ISIS Battles Kurds Over Border Town Kobani To Maintain Oil Trade

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Yves here. One needs to read past the spin on the combatants and the hectoring of the Turks in this post. It does serve to explain why Kobani is a critical piece on the chessboard of the struggle in Kurdistan.

By Claude Salhani, a journalist, author and political analyst based in Beirut, specializing in the Middle East, politicized Islam and terrorism He is the former editor of the Middle East Times and a long-time contributor to the Commentary pages of the Washington Times and Beirut’s Executive Magazine. He is the former International Editor with United Press International and also ran UPI’s Terrorism & Security Desks. Originally published at OilPrice

Islamic State militants have been fighting for the past week for control of a key town straddling the Syrian-Turkish border. A victory by IS in Kobani, better known in the Arab world as Ain al Arab, would be a setback for the U.S.-Saudi-led alliance fighting the world’s most dangerous and most powerful terrorist organization.

More importantly, a victory for IS would give the group prestige among the dozens of groups lined up in the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad. It would also secure the terror organization’s flow of oil to a lucrative market – its link to the outside world via Turkey, as I reported last week.

Proof that this conflict is far from being a religious war, as IS would have the world believe, is the current battle to the finish between the Sunni militant group and the Kurds in Kobani. The Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, yet IS is going after them with a vengeance. It’s a revealing detail about who’s in power in IS: former members of the regime led by Saddam Hussein, who, it should be recalled, used chemical weapons against the Kurds, gassing entire villages.

Today that battle continues in Kobani. IS has surrounded the Kurds on almost every side with tanks and shelled the city with heavy weapons. Kurdish fighters are resisting as much as they can with the few weapons they have.

In moving the front line to another region entirely, IS has once again shown that it is as agile on the battlefield as it is in its business operations.

The group shifts troops and materiel from one theatre of operations to another, easily adapting to the changing political and economic outlines of the conflict. At the end of the day, their fight is not for control of the mosques, but oil fields.

Why Kobani? Why the Turkish border? Why now? Three reasons.

First: IS has devoted so much energy and fighters to winning control of this otherwise non-descriptive town mostly because of its close proximity to the Turkish border. Much of the IS’s clandestine trade — selling oil it has illicitly acquired from Syrian and Iraqi oil fields — transits through Turkey.

Second: It gives IS a chance to further weaken the Kurds. Although they are from the same branch of Islam, IS sees the Kurds as an obstacle on their road to total domination of the caliphate declared by their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Third: Kobani represents an opportunity for IS to expand its influence in the region.

Turkey — a regional “superpower” — is the only country with enough troops and armor and air support to inflict serous damage on IS. Yet the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems extremely reluctant to intervene, despite a government pledge to do whatever it takes to prevent Kobani from falling.

That’s the equivalent of Ankara playing with fire where relations with its own Kurdish population are concerned. Turkish Kurds are furious that Ankara is holding back from intervening in Kobani until the U.S.-led coalition meets certain demands, like establishing a no-fly zone and a buffer zone in northern Syria. Turkey also wants a clearer understanding about how, or whether, Washington is going to help drive Assad from power.

Meanwhile, Kurds have watched helplessly from across the border as the battle rages and Turkish ambulances race to bring the wounded to hospitals near the frontier.

Turkey is playing a dangerous game by using the Kurds as currency in this situation. It should remember that playing with fire so close to oil can be explosive.

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  1. ltr

    Thanks much for the context, I had no idea why Kobani might be considered important strategically. As for the politics involved, all is tragedy. So sad for the Kurds.

  2. Peppsi

    One wonders how the Turkish president Erdogan will feel about these attacks now. He tried to use the Islamic State advance to blackmail first the Kurds in Kobane and then the United States.

    His demands to the Kurdish leader of the YPG forces holding the city in exchange for some help were: 1) Cut ties with Assad 2) Join the Free Syrian Army and fight Assad 3) Accept a Turkish buffer zone in Syria on your grounds 4) Stop any striving for independence 5) Do not threaten Turkey. The Kurds rejected these conditions.

    Towards the United States Erdogan demanded that the U.S. should set the priority on destroying the Syrian government if it wants any Turkish help in its fight against the Islamic State. It should also install a no-fly-zone over Syria acting, like in Libya, as the insurgent’s air force and it should support a Turkish buffer zone within Syria.
    — b of MoA

    1. Fiver

      The Turks demanded from the US exactly what the US wants to do – this is about creating the conditions in a public mind shaped for decades to the purpose of this idea’s ready reception, i.e., a ‘humanitarian crisis’ justifies armed intervention no matter how many more people get killed than the number triggering the initial decision, and irrespective of the sure knowledge the guys in the White Hats are rotten to the core – in this case, the entire field, with the exception of Assad/Kurd ‘alliance’ territory, being directed by Washington via proxies. The larger goal remains the same no matter how many times they switch chairs: out with Assad; destroy any prospect of Arab or Islamic unity; maintain a veto over access to and price of Persian Gulf oil.

