On the afternoon of March 4th, Kurdistan National Council (KNC, also known by its Kurdish acronym, ENKS or simply as Rojava Peshmerga) forces, commanded by the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s dominant political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) encountered Shingal Resistance Units (YBŞ) forces in the town of Khanasur near Shingal.
The Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in the KRI claims that their forces were stopped by YBŞ volunteers and fired upon, while the PKK and YBŞ claim that they received tank fire prior to engaging ENKS forces.
Fighting ensued and there were killed and wounded on both sides. While the fighting only lasted several hours, the event is the culmination of years of intra-Kurdish disputes over regional influence and may have reverberations far beyond Shingal.
The PKK and power politics in South Kurdistan
The KDP and PKK have a long history of mutual enmity and the two groups have intermittently fought each other since the 1990s. The KDP claims legitimacy in the KRI and in the Kurdish inhabited territories outside of the KRI proper (including Shingal) that are currently the subject of a jurisdictional dispute between the KRI and Baghdad.
Additionally, while the KDP’s territorial and economic disputes with Bagdad grow more complicated and intractable, it has come to depend more on its economic and security partnership with Ankara, which has also meant the increasing salience of its opposition to the PKK and the rising YPG in Rojava
Meanwhile, the PKK has responded to opportunities occasioned by popular opposition among ethno-religious minorities to the KDP’s expansion of its military control into the disputed territories to expand its own activities into Iraqi territory.
The KDP claims the northern parts of Nineveh and Salah ad-Din governorates as part of the KRI, but other groups including the Yazidis that populated the Shingal district, like the Kurds, also claimed the right to self-determination.
The establishment of the YBŞ was the result of the withdrawal of KDP Peshmerga and Zerivani forces from the city in August of 2014 and the subsequent genocide of its Yazidi inhabitants by ISIS. PKK and YPG forces filled the security vacuum, established the YBŞ and declared Shingal to be an independent canton.
Wary of the KDP’s claims to Shingal, the Iraqi government not so secretly provided YBŞ forces with military support.
Not surprisingly, the establishment of the Shingal canton and Baghdad’s tolerance of its existence provoked the ire of the KDP and its Turkish allies.
In December of 2015, Turkey reinforced Bashiqa, near Mosul, with armor and personnel and the KDP and Turkish government have had frequent meetings to, among other things, discuss security in Nineveh, the most recent being last week in Ankara between de facto President of the KRI, Masoud Barzani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PM Binali Yildirim.
The KDP does not exercise political or military control over the entire KRI and its influence is largely confined to the governorates of Erbil and Duhok and the disputed territories in Nineveh and Salah ad-Din governorates.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan exercises de facto military and political jurisdiction over the governorates of Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, as well as the disputed areas of Kirkuk and Diyala governorates.
Although the two parties have participated in a joint governing coalition since 2005, they continue to engage in a build-up of military forces and alliances to deter aggression on either side of Erbil- Sulaymaniyah line, particularly in Kirkuk governorate, which is jurisdictionally divided between KDP and PUK forces. This has meant that the PUK has sought to offset the KDP-Ankara alliance with support from Tehran, Baghdad and the PKK.
The PUK has permitted the PKK to operate in its zone of influence and provide auxiliary support to its Peshmerga forces along the front line against ISIS.
First, the Shingal operation escalates tensions between Baghdad and the KDP.
The KDP, United States and Iraqi government signed an agreement prior to the commencement of the Mosul operation that Peshmerga would participate in the operation to retake the towns and villages around Mosul in Nineveh province, but that those forces would withdraw after the completion of the operation.
However, Masoud Barzani, president of the KDP and de facto president of the KRI has since asserted that his forces would not abandon their gains in Nineveh and the operation in Shingal is undeniable proof of the seriousness of this assertion and it brings the KDP into direct conflict with Baghdad.
Furthermore, the apparent backing of Ankara may lead to escalating allegations by Baghdad that Turkey is violating of Iraqi sovereignty by intervening in the KRI and Nineveh.
