Kurds, Iraqis drawn into battle for Syria's Eastern provinces

March 6, 2013

By Abbas Deiri, Nuha Shabaan, and Bassam Hamidi

Fighting in Syria’s northeastern provinces Monday revealed increasing inter-ethnic and international ripple effects of the conflict, as Arab tribes traded fire with the Kurdish PKK and Shia-dominated Iraq took measures to visibly side with Assad’s army in its struggle against the largely Sunni rebel forces.

“PKK elements assaulted an anti-government protest in al-Kahtaniya in al-Hasakah, for raising the revolution flag. There’s great tension now between the PKK and the Arab tribes,” said Sham News Network reporter Salar Kurdi.

The PKK sent reinforcements from Al Qamishli towards al-Kahtaniya Monday.

Observers of Kurdish politics believe the PKK is leveraging the conflict to carve out a separate territory.

“Some think the PKK is assisting the Syrian regime," said Syeamind Syeddo, a Kurdish journalist based in al-Hasakah.

“They don’t support the regime so much as they tried to take advantage of the current conditions to achieve the Syrian Kurds’ demands.”

Syeddo said PKK elements gained support after Arab fighters linked to the opposition assasinated Kurdish figures and desecrated churches and shrines of Kurdish Christians.

“This party became more influential after these events because they proved its viewpoint that Kurds will be victimized by Arabs exactly like they were victimized by the regime,” said Syeddo.

Syrian and Iraqi sources confirm Baghdad’s reinforcement of troops along  the borders of Al-Hasakah and Al Anbar provinces.

An Iraqi Defense Ministry official told Al Sumaria News that reinforcements have been sent to the Iraqi-Syrian borders west of Anbar explaining the action  would “regulate the borders and stop unauthorized access to Iraq”.

Sumaria News reported that 33 Syrian soldiers and 7 Iraqis were killed in an ambush in western Anbar.

The FSA has denied involvement in the Al Anbar assault.

An Iraqi police spokesman said Syrian soldiers fleeing to his country from al-Yarubiyah crossing point and the Iraqi army was attempting to repatriate them at the al-Qa’im crossing point.

 Iraqi army support for Assad’s troops included helicopter patrols to identify the Syrian rebel positions.

“This Iraqi government assisted Bashar al-Assad’s regime by allowing oil supplies and Iranian arms to Syria, said Syeddo.

“They’ve tightened the grip on refugees across the borders, and closed them several times. Their problem is with Syrian refugees and of course FSA forces,” he added

“The Syrian people and the FSA didn’t capture the crossing point because they wanted to enter Iraq. They wanted to cut al-Maliki’s supplies to Bashar al-Assad government,” said Omar Abu Laila the group’s spokesman on the Eastern Front Line.

Abu Laila defended the FSA’s assault on Kurdish armed battalions, warning that their alliance with the Damascus government puts the ethnic group in jeprody.

“Bashar al-Assad has authorized the PKK to take over a lot of things in al-Hasakah province. They’re getting involved in battle and we, the FSA, have warned them that assisting Bashar al-Assad makes them a legitimate target for us."