Former US envoy: no autonomy for Syria’s Kurds now

By RUDAW 12 March 2015 – NEW YORK – Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria is undermining US strategy in the country by raising Kurdish hopes for a self-governing Kurdish zone in Syria and thus antagonizing Turkey, former US ambassador Robert Ford told Rudaw.

“When the Americans help Syrian Kurds, they do two things. They, either directly or indirectly, give Syrian Kurds hope that they will be able to set up an independent state. Two, the Turks, understanding that, become harder to deal with,” said Ford on Wednesday.“I understand Kurdish desires for an autonomous region. The Kurdish region in Iraq works pretty well. But Syrian Kurds cannot unilaterally declare an autonomous region without reference to other Syrians. It’s actually making things worse on the ground. It’s driving some Arab tribes to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other tribes to help the Islamic State.” The Kurdish YPG militia, backed by US-led air strikes, has made significant gains in recent weeks against Islamic State (ISIS) in northeast Syria, cutting an important supply route from territory controlled by the sectarian Sunni Muslim militant group in Iraq. The YPG has emerged as a key partner for the US-led alliance fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria. Backed by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and air strikes, the YPG defeated ISIS, which is also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, in the border town of Kobane in January.

The YPG’s umbrella organization, the PYD, declared unilateral autonomy in the country’s Kurdish regions — known as Rojava — in late 2013. According to Ford, who served as US ambassador to Syria from 2010-14 and has since raised concerns about White House policy, cooperation between the US and Syrian Kurds is undermining Washington’s overall strategy in the war-torn country by antagonizing Turkey, a key ally. “The Syrian Kurds have an agenda to set up their own country, starting with an autonomous zone; and the Turks are extremely uncomfortable with that and, therefore, use extremist groups like ISIS and al-Nusrah Front in northwestern Syria to leverage against these Syrian Kurds,” he said. “So the autonomous zone has to be a negotiation among Syrians, not a unilateral declaration. A decentralized state may be the only way to reassemble a shattered Syria one day. The Americans bombing and helping Syrian Kurds on the ground is moving them away from a negotiation for such state.” Meanwhile, US senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul said in an interview that Iraq’s Kurds should be armed directly by the US-led coalition in the war against ISIS, and be given their own independent homeland.

Suggesting a change in US policy, which has been staunchly opposed to Kurdish independence in Iraq, he said: “I would draw new lines for Kurdistan and I would promise them a country.”