Problems with the Kurds as proxies against Islamic State: Insights from the siege of Kobane

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The siege of the northern Syrian town of Kobane was lifted in January 2015. The Kurdish defenders there had triumphed against Islamic State (IS). The conflict then moved on. It moved on, though, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western powers having adopted, almost by default, the Kurds as proxy fighters in this conflict. The Kurds, however, are a divided and fractious nation spread across three states and historically famous for fighting among themselves. In employing the Kurds as proxies against IS, as this article shows, these Western powers must be aware of the unintended consequences that can result.

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... The rise of ISIL and the absence of full state control in Syria and Iraq prompted a new wave of US support to non-state actors, from a second tribal mobilization in Iraq to supporting anti-Assad rebels in Syria and later a coalition of Kurdish-led non-state forces in northeast Syria (A. Stein 2017; Thornton 2015). These examples from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are the focus of this thesis. ...
... Such arguments have been applied specifically to LHSF delegations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Supporting Syrian forces was much less politically costly than the proposal to deploy US ground forces (Thornton 2015;Waldman 2018;Krieg 2016;Maguire 2020). In Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting local tribal counterinsurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan not only saved more US forces from being deployed, but were argued to be better (more specialized) at identifying insurgent fighters or winning credibility in local communities (Ahram 2016;Clayton and Thomson 2014;Jones 2012;Long et al. 2012: 161-63). ...
... These have been due in significant part to the limited selection pool and information asymmetry. Where the United States has sought to delegate counterterrorism or counterinsurgency tasks, the third party states or non-state forces in question have frequently shirked the desired tasks, or only pursued security tasks as it suited their own interests (Byman 2006;Biddle, Macdonald, and Baker 2018;Cochran 2010;Thornton 2015;Hughes 2014;Hughes and Tripodi 2009). In most cases, it has not been that the US is blind to the differing interests and counter-productive behavior of its partners, but that it has few other alternatives. ...
This thesis explores how the decision to try to mitigate risks when working with non-state, substate, or other more irregular armed groups might affect the decision to engage with these groups. It does so by examining nine case studies of US partnerships with local, hybrid, and substate forces (LHSFs) in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria from 2005 to 2019. The risk mitigation mechanisms that emerged in these US-LHSF relationships typify the sort of control mechanisms that Principal-Agent theory assumes patrons will deploy to better control or constrain agents. However, in many situations, these control mechanisms appeared to be driven more by political bargaining between different actors in the policy-making process, or as the result of bureaucratic protocols, elements that are more central to Bureaucratic or Foreign Policy Analysis. Analysis of these US-LHSF relationships from these two lenses offers theoretical contributions to both analytical models: it adds nuance to our understanding of how Principal-Agent theories might devolve within these non-state or irregular force partnerships, and some of the limitations of those theories, while also expanding the type of bargaining situations and bargaining players that might be analyzed under Bureaucratic Policy Analysis. The conclusion blends insights from both lenses to understand what might underlie this emerging trend toward regulating irregular actors, and also to more broadly understand how states respond to the risks surrounding non-state or substate actors within hybrid or complex security landscapes.
... Against this backdrop, Turkey's worries about a possible "Kurdish spillover effect" of autonomization toward its territories constitute a chief factor that fosters Turkish interventionism against Syria. Turkey has the world's largest Kurdish population, which is estimated to account for at least 17 percent of its population, whereas Syria's Kurdish population is estimated at about 10 percent of the Syrian population (Thornton, 2015;Lindenstrauss and Eran, 2014;International Crisis Group, 2014;Dal, 2016). Upon Turkey's growing aggression toward Syria in 2012, the Assad regime decided to withdraw most of its authority from the Kurdish regions in northeastern territories bordering Turkey. ...
... One of the greatest winners of Syria's retreat has been the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is accused by Turkey of being affiliated with the outlawed and Turkey-based Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK). Not only had the PKK built a relatively solid base in Syria thanks to this country's active support in the 1990s, but also Turkey had introduced a reform package in 2009 in order to improve the rights and freedoms of its Kurdish population and disarm the PKK, which gave a free hand to the PKK for moving its troops to Syria (Thornton, 2015;Keyman and Sebnem, 2014). In this context, Turkish authorities have grown fearful of rising Kurdish autonomism in Syria and alleged Kurdish attempts at reengineering the regional demographics and triggering a pan-Kurdish awakening that could spread to the region. ...
