Syrian Kurds’ struggle for autonomy threatens rebel effort to oust Assad

The Washington Post 27.7.2013 – The infighting has also spread geographically, embroiling the town of Tal Abyad in the north-central province of Raqqah, where the PYD said it was forced to release a captured commander from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in a prisoner swap this week after fighters from the group kidnapped hundreds of Kurdish civilians in retaliation.

Analysts say that while both sides paint the fight as an ideological struggle, it is more of a battle over resources marked by tit-for-tat revenge attacks.

The pontiff again showed his populist side as he urged the wealthy to do more to combat social injustice. “It’s really about border crossings into Turkey, strategic pieces of infrastructure and oil fields,” said Aron Lund, an independent Middle East analyst based in Sweden. The PYD’s Mohammed said the party plans to set up a committee of 30 to 40 people to lay the groundwork for elections for a roughly 150-seat parliament, which he said will also represent minorities in the region including Arabs, Turkmens and Assyrians. Analysts say, however, that the Kurds are proceeding cautiously with their autonomy plans to avoid angering either the Syrian government or the opposition.

“They are adopting a pragmatic wait-and-see policy,” said James Denselow, a research associate with the Foreign Policy Center in London. “If they do anything more, they risk cutting off money that still comes in from Damascus and annoying the opposition.”

If Syria’s Kurds hope to follow the Iraqi Kurds’ example and set up an autonomous region, they will face challenges, Denselow said.There is an old saying among Kurds that they have “no friends but the mountains” — but Syrian Kurds lack even that. The Jazira plain where they are concentrated lacks the rugged terrain the Iraqi Kurds used to their advantage, as well as the no-fly zone that protected them from Saddam Hussein’s airstrikes.

Adding to the complications is the Syrian Kurds’ infighting. Before the clashes with the Islamists erupted, anger had been brewing over the killing of six Kurdish anti-PYD demonstrators in Kurdish-controlled Amuda and the detention of scores of others in the town using what the State Department has condemned as “brutal tactics.” Jawad Mella, head of the Kurdistan National Congress, a politically independent umbrella group that works for a united Kurdistan, said his organization backs the plans for elections but that the PYD’s political rivals in Syria are split.

Still, the PYD hopes the fighting with rebel factions might unify the Kurds. According to Mohammed, 300 recruits have joined the party’s militia in the past week, and he called on others to take up arms.