I talk to “Laila”, an activist who has studied the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years. For preparation, I read Medea Benjamin’s new book, Kingdom of the Unjust.
In this episode of The Ossington Circle, academic, activist, and editor at Jadaliyya Max Ajl discusses the destruction of Syria and the vitriol directed at leftists and Palestine activists who have opposed intervention in Syria.
In this episode of the Ossington Circle, Ukrainian-Canadian academic Halyna Mokrushyna discusses the conflict in Ukraine, Russia and Russophobia, and the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.
When journalist Rania Khalek’s lecture was cancelled on February 27, the group that invited her, Students for Justice in Palestine – University of North Carolina (SJP-UNC) issued a statement saying that the cancellation was because of Rania’s “views” on Syria, and that they believed “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. They also added that they “do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania’s analyses.”
In response to the cancellation, a large number of signers, many of whom have been involved with Palestine solidarity, signed a statement against Rania’s blacklisting but also against blacklisting in general. That statement concluded:
“The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.”
The statement “against blacklisting” triggered another wave of slanders, as many of the same people who had pressured the SJP to cancel her talk approached signers to argue that they should not have signed. Among their arguments was that there is and should be a political litmus test, one that Rania fails. As an initial signer myself, I was approached more than once by friends who suggested that I didn’t really know Rania’s views.
The people that have written about Rania publicly range from truly creepy stalkers to left academics who fired off a quick set of libels and then expressed dismay at the responses to them. But other than people talking about her, it is in fact rather difficult to find any sources for these “views” of hers that apparently disqualify her to speak or publish on any topic.
Out of concern that maybe I didn’t really know them, I sought Rania out to ask her about these much-maligned but rarely aired “views”.
Justin Podur (JP): Are you an Assadist?
Rania Khalek (RK): I am not a fan of the Syrian government. I’m not out here to support the Syrian government.
What I oppose is the dismantling of the Syrian state which is what several major powers have tried to do in the past six years. I oppose that because we’ve seen what it looks like in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and I don’t want to see that happen to Syria.
I also oppose the current alternative to the Syrian government, which is a patchwork of Salafi Jihadist groups that want to impose strict religious law, kill minorities, and stone women for adultery. That’s unacceptable to me, and to many people including my relatives who live in Syria who happen to be minorities.
JP: So, this is your first “view”. Based on your understanding of what happened after the removal of Gaddafi in Libya, Saddam in Iraq, and other countries, you oppose the destruction of the state, and based on your understanding of groups like Nusra and ISIS, you do not support the opposition to the Syrian government. The people who call you Assadist for this should also call people who opposed the war in Iraq Saddam-ist, the people who opposed the war in Libya Gaddafi-ist, etc.
RK: Exactly. And I think it is an unfair portrayal and an inaccurate binary because if you don’t support these Islamist rebel groups that have ultraconservative ambitions, that supposedly makes you a supporter of a dictator and that’s not fair.
I would love to see a democratic Syria. I would love to see a Syria where parties other than the Ba’ath could flourish and run in elections. The fact now is that there’s a right-wing, far-right insurgency funded by some of the biggest powers in the world trying to destroy the country. Under current conditions it’s nearly impossible for people to organize for basic reforms.
JP: Ah. Here too there is a genuine difference of opinion with supporters of the Syrian revolution who argue the opposite: that as long as Assad is in place, you can’t have reform.
RK: Right, but that should be a debatable point for political discussion. Why can’t we debate it?
JP: I agree. Your contention that reform is impossible while this rebellion continues and the contention that reform is impossible while the regime is in power are different assessments of the situation that it should be possible to discuss within the movement.
My next question: Did you attend an Assad-sponsored public relations (PR) conference in Damascus?
RK: I was able to travel to Syria, was able to get my visa approval to Syria, by agreeing to attend a 2-day conference in Damascus hosted by a pro-government British NGO.
I went there along with several prominent journalists from every mainstream outlet in the West: NYT, Washington Post, NPR, BBC, LA Times, Telegraph, The Times (UK).
RK: That’s the only way to get into the government-controlled areas of Syria. It’s a police state. They only allow you to see certain things. If you are a journalist you should have that in mind and keep that clear.
JP: It is often the case that if you’re a journalist reporting on any kind of conflict, the only way to get in is to go with one side or the other. It is one of the reasons it is so hard to get good information about conflicts and something Patrick Cockburn wrote about last year.
RK: All of these journalists agreed to go to this conference so they could go to the government areas, where the majority of people still remaining in the country live. If you want to talk to these people, you have to get a visa, which means you have to get the agreement of the government. Each individual paid their own way, stay, transportation. I wasn’t funded by the regime. I paid my own way. I didn’t even end up going to the conference. I was pressured not to go after it was discovered that my name was included on the program even though I didn’t agree to speak (along with several others who hadn’t agreed to speak).
Mainstream journalists spoke at this conference, on more than one panel. None of them were smeared the way I was. It was a campaign to get me fired and it worked. Because of this smear against me, there has been a soft boycott of any of my reporting, which is the point.
Anybody who repeats that I “spoke at an Assad-sponsored PR conference in Syria”, may be misled or malicious, but either way they are participating in a process that tries to ensure none of my reporting gets any airtime.
JP: So, on this point: like every mainstream journalist working on Syria, and alongside many of them, you traveled to government-controlled areas and attended government events with government permission.
My next question: Reuters, Al-Jazeera, and other outlets reported in December 2016 that rebels had poisoned the Damascus water supply. I remember you tweeted about it. And in March, a UN report looking at satellite photos and asking people there, said that it was the government bombing its own water supply. According to the NYT in March 2017 “investigators said video of the bombings, witness testimony and satellite imagery showed the water supply system had been damaged in at least two airstrikes using high-explosive bombs,” and that the idea that the water facilities were damaged from the ground was “inconsistent with observable physical evidence”. What do you make of this?
RK: The rebels in Wadi Barada were al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria – they have changed their name again since but they are still al-Qaeda). Wadi Barada is where the water supply for Damascus comes from. My own sources on the ground said that al Qaeda affiliated rebels put diesel in the water. There was a water shortage and it was bad for everybody in Damascus including friends of mine who live there. The valley where this water is, was destroyed in some bombing. Both sides blamed each other, although there were pictures of rebels victoriously standing on top of the destroyed water infrastructure. You have claims from both sides and in this case it doesn’t make sense to me that the government would bomb its own water supply.
JP: Damascus is the capital, a government-held area. This one seems to me to be debatable as well. The government has been brutal towards rebel-held areas, but it is hard to identify what the logic might be for the government to destroy its own water supply, and easy to identify why the rebels would want to do it.
RK: The rebels have done this before, in Aleppo; ISIS has done it when they controlled the Euphrates.
I have no problem believing that the government of Syria has done bad things. They have. In this case, sources that I trust, that aren’t in the government, are telling me that this report is inaccurate. There’s no way I or my detractors can prove it one way or the other.
JP: So, in your opinion, this is an open and factual question that is difficult to resolve. Like many others, you reported that the rebels damaged the water supply and you continue to believe that it was the rebels. This, too, seems like an area in which people could disagree in their assessments of the evidence and the logic.
Now I have a question that reasonable people cannot disagree on – claims about you that I believe are false and want to check. One academic said that you “defend Syrian bombing of heavily populated civilian areas”. Do you?
RK: I have never done this. Not once. Not ever. That is all.
JP: Doing so would make you some kind of monster. It would be an ugly thing to do, like when Hussam Ayloush from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of your detractors, tweeted that he was “sad” that a Russian military plane crash killed “just 92” people when the plane could have fit 180. He later apologized, but it is hard not to note that his first instinct was to celebrate deaths and wish for more of them.
RK: I don’t support the violence dished out by the Syrian government. I have never done that. I never would. I’ve never even cheered on Syrian government violence against Al Qaeda. Civilians? I would never ever in a million years support violence against civilians and I never have.
JP: The same professor who said you did, also said you “attack reputable human rights organizations that document such war crimes”. Not sure what he means by “attack”, but what is your response to this one?
RK: I find it really surprising that so many people want to accept any narrative they are given from any organization – and it’s usually the same people who are constantly questioning these organizations on other issues, especially related to Palestine. On Palestine we know everything is so biased, yet on Syria we are supposed to accept every claim from the same outlets and organizations. We should always be challenging these things especially when our government is involved. I’m not denying atrocities have taken place. I feel it’s necessary to challenge human rights organizations when they are reporting claims made without evidence.
JP: So, to summarize, if you have a “view” about this, it is that one should “challenge human rights organizations when they are reporting claims made without evidence.”
RK: These organizations have a history of playing fast and loose with the facts when the countries accused are on the wrong side of US foreign policy. Then there are the human rights organizations that receive funding from USAID. It is crucial that we question claims that they’re making as well.
JP: So you are saying: when you receive a claim of an atrocity, regardless of source, look at evidence.
RK: Yes, look at evidence. Don’t take claims by rebel groups at face value when there aren’t independent human rights organizations on the ground. The Syrian government lies too. I don’t think you should accept their claims without evidence either. In Gaza you had independent human rights investigators and journalists. You don’t have that in Syria really on either side. Anything coming out on Syria from either side should be looked at with a great deal of scepticism.
JP: So, if the professor had rephrased “attack reputable human rights organizations” to “challenge claims that come without evidence, even from reputable human rights organizations”, he would be on solid ground.
The last thing this professor added was that you apparently “insist that the Syrian resistance consists of only foreign-backed Islamist terrorists”. I guess he is upset because to people who favour the opposition, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are not “foreign-backed Islamist terrorists”. Do you insist that they are? Even if you did, I think that too is an assessment that could be debated, but please tell me your view.
RK: I don’t use the word “terrorist”, so I wouldn’t accept that statement about me. As for what I think about the FSA: It was a loose collection of fighting factions. There may have been some moderate ones at the beginning, but that did not last, and what matters is what it’s become, which is basically absorbed into the other, Islamist armed groups. The FSA has worked alongside Nusra and even carried out operations with ISIS before ISIS and Nusra became enemies. The FSA and Nusra have a similar goal, which is some sort of state with Islamist elements. That doesn’t mean everyone who fought with the FSA were trying to impose an Islamic state. But the strongest fighters were Islamist and sectarian and it is that strain that prospered. At this point in 2017 no one can name a fighting group trying to overthrow the government that isn’t completely Sunni and extremely sectarian. The armed opposition never got majority popular support because it was from the start very sectarian and eventually entirely Sunni, it was fighting for Islamist aims and to impose an Islamic state. The vast majority of people in Syria oppose that, even people who don’t support the government. They fear the rebels more than they fear the government. I am talking about the facts here, not my views. In 2017, is there a fighting force in Syria trying to overthrow the government that isn’t sectarian and Islamist? I don’t see one.
JP: What about the idea that there are local councils flourishing in rebel areas?
RK: The local councils quickly lost control in rebel areas. There is still local control in areas that have participated in reconciliation agreements with the government. There will probably be more local control going forward and that’s a good thing. And it’s important to remember that the local councils in rebel areas were promoted and even funded by people who wanted intervention and escalation, including the state department.
An encouraging development in Syria that often goes ignored is that many people who supported the opposition are now in reconciliation processes with the government that are being facilitated by mediation groups. The local councils that are in charge in those reconciliation-agreement areas never had a chance under an extremist opposition that was armed by Saudi, Qatar, Turkey, and the US—countries that have zero interest in actual democracy, progressives, or liberal feminists in the region.
JP: So, here we have two factual or perhaps analytical questions: 1. What is the extent of non-Islamist armed opposition? 2. To what extent was unarmed opposition able to flourish in rebel-held areas? According to your analysis, the answer to both questions is “virtually none”. But these, too, seem to me to be questions about how one assesses evidence about the war, not about whether you hold some sort of discriminatory views.
RK: Look, I am a minority Arab woman with relatives in both Syria and Lebanon. The opposition groups that weren’t al Qaeda, they often worked alongside it. They have killed people like me based solely on their identity. This isn’t about supporting dictatorship. It’s about survival for many people in the region, for people who don’t want to live under a Saudi-Arabia style system. That’s what is happening here. A lot of the people smearing me are coming at me from a very sectarian and conservative place. I’m being attacked by the most conservative elements in the Arab community. It’s been really stunning to see so many people who call themselves leftists and progressives buy into their side of the story and completely brush me aside as a dictator-lover without considering that – hey, maybe there’s a reason why secular Arabs and minorities like Rania wouldn’t want to live under Salafi Jihadist groups.
