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Amid ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, Iraqi Kurds urge coalition to save brethren in Syria

Political tensions and a lack of resources are preventing Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government from aiding Syrian Kurds under attack by ISIL, writes Hugh Naylor.
Young Syrian Kurdish refugees enter Turkey at the Yumurtalik crossing gate on September 24. Getty Images
Young Syrian Kurdish refugees enter Turkey at the Yumurtalik crossing gate on September 24. Getty Images

ERBIL, IRAQ // Iraqi Kurds have called on the United States and its Arab allies to attack ISIL militants carrying out a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.

Airstrikes by the US-led coalition that began on Tuesday have shaken ISIL in its strongholds, including the city of Raqqa, said officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

They now want the air raids to halt ISIL’s brutal, week-long assault on communities in Syria’s Kurdish region, including the city of Kobani, which has sent more than 130,000 people fleeing to Turkey.

“We feel these attacks should be increased because there should be more of an effort to avert what is becoming a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Safeen Dizayee, a KRG spokesman.

Kurds who escaped the fighting in and around Kobani, or Ain Al Arab in Arabic, have warned of mass executions by ISIL militants in the dozens of communities that have fallen under their control.

The group’s brutality compelled the KRG president, Masoud Barzani, to appeal last week for international intervention in Syria’s Kurdish areas, saying that ISIL militants “must be hit and destroyed wherever they are”.

ISIL staged an assault on Iraqi Kurdistan last month that was only repelled after foreign intervention, including US air strikes. Thousands of Kurds from Syria and Turkey also descended on the region to join peshmerga forces in beating back the ISIL incursion.

A senior commander from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said yesterday that Iranian forces also helped Kurdish fighters defend the regional capital Erbil against the attack.

“If it were not for Iran’s help, the IS would have captured [Iraq’s] Kurdistan,” said Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh. He said the force included Iran’s Gen Qassem Suleimani and 70 of his soldiers.

Despite the Iraqi Kurds call to for similar military action to save kurdish regions in Syria, the KRG has declined to send military and humanitarian aid to their Syrian brethren.

Officials in Erbil blame a shortage of weapons and the huge financial cost of hosting the 1.4 million refugees who have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from the fighting in Syria and other parts of Iraq.

Kurdish officials also fear support to Kurds in Syria could anger Turkey, which is wary of arms flowing to fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that is leading the defence against the ISIL advance on Kobani. The PYD is associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Ankara.

Turkey along with the US and European Union classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

“This is just as much a political decision as it is about the political and financial constraints that we face,” said Dler Mahmoud, the deputy head of the KRG’s parliamentary committee on peshmerga affairs. “I think there’s hesitation to send money and arms because there is concern about angering Turkey.”

The PYD’s leader, Salih Muslim, has toured European capitals in recent days pleading for help to his forces in Syria.

Hamid Darbandi, who handles Syria issues in the office of the KRG president, said there was long-standing tension with Mr Muslim’s PYD.

But the main reason aid was not flowing from the KRG to Syrian Kurds was because of its own battle with ISIL and the hosting of refugees, Mr Darbandi said.

The air strikes on Syria, which have been carried out by the US along with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain, are part of an international effort to combat ISIL.

That plan also includes arming and training Iraq’s military and KRG forces as well as moderate rebels fighting the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.


*Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press

Updated: September 24, 2014 04:00 AM



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