... In this context, Turkish authorities have grown fearful of rising Kurdish autonomism in Syria and alleged Kurdish attempts at reengineering the regional demographics and triggering a pan-Kurdish awakening that could spread to the region. They fear that this situation could also further undermine Turkey's hegemony in the Iraqi Kurdistan in the PKK's favor and destabilize domestic politics in Turkey (Gunter, 2013;Dal, 2016;Thornton, 2015;Lindenstrauss and Oded, 2014;Nader et al., 2016;Plakoudas, 2017). Moreover, although the PYD still remains open to the prospects of cooperation with Russia and Iran, the consolidation of its partnership with the USA is a source of growing concern for Turkey, who feels alienated by the reluctance of the USA to resort to direct military intervention and its reliance on Kurdish proxies that could undermine Turkey's national security (Gunter, 2016). ...
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Purpose What are the causes and consequences of Turkey’s intervention in Syria? The purpose of this paper is to explore this question by focusing on the time frame from 2011 to 2016, i.e. prior to Turkey’s strategic U-turn from uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran. Design/methodology/approach Process tracing is used as the main methodological guideline. Findings Turkey’s intervention in Syria has been driven by a mutually reinforcing interaction of geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. Turkey’s neo-Ottomanist geo-strategy has been militarized in the context of the Arab Spring, perceived decline of US hegemony, increasing Kurdish autonomy and Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi’s (AKP) electoral setbacks. Second, Turkey’s intervention has been triggered by the converging motivations for energy security, easily gained profits from the black energy market and economic integration with Arab-Gulf countries in the face of a stagnating Western capitalism. A third set of factors speaks to the AKP’s instrumental use of Sunni sectarianism and Kurdish ethnopolitics. Originality/value The research aim is to provide a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkey’s involvement in Syria.
... 2003-ban viszont, amikor Damaszkusz és Ankara közeledni kezdett egymáshoz, Szíria betiltotta a PKK-t. A PYD akkor alakult meg pártként, a PKK szíriai maradványaiból (Thornton, 2015). A nemzeti kisebbségpolitikákat a regionális dinamikák és érdekek alakították, transznacionalizálva a kurd ügyet. ...
... Így a NATO-tagállam Törökország az USA egyik szövetségesét, a YPG-t egy nemzetközileg listázott terrorszervezettel, a PKK-val azonosítja (Stein és Foley, 2016). Ankarának a PYD-val szembeni ellenszenve olyan nagy mértékű, hogy inkább tolerált dzsihadista győzelmeket, mint a YPG katonai sikereit (Thornton, 2015). Míg Törökország a PKK-YPG-narratívát használja a PYD ellen, a YPG szerint Ankara olyan szélsőséges dzsihadista csoportokat támogat, mint az Iszlám Állam és a Haját Tahrír as-Sám (Van Wilgenburg, 2020a). ...
A jelen tanulmány célja az „arab tavasz” utáni kurd nemzetállami törekvések esélyeinek bemutatása – egy szíriai esettanulmány segítségével, valamint a belső ellentétek és a külső együttműködések kérdésének kiemelésével. Az elemzés során egy elméleti keret felvázolásával részletes történeti áttekintést kívánok nyújtani a 19. századi paradigmaváltások alatt zajlott közel-keleti nemzeti mozgalmakról és a kurd nacionalizmus megjelenéséről. A kurd történelem kettős jellemzője – a belső megosztottság és a proxy konfliktusokban való (külső) együttműködés (azaz, amikor két vagy több nagyhatalom az egymással szemben álló kisebb országok támogatása révén vívja a saját harcát) – azonban nagymértékben aláássa a nemzetépítési esélyeiket. A tapasztalt proxyk számára a helyi biztonsági fenyegetések és katonai beavatkozások sorozatában a cserbenhagyás nem okozhatna meglepetést. Regionális és globális hatalmak stratégiai célból rendszeresen kísérelték meg a kurd nemzetiségi aspirációk kihasználását, a proxyk pedig a saját politikai céljaik előmozdítása reményében hajlandóságot és szándékot mutattak a katonai együttműködésre. Ám az észak-szíriai kurd területek ellen tavaly végrehajtott – az amerikai csapatkivonásokkal egyidejű – török hadművelet rávilágított a proxy hadviselés és a kisebbségi államépítés kihívásaira. Mindezek ellenére a kurdok a jövőben is megmaradnak a proxy szerepében. A belső ellentétek és proxy kooptáció valószínűtlenné teszi a nemzeti törekvéseiknek a közeljövőben történő megerősödését. Anélkül pedig továbbra is ki lesznek szolgáltatva a nagyhatalmi beavatkozásoknak és a térség politikai-katonai konfliktusainak.
