Skip to main content

Rival Kurdish parties battle for power in Syria

A series of tit-for-tat incidents has worsened relations between the Kurdistan Workers Party of Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani.
Iraqi Kurdish supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hold flags bearing portraits of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan during a demonstration in Arbil on April 12, 2014 against the decision by Kurdish authorities to dig a trench along the border with neighboring Syria. The Kurdish autonomous region has backed Kurds in Syria against the extremists and has taken in some 200,000 refugees from the bloody conflict. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED        (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Read in 

LONDON — The Kurdish parties in Iraq and Syria are increasingly engaged in a low-scale cold war. The new power vacuum in the Kurdish areas of Syria has led to an escalation of tit-for-tat arrests, political office closures, expulsions, demonstrations, media campaigns and border closures instead of more cooperation.

The imprisoned head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, have competed over the leadership of the Kurds for decades. Ocalan’s party is the most powerful Kurdish nationalist party in Turkey, while Barzani leads the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The power vacuum in Syria has led to new competition between the two parties, after the PKK became the strongest actor in northern Syria.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.