Secondly, while the position of the PUK on the operation is unclear at this time, its tacit support for the PKK and the YBŞ puts it in an awkward position, especially as the KDP and PUK are negotiate to reassemble the Region’s dissolved democratic institutions and prepare for Parliamentary and Presidential elections in September. The PUK politburo most likely prefers to avoid involvement in KDP affairs, but if Turkey or the Iraqi government intervene directly in the dispute, or if the KDP demands the PUK’s compliance in cutting off support for the PKK as a condition for political or economic compromise, the PUK may be forced to choose sides.
The PUK has not forgotten how the KDP used Sulaimaniyah’s cordiality with the PKK as a pretext for summoning Turkish air support against PUK Peshmerga during their bloody civil war in the 1990s.
Therefore, while the Shingal operation may not immediately lead to hostilities between the KDP and PUK, the KDP’s campaign against the YBŞ sends a clear signal to the PUK that it is willing to take up arms against other Kurdish parties to attain its political goals; a position that will undoubtedly exacerbate the KRI’s security dilemma, particularly due to the sensitive balance of power between the parties in Kirkuk.
In fact, we may have already seen such an escalation with the deployment of PUK Force 70 peshmerga units to Kirkuk on Tuesday, a move perhaps as much intended to force Baghdad’s compliance on prior agreements with the PUK and Kirkuk governorate as to deter KDP aggression.
Third, the PKK/YPG/YBŞ forces have declared that they are ready to fight until the “last drop of [their] blood” for Shingal, but they are vulnerable to attack on multiple fronts: from the KDP from the north and west, Turkey from the north and ISIS, as well as the Syrian regime, from the south in Rojava.
Furthermore, its forces are currently moving on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and fending off frequent attacks by Turkish forces and their affiliated militias. Therefore, any reinforcement of Shingal would increase Rojava’s vulnerability to attack from any one of its enemies.
The YPG can expect US air support for now, but there is uncertainty regarding the position of the new administration on supporting the YPG vis a vis the Turkey’s increasingly bold incursions into Manbij.
Fourth, the United States now must reevaluate its strategy against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as it has now become clear that Turkey and the KDP are jointly mobilizing against the PKK and its affiliated units.
The US has supported both Peshmerga and YPG. Furthermore, the U.S., like Iran, supports a one Iraq policy and Turkey is a NATO ally. Therefore, the US is bound up in an almost impossibly complicated and contradictory regional policy.
The overflow of tensions between the Turkish-backed KDP and PKK/YPG/YBŞ forces, which are tolerated by Tehran, Baghdad and the PUK, will either force the US-led coalition to choose sides or broker an agreement between the KDP and YPG/PKK/YBŞ.
The consequence of choosing the former may be the United States’ involvement, however reluctant, in an intra-Kurdish, and possibly, international war and losing sight of the mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17th, 2010 – few of us knew the dimensions of what was about to happen. North Africa and Southwest Asia were ticking time-bombs waiting to explode, waiting to manifest, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, with deep contradictions and new paths towards the future being revealed.
Few among us were aware of how unprepared we were for these events and, initially, for developing a solid analysis of what was happening beyond the Mediterranean.
At the time, a friend told me: "These 'springs' are wiping out the Salafis from the history of those countries, they are cancelling out that they are the dominant tendency among the youth."
The following events, up to now, demonstrate how incomplete and one-sided this reflection was.
We were projecting our expectations on the events.
We did not analyze the facts in all their complexity, we did not take them for what they were, albeit in their ambivalence; we looked at them for what we wanted them to be.
With a similar (but more self-interested) point of view, western TV and newspapers at that time spoke of "bread riots" or "pro-democracy movements" (intending with this a major Western political and economic influence).
However, in 2011 a second phase of decolonization came into the picture, in which the peoples of Southwestern Asia and North Africa tried, through new forms and in a new century, to regain autonomy by challenging the institutions they perceived as agents of foreign control. But this second struggle for independence, more than half a century after the Algerian revolution, contains as a core element: the reactionary deployment of faith, albeit in different forms.
