Thirty Dead as IS Advances Into Kobani, Protests in Turkey
Refugees from Kobane
NEW DELHI: Protests in Turkey entered their fourth day on Friday, with ten more people dying in clashes in the southeastern province of Gaziantep. This brings the total death toll to over 30 people as protests continue over the fate of the Kurdish town of Kobani on the Syria-Turkey, which has been besieged by Islamic State (IS) militants for over three weeks.
The protests in Turkey began on Tuesday, after reports emerged that IS pushed into three neighbourhoods in the east of the city, also known as Ayn al-Arab. Thousands have taken to the streets in Turkey’s eastern cities, with protesters demanding action from the Turkish government. Turkey’s parliament, last week, authorised the government to take military action against the IS, but no concrete plan of action exists as yet.
Protesters accuse Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, of being unwilling to take action against the IS in Syria because of the country’s historic enmity toward Kurdish separatists.
In fact, Kurds in the region have consistently blamed Turkey for fanning IS, with Turkey being suspicious of Syria’s Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political counterpart Democratic Unity Party (PYD) as they are the Syrian counterpart to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has advocated Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.
Erdogan, however, addressing Syrian refugees -- thousands of whom have crossed over into Turkey to escape IS’ advance -- in the eastern city of Gaziantep said that a ground operation was needed to defeat the militants.
“I am telling the west – dropping bombs from the air will not provide a solution,” the Turkish President said. “We asked for three things: one, for a no-fly zone to be created; two for a secure zone parallel to the region to be declared; and for the moderate opposition in Syria and Iraq to be trained and equipped,” Erdogan said, indicating that these measures need to be in place before Turkey commits itself to any action across the border.
This view was echoed by Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, who in a news briefing said, “Air strikes alone are not going to do this ... they’re not going to save the town of Kobani… We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages, and perhaps Kobani, will be taken.”
The battle for Kobani represents the regional impact of the deepening crisis. If Kobani falls, the 30 million Kurds in the region will invariably pin the blame on Turkey for not taking the necessary action to defeat IS in the border town. “We are besieged by Turkey, it is not something new,” said Ismet Sheikh Hassan, the Kurdish Defence Chief for the Kobani region (as quoted in The Independent).
Its fall will also demonstrate the flaw in United States President Barack Obama’s newest strategy to contain the IS -- outlined in a speech on the eve of September 11 that involves air strikes, support to on-the-ground partner forces, counter terrorism efforts and humanitarian assistance.
Whilst Erdogan and others attribute the failure of the strategy to a lack of boots on the ground -- the reality is that the US’ coalition partners -- which includes France, the UK, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (amongst several other countries) -- are not the ones battling the militants street to street.
The US still has no concrete strategy on which anti-government groups in Syria, an umbrella term that IS ironically falls under, to provide aid and assistance to. It has thus far kept itself at arms length from the Shia militants fighting the IS state in Iraq whilst continuing to support the Iraqi army, whom the Sunni’s in Iraq’s north deeply distrust.
In fact, it was this confused strategy of the US that facilitated the rise of the IS in the first place, with the group gaining strength in Syria because of American assistance to militias fighting Bashar al Assad -- who the US is keen to topple. The IS benefited from this assistance in its early days.
In Iraq, where the group originated before it moved in Syria, the IS gained strength because of the creation of a Sunni identity rooted in victimhood, perpetuated by a Shia government at the centre. Although the US was quick to ask for former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki’s resignation, the fact is, Maliki’s rise to power and the entrenchment of identity-based sectarian politics in Iraq were made possible by the US invasion of 2003 -- when the power vacuum left by the removal of Saddam Hussein was filled by Shia leaders with a Shia-centric political outlook.