JP: Your February disinvitation came after some tweets about Wahhabism and Salafism. You wrote that “Yes, being Salafi or Wahhabi doesn’t mean you’re violent, but it definitely means you’re an extreme bigot and misogynist.” I noticed a very quick and extraordinary reaction to that tweet. One of the first reactions that I saw was someone who told you to “Stop talking about Palestine” if you believed this. I have seen that reaction many times. I found it a very interesting reaction – “stop talking about Palestine”. Why is that the first reaction? Here’s a topic that is basically taboo in the West, something that one can’t talk about without potentially severe consequences, and when you say something these people don’t like, they tell you to “stop talking about Palestine” as if every other part of society isn’t already telling you to shut up about Palestine.
RK: It is really striking the way that Palestine solidarity, outlets, and activists have been attacked from the beginning by the people who support intervention in Syria. They are going out of their way to silence Palestine activism.
Even in the region now, Palestine is the last thing on people’s minds. There’s also an attempt to equate Syria with Palestine. The tactic of saying, if you support resistance in Palestine but not the Syrian opposition, you’re a hypocrite and you have no right to talk about Palestine. But Palestine and Syria are different. Palestine is being occupied and colonized by the Israelis. That is what Palestinians are fighting against. You don’t have to like the Syrian Army to recognize that, unlike the colonial Israeli army, it is indigenous to Syria and fighting an armed insurgency that includes tens of thousands of foreign fighters who have more in common with the religious and supremacist ideology of Israeli settlers than with Palestinians. You can’t just support any armed resistance. It matters what the resistance is fighting for. If you are fighting colonialism, I can support that. If you are fighting to impose an Islamic State, I can’t support that.
On top of that, there is no consensus among Palestinians about Syria. Among the many Palestinians who live in Syria, there are those who support the opposition, those who have tried to remain neutral, and those who are fighting on the side of the regime. It isn’t an easy situation. There is no consensus among Arabs or Palestinians. It’s disingenuous to use the issue of Palestine to sell your position on Syria.
JP: I have been struck by how focused it all is on preventing people from speaking.
But back to that tweet. I can understand how that might incense someone who identifies themselves as Salafi or Wahhabi, being called an “extreme bigot and misogynist”, and would lead to them countering by calling you an Islamophobe. How would you respond to that accusation?
RK: I made a statement about this on Facebook. It isn’t Islamophobic to criticize Salafism and Wahhabism. These are far-right, puritanical ideologies that promote genocide against minorities and whose belief systems are at the inspirational root of what drives al Qaeda and ISIS and groups like them. It’s shocking to me to see people try to suppress criticism of these ultra-conservative ideologies by invoking Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a serious issue in this country and should not be thrown around lightly. It is analogous to labeling people who criticize Zionism as anti-Semites. People have said that I am not Muslim so I can’t criticize these things. But these ideologies address me directly – they say I’m killable and nonhuman. This is not some hypothetical. The fatwas of Salafi and Wahhabi scholars are invoked by Salafi Jihadist groups to justify forcibly converting, enslaving and killing people like me. As a minority from the region I have every right to talk about murderous ideologies that call for my enslavement and/or death.
More importantly, the US is very supportive of these ideologies and has used them against Arab nationalists and communists. People on the left shouldn’t be defending these ideologies in the name of combatting Islamophobia. First, it’s insulting because it equates all Muslims with Wahhabis and Salafists. Secondly, Shia mosques are being blown up all over the world because of these ideas, which have been spread deliberately by petrodollars from Saudi Arabia. It’s the same US-backed ideology that inspired 9/11. We need to talk about this honestly.
JP: The academic mentioned above who accuses you of whitewashing government crimes points to a story you did about how sanctions are damaging Syria’s economy. I’m not sure how the latter leads to the former. But maybe you can elaborate.
RK: I don’t deny the Syrian government is killing people. I’ve seen the results of their bombings. They bomb everything. It’s an overwhelming indiscriminate level of violence against opposition areas. But this is a two-sided war, a multi-sided war in fact. I have been saying this is a two-sided war.
So the charts saying the government is responsible for 95% of all civilian deaths shouldn’t be believed. The opposition has killed around 100,000 pro-government fighters. If the government has killed 95% of the civilians, then that means the side of the war that has al Qaeda in it has almost exclusively killed government forces, which would make it the noblest fighting force in history. I don’t whitewash the government’s atrocities. I have said something that’s obvious – there are many sides fighting and many sides killing civilians.
JP: Al Qaeda is famous for anti-civilian operations. But let’s continue about the sanctions.
RK: I wrote a report that said that sanctions are destructive to civilians. I am not ashamed for reporting on that. People have tried to distort my reporting on sanctions by saying it whitewashes government atrocities. The sanctions have destroyed Syria’s economy and made it extremely difficult to get humanitarian aid in during one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in the world. The US has flooded Syria with weapons and money for armed groups while its sanctions obstruct humanitarian aid to people caught in the crossfire. That’s something that should be opposed. Stephen Zunes wrote about the sanctions against Iraq and how awful they were. He’s saying I whitewash the regime for having the same position on the Syria sanctions, which have by the way denied cancer medications to children in Syria. The hypocrisy is cartoonish. People who opposed sanctions on Iraq are attacking me for having the same position on Syria.
JP: It is really bizarre because if opposing the sanctions on Syria makes you an Assad apologist, opposing the sanctions on Iraq must make you a Saddam apologist, and Saddam is not someone these people would want to be associated with any more than Assad.
RK: I think the difference is this: The US invaded Iraq with tens of thousands of American soldiers. Syria has been a proxy that the US outsourced to Salafi jihadist groups. So people don’t see it as a war on Syria.
