While fighting against ISIS with U.S. air support, the PYD is also using ISIS as a pretext to create a de facto situation on the ground and change the demographics of the regions along the Turkish-Syrian border
As the war in Syria continues to rage in its fifth year, the four main players that have come to the fore are Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, the moderate Syrian opposition, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). While these four entities shape the Syrian war, they also correspond to four types of political and military force that determine the geo-political realities in the Levant and the greater Middle East. The Assad regime has lost much of its ruling capacity and firepower though it continues to use the deadly weapons it has, including chemical weapons and barrel bombs. What keeps the regime going is financial and military support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. In this sense, the real players here are Iran and Russia. While Russia seeks to score strategic points against the Western alliance, Iran seeks to expand its sphere of influence through its Shiite proxies.
Both Iran and Hezbollah are said to have registered many losses numbering in the hundreds. Yet a key component of Iran's policy in the Levant is to keep the Assad regime hence its costly and misplaced support for it. The regime in Damascus may or may not fall soon, but what is certain is that it will not go away as long as the international community remains divided on the post-Assad Syria and the ways of getting there. The moderate Syrian opposition, represented primarily by the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is divided into several groups on both political and military fronts. At least two dozen groups are now fighting under the banner of the FSA and as many under the Islamic Front. Occasionally, they fight each other, but ISIS targets almost all of them. The international community had failed in its promise to support SNC and FSA over the last three years. The Assad regime utilized this to its advantage and weakened the moderate opposition. Some of these moderate forces joined ISIS not because of ideological affinity but because of tactical and military advantages. Both the SNC and FSA need serious support if Syria is to transit to a pluralist and democratic order and get rid of the ISIS menace.
ISIS, centered in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria, is now a major terrorist force in the Syrian war with a military and ideological appeal beyond the Levant. It is a useful tool for any player that wants to justify its policies in the region. It has proven its barbarism over and over again by killing Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In fact, it has killed more Muslims than others and destroyed more Islamic cities than anywhere else. It has no legitimacy with the vast majority of Muslims around the world. But it is also clear that ISIS will not be degraded and destroyed just by airstrikes. A more comprehensive strategy is needed and it should include coordinated military programs in Iraq and Syria as well as safe zones and no-fly zones. Otherwise, the Assad regime will keep ISIS going to weaken and damage the moderate anti-regime forces. If ISIS is not stopped in Syria and Iraq, it will spread to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Several extremist groups in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia and elsewhere have already declared their allegiance to ISIS. This dangerous trend must be stopped. But it has to start in Iraq and Syria. Finally, we have the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish group that is based along the Turkish-Syrian border. The PYD came to the fore first in Kobani last year and then in Tel Abyad recently. In Kobani, Turkey helped the FSA and northern Iraqi's Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) peshmerga forces enter the city to fight ISIS, and took in around 200,000 Kobani residents. From Tel Abyad, Turkey took in around 25,000 Syrians fleeing the fighting.
The PYD's connection to the PKK, the outlawed terrorist organization in Turkey, and its shady dealings with the Assad regime have raised questions about its standing in Syria in general and the Syrian war in particular. PKK groups do not hide their relationship with the PYD as their Syrian branch. This is a security issue for Turkey. While the reconciliation process with the PKK requires it to disarm, it has not done so and is now using the war in Syria to completely drop disarmament. Obviously, Turkey will not accept this as the reconciliation process requires the complete and unconditional disarmament of the PKK, which is a point most liberal commentators constantly overlook when they write about Turkey and the Kurdish reconciliation process. In the Syrian war, the PYD has not joined the moderate Syrian opposition groups against the Assad regime. While fighting against ISIS, the PYD is also using ISIS as a pretext to create a de facto situation on the ground and change the demographics of the regions along the Turkish-Syrian border. As an International Crisis Group report said, the PYD has shady dealings with the Assad regime and does not hide its cooperation with the bloody and criminal regime when it suits its interests. In al-Hasakah where the PYD has control, the Assad regime pays the salaries of civil servants. It looks like the regime has given those areas to the PYD while it seeks to destroy the FSA in Aleppo, Hama, Hums and the rest of the country. Obviously, the PYD needs to come clear of these questionable dealings. These four actors along with their supporters and other smaller forces are now shaping the Syrian war. How the international community and regional players deal with each of them will also shape the geo-political map of Syria and its region.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey