Mideast musical chairs: Who will get a seat at the negotiating table?

For weeks now the world’s eyes have been focused on the Syrian town of Kobane

Mohamed Chebarro

Published: Updated:

For weeks now the world’s eyes have been focused on the Syrian town of Kobane. Aerial strikes by coalition aircrafts and a front of Kurdish fighters on the ground have so far failed to stem the ISIS threat.

Whether ISIS captures the town or fails to do so is not the issue, however. It is clear that the situation in Kobane has pushed the coalition partners into Syria, Iraq and the wider Middle Eastern puzzle, in the this case namely the Kurdish part of the puzzle.

The Kurds, it seems, are also divided along three broad lines: One of which is the Talabani clan and its National Union for Kurdistan Party leans towards Iraq’s current government that is strongly connected to Iran and Syria. Since the illness of its party leader, Iraq’s former president Jalal Talbani, the party has been seeking to reposition itself at the center of domestic post-Saddam Iraqi and Kurdish issues. The Talabani party, as it is known, also positioned itself closer to Baghdad’s Shiite dominated government and Iran as well the Assad regime in Damascus by default. The party is seen as being more belligerent toward Turkey and its government.

In this fight, it seems that the Turks fear a prolonged war of attrition against the PYD and PKK

Mohamed Chebarro

Second is the Barazani clan and its Democratic Union of Kurdistan. It is mostly anti-Assad and sees sense in Turkey’s calls for the departure of the Assad government. Traditionally, the president of the autonomous Kurdish area of Iraq, Messoud Barzani, and his party dance to the tune of Ankara’s government. Barzani has encouraged Kurdish Syrians to participate in the Syrian National Coalition to remove Assad.

The PYD, a Syrian splinter group from the banned PKK party, which represents some Syrian Kurds is seen as a puppet of Damascus by the Syrian opposition. Prior to the deployment of ISIS in northern Syria close to the Turkish border, the PYD was quick to declare swathes of the area autonomous and managed to loosely govern localities and border crossings. Some believed that this was also a drive by the PYD to carve themselves a place in any future peace settlement in Syria, as the third player after the Syrian National Coalition and what is left of Assad’s regime. The PYD are the cousins of the PKK, the Kurdish guerrillas led by Abdalla Ocalan who is now in prison in Turkey and is in the middle of a stalled peace process with Ankara’s government.

Turkish aims

To rescue Kobane, that was once controlled by Kurdish Militias loyal to PYD, would be counterproductive to Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his prime minister and foreign minister repeatedly declared that the coalition should be committed to an end game that sees the departure of Assad prior to investing in a fully-fledged fight against ISIS.

Erdogan is clearly aware of the trap his troops and country could be entering. Turkish forces, if they finally jump in to rescue Kobane, will not only be fighting ISIS in northern Syria, but also nationalist Syrians as well as Assad’s agents and allies in whatever shape or form they will come in.

In this fight, the Turks fear a prolonged war of attrition against the PYD and PKK, a mini war that could spill quickly into south eastern Turkey, a land where the minority Kurdish Turks are spread out.

For as long as the fight is an aerial campaign, all coalition members are winning in as far as they are appeasing nervous public opinion and an international community bent on fulfilling its moral duty at least in some areas of the world.

The moment boots are deployed on the ground, the game will change unless the coalition manages to draw a broad plan securing a common acceptable common denominator of agreement between all interested parties.

This is where it is hard to put together all the pieces of the puzzle to accommodate the fears and aspirations of all players in the region.

The situation today is like a game of musical chairs. The players are here, the music is playing clearly, yet we don’t know the number of chairs that must be deployed. In the case of Kobane, President Erdogan of Turkey is trying hard not to become the fall guy. The Kurds of Syria too are playing for a place around the negotiating table for a new pluralist Syria.

In the game of musical chairs there are winners and losers of course, and in the case of the Coalition the Kurds, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, there will be losers too. There are many players and a limited number of chairs at the table to discuss peace in a new Middle East and its many puzzles.


Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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