JP: To conclude, I see four things here:
1) a set of assessments about you have about specific issues like the Damascus water supply, the extent of non-Islamist armed groups and popular support for the opposition, and the impact of the sanctions;
2) a set of political views you hold that are fairly common among leftists including strong support for secularism, opposition to Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies, and scepticism of even mainstream human rights organizations when they present claims that go beyond the evidence they present;
3) a set of statements about you that are false (e.g. that you “defend attacks against civilians”, “went on an Assad-sponsored PR tour”, etc.).
4) mixing all these together to talk about your “views” as if you hold discriminatory views about defined groups of people.
But you don’t. You are a leftist supporter of equal rights for all and a holder of unequivocal anti-discrimination views. Nobody should be doing #3 and #4, and if people have issues with #1 and #2, we should be debating those on the merits.
This episode of the podcast is a lecture given on a panel at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies on January 28, 2016. The panel was on Environment, War, and Refugees, and the lecture was on Western policy and the war in Syria.
The Ossington Circle, once a YouTube show, has been re-launched as a podcast. In the first episode, I’m debating the Syrian Civil War with author, activist, and professor Stephen Shalom.
Just a few days before the 14th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, U.S. planes bombed a hospital run by the extremely credible, competent international organization, Medicins Sans Frontieres, in the country’s north, in the city of Kunduz. The bombing was, apparently, requested by the Afghan government, who had lost the city to the Taliban and whose initial counterattack had failed.
Fourteen years before, the U.S. invasion of 2001 had the explicit goal of regime change, of getting rid of the Taliban. Fourteen years and thousands of lives later, the Taliban are still here, and are still able to take a city well outside of their traditional zone of influence in the south. There are many causes for this failure. Ahmed Rashid wrote in his book “Descent into Chaos” about “Operation Evil Airlift,” in which the Taliban’s Pakistani patrons were allowed to escape to Pakistan in 2001. The people running the Taliban went back to Pakistan, while thousands of civilians perished under the bombs.
But more important than the fact that the Taliban dispersed to Pakistan to return and fight another day was the fact that when NATO ousted the Taliban, they installed their opponents: warlords who were as misogynist and violent as the Taliban were. That reality has only slowly and partially changed despite several elections since 2001: senior posts and elected offices are still populated by the warlords, and the occupation-created Afghan army apparently shares many of the problems of corruption with the Iraqi army created by the U.S. around the same time and in approximately the same way. It is an army more efficient at enriching commanders than defending the country’s sovereignty.
2001, the year the U.S. invaded, is a key year for Afghanistan, but it was not the beginning of the horrors Afghanistan had been living. The wars of the 1980s, as the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistan coalition poured ever more investment into groups of fighters who were fighting against a Russian-backed regime, were decisive. Once those fighters succeeded in regime change in 1992, they spent the next decade fighting one another and completing the destruction of the country. The Taliban had established a shaky control over most of the country when the U.S. invaded in 2001.
Today, the U.S., Israel, the Saudi Kingdom, Turkey, and a few other countries are similarly pouring ever more investment into groups of fighters (some of the same groups as fought in Afghanistan, including al-Qaida) trying to change a regime in Syria. There is every reason to believe that if regime change succeeds, the winners will be al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Whether they then fight among themselves as the Afghan mujahadeen did, or consolidate an Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond, they, too, will complete the destruction of their country. In a few decades, we will be looking at pictures of Syria in the 1990s and early 2000s that will be completely unrecognizable as Syria, like the 1960s and 1970s photos of Afghanistan are unrecognizable today.
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the New York Times famously called global public opinion the “second superpower”. But the anti-war movement failed and has not recovered. Anti-war principle has weakened among progressives, replaced by limited support for limited Western intervention in specific cases, where bombs might be able to do some good. Numerous progressive voices that might have been expected to take an anti-war stance supported bombing and regime change in Libya in 2011 and continue to support regime change in Syria today. Some even cite Libya as a success story.
I have seen writers who I respect arguing or retweeting that because Syria has had many more deaths and refugees than Libya since 2011, overthrowing Assad (the “how” of this overthrow remains unspecified) would have prevented the refugee crisis. The counterfactual is also presented: that without regime change in Libya in 2011, Libya would have produced a refugee crisis of the same magnitude as Syria had.
I have read other progressive writers arguing that the “world’s powers” should have set a “red line” for Assad much sooner than they did, and if they had done so, again, the Syria crisis would have been averted.
The trouble with this analysis is the assumption that Syria’s regime existed at the whim of the “world’s powers” – that these “world’s powers” could, once the “red line” was set, press a button and exchange Assad for a democratic regime that respects human rights. It is this flawed assumption that leads to magical thinking about what the West can do in countries that it bombs.
Vijay Prashad has argued that the Libyan regime was already collapsing when NATO’s bombs arrived to finish it off. The Libyan armed groups, for which NATO provided the air force, committed massacres after their victories in Sirte and elsewhere. These armed groups are still an ongoing concern, as the U.S. knows. And there were many local and international consequences of what happened in Libya in 2011. One of these was that powers outside of the West, especially Russia, saw how seamlessly Western support for “moderate rebels” led to regime change.
Syria’s regime was not collapsing when the West started backing the rebellions there. Syria is, evidently, not Libya. But not for lack of trying by the West, and its Saudi, Israeli, and Turkish allies. Regime change has been the goal, but only chaos has been the result. There is a lesson to be learned from these decades of regime change. Twelve years since the invasion of Iraq, 25 since the first U.S. war on Iraq. Fourteen years since the invasion of Afghanistan, 35 since the Western backing of the Afghan mujahadeen. The outcomes: the Islamic State group and the Taliban ruling over de-developed, devastated areas, corrupt governments extracting wealth from the rest of the country, with the U.S. occasionally flying over and bombing something – a wedding here, a hospital there. If Libya looks different from this in a decade or two – and that is far from certain – it will be in spite of NATO’s bombs, not because of them.
People who don’t like these outcomes should not put faith in these means. The West’s bombs are instruments of chaos.
First published on TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Syria-and-Afghanistan-The-Limits-of-Bombing-20151019-0013.html
Who is really fighting ISIS? In Iraq and Syria, ISIS faces Kurdish forces, the Iraqi Army and the Western air forces supporting it, and the Syrian Army and its allies from Hizbollah, Iran, and Russia. The Kurds of Rojava have been fighting for survival, and while outgunned, they have both political and military preparation, and something to fight for. They have been successful in their battles with ISIS, even though they have suffered immensely in the process.
