April 1, 2013


The Kurdish Factor (MATTHIEU AIKINS, 4/01/13, NY Times)

At the top of the hill near the area's main mosque, groups of rebels mingled, in newfound amity, with Kurdish fighters from the local People's Defense Units, the armed wing of Syria's main Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (P.Y.D.). Until Friday, this area had been controlled by Kurdish fighters but was frequently visited by militias and intelligence agents from the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On Friday, though, in an event that may have momentous consequences for the course of the civil war, the Kurds switched sides, and with their help the rebels overran Sheikh Maksoud, which commands strategic high ground north of the city's center. [...]

The Assad regime had apparently hoped that the presence of Muslim's group, like Ocalan's in the 1990s, would dissuade Turkey from escalating its support to the rebels. But last week's reversal in Sheikh Maksoud suggests that Erdogan's recent overtures to Ocalan are already bearing fruit in his struggle with Assad.

Although the Kurdish groups in Syria are not very significant militarily, their cooperation would free the Turkish government's hands by allowing it to increase its support for the rebels in Syria without fear that the Assad regime could stoke the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey in response.

It remains to be seen whether the Kurds' newfound cooperation with the rebels in Aleppo is part of a larger realignment by the P.Y.D. But if over the weeks ahead government forces are pushed out of their remaining bases in Kurdish areas, like oil-rich Hasakah in the northeast, then the fall of Sheikh Maksoud on Friday will have marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in Syria's civil war.

Posted by at April 1, 2013 8:23 PM

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