Why the victory in Kobane matters

Aron Lund writes: It is true that Kobane has been turned into a city of ruins. And enemies of the Islamic State should not get carried away by what happened there, because the success in Kobane will not be easy to repeat elsewhere.

Even though the YPG has proven itself a strong fighting force and a useful on-the-ground partner for the U.S. Air Force, it is at heart an ethnic self-defense militia — not an all-purpose tool for Western intervention in the Syrian war. The YPG’s effectiveness as an offensive force beyond Kobane will be sharply limited by Turkey’s hostility and refusal to provide aid across the border.

In addition, the secular-leftist YPG’s poor relations with most of the surrounding Arab countryside and the Sunni-Islamist mainstream of the Arab opposition make it singularly ill-suited to lead an advance deeper into Syria.

Even as Kurdish refugees are beginning to trickle back into Kobane, there are reports of Arab civilians fleeing the YPG’s advance further south. Many are just trying to get out of the way of the war, but some surely fear that the victorious Kurds will now avenge themselves on Arab villages and families suspected of harboring pro-jihadi sympathies. That’s exactly what is now happening in northern Iraq, where the Islamic State had recruited local Sunni forces in a campaign of genocidal violence against the Yazidi religious minority. Having beaten back the jihadis, some Yazidis are now returning to loot and burn Sunni villages.

The Islamic State is of course exploiting Arab-Kurdish tension around Kobane as well, in the hope of rallying Arab locals to its side. The jihadis are said to have ordered military-age Arab males in the area to stay and help them defend their villages against the YPG, while allowing women and children to flee south to Raqqa. The deeper the YPG pushes into Arab territory, the uglier the ethnic warfare is likely to get.

Well aware of these limitations, the YPG leaders will certainly want to reclaim the rest of the Kurdish territory lost in September. If they succeed, they will perhaps also try to carve out a bit of a buffer zone to further fortify the enclave. But then, they’re in all likelihood just going to dig down and seek to rebuild Kobane. [Continue reading…]

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