Arriving in Baghdad, it is clear who has won the Iraq War. The Shia are in charge. Tower-sized, luminous green posters of Husseyn and Ali define the landscape, draped from Brezhnevite tower blocks, augmented by portraits of martyred fighters in identical uniforms, with a prominent place for Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, the Shia cleric executed by the Saudis. These are reproduced in miniature on every soldier’s hut at checkpoints throughout the city. Tall concrete barricades confine the defeated Sunni minority to their sealed areas. The Iranian-backed Hashti Shabi brigades made light work of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Nineveh, after the Kurdish referendum on independence, and now control the motorway between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. In Iraq, the Shia won the national war, the Iranians the regional battle, and Russia the global contest. America, France, and Britain ended up making lightning strikes that left no trace.
I had not traveled to visit Iraq, however, but Syria, at the invitation of the Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava.
A very small Kurdish enclave of not more than 2 million people had fought back against ISIS at their worst. The small city of Kobani on the Turkish border was the first place that resisted the supposedly irresistible spread of the caliphate in 2014. And what emerged was extraordinary, an ideology of women’s leadership and equality combined with democratic confederalism based on strong local democratic self-government. The YPJ, the women’s force, and the YPG, which are mixed brigades, turned themselves, with American and British support, into the Syrian Democratic Force that defeated ISIS all the way to Raqqa, establishing their parish commune system in their wake.
In January, I wrote about how Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in solitary confinement on an island in the Marmara Sea, was haunting Turkish President Erdogan in his attempt to build an Islamist nationalist state. Erdogan had arrested the leaders of the mainly Kurdish HDP when they did better than expected in elections a couple of years ago, with the imprisoned HDP leaders receiving more than 200-year sentences between them. The Turkish state has broken all public records on the imprisonment of journalists and the political sacking of state workers. It turned out that neither the Gulenists nor the Islamists were the primary focus of Erdogan’s intense attention; instead the Kurds emerged once more as the object of Turkish spite.
It was unacceptable to the Turkish state that a military and political grouping, avowedly inspired by the teaching and leadership of Ocalan, would be permitted to function on its border. Erdogan’s initial flirtation with Ottoman Sunni leadership did not go well as the PYD—as the Syrian Democratic Forces were initially known—not only defeated ISIS in Kobani but began their alliance with Turkey’s NATO allies, America and Britain, and defeated the forces of the caliphate in battle. Erdogan actively courted Iran and Russia in order to gain permission to intervene against the Kurds. He got it.
On January 20, the Turkish Air Force began a 56-day bombing campaign in Afrin—one of the three provinces of the Federation of Northern Syria—and neither the Russian/Syrian air force nor the coalition allies impeded its air campaign against a people with no protection. They bombed the locals from their homes and paid the Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, and ISIS forces on the ground to resume their interrupted reign of rape, dispossession, and expulsion. After 4,000 years of continuous habitation, there is no Kurdish presence left in Afrin. In their place are the Islamist forces backed by Turkey and the Sunni Arab refugees whom Erdogan held as a bargaining chip with the EU. It is ethnic cleansing.