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Middle East Amp North Africa
Iraqi Kurd fighters enter Kobani
From the Financial Times of Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:03:02 GMT
Kurds in Turkey greet peshmerga convoys at Viransehir, in Sanliurfa, on October 29, 2014. Heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters were on their way by land and by air, joining militias defending the Syrian border town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, from the Islamic State group after setting off from Iraq. Kobane's Kurdish defenders have been eagerly waiting for the peshmerga since Turkey last week said it would allow them to traverse its territory to enter the town. AFP PHOTO/ BULENT KILICBULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images©AFP

Turkish Kurds greet the peshmerga convoy as it makes its way toward the border

The first Kurdish peshmerga support units from Iraq have crossed into the Syrian border city of Kobani, the first time western-backed foreign forces have joined the fight on the ground in Syria’s civil war.

The small fighting force from Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region will help Kurds in Syria battle a fierce offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis. The jihadi group’s lightning advance across Syrian and Iraqi territory pushed the US to form an international coalition against it.

The ten peshmerga fighters who entered Kobani on Thursday were an advance group of military experts who will plan the deployment of the remaining troops, according to officials from the dominant Kurdish party in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (known by its Kurdish abbreviation PYD).

“They have to check the situation with our fighters first to prepare the way for the entrance for the rest of peshmerga. We have to plan where to put the fighters and the artillery,” said PYD official Idris Nissan. “There’s a lot of shelling – after all, the city is under attack. So we have to be careful how we bring people in.”

It is not clear how effective the 150-man force will be in the street battles raging in the besieged city. The units will mainly provide artillery cover for lightly armed local fighters in the hope it can help them push back Isis, which holds about half of Kobani.

“It’s not really about these (peshmerga) fighters to us. It is the hope their presence is the key to greater international support with arms,” Mr Nisan said.

Pictures have been sent from Kobani by Kurdish activists of men said to be the ten peshmerga fighters, wearing camouflage, helmets and bullet belts meeting local militants who came to greet them. Several of them carried what appeared to be rolled up maps.

“They are up-to-date maps from the coalition of all parts of the city, as well as all the Isis positions they have found in the city,” said media activist Mecid Mohammed.

A day earlier, Turkish Kurds jubilantly greeted a peshmerga convoy as it made its way from the country’s frontier with Iraq towards the border with Kobani, where the fighters linked up with other peshmerga forces which had flown into Turkey.

In an indication of Turkey’s deep ambivalence about the Kurdish fighters, both pro-government and opposition newspapers criticised what they called a “show” and a “parade” in which supporters waved Iraqi Kurdish flags and those of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which fought a bloody 30 year war for self-rule against the state.

The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region Masoud Barzani said in a Twitter post he was willing to send in more peshmerga forces, but said the offer had been declined by the PYD, which he said only wanted artillery support.

The PYD, which dominates a Kurdish enclave carved out by Kurdish militants during Syria’s three-year war, has had shaky relations with Mr Barzani and his ruling party in Iraq.

However, the relationship has warmed recently and alliances have been built as Kurds in both Syria and Iraq face attacks by Isis. In August, forces loyal to both the PYD and PKK helped the peshmerga fight Isis advances.

The stateless Kurds, who are spread across Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, hope such moves are a sign of a more unified regional Kurdish bloc in the future.

The US-led coalition against Isis, desperate for an effective ally on the ground in Syria, has pushed for a more unified Kurdish position as a condition of support for the PYD. Its co-ordinated air strikes and even a weapons drop to the PYD-backed forces of Kobani marked a shift in US policy towards a group it has long kept it at arms-length because of its ties to the PKK, a group blacklisted by Turkey, the US and Europe.

Turkey has faced international criticism for its reluctance to do more to defend Kobani against Isis. Ankara only announced its willingness to allow the peshmerga to come to the town’s relief after the US airdropped weapons, a step President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to characterise as a mistake.

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Kurdish activists and one peshmerga commander, who asked not to be named, say Turkey has slowed the peshmerga’s advance, checking all the weaponry going into Kobani to ensure it matches what comes out. Turkey has insisted that no arms should stay with the PYD.

Some Turkish officials argue that the PYD wants to limit the deployment of both peshmerga and Syrian rebel fighters for fear of diluting its own influence in the Kurdish parts of northern Syria, which the Kurds now call “Rojava.”

They point to the less enthusiastic backing by Kurds of dozens of Arab fighters from the Syrian opposition, who have been fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad for more than three years.

Other Syrian rebels have also been entering Kobani in small groups of 10 to 12 in recent days. But their arrival was treated with less fanfare and more suspicion by Syria’s Kurdish minority, who see the country’s Arab majority as hostile to their desire for greater recognition in a future state.

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