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Vol. 78/No. 31      September 1, 2014

Kurds retake towns from
‘Islamic State’ in Iraq, Syria
(front page)
Kurdish fighters are pushing back Islamic State combatants in Iraq and retaking ground from the reactionary group in northeastern Syria.

On Aug. 18, after two days of fighting, Kurdish Peshmerga combatants and Iraqi special forces recaptured the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq, located just outside the autonomous Kurdish region. Accompanying the Kurds’ ground operations were U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State armed vehicles and equipment. The Pentagon conducted 68 strikes in Iraq over 10 days starting Aug. 8.

Kurdish ammunition supplies have been tight and needed arms and other materiel from the United States and Europe have been scant.

Washington and its imperialist allies very much want to see the defeat of the Islamic State, which controls one-third of both Iraq and Syria. But they also fear — and have always sought to undermine — the Kurdish people’s fight for a homeland.

The Kurds are an oppressed nationality of some 30 million people living in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Oppressed under the Ottoman Empire and denied a homeland with the carving up of the Middle East by London and Paris following World War I, the Kurdish struggle has been a thorn in the side of capitalist regimes in the region and a growing concern of the ruling classes of America and Western Europe.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — an armed group that fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades — has joined the fight alongside Peshmerga forces. Together they expelled the Islamic State Aug. 10 from the town of Mahmour in Iraqi Kurdistan, where some 10,000 Kurds from Turkey live in refugee camps.

“We will keep fighting until all of Kurdistan is safe,” Sedar Botan, a female PKK commander who came with seven units from the group’s stronghold in Turkey’s Qandil mountains, told the Financial Times.

“This is the first time we have military cooperation with the Peshmerga, and we plan to increase it,” PKK commander Tekoshar Zagros told the Times in Mahmour. “We’re fighting defensively and don’t have a plan of attack yet, but it’s coming.”

Also fighting alongside Peshmerga were three Kurdish parties from Iran, reported the Kurdish news agency Rudaw. Hundreds of fighters were sent for at least a couple days by the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran, Kurdistan Freedom Party and Kurdistan Struggle Agency.

The Barack Obama administration has sought to cobble back together and strengthen the fractured central Iraqi government in Baghdad to lead the fight against the Islamic State and serve as a counterweight to the Kurds’ growing confidence and capacities.

The Pentagon is “speeding up efforts to send thousands of Hellfire air-to-surface missiles to Iraq,” said the Wall Street Journal Aug. 16. With Congressional approval Baghdad would receive about 5,000 of them.

The White House backed the nomination of Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite politician, to replace Shiite Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in hopes this will ease the sectarian conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis — rooted in decades of Sunni domination under an imperialist-backed monarchy followed by the Baathist Party rule of Sadaam Hussein and perpetuated by Shiite domination under Maliki’s eight-year rule. The latter, a consequence of Washington’s 2003-2011 war and occupation of Iraq, has created favorable conditions for the advance of the ultra-reactionary Sunni-based Islamic State.

The Iranian government, whose influence has grown under a Shiite-dominated Iraq, was quick to express its support for the new Iraqi regime, reflecting its common ground with Washington on the fight against the Islamic State and on the Kurdish question.

While the governments of several European countries, including France, Britain, Germany and Italy, have announced “humanitarian” aid for the growing numbers of displaced Iraqis, they like Washington won’t provide the kind of military aid the Kurdish Regional Government has requested.

Visiting Baghdad Aug. 16, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his government would provide $32 million in “humanitarian” aid to Iraq. The following day in an interview with Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Steinmeier spoke against the formation of any independent Kurdish state, saying it would “destabilize” the region.

At an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers Aug. 15 to discuss Kurdish fighters’ request for military assistance, a motion was passed saying governments that provide such aid should first get approval from Baghdad.

Washington has sought to stymie the development of independent trade by the Kurdish Regional Government. At the end of July a Kurdish oil shipment of 1 million barrels was prevented from docking off the port of Galveston, Texas. Baghdad had asked a Texas court to stop it. A U.S. judge stopped short of Baghdad’s request that Washington seize the ship given its distance from shore. Other tankers carrying Kurdish oil have been halted off the shores of Morocco and Malaysia.

The Turkish government has responded to the advance of the Kurdish struggle in recent years with the 2013 cease-fire agree-ment with the PKK and a gradual easing of repressive anti-Kurdish laws and policies dubbed the “Kurdish initiative” by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has become the main trading partner of Iraqi Kurdistan and allows shipment of Kurdish oil through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, creating tensions between Baghdad and Ankara.

Syrian Kurds battle Islamic State

In Syria, Kurds have been involved in fierce battles since July to drive back attacks by Islamic State combatants.

Deploying 10 tanks, other armored vehicles and thousands of mortars, Islamic State forces attacked fighters of the Committee for the Protection of the Kurdish People, the military wing of the Democratic Union Party. The Kurds temporarily retreated from several villages in a battle to defend the strategically located city of Kobane, with a population of some 400,000 near Turkey’s border, reported Rudaw Aug. 7.

Hundreds of Kurdish fighters from Turkey crossed over the border into the Syrian Kurdish region, known to Kurds as Rojava (Western Kurdistan), to assist in driving back Islamic State forces. About 200 Islamist State soldiers were killed in the of-fensive, according to Kurdish officials.

The struggle in Syria began in March 2011 with mass popular protests demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Opposition forces took control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and other parts of the country. But Assad’s relentless war, backed by Moscow and Tehran, has not only taken a massive toll on rebel fighters and quelled the rebellion, but devastated much of the population, killing 180,000 and displacing millions.

The opposition has weakened and fractured. In November 2013 a coalition of seven Islamist groups with about 45,000 fighters split from the Free Syrian Army and formed the Islamic Front. Both the Islamic Front and what’s left of the Free Syrian Army are at war with pro-Assad forces, as well as with the al-Qaeda backed al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State, which are also rivals of Assad but concentrate their fire on the opposition.

During the civil war, Kurds in northeastern Syria have made gains. They ended the Assad regime’s control of the area in 2012 and have since held off offensives by reactionary Islamist forces.

Syrian government troops have nearly encircled Aleppo in preparation for a siege of the city, in what could be a major blow to the rebels but also an opening for Islamic State forces to grab more territory.

Another key battle is for control of the town of Marea in Aleppo province, the Islamic Front’s main base of operations. Islamic State combatants took over about 10 villages near Marea Aug. 13 and 14, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. If the Islamic State seizes Marea, as well as the town of Aazaz, by Turkey’s border, it would cut supply lines to rebel groups throughout the area, reported al-Arabiya News.

In the midst of these battles, the Assad regime bombed a rebel convoy heading to fight Islamic State combatants north of Aleppo Aug. 17, the Observatory reported.

Meanwhile in Turkey jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan met with three members of parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party one week after the election Aug. 10 of Erdogan as president. In a written statement issued by the PKK, Ocalan said that Turkey is on the verge of “historic developments,” and that “the 30-year war is at a phase of ending via democratic talks,” according to Kurdpress.

Since 2012 Ankara has been negotiating with the PKK leader, who was captured in 1999 and given a life sentence on charges of treason. In March 2013 a cease-fire agreement between the PKK and the government was reached that includes provisions for a greater degree of national and cultural rights.  
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