Kurds gain control over much of northern Syria

Special to

NICOSIA — The regime of President Bashar Assad, busy fighting Sunni
rebels, has allowed Kurds to control much of northern Syria.

Western diplomats said Kurdish militias were patrolling communities as
well as areas near the Syrian border with Turkey. They said the militias
were bolstered by Kurdish fighters from neighboring Iraq and Turkey, many of
them linked to the Kurdish Workers Party.

Syrian Kurds hold their rifles as they flash the sign for victory in the Kurdish town of Jinderes, near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. /Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

“The Kurds don’t like Assad, but they are not joining the Sunni revolt
because they see this as a worse alternative,” a diplomat said.

The diplomats said Kurdish political parties have been cooperating in
ensuring security of their communities in northern Syria. Over the last six months, Kurdish militias were said to have been operating around Qamishli as well as the suburbs of Aleppo, now under assault by the Syrian military.

The leading element in Kurdish control was identified as the Kurdish
Democratic Union Party, or PYD. The diplomats said PYD formed an alliance with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq as well as elements of the PKK.

“PYD has the weapons and the money to stop any Kurdish rival,” another diplomat said.

The Kurdish militias have raised concern in Turkey. On July 26, Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Erdogan raised the prospect that the Turkish military
would retaliate against attacks from suspected PKK strongholds in Syria.

Erdogan said Assad entrusted the Kurds with protecting the interests of
his regime. The Turkish prime minister said Kurdish fighters were allowed to
control five northern Syrian provinces. Over the last week, Turkey has
bolstered its military presence along the border with Syria.

“In the course of the past year, as relations with Turkey became
strained, the Syrian administration took steps to strengthen the PKK,”
Turkish analyst Nuh Yilmaz said.

But the diplomats said neither Assad nor any Sunni successor would
permit Kurdish control over northern Syria. They said the Kurds would come
under heavy military pressure to cede their newly-gained territory once the situation
stabilizes in the rest of Syria.

“The Kurds have taken what they can for the moment, but nobody has
illusions that they will be allowed to hold on to their gains for long,” the
second diplomat said.

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