Pro-PKK group accuses Iraqi Kurdistan of fencing off border – preventing aid reaching Syrian Kurds.
Conflicting reports on the status of a border crossing between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria’s predominantly Kurdish areas have aroused further animosity between a powerful Syrian Kurdish party and the Iraqi Kurdistan government.
Reports about the closure of the border, and the official denials, come amid stark shortages of food, medicine and fuel in Syria as the opposition’s armed conflict against Bashar al-Assad’s government enters its third year in March.
The Democratic Unity Party (also known by its Kurdish acronym PYD), which reportedly has the upper hand in the predominantly-Kurdish areas in the north-east of Syria after the army withdrew its forces last summer, has recently accused the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government of closing and fencing off a border crossing, depriving Syrian Kurds of much-needed basic supplies.
The PYD is an offshoot of Turkey’s militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has opposed Kurdistan Region President Massoud President Barzani’s recent efforts to bolster ties with the Turkish government.
While the KRG strongly rejected the claim, describing it as a “deliberate misinformation campaign”, it said that it will not allow its border to be used by traffickers.
This is the first major media exchanges between the two who already seemed on a collision course as Barzani had persistently sought greater cooperation with Turkey, while the PYD and its parent organization the PKK are on that country’s blacklist.
Turkey, a key ally of the Syrian opposition, has repeatedly denied the PYD a place in gatherings it has organized for Syria’s opposition groups and seems to be wary of its growing power.
There are more than one border crossing between Syria and Iraq, but only one is under the KRG control and it lies in Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party’s traditional stronghold.
The KRG denied that it had closed the border in the face of Kurds from Syria, pointing to its support for around 60,000 refugees it already hosts, most of whom are based in the Domiz camp in Duhok province (some 70km from the Syrian border).
This came after the pro-PKK Firat News Agency carried a video allegedly showing that the KRG had fenced the border area.
Barzani, and other KRG officials, said that the only crossing point under KRG’s control was Fishkhapur where River Tigris divides the two counties and can only be crossed by boat.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters on 7 January that only a stretch of 700-800 meters of the border strip was fenced because of a security vacuum in the area which is located between the side policed by the central government and the one controlled by the KRG.
Aldar Khalil, member of a joint high committee running local affairs in Syria’s Kurdish areas, told Firat on 10 January that the border crossing with the KRG was still shut, adding that heavy snow had postponed its reopening by one day, to 11 January.
The PYD and the PKK outlets have called for demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan if the border crossing remained closed.
While it is not entirely clear what the status of the official border crossings is, it is perhaps this strip of 700-meter land what the PYD is referring to as “border crossing”, as it was used by the refugees and others to enter Iraqi Kurdistan.
War of words
A statement issued by Barzani’s office on 7 January accused an unnamed Kurdish party, presumably the PYD, of trying to impose itself on Syrian Kurds “through weapons.” The PYD is reportedly policing the Kurdish areas through its armed wing, the People’s Defence Units (known as YPG).
“We make it clear to our brethren in West Kurdistan that we in the Kurdistan Region will not allow our border with Syria to be used for smuggling weapons and illegal drugs by any side; such misleading reports only serve the agenda of some sides… This is a critical juncture and no side should be allowed to impose itself through weapons,” the Kurdistan Region Presidency statement said.
The editorial of Khabat daily — mouthpiece of Barzani’s party — on 10 January accused the PYD of spreading “misinformation” and undermining Barzani’s efforts to bring Syrian Kurdish parties closer together.
Meanwhile, the pro-PKK Ronahi TV, with a primary focus on Syria, regularly carried reports on the alleged closure of the border in its news bulletins on 8 January.
And a report by Firat accused the KRG of exporting “expired meat” to Syria.
The KRG has also come under fire from within, as the opposition parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament on 7 January (the same day a KRG statement denied the closure of the border) criticized the government for “preventing supplies from reaching Syrian Kurds by fencing off the border area with barbed wire”.
In October 2011, Massoud Barzani brought together over a dozen Syrian Kurdish organizations under the umbrella of the Kurdish National Council (KNC). The chairman of the council is Abd-al-Hakim Bashar, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, a sister organization of Barzani’s KDP.
In November 2012, Barzani brokered a deal to set up a higher joint Kurdish committee between the PYD and its rival, the KNC, in an effort to allow the two to run local affairs in tandem.