... Different Kurdish groups have different allies and serve for them as proxies in the conflict. Thus, either while Western powers or Iran have armed and trained the Kurds 4 , there is evidence that the Turks have actually welcomed -unsurprisingly -attacks on the Syrian Kurds by Daesh (Thornton 2015). Indeed, "despite the menace of the Islamic State to the stability of the whole region, states on either side of the sectarian divide continue to see it as a lesser danger than the regional dominance of their rivals" (Barrett 2014, p. 6). ...
... According toThornton (2015) can be this "my enemy's enemy is my friend" strategy dangerous in the future because it can bring another tension to the region due to the antagonistic intra-Kurdish relations and the desire for Kurdish autonomy. ...
Technical Report
The protest movements in the Arab world have taken different trajectories and have resulted in different political outcomes. And so we ask: What is so specific about Syria? Why does the violence continue? What has been done and what has not been done to end it? And mainly: what should be done?
... In such areas, the Arabs of Assad's government forces were deeply unpopular and thus could not be used as proxies by the Russians. 86 Moscow sought to capitalize on the YPG's distinct qualities. 87 Its fighters were an important source of intelligence and had considerable discipline and a determination to fight to carve out their own autonomous area. ...
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The war in Syria, given its complexity and geopolitical importance, has received much recent analytical attention. Although many perspectives have been covered, there is still a need in Western sources to view the conflict more through Russia’s lens. This article thus looks at how Russia has designed and executed its military strategy in Syria to fit into its overall grand strategy. It examines exactly how the Russian ‘strategy of limited actions’ has been employed and why Russia has now been proclaimed as the one true ‘victor’ in the whole Syrian imbroglio.
... The dramatic turn of events and with it the basis of PYD's change of territorial claims began on 27 September when the US-led international coalition conducted its first airstrike against ISIS in support of the PYD in Kobane. The strike marked the beginning of a new era for the PYD (Thornton 2015). Thanks to the massive air support, the supplies from the Syrian Peshmerga coming from northern Iraq via Turkey to Kobane, and the support of the Free Syrian Army, PYD forced ISIS back and captured Qarakozaq on March 15, 2015 and fully captured the Kobane canton. ...
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This study aims to explain how a segment Kurdish nationalists in Syria imitates and substitutes the Westphalian conception of sovereign statehood in Syria. It argues that the Partiya Yekîtiya Democrat (PYD-an offshoot of the PKK in Syria) establishes its rule both by mimicking and substituting modern tools of state-making. The study identifies a three-pronged political-military strategy used at the local, regional and international levels. It shows that facing existential challenges from local non-state competitors and regional predatory states, the PYD’s main approach has been mimicking the modern state where possible and substituting the lack of legitimate rule and sovereignty with a set of political and global support networks. The study lastly shows how the PYD’s logic in mimicking the modern state practices is ultimately dependent on the support particularly from great powers such as the USA and reactions from the regional powers such as Turkey. Overall, the study examines how the fluctuations in the logic of the PYD stems from its mimicry and substitution of the modern state conduct such as survival strategies, foreign practices and identity politics that interweave and cut across the conventional state, sovereignty, geopolitics and territoriality.
... This has been most prominently on display in Iraq and Syria, where Washington has embedded Special Operations Forces within local and largely Kurdish-led irregulars in the ongoing fight against the so-called Islamic State. While the final result of those efforts remains to be seen, some have questioned the degree to which such a policy has unwittingly fanned the flames of local intra-and intercommunal rivalries, exacerbating factionalism and further destabilizing localities (Thornton 2015). U.S. President Donald J. Trump's decision to withdraw support for the Kurdish militias as of October 2019, and Turkey's launch of Operation Peace Spring against the very same militias (Regan and Britton 2019), complicates future assessments of the tradeoffs surrounding this particular form of surrogacy. ...
