After more than four months of fierce street battles, Kurdish forces have driven Islamic State out of Kobani in northern Syria. At the same time, the “caliphate” set up by this reactionary group in Syria and Iraq has shown signs of coming apart.
This victory for the Kurdish resistance, against a force better armed and with more combatants, has helped boost the struggle of the Kurdish people, an oppressed nationality separated for decades by the borders of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, and inspired working people throughout the region and beyond.
“The battle waged in Kobani wasn’t just a fight between the YPG and ISIS [Islamic State],” said a statement issued by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) General Command Jan. 26. “This has been a battle between humanity and savagery, between freedom and cruelty.” The defeat of Islamic State “will not remain limited in Kobani alone,” the statement added, but “will be followed by further achievements.”
“People are dancing and singing, there are fireworks. Everyone feels a huge sense of relief,” Tevfik Kanat, a Turkish Kurd who rushed to the border with hundreds of others, including refugees from Kobani, told Reuters Jan. 26.
Kurdish combatants have been backed by some units of the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting to overthrow the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus; Peshmerga Kurdish forces from northern Iraq; and aerial bombings by the U.S. military.
YPG’s victory in Kobani and its retaking of the strategic Mishtenur hilltop there puts Islamic State supply lines to Aleppo in the west and Raqqa in the east within Kurdish fighters’ line of fire.
Kurdish forces say they are now conducting operations against Islamic State control of surrounding villages.
The fighting began in mid-September when Islamic State forces surrounded Kobani on all sides and seized control of parts of the city and nearby villages. The big-business media and government officials of Washington and Ankara were predicting the city’s imminent fall. But the courageous men and women in Kobani made clear to the world that they would not give up.
Washington’s decision to lend air support reflected the fact that for now the U.S. rulers are more fearful of an Islamic State advance than the rising Kurdish fight for national rights and sovereignty.
The civil war in Syria, nearing the beginning of its fifth year, began with mass popular protests demanding an end to Assad’s rule. Opposition forces took control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and other parts of the country. But Assad’s war, backed by Moscow and Tehran, has dealt blows to the rebellion and devastated much of the population through starvation sieges and deadly barrel bombs that target civilians.
U.S. shifts stance toward Assad
Secretary of State John Kerry Jan. 14 backed a proposal from Moscow to convene a “peace conference” there. This registers a shift by the White House and some of its coalition partners from demanding Assad’s ouster toward increasingly seeing the Syrian dictator as a negotiating partner to cooperate with.
The reason? Assad has “allowed ISIS to consolidate a rump caliphate in northeastern Syria as a visible warning about what the alternative to his rule looks like,” the Atlantic magazine said.
More than 200,000 people have been killed since the civil war began. Before the war, Syria’s population was 22 million. At least 3.7 million people have fled the country and are registered as refugees, mainly in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Some 6.5 million are internally displaced — 50 percent more than in 2013, according to the United Nations. As living conditions for workers and farmers in Syria continue to deteriorate, growing numbers are seeking refuge. But surrounding governments are putting increased obstacles in their way.
In Lebanon, where 1.1 million registered refugees reside along with another 500,000 unregistered, Interior Ministry officials said Jan. 5 “we have enough” and “will only allow refugees under very limited and exceptional cases.”
In Jordan, where there are currently 622,000 Syrian refugees, the government cut off free medical aid in December. Two-thirds of these migrants are living below the government’s official poverty line of $96 per month. Among those living outside government refugee camps, almost half have no heating, and a quarter are without electricity.
Islamic State, which seized one-third of the territory of Iraq and Syria last year and declared itself a caliphate, is incapable of functioning as much of a state. Living conditions are deteriorating, prices rising, government services are sparse, and Sharia law bars many normal aspects of life and brings severe punishment for those who violate the caliphate rulers’ edicts.
A decree issued by Islamic State in December ordered all schools closed, affecting some 670,000 children, until curriculum is made to conform with religious rules, reported Reuters.
IS rulers in Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria, have banned women under 45 from leaving the city.
“Shopkeepers shut their stores five times a day for prayer,” reports the Washington Post. “Smokers have quit for fear of the obligatory three-day jail sentence for the first offense — and a month for the second.”
Farmers in areas of Iraq controlled by Islamic State, who produce about 40 percent of that country’s wheat crop, have had to slash production “because they could not access their land, did not have the proper fertilizers or adequate fuel, or because they had no guarantees that Islamic State would buy their crop as Baghdad normally does,” Reuters reported Jan. 20.
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