ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has expressed his concern for the future of Syrian Kurds, who lead a military alliance that recently expelled Islamic State (IS) militants from one of the group’s last major strongholds, Hajin.
Barzani made the statement during a meeting in Erbil on Monday with a US delegation headed by Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition against IS, Brett McGurk. US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman, US State Department advisor Ambassador William Roebuck, and Consul General to Erbil Steve Fagin were also present.
“During the meeting… the guest delegation briefed President Barzani on the political and security developments in Syria and the battlefield conditions of the fight against [IS] terrorists,” a statement from Barzani’s office said.
It added that the US delegation laid out Washington’s Syria strategy for Barzani.
On Sept. 11, the SDF and US-led coalition announced the start of their operation to take Hajin, located along the banks of the Euphrates River, in addition to the surrounding villages of Baghoz, Susah, and Shafa’a. The SDF gained control of Baghoz and Susah in the final week of October.
In late October, the SDF announced it had decided to temporarily halt its campaign against the extremist group until Turkey ended its attacks on Syria’s northeast. For several days, Turkish cross-border shelling targeted the SDF-affiliated forces’ positions in Kobani and Tal Abyad.
Following intense discussions and a US announcement to set up observations posts in November, the attacks stopped. As a result, the General Command of the SDF announced on Nov. 11 that it would resume military operations against IS in the region.
So far, despite Turkish threats since Wednesday to invade the SDF-held areas near Tal Abyad and Manbij, the SDF is continuing its campaign against IS and there were no signs of Turkish cross-border attacks or shelling.
With aerial support from the US-led anti-IS coalition, the process of liberating the town of Hajin is nearly at its end for the SDF. The group’s fighters recently erected their flag atop a building in the town to mark their victories.
At the background of these advances, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened an invasion on Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), as Ankara maintains that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), seen by the country along with the US and EU as a terrorist organization.
In response to Erdogan’s threats, the Pentagon and US State Department both stated: “We would find any such actions unacceptable,” and “unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern.”
With the military defeat of IS seemingly close in Syria, the fate of US friendly forces therein seems to be in question as President Bashar al-Assad continues to retake the country piece by piece eastward and Turkey threatens to mobilize forces southward.
From his side during the meeting with the US delegation, Barzani expressed “his concern about the future of the Kurdish people in Syria,” and offered his suggestions on ways forward “to resolve the issues and overcome the challenges [the people] face.”
West of the war-torn country, there is an ongoing deadlock in Iraq’s political process as Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi continues to struggle to complete his cabinet as leading factions differ on key ministerial portfolios of defense and interior.
The two sides exchanged views on “steps to complete the formation of the new Iraqi government.”
“The results of President Barzani’s visit to Baghdad in November, and the visit of the US Secretary of Energy to the Kurdistan Region, were other topics of discussion during the meeting,” the statement concluded.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie and Karzan Sulaivany