... 101 For its part, Turkey co-opted factions of the Iraqi Kurds as a proxy counterweight to the emerging Rojava territorial formation at its border with Syria. 102 The example of the Kurds also shows that preference does not imply proxies do not seek specific aims. In fact, preference presents an opportunity to differentiate between purely selfish reasons and more complex strategic associations. ...
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Abstract Proxy wars are still under-represented in conflict research and a key cause for this is the lack of conceptual and terminological care. This article seeks to demonstrate that minimising terminological diffusion increases overall analytical stability by maximising conceptual rigour. The argument opens with a discussion on the terminological ambivalence resulting from the haphazard employment of labels referencing the parties involved in proxy wars. Here, the article introduces an analytical framework with a two-fold aim: to reduce label heterogeneity, and to argue in favour of understanding proxy war dynamics as overlapping dyads between a Beneficiary, a Proxy, and a Target. This is then applied to the issues of defining and theorising party dynamics in proxy wars. It does so by providing a structural-relational analysis of the interactions between the above- mentioned parties based on strategic interaction. It presents a tentative explanation of the proxy relationship by correlating the Beneficiary’s goal towards the Target with the Proxy’s preference for the Beneficiary. In adding the goal-preference relational heuristic, the article advances the recent focus on strategic interaction with a novel variant to explanations based on interest, power, cost–benefit considerations or ideology. Keywords conceptual analysis, external support, proxy war, strategic interaction, terminology
... Moreover, in the few works that make reference to it, Kobane appears as a contingent issue with an exemplary function, mostly from the perspective of security studies focusing on Daesh (e.g. Locatelli, 2015; Thornton, 2015). Despite the siege of Kobane can certainly be understood as an episode of the increasingly complex war in Syria (e.g. ...
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The attack carried out by Daesh against Kobane in 2014 prompted the mobilization of worldwide media attention and of large crowds protesting all over Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Southeast and beyond. This paper examines the potentially transformative effects of this event on the popular geopolitical codes of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey. This is done through a qualitative content analysis of 36 op-ed articles published in the newspapers Evrensel and Özgür Gündem. Three core findings stand out: (a) a constant emphasis on Turkey’s alleged links with Daesh, even before Kobane; (b) a boundary deactivation with respect to the US and “the West”; and (c) a re-articulation of self-representative frames, which initially relied on post-materialistic arguments and later emphasized security and stability.
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The United States' new foreign policy, which includes abandoning America's Kurdish friends and a new strategy on how the US should execute military interventions, as well as the "America First" ethos, has triggered a humanitarian and military catastrophe for Syrian Kurds. Despite the prevalence of study on American strategy in Syria and towards Syrian Kurds, there is a noticeable lack of comprehensive research explaining and evaluating the growing connections. This paper argues that deciphering these patterns necessitates a deep understanding of regional politics and a thorough engagement with the vast IR research. In this context, it is essential to look at the nature, limitations, and constraints of the Kurdish-US relationship, which is the Kurds' most powerful ally. For the present study, a theoretical framework is chosen to analyse US foreign policy comprehensively. This is a qualitative research report based on a case study. The case for this paper is the United States' foreign policy toward Syrian Kurds, as seen through several international theories, particularly realism and liberalism. The suggested study aims to explain why the US overlooked Syrian Kurds at the start of the Syrian crisis, why the US worked with and backed Syrian Kurds or SDF till 2019, and why the US abandoned or deserted the Syrian Kurds after a foreign policy shift. To sum up, scholarly reports show mixed results, with some claiming that the US decision to abandon Syrian Kurds was well-informed. In contrast, others suggest that if the decision is made without caution, it will do more harm than good to America's long-term ally, who played a critical role in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Suriye Kürtleri sivil savaşa kadar uluslararası arenada az bilinen bir etnik azınlık konumundadır 2011 yılında patlak veren iç savaş Kürtler açısından bazı fırsatlar ortaya çıkarmıştır. Bu makalenin amacı, terör örgütü Kürdistan İşçi Partisi, PKK’nın Suriye kolu olan Demokratik Birlik Partisi, PYD’nin Suriye’de politik bir aktör haline gelmesine katkıda bulunan sivil savaş kaynaklı fırsatları, “siyasal fırsatlar” kavramsal çerçevesi kapsamında değerlendirmektir. Makale temel olarak, Suriye sivil savaşının ilk beş yılında Kürtler için üç kritik siyasal fırsatın ortaya çıktığını ve terör örgütü PKK’nın Suriye kolu olan PYD’nin bu fırsatlar aracılığıyla ülkede politik bir aktör haline gelme yolunda önemli adımlar attığını ortaya koymaya çalışmaktadır. Bu siyasal fırsatlar sırasıyla Mart 2011’de iç çatışmaların başlaması, Temmuz 2012’de Suriye rejim güçlerinin ülkenin kuzeyinden çekilmesi ve Eylül 2014’te DAEŞ’in Kobani’yi (Ayn al Arab) kuşatmasıdır. Makale, Suriye sivil savaşının ilk beş yılında ortaya çıkan fırsatları siyasal fırsatlar kavramsal çerçevesi kapsamında değerlendirmekte ve bu fırsatların PYD’nin politik bir aktör haline gelmesinde oynadığı rolleri ampirik olarak analiz etmektedir. Bu haliyle makale Türkçe akademik literatürde PYD’nin aktörleşmesiyle ilgili yapılan tartışmalara katkıda bulunmayı amaçlamaktadır.
