Reading between the lines on the latest Iraq/Syrian war and Australia’s involvement Part 2

Following on from my post a couple of weeks ago, Australia is now officially a part of the renewed war in Iraq and Syria. This has always been a geopolitical issue which has been a big part of the Islamic State’s (IS) success. Reports are coming through that Kobani (known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic), just miles from the Syrian and Turkish border is about to fall into the hands of IS. Turkey has not only had unprecedented numbers of Syrian refugees spilling into Turkey but it’s also been preventing Turks, and Syrian Kurds that want to cross the border again back into Syria to fight against IS.

Syrian Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, with 10-15 % of the country’s population, followed closely by Syrian Alawites (the religion of President Mr Assad) with 12%.

Tension on the Turkish side of the border was soaring on Monday the 22nd September. With clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurds wanting to approach border gates to reach their relatives or to cross into Syria continuing throughout the day, with Turkish police using teargas and water cannons against protesters.

“Turkish soldiers at the border don’t let me cross, they say it’s not allowed,” says 29 year old Kobani local Ahmed. “All I want is to defend my land and my village. I will find a way to get there.” One of his friends says that getting across the border has become difficult, and that Turkish soldiers control many of the illegal crossing points. “Since there are landmines in many areas here, you can’t just walk anywhere,” Ahmed says. “But if I live or die, I will go back to Kobani.”

Another man from Kobani, aged 33, who wishes to remain anonymous fearing for his relatives safety thought to have been captured by IS, brought his family to Gaziantep three days ago. He’s now on his way back to the border. For the past three months he’s been fighting with the Popular Protection Units (YPG), being the armed wing of the Democratic Union party (PYD), and a Syrian Kurdish affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). In the past he manned a checkpoint close to the Euphrates, an area now overrun by IS. “We get an AK and 60 bullets each,” he explains. “That’s all we have to defend ourselves against the massive arsenal of Islamic State.”

Many of the Syrian Kurds who have been driven out of Kobani over the past week report that Isis uses artillery and heavy weaponry thought to have been looted from Iraqi arsenals. “They have military vehicles, rockets, missiles. What do you think an AK-type gun can do against that?” the man from Kobani says.

“We are very tired,” he admits. “It’s been three years. And it is getting worse every day.” He shows a gruesome image from his Facebook page on his phone showing a Kurdish fighter being beheaded by Isis jihadis.

“His name was Sinur, he was only 40 years old. What real Muslim would commit such crimes?” He adds that IS is so terrifying that people flee their villages before the first shots are fired. “We saw what they did in Shengal. How can people not be afraid?” The refugees who have managed to escape the latest IS attacks all report atrocities committed by them against Kurds in Syria, including beheadings, stonings, and the blanket torching of homes and entire villages.

Newroza, 35, describes how IS militants beat a 15-year-old girl to death, crushing her skull with a rock. “Only because she was Kurdish,” she says, angry tears in her eyes. “I want to go and fight them. If I had a weapon, I would go and kill them.” She now sleeps in a small park in the centre of Suruç, together with her four children. “We will not let them take Kobani from us.”

In 2005 Australia deemed the PKK party to be a proscribed terrorist organisation, outlawing funding or assistance to the group and following the European Union (EU), USA, Turkey and Canada’s example. In 2010 on August 19th the Australian Federal Police (AFP) conducted ‘anti-terror raids’ at dawn much akin to recent raids in Sydney and Melbourne, on Kurdish groups for allegedly funding the Turkish separatist group PKK with $1 million dollars. Four years ago we were having the same discussions as today on the fear of anti-terrorism laws abuse. The Kurdish Association of Victoria reported that Australian Kurds were worried that they could unknowingly be breaking the law when sending money to Kurdish charities that could end up in the PKK’s hands. The Federation of Community Legal Centres (FCLC) argued that Australia’s anti-terrorism laws were so broad they could criminalise mere agreement with the PKK’s political goals, pointing out that several people had asked whether they would be jailed for having a copy of the PKK constitution.

They also argued that proscribing the PKK could lead to arrests being made on the basis of Turkey provided intelligence and given Turkey’s history of persecuting Kurds this risked people being arrested for peaceful advocacy of their rights. Another fear was that for some Kurds, still facing human rights abuses in Turkey, it could affect their refugee status because of perceived past PKK associations.

