The Kurdish Strategic Impasse and Deir ez-Zor

By Nickolaos Angelis

Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the Kurds have opposed Assad by fighting in eastern Syria against the Syrian army in both Hasakah and Qamishly. An example of Kurdish participation in the war was the “Northern Sun Battalion on the side of the anti-regime Free Syrian Army, which played a leading role in the defeat of the Islamic State jihadists. Nonetheless, as soon as several irregulars (who are better described as gangs rather than rebels who wanted to democratize the country and were likely to have Islamist ideas) entered the army in question, the Kurds and most of the Arab fighters of the Battalion left that military alliance, foreseeing its future transformation into a puppet following Muslim Brotherhood’s orders and being under the influence of utterly obscure extremist Islamist circles.

However, to understand the Kurds’ hatred of Assad we have to look back to 1962 and concentrate on the core of the Ba’ath movement in the Middle East. According to an official Human Rights Watch report, in 1962 the Syrian government stripped Syrian citizenship of 120,000 Syrian Kurds. Gradually, over the years and with the increasing population of these Kurds, the number of stateless Syrian Kurds has reached 300,000. The Syrian regime, fueled by phobic and nationalist Ba’athist perceptions of Arab-centeredness and pan-Arabism, perceived the Kurdish minority as a threat, thus suppressing the latter’s cultural and political rights.

In 2004 riots broke out in the Kurdish regions of Rozawa against the regime, which took the lives of 36 people. Therefore, it is necessary to acknowledge that the Kurds are in no way pro-Iranian and cannot be considered friends or allies of Assad’s strategic partners, keeping in mind that Russians had authorized the Turkish advancement in Al-bab and Afrin. Over the years, the Kurds’ only ally, but also their permanent enemy, is themselves as they have failed to unite due to the multitude of their racial groups.

Let us also not forget that the Kurds do not have access to the sea, which places them at the mercy of either Syria either Turkey or Iraq. Because of this situation, Kurds’ only necessary but also capable strategic ally is none other than the state of Israel. The Kurdish Corridor was a national longing which was not accomplished due to many factors, but mainly due to Turkey’s interventionism, which anticipated that Northern Kurdish cantons would unify, forming a systemic threat.

A corridor leading to a body of water. Sea access would be a relief; like an oasis for Kurds. It would be a pity if it was a mirage.

There is in fact, however, an Iranian Corridor crossing Syria’s South. Within the same location one can find the Deir ez-Zor area with many oil reserves under the control of US and Kurdish forces. It is, therefore, understandable that the apple of discord and the next theater of operations will be this area with view to cutting the Iranian Corridor which, in contrast to its Kurdish equivalent, leads to the sea, including the sea of Lebanon, filled with the presence of Shia Hezbollah, a country with its borders next to Israel, the state which is hated by all Muslims.

Now this oasis looks grim. Probably real.

In conclusion, the Kurds have a strategic advantage by owning this strategically valuable region but they are also at a strategic impasse as they have to face the interests of Russia, Iran and Turkey. To add to that, the geography denies Kurds’ access to the sea. The YPG and SDF Kurdish military units are already leaving the North and heading to the safer areas of the South where the oil rigs are located. In the face of these developments it is unlikely that the Iranians remain silent and inactive. All indications show that the tragedy of the Syrian war will not end soon; it is gradually being transferred to the Southeast, where the strength of the forces in the region is by now well felt.

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