Kobane: The final days

By Obêd Reşavayî RUDAW 3 March 2015 – DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – It was when the Kurdish Peshmerga arrived in Kobane at the start of November that the tide of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) months-long war against Islamic State (ISIS) began to turn. Following two Peshmerga rotations and the arrival of the third batch of Kurdish soldiers in the besieged Kurdish city in Syria, the joint Kurdish force dealt the death blow against ISIS, forcing the Sunni extremists to retreat.

On January 26 the Kurds declared the city liberated, turning Kobane into an international symbol of Kurdish resistance. “I was completely convinced that Kobane would be liberated by the third batch of Peshmerga forces, and I was right,” beamed Muslih Zebari, the Peshmerga commander in the city, recalling highlights of the final days. It was in mid-January that the fresh forces arrived in Kobane. At the time, only a quarter of the city remained under ISIS control: eleven days later, ISIS was on the run.

But it was not an easy campaign, Zebari recalled.

Weapons and ammunition for what was to be the final fight were severely limited. In fact, the Peshmerga were close to running out of ammunition. Zebari had no choice but to contact authorities in the Kurdistan Region. “I was informed that Turkey had not allowed the transportation of weapons and ammunition to Kobane for the last 10 days,” he said. Turkey had been a reluctant partner from the beginning, first refusing to lift a finger to help the city’s Kurdish defenders hard across its border, and finally only reluctantly allowing the Peshmerga to cross into Kobane.

“With two of my colleagues I visited the governor of Urfa. He told me that he could do nothing for us,” Zebari recounted. “The weapons had been sent with the first group of Peshmerga, but we had only received ammunition. We asked for some machine guns and anti-tank Milans, but our request was rejected. They said that according to the agreement the weapons could only be sent with the first group of Peshmerga and that the following groups of Peshmerga were only allowed to take ammunition with them,” he remembered.But in the end, after a few days, permission to transport the weapons was granted by the Turks.

Remembering his first day in Kobane with the fresh forces, Zebari said: “When we arrived we saw that the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were stationed in different headquarters. Officials would have to visit both headquarters during their visit to the city. It was not a good thing, therefore I talked to my colleagues and we agreed to have one headquarter.”“We stayed in Kobane for 45 days. We managed to retake 370 villages. ISIS militants fought fiercely in the Sheran village, but at the end the two-day airstrikes and the bombing by Peshmerga forces defeated the ISIS militants,” Zebari said.“The bodies of 18 ISIS militants were left behind in the fight. Also, in the Mishko village, ISIS had plans to inflict heavy damage to the Kurdish forces, but after two days of heavy fighting we were able to kill one of their emirs and oust them from the village.”It was shortly after liberation that some Kobane residents, who had taken refuge across the border in Turkey in the tens of thousands, started to return to the city.“When they arrived they expressed their appreciation to us by hugging us and kissing the flag of Kurdistan,” Zebari commented.“After the liberation was announced, (Kurdish Prime Minister) Nechirvan Barzani called me at 9 pm. He told me that we’ve made history and that he was grateful to every Peshmerga who participated in the liberation of the city,” Zebari said.

Shortly after, he received another call, this time from Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.“President Barzani called me with my secret name that I’ve had since 1994. He congratulated me and said that the whole world is proud of you because of what you have done. I could feel that he was very delighted.”Other officials called the day after, Zebari said. But he remembers that no one called from Qandil, the headquarters in Kurdistan of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose Syrian affiliate, the YPG, the Peshmerga had gone to help in Kobane. Zebari said that, throughout the campaign the two forces – Peshmerga and YPG – had fought shoulder-to-shoulder.“We never felt that we are two different forces. We would plan and carry out the attacks together. When the city was freed, they gave us the permission to announce the liberation first.”