The Iraqi Army? ISIS's spectacular rise coincided with the Iraqi Army's collapse. To understand this, as with so much about ISIS, it is necessary to look back at the early days of the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, when the decision was taken to disband the Iraqi Army that had existed under Saddam Hussein and create a new one. The old army had training, organization, most of their weapons, and had just reached the point of having nothing to lose. Many of them joined the insurgency against the US. Among those who did, many were killed, many were tortured and killed, and many survived. Some of those survivors, now battle-hardened veterans, are now part of ISIS. One of those who made his way through the US prison system in Iraq is ISIS's leader. These veterans, joined by al-Qaeda fighters, with Saudi and Qatari funding, and Turkish help getting across the border, have become ISIS, the force that controls a big part of Iraq and dominates and absorbs all other opposition forces in Syria.
What about the new army, the one built by the US during the occupation? That army was built, like post-2003 Iraq, as an experiment in a new kind of neoliberal occupation. George W Bush had declared that the US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not "nation building" exercises. The trillions of dollars that were spread around in Iraq went to contractors and subcontractors, and the Iraqi army was built on the same principles. Commanders bought their way in, collected money for more soldiers' salaries than he had under command, and kept the difference. Other commanders paid for their posts and recouped the money at checkpoints on the roads: the army became, as Patrick Cockburn wrote in his new book The Jihadis Return, "a money making machine for senior officers and often an extortion racket for ordinary soldiers" (pg. 51). As it turned out, the "money making machine" didn't prove especially effective as a fighting machine. Instead, as the Iraqi army fell apart and ran from ISIS in the early battles, most of the equipment they received ended up in ISIS's hands.
What about the Syrian Army? Russia, having supplied Syria's government for years, has now entered the war on Syria's side. Lebanon's Hizbollah, with Iran's help, entered Syria to help Syria's government some time ago, judging that the fall of Syria to ISIS would be the loss of their own lines of supply and support. These forces are holding territory against ISIS, but the government's way of fighting mirrors their enemies. For several decades war has not primarily been about armies fighting each other, but about the unarmed getting killed by the armed. One siege in 2014, written about by Patrick Cockburn, illustrates this:
"Rather than taking over rebel-held areas, the government simply bombards them so that the civilian population is forced to flee and those who remain are either families of fighters or those too poor to find anywhere else to live. Electricity and water is then cut off and a siege is mounted. In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed Jabhat-al-Nusra forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians. The government did not counterattack but simply continued its siege." (pg. 76)
In the West, ISIS videos are used to stoke nightmares and justify police powers, and are politically valuable to fear-mongering politicians. As the collapse of Syria proceeds under the weight of the war and millions of Syrians are on the move, Westerners are being led to believe that every refugee family might be a secret ISIS cell. Local countries are hit far harder by the refugee crisis: Western countries are only taking a small fraction of the refugees.
Despite the horrors of their videos, and the airstrikes that have been organized against ISIS, the West, and its allies, have found several uses for ISIS.
ISIS provides Western allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar a way to advance their influence in the region against Iran. ISIS provides an outlet for the people that Saudi clerics have fired up to hate everyone but their sect, people who might otherwise stay in their own Gulf countries and take up arms.
ISIS provides the troops for Western ally, Turkey, to fight the Kurds, who created an autonomous zone in Iraq, have recently done so in Syria and have long been trying to advance their agenda of self-determination in Turkey.
For Western ally, Israel, ISIS bleeds Hizbollah and has helped destroy Syria, creates massive numbers of refugees, and so diverts and destroys military forces that might otherwise be facing off with Israel.
The Gulf countries and Israel are also not taking refugees. Israeli soccer fans proudly display banners that say "Refugees Not Welcome", and Saudi Arabia is running its own murderous war in Yemen, creating refugees of its own.
For the West, these alliances with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, are more important than fighting ISIS. For Israel, the possibility that Assad might be overthrown and Hizbollah harmed is more important than fighting ISIS.
Diplomatic solutions, the latest of which has been written about by Vijay Prashad, have floundered on the Western insistence on Assad's departure as a precondition. That insistence has amounted to an acceptance of this destruction over a negotiated end to the war. Syria is on its way to complete destruction. Most of its population is on the move. Responsibility for this is shared between Assad's regime and those fighting him.
More than Gulf funds and captured weapons, more than twisted religious ideology and military corruption, ISIS has thrived because of the chaos of war and the collapse of society. ISIS will not be part of a negotiated solution, but an agreement between its Western sponsors and those of the Syrian government would isolate and contain ISIS, and make peace in the region imaginable.
What could be more important than an end to the war and the defeat of ISIS? For the West, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel, many things: weakening Iran and Hizbollah, showing toughness to Russia, the chance of overthrowing Assad, destroying the basis for Kurdish independence. To those steering the Syrian war, these are higher priorities than the plight of millions of refugees and the destruction of several countries.
Originally published on TeleSUR English http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Uses-of-the-Islamic-State-Group-20150925-0014.html
In the third week of May, ISIS took the city of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, in two, big, high-profile victories. Though ISIS has constantly been in the news for years now, these two cities seem to return the sense of an unstoppable march of Islamist forces across the Middle East. As the beheadings began almost immediately in Ramadi, ISIS also bombed a mosque in Qatif, a Shia-majority city in Saudi Arabia during Friday prayers. Qatif, incidentally, is a place where Saudi armed forces and police have violated human rights with their usual impunity for years, detaining and even opening fire on protesters from the Shia community. From all of these reports, the sense given to readers is one of unstoppable momentum.
But as Ahmed Ali, in the NYT Opinion section on May 21 clarified, the situation is otherwise: “…the Islamic State is not on an unstoppable march. In Iraq, and to some extent Syria, it remains on the defensive. In April, the Islamic State’s defenses in large swaths of Salahuddin Province and the provincial capital, Tikrit, collapsed.”
