Iraq Pulse

Iraqi Kurdish government snubs Syrian Kurdish group

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Article Summary
Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government refused to receive an official delegation of a Kurdish group that has claimed autonomy in northern Syria.

AMSTERDAM — On Feb. 3, Salih Gedo, the unofficial foreign minister of the new Kurdish administration in Syria, announced a diplomatic mission to open relations between the Kurdish administration in Syria with Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Iran and Turkey. But the KRG refused to meet the new minister and rejected the recently announced Kurdish administration in Syria.

KRG spokesman Safin Dizayee told Rudaw that the KRG wouldn’t meet any official of the Kurdish administrations in northern Syria — which were announced by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its allies — since it does not recognize them.

Previously, KRG Foreign Minister Falah Mustafa had told Rudaw, “Regarding the Rojava cantons, the KRG has decided to support a decision made by all the Kurdish groups and parties, and it won't deal with any unilateral decision.” He added that the KRG deals with the issue as Europe does. 

It is also likely that Turkey will not receive the administration’s foreign minister since the country has opposed the PYD’s autonomy declarations before. Furthermore, in November 2013, KRG President Massoud Barzani condemned the PYD's autonomy declaration.

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The Kurdish news agency Firat News, which is sympathetic to the PYD, questioned Mustafa's statement, since leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the opposition party Change (Gorran) supported the administration. Also, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Kurdistan Islamic Union backed the administration, despite their Islamist background.

“It is thus currently unclear if the decision against recognition was made by the government as a whole, or was simply the decision of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) — the senior partner in the current KRG government,” the news agency stated.

Dizayee and Mustafa are both members of Barzani’s KDP, which has economic relations with Turkey, while President Jalal Talabani’s PUK is closer to Iran. In a PUK statement of support for the PYD, the party accused Gulf countries and Turkey of supporting "terrorist groups."

Firat News also pointed out that European countries were responsible for historically dividing the Kurdish territories across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey after World War I and ignoring Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses during the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the mid-1980s.

Western countries have lobbied for the Kurds to become part of the Syrian National Coalition, but only the Kurdish National Council (KNC) — backed by Barzani — and the leader of the KDP, joined the coalition and are now a part of the opposition delegation in Geneva II.

But the PYD refused to join the Syrian National Coalition delegation, preferring an independent delegation to Geneva II. Western officials have accused the PYD of working with the Syrian government.

The Kurdish diplomatic delegation reportedly crossed into Iraq through the Yaroubiya border crossing. The People's Protection Units (YPG) captured this border crossing in cooperation with local Arab tribes on Oct. 24, 2013, after KDP security forces allegedly refused PYD leader Salih Muslim entry into the Kurdish regions of Iraq through the Semalka border crossing.

Reportedly, the PYD started to import food from Iraq into Syria to feed the local population.

Most likely, the delegation used the Yaroubiya crossing to enter into Iraqi territory under control of the Iraqi government to avoid being rejected by the KDP security forces.

Gedo told Kurdish news website Welati that the delegation used the Yaroubiya crossing since using the Semalka crossing would take longer and require coordination with the KRG. According to Welati's sources, the delegation crossed from Mosul to Kirkuk and then to Sulaimaniyah, avoiding any territory controlled by Barzani’s KDP.

The delegation — comprising Gedo, his assistants Emine Ose and Semiran Samul and advisers Fadil Misa and Polat Can — arrived at the Titanic Hotel in Sulaimaniyah on the evening of Feb. 11 to meet with PUK officials, who have been supportive of both the PYD and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Gedo told Welati that the Kurdish administration in Syria is still open to relations with the KRG, and that they will attempt to travel to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Concerning the KRG statements of not working with the autonomous administration, Gedo said it would not deter them from communicating with the regional government, and that they "respect" Barzani.

US-based Kurdish analyst Yerevan Saeed told Al-Monitor that the Kurdish parties' different approaches toward autonomy in Syria underline the rivalries between Talabani’s PUK, Barzani’s KDP and the Gorran list for votes and power in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“The PUK has come out quite weak, especially after Kurdistan legislative elections in September 2013. The PUK … thinks that by supporting other Kurds, it can elevate its popularity curve in the Kurdistan Region [of Iraq]. It's true for Gorran as well. They don’t want to follow the KDP in every step, and want to appear different,” he said.

According to Saeed, the KRG “refused to meet with Gedo because it has stated it would not recognize one-sided actions by the PYD.” He pointed out that things could change as the peace process in Turkey — between the PKK and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) — progresses and changes the ties between the affiliated parties. "This may not happen soon, but all the indicators are pushing toward an understanding between these three groups [the KDP, PKK and the AKP]." 

Recently, Kurdish politicians from Turkey visited Barzani and delivered a letter from imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. “We witnessed that [Ocalan and Barzani] have similar opinions regarding the region and the liberties of Kurds,” the two deputies said, according to Hurriyet.

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Found in: turkey, syrian kurds, syria, patriotic union of kurdistan (puk), massoud barzani, kurdistan regional government, kurdistan region of iraq, democratic union party

Wladimir van Wilgenburg is a political analyst specializing in Kurdish politics. He has written extensively for Jamestown Foundation publications and other journals, such as the Near East Quarterly and the World Affairs Journal. On Twitter: @vvanwilgenburg

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