  3. RBHoughton

    Erdogan is also concerned for a possible territorial loss when the Kurds obtain their ancient lands and become a nation again. In biblical times, when they were called Medes, they lived in a large area of what is now Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They may not insist on all they had but whoever of those four countries is weakest will be donating most.

  4. John

    PKK has wanted an ethnic homeland in eastern Turkey for some time, for decades. Tens of thousands have died in a quiet civil war with the Turks. Millions have become refugees. Stunningly there have been no outsiders covering it. The Kurds are viewed like Palestinians to the Israelis — a decent conversation can turn ugly if you utter the word — Kurd — to a Turk. The angst runs deep. Erdogan is playing the let ’em burn card.

    FYI. A large Kurdish group stormed the European Commission building yesterday demanding help for that part of Syria because they know they are not going to get it from the Turks.

  5. digi_owl

    Heh, talk about a tangled weave.

    So IS is fine while fighting in Syria, but don’t try to spill over into Turkey or Iraq or their benefactors turns on them.

    I honestly wish all of it could be settled by deporting the people involved (including certain leaderships in various nations) to some remote island and let them duke it out there…

  6. falak pema

    Pax Americana comes apart in the sands of Syria.
    Turkey is now playing to write off Sykes Picot western legacy to the oil patch of post-WW1 carve-up, kicking out western control of region further down the road.
    Without boots on ground this ongoing US crusade is lost.
    Enter the historical antagonism of Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran. Two ancient empires will now fight to control the politics of the Oil patch. American interests, now protected by Israel and Sunni petro-monarchies, will be jeopardized by the increasing weight of Chindia in region’s exports and Turkey’s heavy hand in arbitrating flow to Europe.
    Turkey will not just control the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates, it will also control the oil/gas flows from its terminals to Europe and beyond.
    Tipping Times, as Pax Americana MIC’s hold on the region now suffers from blowback from the disastrous Crusade of GWB and his neocon cabal. For whom the bells will toll has still to play itself out.
    Looks like it will not be for peace and freedom, more for continued strife. As obscurantism is now rampant.
    What they have sown now future generations of Westerners will reap.

    Its not gonna be pretty as the whole Sunni region will be in turmoil all the way from Senegal to the shores of Tripoli, Lebanon and beyond into Afghanistan/Pakistan.
    Some awesome legacy that Pax Americana hubris is now going to see unfurling in Near Asia and MENA.

    I wonder what Leon Panetta’s version of a prolonged 30 year war means if the US and surrogate economies go into financial tail-spin recession big time !

    This global Banksta concocted debt burden has not been deleveraged.
    On the contrary, cheap money policies have fueled it further down the road to making it into a bonfire of vanities.

    1. Fiver

      Iran is not looking for war with anyone. And there is no way Turkey’s military is going to cross NATO – at least, not over this.

  7. blurtman

    So ISIS is misrepresenting its motives, and killing people for oil. Hmmmm…..where I have heard that one before?

  8. Jon Cloke

    Reasonable analysis.
    Of course, the Turkish army could be pulling a Stalin-in-front-of-Warsaw, i.e. let the Kurds and IS pound crap out of each other while the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ merrily degrades both sides with its’ ‘pinpoint’ airstrikes, until there’s nobody left to fight and Turkish tanks can saunter nonchalantly down the main street of Kobane, declaring both a victory and the rescue of the Kurds who are now too weak to fight them.

    That way, you weaken the Kurds, give ISIS a kicking and control the illegal oil transit that the Kurds thrive on. Simples, huh?

    And then keep Kobane…

    1. Nathanael

      That tactic has worked before.

      Whatever else Erdgogan is, he isn’t stupid, and he isn’t crazy. Unlike many of our leaders these days.

  9. Fiver

    I just don’t buy into the Official Narrative. That is not to say terrible things are not happening, but rather to seriously question just whose hands are on what buttons.

    Now, bearing in mind Obama has always been ‘pushed’ into his wars and kill lists, and such-like, and having seen other reports to the effect that ISIS forces were frequently moving around freely out in the open (i.e., not under sustained pressure) outside Korbani, and also noting a constant din from neocon talking heads as to a no-fly zone, humanitarian corridors, the requirement to base the ‘New Syrian Moderates’ somewhere, etc., and too many other reasons to go into regarding the entire saga from Libya forward, I’d suggest the focus on Korbani has nothing to do with the reasons elicited in this piece, but rather an effort to move the ball forward vis a vis a more intensive form of intervention. Period.

    Has nobody noticed negotiation of any kind has been completely ruled out from the get-go – just as it was with Saddam, the Colonel in Libya, and finally Assad? How many millions of Arabs and/or Muslims are going to be killed by people making decisions in offices thousands of miles away who’ve failed each and every time out for a century because they simply refuse to keep their puffy white faces out of everyone else’s – face, that is.

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