Peshmerga fighters in Syria. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
The writer is beleaguered from studying The Islamic State and the whole geopolitical shit-show of Syria and Iraq. But I am blessed compared to those who once called the cities of Kobani, Homs, Aleppo, Sinjar, Mosul, and hundreds more small villages, home. Those meek, religious residents are now refugees from an Iraq and Syria under siege, and it is the fault of politicians far more than any self-imposed caliphate.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, four million have fled Iraq. Since the start of the Arab Spring, three million have fled Syria. Then there are the scores of internally displaced citizens whose cities, whose homes, lay in ruin. The writer is an armchair journalist, a laptop researcher, and yet, for those of us paying attention, that is enough to cause a deep feeling of weariness.
I, the writer, find that neither over cocktails nor coffee do people want open discussion about The Islamic State (ISIL) and Obama’s response to their advance in Iraq or Syria. It is a topic that invariably brings the response of a frown with eyes darting toward the ground, a kick of dust, and the remark, “I have no idea what is going on there.” The average liberal is aloof and reticent; perhaps so deeply troubled about the state of things that they cannot be troubled to pay attention to it at all.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after three years of degradation to his country, all but denies the existence of homegrown Syrian rebels. He uses syllogism to prove his beliefs. He ignores that his own ranks are defecting to various militias. He claims that he is fighting foreign terrorists and that there is some massive conspiracy against him. He denies the use of barrel bombs and chlorine gas, despite all the evidence supporting this. Assad believes that the tide is turning his way and that he will continue indefinitely in his campaign to eradicate the terrorists. He believes he is defending civilians, not displacing them or targeting them.
It is true and widely accepted that hardcore terrorist networks are fighting regime forces, but it’s also true that Assad works with them. Let alone the accusations that he is buying crude oil from ISIL-captured fields, the discussion over his collusion with a western-deemed terrorist network, Hezbollah, was entirely bypassed in a recent BBC interview.
In January, an Israeli air strike in the Golan Heights (not officially participating in the US-led coalition) killed senior Hezbollah officials, as well as an Iranian military officer. A Hezbollah reconnaissance mission came very close to Israel’s occupied region of Syria and witnesses believe Israel launched missiles from a helicopter. It is believed to have been a lucky strike for Israel, although it does invite blowback. Nothing new though, Hezbollah has been organized to fight Zionism for decades.
American President Barack Obama continues to avoid airstrikes against Syrian regime targets, including Hezbollah. In some ways this helps Assad continue the siege against actual rebels, such as the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, and Kurdish fighters. Obama secured a half billion dollars in 2014, and has requested billions more to arm and back up moderate rebels, such as FSA and Kurdish Forces.
Islamic Front has been deemed overly Islamist and blocked of funding, whose stronghold has been reduced to a swath of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. The FSA was badly damaged by regime forces in 2012 and nearly eradicated under continued siege going at least three ways: foreign jihadists (al-Nusra and ISIL), former homegrown partners, The Islamic Front, and regime forces. The weakened militia of Syrian defectors, whose efforts provided the first thrust of resistance against Assad in 2011, has at least kept close to the political discussion. Obama hopes they can bounce back. They recently enjoyed a win, backing up Kurdish forces in Kobani. This in itself was a diplomatic win, because Kurds have their own agenda in this war: to reestablish Kurdistan.
Syrian-Kurdistan fighters receive a great deal of support from the US-led coalition forces. Their demands for independence are reasonable; the religious manner at which they govern their people is reasonable. They are becoming famous for including a fierce brigade of women in the fight, demonstrating their belief in gender equality.
Kurds are not apparently under siege from the regime as strongly as they are from ISIL. Nor did they wage dramatic war, taking over Syrian government buildings, like FSA troops did in Homs. They’ve recently liberated Kobani, Syria from ISIL and their efforts prior to that have made for some of the most dramatic stories since the start of the US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIL targets in Iraq, last August.
They freed hundreds of Yazidi families from ISIL’s captivity at Mt. Sinjar. Yazidi tribes are meek, religious people, which made them cattle for the herding by Islamic State troops, who, after seizing the northern Iraq region, slaughtered 500 and displaced 50,000 to the top of Mt. Sinjar.
Western powers have been very willing to defend their investment in Iraq, prompting a European coalition to target ISIL in key positions in the region. France being the most vocal opponent of Bush’s 2003 occupation became the first European nation to launch airstrikes in Iraq last year. The coalition, after all, acts at the behest of a democratic Iraqi government asking for as much military assistance as possible. The recapture of the Mosul Dam soon followed, being a key piece of infrastructure that had fallen to ISIL during their rapid advance in the summer of 2014.
It is Syria that Europe does not want to be involved with. Obama’s geopolitical strategy to eradicate the threat of ISIL in Syria focuses on Arab partners. The West looks on in hopes that Assad can be removed in the process, but they continue focusing on Iraq while the U.S. spreads itself wherever al-Qaida and ISIL are found.
Shortly after breaking the ISIL siege at Sinjar, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were reassigned and transported through Turkey to join the campaign in Kobani. The campaign, in progress for months at this point, had already seen the killing of thousands of ISIL fighters and a degradation of its armory by hundreds of airstrikes. As of early February, Kobani has been under complete control of its people. Kobani is a city straddling the border of Turkey in northern Syria. If ISIL wanted to begin a siege on Turkish villages, the city of Kobani would be an excellent through-point.
Southern regions of Turkey face Kurdish insurgency from time to time, and deems them a terrorist network. In fact, while Kobani was under siege, Turkish tanks and troops prevented Syrian refugees from reentering their country to join the fight against ISIL. Hesitation on the part of Turkey complicated matters in Kobani. The political problem there is that Kurdistan remains a fallen nation whose people now belong to Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. They are less interested in a democratic Syria than a socialist Kurdistan, to take back pieces of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
The Kurdish population enjoys rich and deep cultural roots in the regions they inhabit, even if the borders have been drawn against them. They have a strong, long-lasting militia, called The Peshmerga, and unlike most Islamist militias, they are deemed moderate by the West and worthy of military support. Their crucial role in defeating ISIL (and potentially Assad) is very likely to provide them with independence in northern regions of Iraq and Syria, after the dust settles and reconstruction begins. It is unlikely that Turkey will give up a single parcel to them. Therefore, Turkey continues to focus on what it really wants: the removal of Assad.
The most recent American casualty in Syria was the result of a Jordanian air strike against ISIL. Her name is Kayla Mueller. Obama holds ISIL to blame for that death. Jordan has launched several dozen airstrikes with more on the docket to come. It is vengeance for burning Muadh al-Kasasbeh alive. He was a Jordanian pilot that was captured by ISIL, whose anti-aircraft missiles shot down a jet.
As of now, ISIL has provided video evidence for the beheading of two Americans, one Briton, two Japanese, and the burning of one Jordanian hostage. All but Kasasbeh were journalists or humanitarian workers. Every Islamic religious leader has renounced burning people alive. ISIL is making a lot of enemies.
American military officials believe that they have finally pushed back on ISIL. The expense of this defensive strategy is soaring to the tens of billions of dollars and will only continue soaring. But it is not entirely clear if it is working to recede their forces. Recruitment has proven to be effective and weapons are amazingly abundant. With FSA forces now working together with the Kurds, there is some hope. They are on the offensive and plan to retake some of the villages currently under ISIL control. It is very likely that Congress will pass Obama’s request to authorize force against ISIL. If the conflict manages to deflate under Obama, it will be a matter of diplomacy among the world leaders involved in this ugly proxy war. Holding onto hope for that might be more difficult than simply bombing away.