While the north-east of the Syria had until recently enjoyed a tense quiet, the exodus of 20,000 refugees crossing over into Iraq indicates that Syrian-Kurdistan’s quiet days are over. After the capture in July of the Ras al ‘ain border crossing by members of the Kurdish PYD, fighting between Kurdish militia rogue bands of Sunni Jihadis appears to have spiralled out of control.
As with any catastrophe, however, this one too offers political promise. This time the opportunity is for the president of the KRG, Masoud Barzani. Within a regional political landscape that is already difficult to navigate, that of the Kurdish quarter is particularly thorny. Very broadly, on the one hand there is the more militant party of the PKK whose deadly campaigns have given it a bad rep in Turkey despite its recent dovish stance. On the other hand there are more moderate players of Barzani’s KNC (Kurdish National Council). Barzani’s play has been to try to broker a deal with the Syrian PYD in order to get the loose confederation of Kurdish groups that make up the KNC to cooperate. This would of course have the added benefit of strengthening his position vis à vis the PKK. The problem in doing this is that the PYD is traditionally more strongly associated with the PKK.
If there ever were a time to push this agenda it is now. By offering protection to the PYD and to Kurds living in Syria Barzani will be able to sideline the PKK while not offending Ankara too much with what would be a very sizeable extension of his influence. First of all, since the PKK is currently negotiating with the Turkish government, it will not be eager to start fighting a war right on its border if it wants to give these negotiations a serious chance. At the same time Turkey will quite probably endorse a move by Barzani for the simple reason that it considers his rule in the area less detrimental to its own interests than either control by Assad or a newly established Al-Qaeda colony. Barzani’s threat of direct intervention, then, should not come as a surprise.