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Kurd-Turk distrust fuels Kobani stalemate

Kurdish fighters take a break last month in Kobani, Syria. A stalemate has emerged between them and the militant Islamic State group in Kobani. (Associated Press)
Kurdish fighters take a break last month in Kobani, Syria. A stalemate has emerged between them and the militant Islamic State group in Kobani. (Associated Press)
Mitchell Prothero Tribune News Service

SURUC, Turkey – The four-month siege of the Syrian city of Kobani by the Islamic State has settled into a bloody stalemate, with its mostly Kurdish defenders, backed by U.S. air power, maintaining control over a several-square-mile area adjacent to the Turkish border but unable to retake the estimated half of the city the extremists occupy.

That’s turned the battle for the town not just into a fight between the Kurds and the Islamic State but into a propaganda skirmish between the Turks and the Kurds – both of whom supposedly oppose the Islamic State but who are also on opposite sides of a three-decade war that pits the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known as the PKK, against the Turkish government over Kurdish cultural rights.

Who’s to blame for the inability to rout the Islamic State from Kobani is a topic of bitter debate: The Turkish government, which controls access to the Kurdish lines and has demanded that the Kurdish militias give up the dream of an autonomous Kurdish entity; or the Kurds, who have steadfastly refused to accept too much assistance from groups they believe are likely to do Turkey’s bidding.

“The problem is not the Turks but the refusal of the Kurds to allow fighters from the FSA into Kobani to liberate it from ISIS,” said Abu Mohammed al-Arakwi, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army rebel coalition, using a common acronym to refer to the Islamic State. The FSA operates a control room in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city about 30 miles north of here. “The Kurds will not allow the FSA to contribute properly because they are afraid they will lose their autonomy.”

Baran Misko, a Kurdish journalist inside Kobani with close ties to the local YPG militia, offers the Kurdish position, which portrays the Turks as strategic allies of the Islamic State and the FSA as an extension of Turkey.

“The FSA works for Turkish intelligence and is only interested in reducing the Kurds and covering up the relationship between Turkey and ISIS,” he said. “The Turks are working with ISIS to make sure that the Kurds don’t start to establish their own state. They refuse to allow the PKK and YPG to enter to liberate Kobani because they want the FSA to do it because the FSA will control the Kurdish people.”

Kurds and Turks offer conflicting versions of recent border incidents to show the other’s duplicity.

The first was a Kurdish claim that Turkey allowed the Islamic State to launch suicide bombs from Turkish territory on the Mursitpinar border crossing that links Kobani with its Turkish counterpart, Suruc.

But eyewitnesses said that version is untrue.

Equally untrue are Turkish claims that the YPG had invaded Turkish territory on Tuesday, the second time, the Turks said, that the Kurds had tried to provoke an incident on behalf of the PKK. What in fact took place was a headlong retreat by a dozen Kurdish fighters who, pushed from their positions by the Islamic State, had fled into Turkey.

“They were fighting and were forced to escape through the grain silos on the Turkish side of the fence to keep from being slaughtered,” said Misko.

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