This article examines the case of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat or PYD) to explain the survival strategies of the non-state armed actor (NSAA). Although the Middle Eastern State System remarkably remained stable after the end of Mandates, the legitimacy of states has been eroded by a combination of colonial legacy, neo-patrimonialism, and authoritarianism, laying the seeds for the rise of non-state challengers to states. At the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the PYD did not fight against the Syrian regime but established its autonomy in northern Syria by taking advantage of the chaos. Using the process-tracing method, the article explains the survival of the PYD until the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State and offers parameters of the territorial logic, its organizational structuring, and relations with the states to explain the survival strategies of the PYD. Finally, the study concludes that while the territorial and organizational structuring logics of the NSAA shape its strategies, its complex relationship with states determines its survival.
This chapter will examine how the dire state of news media freedom in contemporary Turkey intersects with the Kurdish issue. It starts with the initial optimism of AKP’s relationship with the Kurds, which was hailed as a new beginning based on religious kindred and a mutual distrust of the Kemalist establishment. However, this changed once the Kurdish mainstream political parties began to be a threat to ongoing AKP power. The subsequent KCK investigations were aimed at quelling the nascent grassroots Kurdish movement before it gained momentum. Journalism was included with the KCK operation but it was not the government’s primary target and instead was included more as a deterrent to the reporting of wider KCK illiberality. However, more recent persecution of Kurdish journalists has securitised journalism as “terrorism” in order to delegitimise its message and that of the Kurdish movement as a whole, particularly the HDP. Accordingly, any reporting of the Kurdish issue has been deemed to be in favour of political violence—rather than merely about it.
What are the major domestic and external factors that have led to the emergence and diffusion of the 2011 Syrian conflict? Domestic factors concern Syria’s political-economic and political-ecological transitions since the 1970s, particularly the prominence of a resource-based, or extractivist, strategy of economic development, neoliberal restructuring, and inadequate environmental policies. This chapter argues that these factors have rendered Syria vulnerable to the destructive effect of external pressures associated with the role of geopolitics, proxy war, and foreign intervention. In terms of this chapter’s methodology, process tracing is used as the main guideline.
Despite Russia’s increasing clout and assertiveness in its region, Turkey has chosen to improve its relations with Russia, rather than balance against it through its Western allies. Turkey’s unexpected strategic partnership with Russia is best seen as an example of bandwagoning for profit. It is an assertive bandwagoning with the objective of countering Kurdish separatism, an imminent problem in the Turkish ruling elite’s ranking of threat perceptions. The empowerment of Syrian Kurdish groups under the protection of the United States has moved Turkey closer to Russia. A long-term alliance between the two, however, depends on reconciliation of their differences which are deeply rooted in historical and geo-political factors.
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The contemporary conception of citizenship is rooted in the emergence of the nation- state. With the expansion of social rights and welfare-states, citizenship has been considered to empower people and equalize social relations. However, citizenship in itself is not the cause of these processes, but rather its participatory and democratic characteristics. With the movement towards global liberalization, democracy and participation have been assimilated to the market. Nonetheless, neoliberal participatory projects fail to achieve effective social change because of their inability to challenge structures of oppression. To do this, we need to get back to the radical roots of participation in which rest the prospects for social change. The Zapatistas in Chiapas and the Kurds in Rojava offer contemporary examples of how participation can initiate social transformation and challenge inequalities. Both cases rely on radical democracy and achieve social change through the creation of new public spaces and the re-organization of old ones.
