Kurds betrayed: How serious is the US about fighting ISIS?

August 7, 2015
The other threat driving the Turkish state is the success of Kurdish-led revolutionary forces against ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan (

The July 23 deal between the US and Turkey — which gives the US access to Turkey's Incirlik airbase and officially brings Turkey into the US-led “war on ISIS” — makes one thing clear.

For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the real enemy is not the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State — more commonly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is the Kurdish freedom movement and the Turkish left.

This has been clear since crackdown that followed the July 20 suicide bombing, which killed 32 young socialists in Suruc. The town is in Turkish Kurdistan, just across the border from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane.

The victims were part of a group of Turkish and Kurdish left-wing youth travelling to Kobane to help rebuild the town since it survived a five month siege by ISIS that started last September. The town has become a symbol of resistance to ISIS.

The official story is the ISIS suicide bombing forced the Turkish government to finally take action against the group. But few ISIS members were arrested in the crackdown and most were quickly released. At the same time, more than 1000 left-wing Kurdish and Turkish activists were arrested.

Survivors of the Suruc massacre also noted that while a heavy police presence ensured the socialists entering the cultural centre where the bombing took place were all thoroughly searched, the suicide bomber was able to enter undetected. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, police and soldiers attacked the survivors.

Since July 23, the Turkish air force has made one strike against ISIS forces in Syria, in which it is doubtful any target was hit. But its air force has pounded sites in Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan – targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its armed self-defence forces.

The PKK had waged a decades-long armed struggle for Kurdish liberation against the Turkish state, although it was taking part in a peace process in a bid to shift its struggle to purely peaceful means.

At least eight civilians were killed and several others injured on August 1 when Turkish jets flattened the Iraqi Kurdish village of Zergele, despite no evidence of a PKK presence there.

The PKK responded by declaring the faltering peace process and ceasefire was over.

Further killings have occurred throughout Turkey, as paramilitary police repress protesters against the resumption of war with the PKK and government complicity in the Suruc massacre.

PKK executive committee member Duran Kalkan said on August 6: “In the face of the total warfare … the only solution is all-out resistance.”

Regime motivation

The Erdogan regime is motivated by the threat to its power demonstrated in the June elections, in which the Kurdish-led left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP) won 80 seats in parliament — and in doing so denied the AKP the majority it sought.

HDP activists have been targeted in the recent crackdown.

The other threat driving the Turkish state is the success of Kurdish-led revolutionary forces against ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava). In 2012, the military forces of the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ) liberated a large part of Rojava, which began an experiment in progressive participatory democracy.

This liberated area, however, was divided into three, geographically separated cantons - with ISIS the dominant force separating them.

On June 15 YPG and YPJ-led forces took the town of Tell Abyad from ISIS, linking two of three cantons. They have since advanced in the area separating the third canton, Efrin.

When Tell Abyad fell, Erdogan publicly stated that a geographically united area under the Kurdish-led forces on Turkey's border was a greater terrorist threat than ISIS.

This is different from the official stance of the US. The US says its key enemy is ISIS, with al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front and the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad as secondary enemies.

The YPJ and YPG-led forces have been widely recognised as the most effective fighters against ISIS. They also have a good track record of combat against both the Nusra Front and the regime.

The Turkish government views the YPG and YPJ as appendages of the PKK. The US — and its Western allies including Australia — lists the PKK as a terrorist group, but not the armed groups in Rojava.

This has led to some confusion as to what has been agreed to between the US and Turkey. The US maintains that air strikes from Incirlik will support all anti-ISIS forces, including the YPJ and YPG. But the Turkish government has contradicted this.

The YPG maintains that Turkish forces have attacked its position and that ISIS has received intelligence from the Turkish air force. The US has ignored evidence from the Rojava revolutionaries that Turkey provides material support to ISIS.

On July 28 an emergency meeting of NATO supported Turkey's air strikes against the PKK while welcoming Turkey (a NATO member) into the “anti-ISIS coalition”.

Several US media outlets have questioned whether the US and NATO are making a mistake - abandoning the most effective anti-ISIS fighters for an unreliable ally. However, this takes the US claims about its aims in militarily intervening in Iraq and Syria at face value.


The extreme fundamentalism and brutality of ISIS make them an ideal force to justify new US attacks to its war-weary population.

The West justifies its wars with rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy.

The 2003 Iraq invasion failed in both its stated aims and its real aims – to strengthen US hegemony in the oil-rich region. The government of Iraq is now dominated by Shia forces with ties to the US's regional rival of Iran.

The regime's sectarian crimes against Iraq's Sunni population helped the Sunni fundamentalist ISIS make rapid advances in Iraq last year.

The ISIS attack on Shengal in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a large community of the Yazidi religious minority predominate, provided the pretext for the US-led air war. Australia quickly joined “to help the Kurds”.

However the conservative, pro-Western forces that dominate in Iraqi Kurdistan, who received Western assistance, abandoned the Yezidis to their fate. Instead, it was the left-wing forces of the YPJ, YPG and PKK who came to their rescue.


ISIS emerged from the violence and social dislocation created by Syria's civil war. This conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and created 4 million refugees and 7.6 million internally displaced people.

It began in 2011 as an uprising against Assad, but slid into civil war due to the regime's indiscriminate violence. The West and the its regional allies — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — supplied arms to selected opposition forces.

The influence of the West's regional allies gave the armed opposition a Sunni sectarian character. The regime has used the Sunni Islamist spectre in its bid to hold on to power.

In Rojava, the YPG and YPJ have been resisting the regime since 2004. The autonomous administration, based on popular democracy, ethnic equality and women's liberation, has set a positive example in the region.

The familiar images of female Kurdish fighters reflects a deep rooted change in the status of women in Rojava that is part of a wider social transformation. If Western rhetoric about freedom and democracy could be believed, the democratic, feminist, ethnically inclusive and religiously tolerant model in Rojava would get unqualified Western support.

However, the economic model espoused by the left-wing Kurdish forces and their allies, and visible in embryonic form in Rojava, is ecologically sustainable socialism. In Western dogma, neoliberalism is synonymous with democracy.

The Western attitude to Rojava has always been ambiguous at best. Last September, the US started bombing targets in Syria but refused to target the ISIS forces massing around Kobane.

It appeared the US strategy was to allow Kobane to fall and then turn Rojava into a “safe haven” for survivors — through Turkish military intervention.

A similar strategy was followed in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, where the West stood by while genocide took place but intervened in the aftermath to establish protectorates.

This strategy failed due to Kobane's resistance. But the US was also caught out by its own propaganda. After global protests by the Kurdish diaspora, the US began coordinating air strikes with the YPG and YPJ.

However, this tactical alliance was always limited. The West has refused blocked the YPG and YPJ from securing arms.

In the wake of Turkey being welcomed into the US-led coalition there is again talk of establishing a “safe haven”.

Significantly, this buffer zone is proposed to be in the area between Efrin and Kobane that the YPJ, YPG and their allies are on the verge of capturing from ISIS.

The alliance between Turkey and the US reveals the hollowness of US rhetoric. The serious resistance to ISIS is coming from the revolutionary, democratic and socialist forces of the Kurdish liberation movement — now under attack from the US's Turkish allies.

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