Kurdistan Vs. Syria: A Conflict For Autonomy

Kurdish-led forces raided a prison seized by Islamic State fighters in northeastern Syria and forced at least 300 militants to surrender. The Islamic State seized this prison in an attempt to free thousands of fellow jihadists and is using hundreds of imprisoned boys as human shields. Around 180 inmates and militants, along with 27 members of security forces, have died since the Islamic State fighters attacked the jail. UNICEF called for the evacuation of the nearly 850 children held in the complex, stating that their safety was in immediate danger. Thousands of families fled the area when security services raided the surrounding neighborhood to search for freed prisoners.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says the SDF holds a total of about 12,000 men and boys suspected of Islamic State affiliation, including 2,000-4,000 foreigners from almost 50 countries. Very sensitive developments are taking place regarding the end of the mutiny of Daesh (Islamic State) mercenaries, as said by SDF spokesman Farhad Shami. However, he failed to go into further details on their planned operation. According to the Pentagon, American ground forces have joined the fight to retake control of the prison holding hundreds of boys hostage, becoming the biggest known American engagement with ISIS since its so-called fall three years ago. ISIS has threatened to kill the boys if the coalition continues its assault on the prison.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is spearheaded by the Kurdish militia. The organization said that militants were still holed up in other buildings and there are plans to clear the rest of the detention complex in Hasaka city. The jail is the largest among several publicly known prisons where SDF holds suspected militants and other detainees in overcrowded and inhumane conditions. Many of the men, women, and children with alleged connections to ISIS who are held in these Syrian prisons have not been charged with definitive crimes but remain in solitary confinement. This tragedy highlights a drastic need for international action. The conflict has become politicized and is rooted in historical violence and hatred; the cycle needs to be broken with collective acts that include interstate agreements.

The Syrian civil war, also known as the Rojava conflict, named for the northern region in upheaval, began about a decade ago. It is a political and military demonstration for the establishment of an autonomous region in northeastern Syria for the Kurd population. Once an ally of the United States, the Kurdish forces partnered with the government of Damascus, backed by Russia, when President Trump called for the withdrawal of the American military from the region in 2019. America’s departure left the Kurds alone in the fight against the Islamic State. It also created space for Iranian and Russian influence in the region. These two powers support the Syrian government and hope to maintain some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict.

Elders of the region say support for the Islamic State has grown with rising local resentment against the Kurdish-led administration accused of discriminating against the majority Arab population it rules. Many locals reject the Kurdish policy of forcible conscription. Syria’s conflict gives its Kurdish population an opening to repair historic wrongdoings and push for more autonomy. But, the Kurds are facing internal divisions, poor ties with the non-Kurdish opposition, and regional rivalries; their goal should be to articulate clear, unified, and achievable demands.