-of-war tactics ever more often
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© AP/Manu Brabo

By Itar-Tass correspondent Dmitry Zelenin


BEIRUT, November 14 (Itar-Tass) - As the scheduled Geneva-2 peace conference is drawing near, the parties to the Syrian conflict are beginning to resort to tug-of-war tactics ever more often. After the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCROF) on Monday gave its long-awaited consent to send a delegation to Geneva-2, it took quite a dubious step on Tuesday that may thwarted the process of diplomatic settlement.

The heated debates in Instanbul, where NCROF leader Ahmad al-Jarba gave one of his opponents a slap on the face in public, resulted in announcing an interim government. According to the communique, it will take care of the population in the areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

The newly-elected ‘prime minister’, Ahmed Tomeh, has already announced that restoring order, providing security and satisfying the essential needs of the population in the areas bossed by the militants will be the primary tasks of his Cabinet. However, this announcement was rather a wish than an instruction. It is not fugitive ’rebels’ in the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), now conspicuously melting away, but the extremists of the militant and fanatical groups mostly linked to Al-Qaeda who really control the areas. While engaged in constant rifts and fighting with each other, these forces are similar in one respect - outright rejection of any peace deal that may end the Syrian crisis. The mini-emirates in the seized quarters of Aleppo, Al-Raqqah and Deir ez-Zor are practising the medieval version of sharia similarly to Afghanistan's Taliban.

The Syrian Kurds were the first to fend off these aliens. Their self-defence forces ousted jihadist and takfirist groups from the north-eastern province of Al-Hasika and are now controlling several checkpoints on the border with Turkey and Iraq as well as oil fields near Rumeylan. Notably, in a number of cases the Kurds were supported by the Syrian air forces. “We took up arms to protect our towns and villages from militants who threatened civilians every day,” the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Saleh Muslim explained.

After a successful military campaign against Islamist mercenaries, several Kurdish parties led by the Kurdish Democratic Union established an interim civic administration in the administrative centre of Qamishli on Tuesday. Such a twist came as no surprise, as Muslim announced plans to reorganize the existing people’s committees into self-rule authorities several months ago. He and other Kurdish politicians explain this step is not aimed to federalize or separate the region from Syria.

The Syrian parliamentary deputy Omar Ousi, chairman of the National Initiative of Syrian Kurds said the Kurdish administration “is temporary and intended to protect the people and restore the normal course of everyday life”, adding its authorities will expire as soon as the crisis is over.

However, there are also Kurds who disapprove of the unilateral decision made in Qamishli. The Kurdish National Council (KNC) cooperating with the police of Istanbul considers it “a hasty and erroneous measure intended to put obstacles in the way of the Syrian opposition”. KNC is at odds with the Democratic Union and considers it an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ party that was banned in Turkey. The regional experts believe that the leader of Iraqi Kurds Masoud Barzani will have the last word to say in the dispute as he has repeatedly conciliated his Syrian brothers.

Damascus has not yet commented on a de facto Kurdish autonomy. But local pundits believe the Kurds would not have realized the initiative announced out of spite to the Istanbul opposition’s demarche without negotiating it with Bashar al-Assad. No reaction has come so far from Turkey that always closely observes the situation in Syrian border provinces and clearly disapproves of Kurdish attempts for independence.

Another important side is the Arab tribes of Al-Jazeera, the historical region located beyond the Euphrates, home to the present leader of the NCROF, the sheikh of Shammar tribe. However, in the recent battle between the Kurds on one side and Islamic State’s militants and Janhat al-Nusra on the other near the town of Al-Jarubia on the border with Iraq, the local Bedouins abstained from supporting either side in the conflict. This is the evidence the tribes’ leaders see the Islamist militants as a threat to their power.

Whatever the case, a kind of triple power is emerging in the north of Syria comprised of the NCROF interim government, ‘Islamic Emirates’ and the Kurdish civic administration. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have already declared their support for Tomeh’s Cabinet. Saudi Arabia has even pledged to allocate $300 million to restore order in the territory controlled by the armed opposition. Meanwhile, the US remained cool about the emergence of the new opposition, which indicating growing discord over the Syrian agenda between the U.S. and Syrian authorities after the Obama Administration shelved the military scenario.

On the front-line, military advantage in northern Syria has been on the government’s side in recent weeks. Regular troops have inflicted several defeats in a row on the opposition forces near Aleppo. According to As-Safir newspaper, preparations are underway for an operation to drive the militants out of the part of the city they still control. It remains unclear whether this will happen before Geneva-2 or not but the hard fact is the government has scored some weighty points before taking seats at the negotiating table in front of its opponents.

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