"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rojava Seeks to Break Out in Syria (Fabrice Balanche- The Washington Institute)

Despite their desire for greater independence, Syria's Kurds have shown a willingness to broker agreements with the Assad regime in order to secure their near-term economic interests, and they may soon do the same with Iran.

In February, the Syrian army met up with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces south of Manbij, a development that Kurdish authorities have characterized as a means of linking the northwestern canton of Afrin with the rest of their territorial bloc along the Syria-Turkey border. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF, would have preferred to control this link with its own troops rather than relying on the Assad regime, but recent Turkish operations blocked its westward march. Even so, the situation gives the Syrian Kurds of Rojava another means of preventing other actors from boxing them in politically or economically, at least for now.

Although the latest developments will facilitate the circulation of goods between Afrin and the rest of Rojava, any such movement is still subject to the regime's goodwill. Fortunately for the PYD, Bashar al-Assad has a mutual interest in expanding economic relations with the Kurds. Western Syria needs the cotton, wheat, and oil produced in Rojava's easternmost Jazira canton, while the Kurds need to export their raw materials and import manufactured goods. Thanks to this new overland connection, Syrian Kurds will be less dependent on Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for their supplies; the northeastern passage to Peshkhabur, Iraq, is no longer the only international trade route open to them.
Of course, Kurdish wartime trade relations with western Syria were ongoing even before February's Afrin linkup. Goods continued to circulate between Rojava and regime territory, with taxes levied by the Syrian army as well as various Assad-allied and rebel militias. For example, trucks transporting Jazira's grain harvest to government areas had to pay a commission to Islamic State forces when passing through their territory. And in recent months, whenever Afrin was supplied with fuel from refineries in the Rmelan region east of Qamishli, Turkish-backed rebels in between the two areas took as much as half the cargo in "tolls." Since February, however, Kurds have been able to send fuel through the Syrian army corridor between Manbij and Afrin via Aleppo. Assad's forces have kept their own tolls relatively low to incentivize the use of regime-controlled roads. Facilitating trade with Rojava helps Assad politically as well, keeping the Kurds under his economic influence while also benefiting key associates and family members such as Rami Makhlouf, owner of FlyDamas, the principal airline serving Qamishli.