All the contradictions of the “Arab Springs” are condensed in Syria which, in particular, has become a place of reckoning for both the ideological limits of the aforementioned tendency and the bad conscience of Western narratives - which have cunningly manipulated and censored knowledge and information in relation to this conflict like never before.
The Syrian Revolution, as the Egyptian one before, also marked the temporary defeat of the relatively "militant" European intellectual elite, which was unable to come up with an interpretative framework for these events, establishing a relationship dynamic between a critical approach and what is happening there on the ground.
While unable to thematize, in the Syrian context, the connection between revolution, global war and civil war; in the case of Egypt, this elite kept cultivating the myth of rallies in the squares even at a time when it was evident that weapons had taken the upper hand, while the people were in fact unarmed.
It seems that conflicts occurring worldwide are interesting, for a certain European intellectual elite, only if they are attributable to the romantic symbol of the barricades, to a "the liberty that is guiding the people" which is a reassuring one, after all, because it suggests the immediate correspondence between practices of refusal and revolutionary construction.
The people guided by liberty, in reality, exists only in depictions. Similar to the classes, it is what it is, rather, what occurs: a deeply differentiated magma, traversed by contrasting tensions and, above all, by uncompromising individual stories; by tensions and desires that are not able, at first, to reduce themselves to a program or a definite political perspective, let alone to "religious" or "ethnic" fault lines.
I fought alongside Arabs who proudly wear the YPG uniform, and I had a quarrel with Kurds who endorse a reactionary, bigoted and conservative vision, one hostile to the Rojava revolution.
Among the supporters of the regime in Damascus, there are both people who are terrified by their possible loss of privileges and others who simply miss the quiet life that, until 2010, was granted to those who submitted to the president.
There are people who are fighting the Islamic State because the "Islamic state" they face is far too different from the one they have in mind.
On closer inspection, the revolution is far more concrete.
What we need to keep in mind is that it cannot escape our action, because it itself is our action.
For this reason, a scientific contemplation is out of place.
To replace the taking of responsibility with geopolitical masturbation, even to the point of supporting this or that state - Syria, Russia or the United States - rather than turning to the movements and their needs, means to show immeasurable disdain for the Syrian population and for the Middle East in general.
Similarly, to turn oneself away with the excuse that the situation is too messy, or worse, that the players are too real to be pleasant or "presentable", is unacceptable.
The "people" can be a volatile entity as a political category, but people on this earth have two legs and two arms.
Yet, the Syrian population today is notably absent, not only from the hypocritical discussions in Geneva, Astana or New York, but also from the inconclusive speculations that often take place among those who would like differentiate themselves from those sitting in these kinds of meetings.
The definitive historical judgment of the "Syrian regime" has been stated by the events that began in 2011. The matter is closed.
The revolution and the future are the only trajectory. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that "pro"-revolution governments have been and still are its worst enemies. Everyone in Northern Syria speaks of how unlimited was the change from the beginnings of the uprising to the inflow of weapons and militants from Turkey; and not because foreign weapons and militants are not useful for a revolution, but because those were "friends" who had a price, namely the surrender not only to foreign interests, but to an imposed political perspective, one which is the same for everyone. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have found a partly fertile ground for this operation, but they also found a regime which was ready for the darkest compromises.
Bashar al-Assad was interested in making his own enemy unpresentable, in a kind of reciprocated agreement about the cards they had to play with.
It is the theocratic revolution promoted by the Turkish-Saudi axis and, indirectly, also by the regime with the suspicious "amnesties" in 2011, that the US and EU have in the end supported and, even with increasing difficulties, continue to support.
The victories of the Syrian Democratic Forces and of the YPG-YPJ between 2015 and 2016 have imposed the leadership of a new player, of a different idea of a "second decolonization" and of a different critique of the Sykes-Picot system.
