Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Iraqi Kurds Hope Syrian Kin Follow Example

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Iraqi Kurds Hope Syrian Kin Follow Example

Article excerpt

The semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has been providing aid and refuge to Syrian Kurds, who are hoping to emerge from the war in their country with a level of autonomy.

As war rages across the border in Syria, the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has emerged as a lead backer of Syrian Kurds as it navigates turbulent geopolitical waters, hoping another empowered Kurdish entity like itself will emerge after the Syrian regime falls.

Iraqi Kurdistan's embrace of the Syrian Kurdish cause has expanded its regional clout and may promote the Kurdish nationalist credentials of its president, Massoud Barzani, among the millions of Kurds spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi Kurdistan has given humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees, played host to leading Syrian Kurdish political groups, and trained hundreds of Kurdish defectors from the Syrian Army.

Northeast Syria, where many Kurds live, has stayed largely quiet compared with the rest of the country. With the Syrian Army busy in other parts of the country, Kurdish groups have taken over security in parts of the region. The crisis presents a historic opportunity for Syria's 2 million Kurds, who have long suffered state-sponsored discrimination. Syria's Kurds live near the Iraqi and Turkish borders and in major cities across the country.

The leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan, which in the last decade has gained an unprecedented amount of autonomy from Baghdad, hope Syrians will emulate what they see as their success with federalism. The northern Iraqi region boasts its own security force, social services and diplomatic missions around the world, though tensions with the central Iraqi government remain high over oil, territory and security disputes.

"We want the Kurds to have a role in formulating a future Syria," said Hamid Darbandi, a deputy minister in charge of the Syria portfolio for Kurdistan's president. While Syrian Kurdish leaders say the Iraqi Kurds have not pressured them to choose a certain system of governing, the Kurdish Regional Government has made clear it favors applying its own experience to Syria. Federalism gives Syrians "the opportunity to stay together," Mr. Darbandi said.

With scars of inter-Kurdish fighting in northern Iraq still fresh and signs of the same emerging in Syria, in July Mr. Barzani pushed for the formation of the Supreme Kurdish Committee, a power-sharing body that consists of the two leading Syrian Kurdish political groups. In doing so, Mr. Barzani raised Turkey's ire by accepting the participation of the Democratic Union Party, or P.Y.D., a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the P.K.K. For decades the P.K.K. has waged an insurgency against Turkey, which along with the United States and European Union considers it a terrorist organization.

The P.Y.D. holds the most military clout and popular support on the ground, analysts say, and Mr. Barzani showed pragmatism in bringing it to the table even though his party's views align more with the other half of the Supreme Kurdish Committee, a coalition of groups known as the Kurdistan National Council, or K.N.C.

Over the last several years, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have built flourishing economic and diplomatic relations, despite Turkey's strained relations with its own large Kurdish population. Energy-starved Turkey aims to benefit from an oil boom in Kurdistan, while the Kurdish Regional Government has used trade with Turkey to increase its economic independence from Baghdad. …

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