In the view of the United States State Department some armed Kurdish groups simply constitute paramilitary forces (consider the Iraqi Peshmerga) and others terrorist groups, the most salient example being of course the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) which has been on the U.S. list of designated terrorist entities since 1997.
Indeed the two primary political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), were, remarkably, designated as Tier-3 terrorist groups. And even though the U.S. has worked with them throughout the years that classification was only revoked late last year!
This scribbler has wondered that given the fact the primary Kurdish political party in Syria Kurdistan, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) who make up the backbone of the Syrian Kurdish regions fighting force, the YPG, who have been fighting Islamic State tooth-and-nail in defense of Kobani and also happens to be a close PKK affiliate, whether or not that in turn means that any westerner fighting in their ranks is technically a “terrorist”, or is, in a legal sense, aiding and abetting what amounts to a close affiliate of a United States, and European Union among others, designated terrorist group by fighting with them? Even if just for the ad-hoc purpose of confronting Islamic State terrorists?
The U.S. has dropped some small arms to the Kurdish YPG defenders in Kobani and bombed the Islamic State forces who have tried to overrun their positions there. But nothing overly substantial as the U.S. still seems highly reluctant about revising or reevaluating its designating of the PKK as a terrorist group. Nevertheless, in the fight against the Islamic State the PKK is showing itself as quite a formidable militia.
That group has been using Northern Iraq as a safe haven of sorts for years now as part of its campaign against the Turkish state. A campaign which spanned from 1984 until peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government were initiated in 2013. Turkish Air Force F-16 jets have frequently launched air strikes into Iraqi Kurdistan to bomb PKK positions in the mountains there.
Now the PKK are coming out and onto the front-line in the fight against Islamic State in that region where they essentially have a de-facto military alliance with the Peshmerga. And, as I said, their Kurdish affiliates in Syria are the ones holding the line there against Islamic State. Not only are the Peshmerga fighting alongside the PKK to retake Iraqi Kurdish territory Islamic State seized but they have also sent some fighters into Syria to help bolster the YPG’s defense of Syrian Kurdish territory. It’s also no secret that the Syrian Kurds have crossed into Iraq to help their Iraqi Kurdish brethren liberate places like Sinjar from Islamic State.
So we have reality on the ground whereby a de-facto alliance between these two armed entities is concerned. The Kurdistan Communities Union (the KCK) is an umbrella group which consists of the PKK and affiliates such as the aforementioned PYD. It issued a statement recently insisting that the circumstances dictate that the necessity of a joint Peshmerga-PKK fighting force is now “a must”.
This is interesting. While it doesn’t at all mean that such an intertwining of fighting forces will transpire these statements do come as we see more and more cross-border Kurdish solidarity. BBC News encapsulated this feeling in a recent report about the funeral of a Turkish Kurdish (many Kurdish nationalists find labels like ‘Iraqi Kurd’ or ‘Syrian Kurd’ insulting, they see themselves as ‘Kurdish Kurds’ if anything, who knows perhaps they will all be referred to as Kurdistani’s if they do get their own independent nation state in the future) girl named Gulsum. She had joined the PKK and was killed fending off Islamic State attacks on Kobani. Her father was quoted proclaiming at her funeral that, “Kurdish fighters from all parts of Kurdistan went to Kobani. This means that the Kurds are coming together.”
Indeed Islamic State’s vicious assault on their communities in both Iraq and Syria have brought these Kurdish groups together. Regardless of whether it was a result of battlefield expediency or a feeling of fraternal unity in the face of a common enemy this is indeed the case.
What will all this mean for the PKK in the long run? Will political expediency and the fact it has proved effective in the fight against the Islamic State group (which, even if you do consider the PKK to be a terrorist group, is certainly the “greater evil” in this fight) lead to the United States to reconsider its branding of the PKK as a terrorist organization?
It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented when you recall that the exiled Iranian group the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) was on that very same U.S. terror list for quite some time but was removed in 2012 under the pretext that the group had cooperated with the U.S. substantially and had been disarmed. Perhaps if they broker a successful comprehensive peace agreement with Turkey coupled with continued advances on the battlefield against Islamic State will see to the PKK go down a not too dissimilar path.
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