It is the revolution that comes from the north, that also intends to restore the rights of the original revolution. If the idea that the post-2011 historical disruption was inspired by essentially "secular" perspectives was incorrect, the currently widespread idea that everything moving from Morocco to Pakistan is "tradition" or simply "Islam" is equally false.
Let's try to think about the East with the same respect with which we are accustomed to thinking about the West: as a complexity. With this I am not referring to the much emphasized, although important, linguistic and religious cleavages: I refer to lapses and disruptions that characterize every single community, every family, and the individual who over there - like elsewhere – is always what he or she is becoming.
Many in Syria refuse to identify with a liberation from the military regime based on ideology that is inspired by Quranic references. They too were among the thousands of people who took to the streets in 2011, but the Islamic revolution silenced them in the west of the country and along the Euphrates.
To act within a revolution, however, does not mean to reason in abstract, or according to ballot-box logic. It means giving back strength to those who have none, and who, if they were to have some, could turn the tide of the political events. This is what the confederal revolution is doing. It can both defeat the Islamic state and confront the Salafist bullying in the region, and this revolution points to a horizon of peace and transformation for the Syrian scenario.
The confederal revolution contains the fundamental Kurdish revolution, but also it gives to Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian forces interested in a new process the chance of bottom-up political participation to all the Syrians who feel oppressed or betrayed both by the regime and by the Islamic revolution.
The greatest strength of the confederal revolution is its social impact.
Wherever the confederal forces prepare a battle, they set up in advance the local councils and popular institutions, which are sometimes, if necessary, underground or in exile; and which are able to affect the real revolutionary process immediately after the conquest by arms.
The elimination of the Sharia courts and the regime institutions is immediately followed by the activation of communes, people's congresses and women's conferences in order to initiate the concrete change of reality, which is what people want – while at the same time, considering and endowing elements of the social order and the popular will in these changes in social relations.
Therefore, the forces of Tev Dem (Movement for Democratic Society) and YPG-YPJ are the only ones in Syria which are able to display and implement an autonomous program, and if necessary to challenge whoever wants to stop this genuine transformation.
Considering this, the allegation that the SDF is a force at the service of "foreign ambitions" is ridiculous.
The SDF and the Syrian Democratic Congress are, on the contrary, the only Syrian organizations which are safe from this risk -contrary to the Islamic revolution or the regime- since they possess the subjective energy and militant awareness required to fight a global civil war without compromising their own political project.
Taking this into perspective, the Sdf, like all the forces engaged in this war, are faced with foreign armaments, air forces and technology, and cannot therefore afford to refuse the air support provided by the United States (limited to the anti-IS operations) and the diplomatic support that Russia sometimes has offered.
The presence of global and regional powers in the Syrian context is a problem in itself. Nevertheless, it was not the confederal forces which implored their intervention but rather the regime on the one hand, and the Islamic forces (which are being improperly labeled as "Syrian opposition" by Western media) on the other.
It is peculiar now to say that the only authentically revolutionary forces, in the global context that has been produced, should let themselves be massacred in order to please those who, in the West, were not once again able to halt the intervention of their own armies and states in those territories.
The way in which these elements are turned against the confederal movement, which is the least armed and the least supported by the external players of the Syrian global conflict (although today a certain propaganda leads some to believe the opposite), is therefore entirely instrumental.
It must be acknowledged that the defining element of what is happening in Northern Syria is not the war, albeit omnipresent, but the revolution. It is being carried out by thousands of militants, every day, through dozens of economic and social spheres.
The caricaturization of this experience as a "reserve US Army" is an expression of ignorance of the situation on the field; disguising a shrewd realism, or more often than not, a bad faith.
The latter is often the case, as demonstrated by the fact that such a caricature is primarily promoted by those – namely the regime and the Islamic revolution – who are still destroying Syria thanks to the Russian aviation or, on the other side, to the heavy weapons provided by the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The kind of prosperity that will be brought by this reflective ‘imperialist support’ to the people of Syria and the justification of it, as opposed to the partial air cover provided by the coalition against IS, is yet to be discovered. Almost six years after the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the analytical limitations of the Western Left have not yet been critically addressed.