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Throughout its Republican history, Turkey has attempted to formulate a “non-interventionist” foreign policy toward its neighbouring countries. Since the onset of the Arab Uprisings, however, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has abjured the traditional policy of “non-military engagement”, adopting instead an assertive and security-oriented foreign policy that has paved the way for the securitization of the Syrian conflict in terms of its Kurdish component and of wider geopolitical aspects. This article aims to explore why and in what ways this abrupt shift toward securitization has occurred while discussing its broader implications on Turkish domestic politics as well. Using the Copenhagen School’s securitization theory, the article will unpack and analyse the internal and external dimensions of threat construction and otherization processes underlying Ankara’s securitization policy toward Syria to make the case for the obsolescence of Turkey’s traditional non-interventionist policy, which, we argue, results from an ontological insecurity approach toward the Syrian conflict. The article finds that Turkey’s securitization policy (i.e. interventionist approach) was chiefly driven by the fear of Kurdish autonomy and the growing Russo-Assad-Iranian alliance in Syria; and by the grand ambition of bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Syria and consolidating Turkey’s agential importance in Western security architecture under the aegis of the US.
Since the armed confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, concepts such as “hybrid war,” “hybrid threat,” and “hybrid adversary” have been on the rise. These terms are part of an ongoing debate about the contemporary threat actors who effectively combine conventional and unconventional fighting capabilities, and who possess quasi-state characteristics. The Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD) with its armed wing People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel-YPG), constitutes one of these hybrid nonstate actors. After the Syrian regime withdrew from the Kurdish areas in northern Syria in 2012, the PYD/YPG seized control of several towns and enclaves in this region and emerged as one of the most influential actors of the Syrian civil war. This chapter provides an analysis of the PYD/YPG’s rise in the Syrian context as well as its policy implications with a special emphasis on the concept of “hybrid actor.”
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The article addresses the problem of self-determination of the Kurdish ethnos in Syria. Kurds are an indigenous people in this territory and for a long time lived within a single space within the Ottoman Empire. The artificial division of the Middle East into states in the interests of European powers led to ignoring the interests and rights of the Kurdish ethnos. Self-organization of Kurds in Syria occurred gradually and mainly under the influence of external factors. The first one was the political activity of Kurds in neighboring countries, the second – the assimilation efforts of the Syrian authorities. Although the Kurdish population, basically, retained its identity, half a century of assimilation policy led to the erosion of the Kurdish ethnic enclaves in the north of the country. Moreover, self-organization and political mobilization of Kurds in Syria began to be accompanied by disagreements and splits of the main political forces. Kurdish political parties sought to act as a “third force” in the course of the civil war in Syria. However, disagreements prevented this, as well as certain pressure from Western countries, which pushed the Syrian Kurds to support the moderate opposition. The power vacuum in the north of Syria was able to fill the center-left party “Democratic Union”. This political force is in contact with the official Syrian authorities and, at the same time, receives US support. Created by the efforts of the “Democratic Union” the Kurdish autonomy in the north of the country provides stability in territories with the Kurdish and mixed populations, and also performs socio-economic functions. This makes the Kurdish autonomy an important element of negotiations about the future political structure of Syria.
The contribution tackles the possibilities of the international recognition of the Kurdistan state from the theoretical perspective of the modified (super)power rule. It is argued that different powers have different impact on either de facto or de iure independence of the region. Also the issue of diverse interactions and goals is being presented in order to evaluate the chances for Kurdish sovereign statehood.
The use of surrogate or ‘proxy’ actors within the context of ‘irregular’ or guerrilla conflict within or between states constitutes a phenomenon spanning nearly the whole of recorded human military history. Yet it is a phenomenon that has also acquired urgent contemporary relevance in the light of the general evolution of conflict in Ukraine and the current Middle East. This introduction to a special issue on the theme investigates some potentially important new avenues to studying the phenomenon in the light of these trends.
