If you believe the media, then Syria is in the throes of an “uprising” by freedom fighters against a dictator. If you believe reality, then Syria is in the middle of a civil war between Sunni Islamist rebels and a neo-Shiite government, with Turkey and Qatar backing the Islamists and Iran backing the regime.
The Sunni Islamists aka the Brave Syrian People aka the Terrorists Obama is Backing are either allied with or actually linked to Al Qaeda. They are murdering Christians and now the Free Syrian Army, which we’re supposed to be supporting, has picked a fight with the Kurds.
The Kurds are a sizable stateless minority in the region and they have been aiming for a homeland. The Free Syrian Army is heavily backed by Turkey which routinely massacres and persecutes the Kurds, so it’s not exactly surprising that the two groups are clashing. But it is another reminder that the Syrian rebels are not fighting for freedom or equality, but religious and ethnic supremacism.
Assad has managed to fight the rebels to a near stalemate, but the Sunnis have more recruits and money to throw into the battle because they can draw on the resources of a global Sunni majority.
The Kurds however may be a potential gamechanger. In North Africa, the Tuareg rebels were easily beaten by their former Islamist allies leading to the current disastrous situation in Mali. But the Kurds have generally been tougher and have a long experience of being fighters. The question is how will the PKK do against the Jihadists?
Syria’s best armed and most powerful Kurdish group, the Syrian Democratic Union Party (known by its Kurdish initials, PYD), which controls the Kurdish districts of Ras al-Ayn, says it feared retaliation from the Assad forces if it was seen to connive at their expulsion, so it asked the Syrian rebels, who are said to have been Salafists, to leave. When they refused, the ensuing battle left at least five Kurds and 18 rebels dead. Thousands of angry Kurds are said to be heading for Ras al-Ayn to offer support to their kinsfolk.
Turkey remains hostile to both Kurdish parties, which say that it helped plan the Syrian rebels’ attack on the PYD in Ras al-Ayn. Barzan Iso, an independent Kurdish Syrian journalist, says the Syrian rebels used Turkey as a base from which to bash the PYD on November 8th. “The operation wasn’t about kicking out Assad’s forces,” he says. “It was to dislodge the PYD.” A Turkish foreign ministry spokesman disagreed: “There is now a pattern of Free Syrian Army forces liberating towns [in Syria], doing the job, and the Kurds then trying to move in and take over.”
The twist in the story is that Assad has been turning over territory to the Kurds because the Syrian military is overextended and he would rather deal with Kurdish rebels later, while hoping that the Salafists and the Kurds begin fighting each other.
It looks like he may be getting his wish. The question is what will this mean for Iraq, where Kurdish plans for an independent state have put them at daggers with the Shiite national government, but loosely allied them with the Sunnis?
It may not be too much of a problem because factions in the Middle East routinely former complex byzantine alliances leading to betrayals.