So, ISIS has not had unstoppable momentum. After spending many months and many lives trying to take the Kurdish city of Kobani, Syria, they have been repeatedly repulsed since the beginning of 2015. Kurdish forces in Iraq have counterattacked them in Mosul and are keeping them under pressure there. And, although each time there is a battle in an Iraqi city, the Western media discuss the close proximity of that city to Baghdad, that does not mean that Baghdad is likely to fall to ISIS any time soon.
Syria, though, is another story. The stage in both countries is set not for ISIS victory, but for perpetual conflict.
Analyzing ISIS requires remembering some of the history and geography of Iraq and Syria, especially about the relationship between Kurds, Sunni, and Shia communities in the region. Both countries have always had large Kurdish populations, a language group that is divided by the national borders between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. There are debates within the Kurdish communities of each country about how to pursue autonomy and self-determination. In Iraq, this has entailed an autonomous Kurdish region currently ruled by Masoud Barzani. In Syria, it involves revolutionary experiments with local democracy and local self-defense – these are the forces that defended Kobani against ISIS. In Turkey, one of the most respected leaders, Abdullah Ocalan, is in prison, and not alone. The revolutionary Kurds in Syria have shown that they will not surrender easily to ISIS and that ISIS can be successfully fought. The Kurds in Iraq, after initial setbacks, are beginning to have some success as well.
Readers no doubt know that one of the many divisions within Islam is between Sunni and Shia, and that one of ISIS’s main obsessions is punishing those who don’t belong to its particular type of Sunni Islam (a type of Islam shared, non-coincidentally, with Saudi Arabia, the unshakeable Western ally, currently bombing civilians in Yemen with Western-supplied weaponry). In the areas where ISIS holds sway, Shia Muslims have suffered, as have Yazidis and others who don’t share ISIS’s beliefs. But the Shia are not defenceless either. There are well-armed, well-organized Shia militias in Baghdad (who have committed atrocities against Sunni civilians in the decade since the US invasion, just as Sunni armed groups have done against Shia civilians). The mainly Shia Lebanese group, Hizbollah, joined the Syrian government, entering Syria, to fight ISIS several years ago. These forces, too, have not been and will not be any kind of easy prey for ISIS.
Historically, the pattern has been that ISIS scores major victories when there is a local collapse of either the Iraqi or the Syrian regular army. The Iraqi army is a creation of the post-2003 US invasion. Such armies rarely perform well and always have serious morale problems. But the presence of these other (Shia and Kurdish) forces on the field limits what ISIS can do in Iraq.
The Syrian army was focused primarily on domestic repression for decades before the civil war started in that country in 2011, and has managed to kill mostly civilians in the civil war as well. If the Syrian army collapses like the Iraqi army has collapsed, the whole situation in the region will change a lot, and in unpredictable ways. The likely analogue is the Afghanistan of the 1990s, after the USSR left. The Afghan government held on against the mujahaddeen for three years (1989-1992) before collapsing. Then the mujahaddeen fell out amongst themselves and spent four years (1992-1996) destroying whatever had not been destroyed and dividing the country into regions ruled by warlords. The next five years (1996-2001) were spent with the warlords fighting one another and the Taliban. The Taliban, sponsored by Pakistan, controlled most of the Pashtun part of Afghanistan, and tried unsuccessfully to complete the conquest of the country. An alliance of warlords unsuccessfully tried to roll them back. Al Qaeda developed in this period, working alongside the Taliban between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Then NATO invaded, put the warlords in charge, and stayed for 13 years. The Taliban are still there, and still backed by Pakistan.
The Syrian analogy goes like this: the Syrian army collapses, Hizbollah withdraws to Lebanon, ISIS holds a large part of Syria, other rebel groups hold other parts. A reconstituted regime holds on to part of the country with foreign support, and eventually, some multilateral Western force occupies Syria. In the chaos and the occupation are the seeds of the next ISIS, just like the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the Syrian civil war provided the basis for this one, and the Afghan wars of the 1980s and civil wars of the 1990s provided the basis for al Qaeda.
But what explains the shocking, video-recorded horrors of ISIS? The right-wing New Atheists look for passages in scriptures that are used to justify the crimes; the criminals themselves claim to be acting in the name of religion. But people who genuinely want to understand would do better to look to other parts of the world where long-running conflicts have led to social collapse.
The war in Colombia, which is sometimes dated to have begun in 1948 and other times in 1964, has sometimes featured very grisly and demonstrative assassinations and massacres. The West African civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s also included ultra-violent behavior by various forces. In Central and East Africa, we have the famous Lord’s Resistance Army (remember #Kony2012?), as well as various Rwandan and Burundian forces operating in the Congo, alongside local militias and regular armies. Some of these forces have used rape and systematic mutilation as weapons. Dr. Denis Mukwege of the DR Congo has likened the use of rape in that war to a kind of weapon of mass destruction. Others have theorized along these lines – that irregular armies use atrocities to achieve the same psychological effect (inducing hopelessness and terror among those they wish to control) as Western armies can with their high-tech weaponry. This helps explain the amount of effort ISIS puts into hype.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many leftist guerrilla groups operated in different parts of the world. Some have held on, and a few have started up, but these are very rare in the world today. Some of these forces committed war crimes and crimes against civilians, but mostly they operated according to theories of guerrilla warfare (developed by Giap, Mao, Guevara, Castro and other communists) in which the relationship between fighters and the people was meant to be a close one, one of service, that precluded many of the tactics that are used by groups like ISIS.
Meanwhile the West, exporting weapons, running airstrikes, preparing troops for the next counterinsurgency effort, does not try to resolve conflicts, just manage them. The US started attacking Iraq in 1990 and is still doing bombing runs 25 years later. The US sponsored the mujahaddeen in Afghanistan in the 1970s and is still present 36 years later. Libya’s dictator was overthrown in 2011 and that country has been in managed conflict since. The list goes on and on, and will likely soon include Syria as a Western-managed conflict. Once a country is on the list, it can take decades to get off it again. In the chaos of these collapsed states, the next ISIS are being created.
First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Islamic-State-Is-the-Child-of-Chaos-Not-Religion-20150528-0055.html
Since September of 2014, the city of Kobani has been in the news as the site of a battle between Kurdish forces from the Rojava region and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). At the end of January, the Kurdish forces (YPG and YPJ) announced that Kobani had successfully repelled the attack. But ISIS is still in control of villages surrounding Kobani and maintaining its threat to other parts of Rojava.
