October 14, 2014
As the world closely watches the battle for the besieged city Kobani, a more strategic Kurdish-controlled border town has also been fighting off Islamic State attacks: Al-Yarubiyeh.
Located in Al-Hasakah province on the Iraqi border, Al-Yarubiyeh has been controlled by the YPG – the armed branched the Kurdish PYD – since late 2013. The border town sits on the most direct route from Syria to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and IS’s de facto capital.
In late September, IS captured a series of towns around Al-Yarubiyeh in an attempt to storm the border crossing.
But IS was soon expelled from the area by a joint YPG-Peshmerga attack with assistance from bombing by the British air force.
Al-Yarubiyeh may be even more important to the Kurds than Kobani, says Majd Abidi, a spokesperson for the Al-Hasakah office of the grassroots pro-opposition media center General Authority of the Syrian Revolution.
“The YPG considers Al-Yarubiyeh the first line of defense against any attack on its oil fields,” Abidi tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid.
Q: What is the situation like for civilians in Al-Yarubiyeh?
Around 15,000 civilians fled from Al-Yarubiyeh a while ago, some headed to areas that the Kurds control, either in Rmelan or in Iraq and some went to areas controlled by IS.
After civilians left, the city turned into a closed military zone. Trenches were dug around the area. I see Al-Yarubiyeh as more important to the Kurds than Kobani and Qamishli.
Q: Why is Al-Yarubiyeh important to the Kurds?
The YPG originally took control over Al-Yarubiyeh in order to open a line of communication with the Iraqi government. [Today,] the Kurds smuggle oil from Rmelan [a city in Al-Hasakah] into Iraq [via Al-Yarubiyeh], and from there into northern Iraq, where the oil is sold to black market traders.
The YPG considers Al-Yarubiyeh the first line of defense against any attack on its [Syrian] oil fields, therefore they advanced towards the countryside in order to distance the battles from their critical [oil] sites.
Q: Why is the Islamic State trying to gain control of the crossing at this time, specifically? Is the timing connected with the international airstrikes on IS?
Yes, when IS learned of the coming airstrikes they began to attack various Kurdish regions. They chose a number of regions to attack, including Al-Yarubiyeh because of its importance as a point on the Syria-Iraq oil line.
IS is trying to gain control of it so they can get closer to oil fields in [Al-Hasakah].
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