Tensions continue simmering in the town of Khanesor, north of Mount Shingal, at the border between Iraq in the northwest and Syria at the northeast.
A protest by the Yazidi community against the deployment of peshmerga forces affiliated to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Khanesor on Tuesday has resulted in the death of at least one civilian and the injury of 10 others.
Clashes first broke out between KDP affiliated Rojava Peshmerga forces and PKK affiliated Yazidi Shingal Resistance Units’ (YBS) fighters on 3 March when a group of 500 ‘Roj-pesh’ attempted to enter Khanesor.
The group was blocked by the YBS, a 1,500 strong Yazidi force which has set up an autonomous administration in Shingal. The YBS has argued that the ‘Roj-pesh’ is supported by the KDP and Turkey and was sent to occupy the area.
The Peshmerga Ministry, however, called the ‘Roj-pesh’ a “legitimate and legal force operating under the command of KRG” and added that they could be deployed in any area of the Kurdish region without permission.
Meanwhile the PKK has labelled the ‘Roj-pesh’, “a gang group”, and claimed it is constituted partially of Turkish agents and Islamist militants who want to occupy the region and oust them to “complete the Yazidi genocide” and “suffocate the Rojava revolution.”
A Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) commander on Tuesday blamed clashes on Turkey and said the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani was implementing Ankara’s policies.
Speaking to Kom News from Khanasor via telephone, PKK commander Rauf Mazgirt said the deployment of peshmerga forces was part of a greater plan by Turkey.
“The Yazidi YBS force and other Yazidi forces under the command of Peshmerga Ministry [Ezidkhan] in Khanasor and Shingal have no problems with each other. They are defending the area together. However this group [Roj-pesh] brought here by the KDP on Turkey’s orders is an alien force that has enmity towards the Yazidis and Kurds in general.”
The militant commander claimed that the Rojava Peshmergas, which he called a “gang group”, is formed of “Turkmen from Tel Afar, Arabs from Shingal, Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) agents and bandits from Rojava, but doesn’t include any Yazidis.”
“This force has been deployed between Khanasor and Snuny (Sinune), which is a liberated area where there is no Daesh (Islamic State) presence. It is an area under the control of the YBS and where the border gate to Rojava is situated. They [Roj-pesh] want to occupy this area and encircle Rojava to put pressure on the autonomous administration,” Mazgirt said.
“The KDP controls a large part of the border between the Kurdistan region and Rojava, from Zakho to Shingal. But it wants to take this last gate, which opens to Hasakah (in northeast Syria), in order to blockade Rojava completely and force it to bend to its will.”
The commander added that Ankara was building a wall along the country’s border with Syria while the KDP had deployed forces and dug ditches from the Silopi [southeast Turkey] border to Rabia [northwest Iraq] with the rest of the passages controlled by IS, leaving only the crossing to Hasakah open.
“The YBS is the dominant force in Shingal and there is little PKK presence outside of the front line against IS near the centre of Shingal. But by ousting PKK forces the KDP thinks it can render the YBS obsolete and replace it with this gang group to completely isolate the Rojava revolution. This is why Shingal is of strategic importance.”
Mazgirt responded to claims that the Rojava Peshmergas were being prepared by Turkey, the KDP and US to enter Syria and possibly take part in the Raqqa operation saying this would only weaken the operation to capture the IS-stronghold.
“The YPG has said that if this group [Roj-Pesh] enters Rojava it will result in clashes. If this happens then the Raqqa operation will be weakened. The US has decided on conducting the [Wrath of Euphrates] operation with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The US didn’t choose Turkey, and this has pushed them into a corner. Turkey is forcing this gang group into Rojava to fight the YPG so it can say ‘look the YPG can’t take Raqqa’. This will afford Turkey the opportunity to make a deal with the US in which Turkish forces lead the Raqqa operation.”
The PKK commander added that this would give Turkey a say over Syria’s future and mean an end to the cantonal system in northern Syria’s autonomous administration and the “suffocation of the Rojava revolution.”
“Turkey wants to replace the administration in Rojava with the ENKS (Kurdish National Council, KNC), the political wing of the gang group and is providing them -through the MIT- with training, weapons and intelligence. They [KNC] are the KDP organisation in Rojava and are being used by Turkey to weaken and divide the autonomous administration.”
Mazgirt concluded by saying that other political forces in the region, apart from the KDP, did not have a problem with PKK presence in the area, including Baghdad and Kurdish parties, and that the tensions were only with the KDP.
“This is because the KDP has lost all initiative and is carrying out Turkey’s policies. They are working together now. Turkey has deployed forces and heavy artillery from Hakurke-Hinere to Diyana-Qandil [Turkey-Iraq border] while the KDP has deployed extra forces in Makhmour and Shingal. The aim of the Turkish government, apart from those in regards to Rojava and Shingal, is also to eliminate our forces in the region and gain the initiative for the upcoming referendum by winning the nationalist vote in Turkey.”
The US has also weighed into the argument by saying it views the PKK as a “terrorist organisation” and wants it to withdraw from Shingal. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who previously said they would use force to remove the PKK from the area, once again called on withdrawal on Monday saying the group’s presence was preventing security and reconstruction.
The PKK, which is outlawed by the EU and US, operates under the umbrella of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), a broad group of organisations that includes the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as well as dozens of other organisations in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. It advocates what it calls ‘democratic confederalism’, a system developed by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, as a solution to the Kurdish question in the Middle East.