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December 03, 2013

Syrian Kurds Want Iraqi Border Crossing Opened

by Jamie Dettmer

Syrian Kurds are hoping the Iraqi government in Baghdad will open a border crossing they recently captured from al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists. Competing forces within Syria and social and political divides in neighboring Iraq and Turkey, however, are big obstacles.

Syrian Kurdish militiamen have been in control since October of the town of Yaroubiya on the Iraq border after seizing it from jihadist fighters. Now their leaders want Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to open the crossing to trade and aid.

Other border crossings from Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan into the Kurdish-dominated northeast of Syria are currently closed.

Maliki and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani have clashed politically over the division of oil revenue between Baghdad and the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish area.

Competing interests

Barzani has gone along with a months-long embargo on the Syrian Kurds imposed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who disapproves of the Syrian Kurds’ aims to set up a semi-autonomous state in the northeast corner of Syria.

Turkey has long been battling Kurdish insurgency in its territory and fears Syria could become a haven for cross-border Kurdish attacks.

But the closing of the border crossings with both Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan has caused considerable hardship for the Syrian Kurds, said Kovan, an activist who has asked for his family name not to be used.

“The people are using what they have got, what they have already. Everything is getting so expensive,” said Kovan.

In recent months Kurdish militiamen have pushed jihadists out of key areas and are attempting to craft a mini-state in Syria’s northeast in territory abutting both Turkey and Iraq.

The leading Kurdish party in Syria, the Democratic Union Party [PYD] has announced intentions of conducting elections and establishing a provisional regional government.

Turkey tightens grip

Since the self-rule declaration, the Turks have tightened up on the border with Syria, making it harder and more dangerous to cross illegally. The dangers were underscored last month when three young Syrian Kurds were fatally shot by Turkish border guards. The Turks said they were smugglers.

Two of them were brothers, Amer Ahmed Abdullah, aged 29, and his 17-year-old sibling, Yaser. Their cousin, Ali Abdullah, said they weren’t smugglers and had been working in restaurants in southern Turkey.

“No work, there is no job here, so they went there to work, to get life, and to get money. They weren’t smugglers," said Abdullah. "They were only working in restaurant. They came back to visit their family and go back to Turkey again but they killed.”

Syria’s Kurds are depending on locally grown fruit and vegetables. Stores are thinly stocked when it comes to goods from outside and pharmacists are short of basic medicines, including antibiotics.

There are talks underway about allowing one of the border crossings with Turkey to be opened, but the Syrian army - and not the Kurds - control it.

PYD leader Saleh Muslim recently told a Kurdish TV station that he is pinning his hopes on Iraq's Maliki opening its border.