PYD leader: SDF operation for Raqqa countryside in progress, Syria can only be secular

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PYD leader Salih Muslim (c) speaking to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Kobane. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

KOBANE – The Democratic Union Party (PYD) co-chair Salih Muslim hosted ARA News in his house in Kobane to discuss the recent developments in northern Raqqa and in the rest of Syria. The PYD co-head dismissed criticism of those who suggest the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should not lead operations to take northern Raqqa. 

Muslim is a member of the Kurdish Barazi tribe, born in the village of Sheran in 1951, 7 kilometers from Kobane city. At a young age at secondary school, he started to get interested in politics, and joined the Democratic Union Party (PYD) since its establishment in 2003, and eventually became the co-chair of the party. “In most countries, I would be retired by now, but the situation needs me,” he said, complaining about his age, with a smiling face. 

Not Ready for Raqqa

Muslim said that the Kurdish-led SDF forces are currently not fighting to liberate Raqqa the city, the operation is only for the countryside of Raqqa, since no administration has been created yet to run the city in the post-ISIS phase. “We should prepare the administration to run Raqqa after the liberation, consisting of all components living in Raqqa: Kurds, Arabs and Christians. But the council should be mostly Arabs,” he said.

The Kurdish leader blamed the critics of the SDF as supporters of Turkey. “Most likely Turkey is behind them [those who critic SDF] and they are located in Ankara,” he said. “Just go to the police in Tel Abyad, and 85% of them are Arabs. We are very careful about this, people should be prepare to live together, they cannot do that when they are enemies of each other,” the PYD co-chair told ARA News.

“They [Turkey and its supporters] don’t want any advances for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and they don’t want to have any gains for the Kurdish people inside this federal system and to liberate Raqqa,” Muslim said.

“Federalism is not for only Rojava or the Kurdish people, it’s a project for all the Syrian people, while Turkey and its affiliates are afraid of democracy to be implemented in Syria,” he added.

Arabs Ready for Liberation

He criticized the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently for suggesting that Raqqa civilians join the Islamic State (ISIS), after the YPG pushed for Raqqa ‘to defend their city’.

“They [people of Raqqa] are waiting for liberation. Everyone is fed up with those barbarians. They cannot face ISIS extremists and cannot fight against them, so they are waiting for someone to rescue them,” Muslim told ARA News.

According to reports, the Islamic State is trying to prevent civilians from leaving, and is using civilians as human shields to prevent coalition air strikes.

The Kurdish leader added that the number of Arabs in the SDF ranks are expending day by day. “Every day we hear 200 Arabs join the SDF,” he said. According to the local media recently 750 Arabs in Shadadi joined the SDF, and 300 the local police.

Muslim also criticized Turkey for suggesting the Arabs that work with the YPG are ‘Kurdified Arabs’. “Turkey created Daash [ISIS] and is still supporting this terror group, and the Turkish authorities still try to make some kind of problems between Arabs and Kurds, but even the Arabs do not trust Turkey,” he said.

The PYD co-head said they are willing to work with secular Free Syrian Army groups, like the New Syrian Army. “The measurement for us to coordinate with any group politically and even armed forces if they are secular. If the rebel groups [being trained] in Jordan or any other groups accept secularism, we can work with them, but not if they call for the Islamic State, Islamic emirates, or Islamic law,” he added. “Syria can only be secular,” he told ARA News.

Muslim also blamed Turkey for creating obstacles for operations against ISIS. “If there are obstacles, the reason is not the Americans. The US are thinking of their interests with Turkey,” he added. 

Future of Manbij

Salih Muslim also emphasized that there is still an option for the SDF to go towards Manbij and Jarabulus to open a corridor between Kobani [Kobane] and Efrin [Afrin]–two Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.

“Yesterday I met with members from the Tel Abyad council and the Manbij council and everybody is waiting for people to go in,” he said. “Members of the Tel Abyad council whose relatives still live in Raqqa said if the SDF implement the same system as in Tel Abyad, in Raqqa, all people would welcome them,” he told ARA News.