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Despite dramatic improvements in the security environment in most parts of Iraq, still unresolved are many core political issues, foremost of which is the conflict over the city and region of Kirkuk. With immense oil reserves and a diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens, Kirkuk in recent history has been scarred by interethnic violence and state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. Throughout the twentieth century, successive Arab Iraqi governments engaged in a brutal campaign to increase Kirkuk's Arab population at the expense of Kurds and Turkmens. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a newly empowered Kurdish leadership has sought to reverse the effects of the Arabization campaign and to hold a referendum on incorporating Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region. The Kurds' efforts are, however, strongly opposed by Kirkuk's Turkmens, Arabs, and also most states in the region. In Crisis in Kirkuk, Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield offer a dispassionate analysis of one of Iraq's most pressing and unresolved problems. Drawing on extensive research and fieldwork, the authors investigate the claims to ownership made by each of Kirkuk's competing communities. They consider the constitutional mechanisms put in place to address the issue and the problems that have plagued their implementation. The book concludes with an assessment of the measures needed to resolve the crisis in Kirkuk, stressing that finding a compromise acceptable to all sides is vital to the future stability of Iraq. Copyright
To understand Iraq, Charles Tripp's history is the book to read. Since its first appearance in 2000, it has become a classic in the field of Middle East studies, read and admired by students, soldiers, policymakers and journalists. The book is now updated to include the recent American invasion, the fall and capture of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent descent into civil strife. What is clear is that much that has happened since 2003 was foreshadowed in the account found in this book. Tripp's thesis is that the history of Iraq throughout the twentieth-century has made it what it is today, but also provides alternative futures. Unless this is properly understood, many of the themes explored in this book - patron-client relations, organized violence, sectarian, ethnic and tribal difference - will continue to exert a hold over the future of Iraq as they did over its past.
Recent trends in the Syrian civil war have caused important shifts in alignment among neighbouring states. The conflict has exhibited a sharp turn towards ethno-sectarian violence, fighting among rival factions of the opposition and loss of central command over peripheral districts. In conjunction with the rise of the radical Islamist movement called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, these developments precipitated a raging, multisided battle that spread across Syria's northeastern provinces, and sparked renewed sectarian conflict inside Turkey and Iraq. Turkey and Iran responded to the growing ethno-sectarianization of the civil war by taking steps to conciliate the largely autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as well as one another. Rapprochement with the KRG alienated Turkey and Iran from Iraq, prompting Iraqi officials to step up military operations along the Syrian frontier. These moves set the stage for large-scale intervention in Iraq by ISIL, which further weakened Iraq's positon in regional affairs. The resulting reconfiguration of relations accompanied a marked increase in belligerence by non-state actors, most notably the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which buttressed Turkey's newfound ties to the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iran.
The fall of Mosul in June of 2014 was followed in July by the establishment of a self-proclaimed Caliphate by the Islamic State of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Since then, the Islamic State has continued to expand its operations, continuing to push into Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria, nearly defeating the Kurds of Iraq, and moving against the Kurds of Syria, in Kobani, as well as army units of the Syrian state. By doing so, it has maintained an astonishingly high tempo of operations and has shown itself capable, agile and resilient. It has also shown itself to be adept at utilizing social media outlets, and in pursuing brutal tactics against civilians and prisoners that have been aimed at shocking adversaries—potential or actual—and observers both in the region and beyond. The rise of the Islamic State poses a challenge not only to the security of Iraq and Syria, but the state system of the Middle East, and western powers have been drawn into a conflict in a limited fashion—through air strikes and advising ground forces. The UK, while engaging slightly later than other countries against the Islamic State, has followed this pattern, though targeting Islamic State forces solely in Iraq. This article considers the nature and scale of the threat posed by the Islamic State, and assesses three possible areas of further policy engagement that they UK may, or may have to, follow.
The ongoing civil war in Syria is evolving into a ‘proxy war’, in which both the Baathist regime and its insurgent adversaries are becoming increasingly reliant upon support from external powers. Proxy warfare has a superficial appeal for sponsoring states, as it appears to offer a convenient and risk-free means of fulfilling foreign policy goals, which will not incur the financial and human costs of direct military intervention. Using Syria as a case study, this article shows that the conduct of proxy warfare has several potential political, strategic, and ethical consequences, which any democratic government in particular is obliged to consider before it resorts to this indirect means of foreign intervention.
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