Sardar Saadi is the coordinator of the Rojava Media Project, a media production and training project for young people in Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria, and a doctoral student in anthropology based in Toronto. I interviewed him on February 7, 2015.
Justin Podur: Can you describe your visit to the Rojava region, and tell us a bit of the geography so we can orient ourselves.
Sardar Saadi: The Rojava region is the Syrian part of Kurdistan, in northern Syria, estimates are of a population of 3 million. It has borders with Turkey and with Iraqi Kurdistan, which is governed by Masoud Barzani. It has three enclaves or cantons: Jazeera, Kobani, and Afrin. I went to the Jazeera canton and Qamishli, which is the biggest Kurdish city in Syria, for three weeks in August 2014. I was there as part of a team to establish a training center for a media project, rojavamediaproject.com.
There is not a lot of info on our website right now, but you can find some basic information on what our goals from this project are. I was also very curious to see what’s going on on the ground in Rojava, and basically to talk to the people there and do some preliminary fieldwork for a possible future study.
JP: You have written an article describing what is happening in Rojava as a revolution. Anarchist writer David Graeber has described it in similar terms, as did an academic delegation that he was a part of, and numerous writers have compared the Rojava Revolution’s program and methods to those of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Can you talk a bit about why you are calling it a revolution?
SS: I can go a bit into historical background of how the revolution started. The Kurdish movement in Syria is highly connected to the movement in Turkey led by the PKK (Kurdistan workers party). Because of the PKK’s relationship with Hafiz Assad, there wasn’t actually a strong presence of any kind of revolutionary/ insurgent/ militant movement in Syria against the regime. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t any persecution of Kurds – many Kurdish activists were in Assad’s jails. In 2004 the Qamishli uprising happened – about 30 people died in that uprising. That uprising was the first step for a reckoning in Rojava, for the Kurdish movement, and it influenced the PKK in a way that they could not compromise the potential of a revolution in that region.
In 2011 after the beginning of the revolution in Syria, which ended up in the Syrian civil war, the main Kurdish party, the PYD (Democratic Union Party) (which is known to be connected to the PKK) and based on Abdullah Ocalan’s (the PKK’s imprisoned leader) ideas of democratic confederalism, started political mobilization in the Kurdish cities in Syria.
The PYD’s military forces, YPG and YPJ (people’s and women’s protection units) started to take control of those cities and villages that were part of Kurdistan. In 2012, the Syrian regime’s forces started to withdraw from the Kurdish region and the PYD took control and started to form people’s assemblies, communes, and councils in the cities and other areas to create a political entity for Rojava.
The people in Rojava formed a founding council to write a kind of constitution for Rojava. By the end of 2013, the constitution was written and prepared and agreed upon: it’s called the Charter of Social Contract. By the beginning of 2014, they started forming their cantons, their political systems. One by one they declared their democratic autonomous self-administration. They are trying to avoid the language of “state” and “government” so they call themselves the “administration”.
All the daily affairs of these cantons are managed in councils at different levels. Each canton has its own council, and an executive body is in charge of the canton’s administrative and governmental work. The ethnic and religious representation is carefully chosen and the quota of 40% women is preserved at all levels. All of those communes have this quota and most of the time it’s exceeded – I personally saw some of the neighborhood communes and councils with over 70% of their active members being women, and not just young, but probably mostly middle-aged women. Those women that we think of in that region as housewives and mothers are actively involved in the neighborhood councils. There are also justice councils that have the same kind of system of organization – starting bottom-up from neighborhood communes to the canton.
JP: Which spokespeople should we search for their public statements?
SS: Both PYD’s co-chairs, Asya Abdullah and Salih Muslim, can be reached for this matter. Polat Can, who is very active on twitter, is a spokesperson for YPG who can also help with media inquiries, as well as Redur Xelil. There are representatives in Europe, namely Zuhat Kobane, who can also talk on behalf of the PYD.
JP: In many new revolutionary situations, there are some regions or communities that are, for historical reasons, better organized than others. Is there any unevenness in the organization?
SS: Historically, there was a kind of neighborhood organization based on a clandestine political party. Most of those neighborhood councils, communes, most of what we saw, are because of the organizing power of the PYD’s political body. There are two main bodies in terms of popular organizing that are called Democratic Society’s Movement (known by its Kurdish acronym TEV-DEM) and Democratic Culture’s Movement (known by its Kurdish acronym TEV-CAND). These two are doing most of the work.
People are calling it a social revolution as they are incredibly involved in every level of the social, political and economic life there. Most of the people involved are those who have never been active, and now they are actively engaged and organizing around their communities. And it is not necessarily for the PYD, it is for the sake of their own communities, neighborhoods, for themselves. For example, they decide how public resources such as a piece of public-owned land in their neighborhood to be used. They decide on the public use of these spaces, and then, they propose their plan to the municipality.
JP: What are the economic activities there?
SS: The Jazeera region is very rich in oil and wheat. In one of the interviews with Salih Muslim, he says that they are producing more wheat than they need in that canton. Jazeera is known to be Syria’s breadbasket. They produce over 70 percent of the wheat and other grains, so in terms of agriculture, it’s very rich.
Most of Syria’s oil also comes from there. While I was there, I heard that there are over 2300 oil wells in that region, but right now Jazeera canton’s administration has decided to have only 300 of them running.
Because of the economic embargo by the Turkish government and the Iraqi Kurdish regional government (Barzani’s administration) they can’t export any of what they produce – not oil, not wheat – nothing. And they can’t get anything from outside.
They have to smuggle anything they need. They run a small refinery for their own needs. Electricity is produced from small neighborhood generators that depend on this refinery. Transportation also depends on this refinery. In terms of people’s livelihoods, as much as I saw, they are working mainly for subsistence. I have heard the PYD have a committee working on developing a new paradigm for how to do self-government or autonomy in the economic area (see this article on the economic aspirations). Many cooperatives are starting up, if slowly. I think it’s the most difficult task of the revolution to convince people used to their mode of production, either traditional or modern capitalist one, to leave behind the idea of private property and produce cooperatively. However, if it succeeds, it could develop something fundamentally new and transformative in the whole region and even in the world. It could claim that hey, there is an alternative to the capitalist system, and it is working.
