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Under fire from Turkey and Iran in recent days, the Kurds are once again being targeted in Syria and Iraq. Why are they in the sights of these two Middle Eastern powers? Decryption with Adel Bakawan, director of the French Center for Research on Iraq (Cfri) and specialist in Kurdish issues.
Turkey launched Operation “Sword Claw” on Sunday, November 20. On Tuesday, it struck several targets in areas controlled by Kurdish forces in Syria after new threats from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch a ground operation “soon” in the north of the country. For several months now, Ankara – which has attributed the murderous attack perpetrated on November 13 in Istanbul to Kurdish fighters from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the YPG (People’s Protection Units) – has been coveting the symbolic city of Kobané. , taken over from the jihadists of the Islamic State organization.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is also bombing Iraqi Kurdistan. She accuses Kurdish movements of being at the origin of the national protest triggered by the death of the young Kurdish Mahsa Amini, on September 16, after her arrest by the morality police for an ill-fitting veil.
To understand what is happening in the region and the reasons behind this crossfire in Syria and Iraq, France 24 interviewed Adel Bakawan, director of the French Center for Research on Iraq (Cfri) and specialist in Kurdish issues.
France 24 : The Kurds are under the crossfire of Turkey and Iran, respectively in Syria and Iraq. Did the two countries coordinate to hit their respective targets ?
Adel Bakawan: There is no proof of coordination between Ankara and Tehran. On the other hand, this is not completely excluded. It is even logically and rationally conceivable to manage, each in their own way, the Kurdish question. We can only note that these two regional powers are going through critical periods. In Turkey, a country plagued by a serious economic crisis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in bad shape as the June 2023 presidential election looms. The Turkish president is in great difficulty politically and at the heart of chronic diplomatic tensions with Westerners. The Islamic Republic is in the grip of a long-lasting protest movement and accuses Washington of stirring it up. However, knowing that these two countries see their Kurdish population as a danger for territorial unity, the Kurd is the ideal scapegoat they currently need.
Why is the Turkish President focusing on the Kurds of Syria? ?
The closer we get to the presidential election, the more Recep Tayyip Erdogan will need to unite his camp by seeking to designate an enemy who threatens the country’s security, national cohesion and stability. This allows him to present himself as the savior and protector of the nation to his electorate and to make people forget his poor economic record. This is why he named a culprit: the Kurds of Syria, whose territory is managed by the local branch of the PKK, a movement classified as a terrorist organization by Ankara but also by Washington and the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan also exploits the rejection of the three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which is increasingly expressed in broad daylight within Turkish society. This question is an electoral issue on which he intends to capitalize. In particular by fulfilling his promise, well before the Istanbul attack which he uses to justify his action in Syria, to create a buffer zone between his country and the various territories controlled in northern Syria by Kurdish groups. By launching a ground operation on the symbolic city of Kobané, it will be able to afford territorial continuity between the areas already occupied by the Turkish army and its allies, and to install Syrian refugees in the buffer zone, in place of the Kurds. present on its soil.
And what about Iran ? What is the objective pursued by the Islamic Republic in targeting Kurdish targets in Iraq ?
In Iran, despite the ferocity of the repression, the authorities have been unable to quell the protest movement underway since September 16. Tehran has however tried to present it as a separatist agitation localized in the territories inhabited by the Kurdish minority, in order to ethnicize the protest. The Pasdaran have even attempted to sectarianize these events, describing them as a Sunni movement supported by Saudi Arabia, with the support of Westerners and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which aims to destabilize Shiite Iran . All these attempts at diversion have failed because the protest is national. It is not only visible in Kurdish and Baluch towns. And the Iranians who take part in it have erected the young Kurdish victim Mahsa Amini as a national symbol of their struggle and a repository of the country’s youth.
This strategy of diversion on an internal scale having not worked, the Islamic Republic is looking towards its enemies located outside the borders: Saudi Arabia, Israel and the KRG. Unsurprisingly, it is easier to strike in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the camps of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of Iran (PDKI) and Komala, the League of Kurdish Revolutionaries, a group of the radical Iranian Kurdish left, accused by Tehran of stirring up protest in Iran. In recent days, Tehran has campaigned with the new government in place in Baghdad, which is dominated by pro-Iranian currents, to put pressure on the KRG to drive out the PDKI and Komola from Iraq. And cynically, the Iranians know perfectly well that they can target them without triggering large waves of protest, neither in Baghdad nor on the side of the West.