This is serious, because these limitations are tied to the very inability of the same left to think contemporaneity and politics; condemning itself to inaction and impotence for everyone to see. When the European left manages to produce a hundredth of the social changes being produced in Rojava, it will understand that the revolution is not a game.
Today we imagine a world without contradictions, where the movements proceed without stumbling on the pure and rarefied road of "revolutionary metaphysics"; and then, when the eyes open to the bitter reality of the highly spectacular and technological conflict that indents global capital today, and to the wounded global working-class, they criticize the efforts of our comrades with ridiculous radicalist attitudes, or they take refuge in the mythological mysticism of this or that state’s transfiguration of contemporary capital.
The confederal movement is the only Syrian player to merge a genuine militant logic; one devoid of any consideration that is not elemental to it, with tactic and strategy, maintaining a theoretical work that actually considers the interests of the workers and the people.
Because of this I dare to say that this is the only concrete revolutionary movement existing in Syria.
It does not promote a territorial division of the country (another instrumental accusation) but the creation of a Syria which respects differences, and is based on political and economic cooperation among the people, for a gradual communization of forms of production and reproduction of life.
Its goal is once again to call into question the capitalist civilization. It is a new experiment of people power and an attack on privileges and hierarchies established on different levels.
It is threatened by the problems of every revolution.
Such an experiment deserves all of our support.
English Translation by the infoaut.org Editorial Board
 I think, for the sake of fairness, that perhaps the West in general have also hoped for a more enlightened revolution for Syria, and for the truth of it, the elements of such revolution were slightly, and I say slightly, present in Syrian society, for sure, they are/were a minority, but there were progressive forces, and you mention this later, but I think it is inconsice to speak of the revolution as Islamist from the begining. This does not do justice to the other more progressive elements, I just think it is worth mentioning as well.
Again, a problem with the wording and it reiterates some very disturbing Western will to “always help” and “give back strenghth”. It fails to state that the strenghth of the revolution in Rojava is directly correlated with the strenghth and success of the left in the West
Excellent choice of words, I think however that “redemption” should be reserved to the Arabs since they were/are the dominant ethnic element that was/is at fault and therefore this is a chance for them to redeem themselves within the confederal revolution, for the Turkmen and Assyrians for example, since they are a monority like the Kurds, maybe a different work, maybe an “ooportunity”… but its fine as it is, I just think that it is such an excellent choice of words when Arabs are concerned, but not necessarily for the Assyrians and the Turkmen
I changed this a bit, but I hope it conveys the same meaning
I changed this a bit, but I hope it conveys the same meaning
Again, what happened to Bouazizi, and what happened following that is not a theatre for the Western left to start rebuilding and criticizing itself, what happened and happens in these countries strating from Iraq should not be viewed as the lost/missed chances of the European left. It is not the job of the people of the Middle East to show the inconsistencies of the left elsewhere. In the spirit of what you advocate in this article, the revolution in Rojava should also be viewed as autonomous, both in content and in form, and by that I mean autonomous from Western projections of its own failures and its own dreams and aspirations.
These people and these struggles will not be the ground upon which the Western left will redeem itself. It is true that the Left is implicated anyway, but this implication, however faulty, should also be self-critical, not just an opportunistic instance for the Western left to have its big reveal of AHA-moment. The dreams of the Western left will not be accomplished on the Other’s territories, they will be accomplished alongside the others. It is bad enough the left in the West is completely unable to challenge radically its institutions at home (direclty complicit in the situation created elsewhere), and also the left in the West does not need figures such as Bouazizi in order to realize that many things are wrong with the way it is operating, its current status is revealing enough. I just suggest that you maybe reformulate this, without resorting to the idea that it is up to the people outside the West to make up for the mistakes of the Western failures. Maybe I am wrong in this, but sometimes it i salso good to let some struggles be on their own…