According to the senior Kurdish leader, the main objective of the recent SDF operation is to cut off supply routes to Raqqa, but the SDF could also move towards the western side of the province. “The support towards Raqqa mostly comes from Jarabulus and Manbij, alongside the Euphrates. It could be an operation to cut these roads, I don’t know what they are planning.”

According to Muslim, the areas between Azaz and Kobane contain at least 50 per cent Kurdish villages. “But the current operation is now for the north of Raqqa,” he added.

Border Closure

The PYD leader also dismissed statements by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that they closed the border between Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan due to the lack of power-sharing by the PYD. “Putting Rojava under siege only helps the enemies of the Kurdish people,” Muslim said in an exclusive interview with ARA News. “I think the main reason is Turkey, Turkey ordered them,” he said after the PYD and its allies declared federalism on 17 March. The Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC)–mainly supported by the KDP– criticized the PYD for monopolizing the control of the border crossing.

Salih Muslim said the KDP wanted to close down the borders two years ago because the border taxes were used by the Syrian Kurds to buy weapons for the People’s Protection Units (YPG). “Of course we buy weapons for the YPG to defend our people. If I drink whiskey or gamble money they [KDP] will be happy, but not if I buy weapons for the YPG,” he added.

Currently, the PYD is looking for alternatives to the KDP-controlled border gate in Semalka. “I was in Slemani and met with some people from Baghdad to try to find ways for business between Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] and Baghdad,” he said. The PYD hopes that after the Iraqi army liberated the city of Mosul, it would be easier to use the border. “Will it be more easy,” I asked. “Of course,” he replied.

Geneva Peace Talks 

One of the big problems for the PYD is that both the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime reject their participation in the Geneva negotiations. “If Russia and US want it, we could be part of it,” he said. “But Turkey is pushing the Kurds and doesn’t want a political solution in Syria.”

“If we are on the table of negotiations, we will push for a political solution,” Muslim told ARA News.

“If we fail, we will look for other alternatives. In the end, we are ready to discuss with anyone who is willing to accept this project for federalism for all of Syria,” he said.

However, the Kurdish leader added that the Syrian regime is not ready. “They still have a Baathist mentality and don’t accept others, and want one Syria as a dictatorship ruled by one party as part of the Arab nation,” he said. Also, the Turkey-backed opposition completely rejects any form of federalism in Syria.

Muslim suspects that there might have been agreements under the table between the Turkish and Assad regime, after their secret meeting in Algeria, just after which 2-days clashes erupted between the regime and the Kurds in Qamishlo (Qamishli). “This also happened in 1975 during mr. Barzani’s revolution,” he argued.

However, according to Muslim, now that the Kurds have been able to defeat ISIS “its unlikely that any army could defeat the Kurds”.

US-Kurdish Relations

The Kurdish leader and also full-time diplomat says that the situation is nevertheless improving, with the US allowing Kurdish officials Sinem Mohammed and Ilham Ahmed to visit Washington. “It is a good step to give them a visa, they did not give me a visa, but maybe this could happen in the future,” he added.

“In many countries we now establish representation offices like in Moscow and Paris,” he said. “They are more like a NGO or civil organization, not a consulate or an embassy, and through these offices with people from Rojava, the westerners have a kind of open window to deal with Rojava,” he said. “The goal is to just help the people.”

The senior Kurdish leader said they hope the US government will allow the Kurds to open an office in Washington. “It depends on the preparation of the people here also, but the US laws are very helpful to open an office, and we are working on it.”

Last week’s visit by the US general Joseph Votel to Rojava has not surprised the PYD leader. “The [US special forces] are located somewhere in here [Kobane], and in Cizire [Hasakah province],” he said about the forces. “It’s an ordinary thing that generals visit them to see what’s going on and to see the war on the ground,” Muslim added. “They are doing the same in Iraq, but nobody says a thing.”

Moreover, Muslim denied meeting US special envoy Brett McGurk last week, and meeting US centcom general Votel. “Its not a matter of supporting. It’s a matter of trust and we are fighting and we are mixing our blood,” he said. “We would like to trust each other and fight on the ground together,” he told ARA News.

Salih Muslim, PYD leader

Interview by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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