Syrian Kurds Consolidate In Clashes on Turkish Border

After violent clashes in Kurdish-majority regions, the Syrian Kurdish administration has moved to tighten its grip until the conflict in Syria subsides.

al-monitor People look to the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain from Turkey in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Jan. 24, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal.

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Jul 18, 2013

Popular Protection Units belonging to the Western Kurdistan Council took control of the city of Ras al-Ain, including its border crossing with Turkey, following clashes with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as well as those belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra. This is at a time when the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, Saleh Mousallem, told Al-Hayat that Kurdish leaders were discussing a plan to establish “local elected administrations that would govern areas with a Kurdish majority until matters quieted down in Syria.”

Popular Protection forces and opposition militants had, with the help of opposition political figures, reached an agreement at the beginning of this year to end clashes between the two sides in Ras al-Ain. The agreement, which stipulated the withdrawal of all militants from both sides and the formation of a joint local council, proved to be “fragile.” In an email sent out yesterday [July 17], the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Protection Units “almost completely” controlled Ras al-Ain following violent clashes with fighters belonging to the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other extremist factions, which withdrew to neighboring areas.

Musallem told Al-Hayat that Kurdish fighters controlled the border crossing between Ras al-Ain and Turkey, following gun battles between the two sides, where “Popular Protection forces allowed extremist Islamist militants to flee to other areas, in order to prevent the spread of clashes into Turkish territories.” Turkish sources further reported that “a number of Popular Protection troops were killed in the clashes” that took place throughout the day yesterday in various areas. The observatory and Kurdish activists also stated that Ras al-Ain’s residents had grown fed up with the behavior of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State during the fasting month of Ramadan.

While Kurdish officials characterized controlling the city as being part of a plan proposed by the Democratic Society Party and the Western Kurdistan Council to establish a local administration or autonomous region as a result of Kurdish fighters controlling the town of Ifrin, north of Aleppo, over which opposition militants had imposed a siege, the leader of the Democratic Union stated that his party had proposed the plan in 2007, when it was discussed with the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. The plan stipulated the formation of autonomous local administrations that would provide services to residents, assist them, provide economic aid, relief efforts, local administration and commerce whereby, in addition to regional representatives being elected, constituents would also elect members of a Kurdish Supreme Committee, which is composed of 10 appointed members.

Musallem said he had discussed the plan a few weeks ago in Sulaymaniyah with officials from the various Syrian Kurdish parties, and that he would discuss it again with officials in Erbil during his coming visit there.

On the other hand, the president of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party, Abdel Hamid Darwish, told Al-Hayat that a representative of the party had attended the Kurdish parties’ meetings in Sulaymaniyah in order to “assuage the negative effects that the Amoudah incidents (in Hasakah’s eastern countryside) had, more than a week ago, on the relationship between Kurdish parties.” In a statement, he explained, “During those discussions, the  Democratic Union’s representative announced that his party was getting ready to announce some form of autonomous rule in Syrian Kurdistan.” Meanwhile, he affirmed that “it was a grave mistake for one party to make such a unilateral announcement about a form of self-rule that took into account the aspirations of the Kurdish people in Syria.” Darwish also called on all Kurdish parties to participate in discussions “and in this administration that has garnered varying degrees of acceptance.”

Shirzad Al-Yazidi, the spokesman for the Western Kurdistan Council, told Al-Hayat that “the plan proposed a while ago in the northwestern city of Qamishli included the formation of an expanded administration that would include all political and ethnic factions as part of a framework for an interim administration whose task would be to formulate a new social contract and organize free elections supervised by international factions, including the United Nations.”

Yazidi continued to say that the plan required the interim administration to begin, within three months, preparations for the holding of elections within six months in the areas with a Kurdish majority, including Hasakah and Qamishli in the east, as well as Ifrin to the north of Aleppo and Ras al-Ain.

Another Kurdish official told Al-Hayat that the autonomous administration would benefit from the services of already established institutions, as well as the Kurdish police force and the Popular Protection Units, whose numbers were expected to be raised to 50,000 strong. They would also benefit from oil revenues, since Kurds controlled more than half of all Syrian wells, including the al-Rmeilan fields, which account for one-third of Syrian production.

But Musallem affirmed that the issue was still under consideration, that there were many other ideas being discussed, and that the information was not accurate. He clarified that the union was the first to propose a plan predicated “only on the establishment of elected local administrations that would govern until political unity was once again restored to Syria.” He pointed out that the oil could be used internally and “not exported at all.” He minimized the importance of information that circulated about the formation of an interim government and rumors about the identities of those who would hold specific portfolios within it.

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