JP: Who controlled the economy traditionally? Are there big landlords? Merchants?
SS: I met one rich guy while I was there. I was told that he was the only one who stayed. Most of the landlords or those known to be wealthy, they have left – they sold everything and went to Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan, or Europe or somewhere else. And also there’s a kind of ethnic side to this class relationship, in Qamichlu. Many of the merchant class are from the Assyrian minority. The financial and banking systems are ethnically based. The Assyrian minority has a good relationship with the Kurdish community, but unfortunately, they are all trying to leave. They are all scared of what’s happening in the Syrian civil war. Whoever you speak to, they don’t want to stay in that situation.
JP: The Rojava revolution is surrounded by enemies, the Syrian government and ISIS, the Turkish government, even Iraqi Kurdistan, no one wants the revolution to succeed.
SS: I would relate this to the PKK and Ocalan’s idea of democratic confederalism. The PKK is the only revolutionary force that you can encounter in Kurdistan and maybe in the whole region. The PKK has shifted its politics from seeking an independent Kurdistan to a democratic Middle East in the last decade or so.
Unfortunately many analysts who follow what’s happening in Kurdistan, they think of the PKK as a nationalist movement. That’s not true. They are really trying to convince people that what they are trying to do is about the whole Middle East. I think it’s a smart move, and it is working. The PKK and Kurdish movement has long tried to establish a kind of geographic unit for the Kurds throughout the 20th century. In the end, there is only a little part of Iraqi Kurdistan that has been freed, which I believe is not truly free. After Rojava everyone saw that the politics of the Kurdish movement matters more than how much territory they control. That’s how the PKK is winning. In terms of social and political activism, the PKK has become a Jacobinian force in Kurdistan, trying to push people to organize around peoples’ assemblies, communes, and councils. What we currently see in this region is that the people have no option rather than being subjected to the state’s politics (Iraq, Iran, Syria) and imperialist rule or to Islamic organizations. The PKK is the only Left option.
After the liberation of Kobani, Turkey’s PM Erdogan just said they don’t accept any entity from “North Syria” comparing it to “North Iraq”. The Turkish state’s politics has been a politics of denial, of not accepting any kind of political formation, especially by the PKK.
There is a lot of talk about ISIS, but the person with aspirations to be Caliph is Erdogan, not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On the other hand, Barzani’s politics are similar to Erdogan’s and aligned with the West to develop the neoliberal market in the region. Internally, in Kurdish politics there’s a huge division between political parties and movements and personalities: those aligned and close to the PKK, in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where it is dominant, and those close to Barzani who are mainly traditional statists and Kurdish nationalists who believe that the PKK is not serving the people’s ambitions in Kurdistan and who think the whole idea of a democratic Middle East is not serving the Kurds.
JP: Is the battle for Kobani over?
SS: In the centre of Kobani it’s over. The YPG is spreading and gaining control of the surrounding areas. However, the fight against ISIS is far from over. There’s a possibility that ISIS could come back, but right now, they on the defensive. They are going to change direction toward other cantons of Rojava. Afrin is in danger: it’s small, it’s close to Aleppo, and the political development in Aleppo between FSA, the Syrian regime, ISIS, and Al-Nusra front is very crucial for the fate of Afrin. But on the other hand, it’s more mountainous and defensible compared to Kobani.
Right now the fighting is happening on the eastern front toward Gire Spi or Tal Abyad. The YPG’s strategy is to liberate there next. There were some news reports that they want to contact Arab tribes of that area to collaboratively liberate the city from ISIS. If they do that, Jazeera and Kobani will be connected. They are about 120km apart, and the area in between is under ISIS control. It would be a strategic move, but very difficult to accomplish. The Sunni Arab tribes and the Kurds of Rojava do not have a good relationship. The Arabs think of the Kurds as Assad’s agents, and the Kurds think of the Arabs as occupiers who moved to those areas in the 1950s-60s because of Assad’s “Arabization” policies. Nonetheless, the PYD’s politics is based on co-existence with each other on a shared homeland. It will be a test of the idea of the democratic Middle East.
JP: How important were the western airstrikes? They are advertised as if they were the only factor.
SS: That’s how they want to portray the liberation of Kobani in the mainstream media, as if it was solely because of the airstrikes. CNN did a shitty piece that says the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdish forces) liberated Kobani. There were only 200 peshmerga in Kobani. About 410 YPG and YPJ fighters died fighting ISIS, and, as far as I know, only one peshmerga fighter was killed. No one can deny their help for the liberation of Kobani and the YPG in many occasions thanked them. However, they were only logistical forces and not on the front line. But according to CNN, it was the Peshmerga, and airstrikes by coalition forces, that did the whole job.
The YPG’s position from the beginning has been: ISIS is not the Kurds and YPG’s problem. ISIS comes out of NATO’s politics against the Syrian regime. Now the YPG and YPJ is fighting ISIS on behalf of everyone in the region. Kobani is liberated but it is in ruins. No building is undamaged by coalition’s airstrikes and ISIS’ shelling the city.
Back in summer 2014 when ISIS attacked Kobani canton, it was 2-3 weeks that the YPG called for help. It was the time that the airstrikes could have stopped ISIS outside of the city. In one interview with YPG in Kobani, a spokesperson pointed out that it was NATO’s mistakes that saw all their heavy weaponry end up in ISIS’s hands, and all we asked was for coalition forces to destroy those tanks and artillery that they had indirectly supplied ISIS, could they at least destroy their own stuff. The coalition forces didn’t help the YPG and YPJ forces until the media paid attention to the resistance in Kobani. The Western mainstream media just found out that there’s something happening there even though what they did was to show this resistance through sexualized depictions of Kurdish women fighters against Islamic extremists. The depictions were awful, but the media attention did help. Turkey was pushing really hard against the airstrikes, arguing why not just let this one city fall. So to answer your question, yes the airstrikes did help, but the brave men and women of YPG and YPJ liberated the city.
First published on TeleSUR English