The PYD is a Syrian Kurdish political party that was established in 2003 by Kurdish activists. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a group of defected Syrian armed forces soldiers that formed in 2011 during the uprising of the Syrian civil war. The group defined themselves as being against “all [Syrian] security forces attacking civilians” as their enemies, and said its goal was to “to bring down the system” or “to bring this regime down”. Salih Muslim is the co-chair of PYD in Northern Syria and has been urged by the Turkish intelligence authorities to bring his forces under the same ranks as that of the Free Syrian Army. During the meeting, the Kurdish leader was urged to “take an open stance against the Syrian regime” and join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army against Mr Assad, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Turkish officials also signaled wanting a restructuring of the Syrian opposition and urged the PYD to take part under the roof of the Syrian opposition. Turkey once again reiterated its expectation for the PYD to distance itself from the PKK, sources said. As Mr Muslim continued his efforts to obtain arms from Western countries for the Kurdish forces of the YPG, being the military arm of the PYD, he asked Turkey not to prevent the delivery of weapons after a request from European countries and the US was denied.

It’s of interest and I’m not inferring anything but find it interesting that in 2008 the US also added the PKK to a list of major International drug dealers. In particular because of recent reports that Kobani residents had described seeing IS fighters looking “relaxed” and walking freely in the streets. But those who entered were soon killed by Kurdish fighters, more familiar with the locality. “I don’t know where they were all coming from, but once they were killed, more Isis would come,” a man named Mahmoud said as he walked from Kobani to a nearby town. He said he believed that the Isis men were using hard drugs because of their confident looking demeanour; looking exhausted, the 50-year-old lamented that he could not stay in his home town to fight.

Could there be another modern element such as drugs thrown into the mix?

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet D avutoglu has said “We are ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy and if we can be sure that our border can be protected after [the Islamic State is gone].” He added that if IS is defeated and Mr Assad stays in power, there’s no guarantee another radical group won’t emerge.

Suspicion is rife amongst Turkish and Syrian Kurds about the true motivation of Turkey’s entrance into the US-led coalition of nations fighting IS on the 2nd October 2014. This is heightened with Turkey doing successful prisoner swaps with IS while others that have been kidnapped are getting murdered live, globally. Two Britons were reportedly handed back to IS in a prisoner swap deal with the Turkish government, amongst 180 ‘jihadists’ were exchanged to secure the return of 49 Turkish diplomats captured by IS in June and were held till the 20th September this year. Turkey has claimed that the release was achieved purely through diplomacy.

Borders between Turkey and Syria serve as the main access point for foreign fighters entering Syria, and a number of British fighters are also crossing into Turkey to escape the group. Up to 100 British may be ‘stranded’ in Turkey, with many Britons seeking entry into Pakistan and Bangladesh to avoid potential prison time if they return to the UK. Other foreign fighters are attempting to cross into countries where they have familial roots, including countries such as Egypt, Algeria and Libya. According to the report, many of the foreign fighters have become “disillusioned” with the IS, finding themselves fighting other Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, rather than the government forces of Mr Assad.

“We understand there’s around 100 British jihadists who are waiting in limbo in Turkey before they can make their way to countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and Algeria, countries where their parents were born and where they have the family support they need to settle in,” a Whitehall official told the Sunday Times. “The choices for these jihadists have become very limited, they don’t want to return to Syria because they would most likely be killed for defecting and they can’t come back to Britain without the prospect of being locked up.” Some British jihadists have also expressed regret for joining ISIS and have called on the British government to adopt a “de-radicalisation program” for individuals returning to the UK. “We came to fight the regime and instead we are involved in gang warfare. It’s not what we came for, but if we go back [to Britain] we will go to jail,” one fighter told the Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) professor Peter Neumann.

I fail to see how warring with Middle Eastern countries suits any Australian agenda, besides assisting the US and the Middle East’s agendas. Where does Australia sit with the likes of, to put it broadly, not just Sunni, Shiite and Alawite differences but their offshoots and all that it encompasses exactly? Is there plans in place to deal with the aftermath of refugees fleeing Syria for Turkey let alone globally? Will de-radicalisation programs get more attention and funding? Should we let the governments of the day keep making the same mistakes and not even appear to try to learn from them? Because it appears that the latest boogie man to frighten the Australian government is a very broadly speaking, Islamic Muslims. And that should be alarming to all.

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