Edmund Ghareeb, author of The Kurdish Question in Iraq, says hundreds of Kurdish villages and small towns remain under the control of the Islamic State


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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces claimed full control of Kobanî on Monday, gaining an important victory over the IS. The IS has had control of the Syrian Kurdish city just one mile from the Turkish border since September. Now joining us from Washington, D.C., to discuss all of this is Edmund Ghareeb. He’s the author of The Kurdish Question in Iraq. Edmund, thank you so much for joining us. EDMUND GHAREEB, AUTHOR, THE KURDISH QUESTION IN IRAQ: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you. PERIES: Edmund, there was celebratory gunfire from the YPG and the Peshmerga forces to announce the liberation of the city from the IS. Are they going to be able to hold off the IS? GHAREEB: Well, I think the chances are good. They have pushed the Islamic State from the majority of the town. There are apparently some pockets that are still left, but it’s generally believed that they were going to be expelled from those pockets according to some of the local forces who are operating against the Islamic State. And I think chances are good that they will be able to hold on to the city. Clearly, this was accomplished with the help of the coalition, U.S. airstrikes yesterday. There were something like 17 airstrikes by U.S. forces. There was also participation by some Syrian opposition forces, as well as by some Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurbish Peshmerga forces. Their numbers were small, both the Syrian opposition and the Kurdish Peshmergas. And the main fighting forces were the local committees which represented the PYD. There is, however, still another problem, and that is a big one, that ISIS or IS controls somewhere about between 380 to 385 villages in the Kurdish areas close to Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. And so that’s going to take a long while before these are taken back. And so the fight, I think, is likely to continue. But this is significant in its own way, and we can talk about that and the reasons behind it later if you like. PERIES: Right. And also, this conflict thus far has also generated a large number of refugees. In fact, the refugee management group has built enormous tents, some of them holding up to 35,000 people. Describe for us the plight of ordinary people there. GHAREEB: Well, the plight of the people has been very–it’s been very hard, very severe on them. We have seen many people leaving their town, their village. In fact, from what I have been hearing is that most of the local population left the town. And they are living under very difficult circumstances. And the weather also has not been helping. And it’s taken a long time. I mean, if you remember, this is probably something like almost 135 or 136 days since the plight has started. And usually it’s the civilian population which ends up paying the heaviest price. And that’s what’s happening in this case. PERIES: Right. And, Edmund, earlier when I asked you will they be able to hold the IS off–and part of the reason for asking that question is because of the complexity of the forces on the ground locally that had to come together in a coalition to actually fight them off. So what are the political character and dynamics on the ground? GHAREEB: Well, I think what we have seen is that there is a coalition, as you correctly pointed out, has come together. This coalition represents a number of groups. The main group is the PYD, which is a political organization, probably the strongest of the Kurdish political groups, the best-armed, relatively speaking. It is the one also that was first to move to help the Yazidis in Iraq after the attack upon them by the Islamic State. And that has been the major fighting group in Kobanî (Ayn Al-Arab). Now there is also–there were at one time 200, and then the number would turn one down to something like 150 Kurdish Peshmergas from the Iraqi Kurdish region, the Kurdish should region of governments, and these fighters to help. Also, there has been a number of fighters from the Syrian Arab opposition. And they–again, the numbers are small. I don’t know the exact number, but it hasn’t been that high. So they have also been involved. They have contributed to this fight. In addition, I think, of course, that you also have the international coalition, which has been launching some strikes, providing some support, also sending ammunition and other supplies to the fighters in Kobanî. So this is the combination. The last couple of days, yesterday, there were something like 17, as a mentioned earlier, 17 airstrikes by the coalition forces against the IS. And there’s no doubt that that has first slowed down, contributed to slowing down the advance, the momentum of the IS, and later to boost the morale and strengthen the forces which are fighting against IS. And so this is where I think the significance of this. I don’t know if it’s going to make a great deal of a difference, but psychologically, symbolically, emotionally, I think it’s going to be a very important event, because of the psychological and symbolic significance of this town, which had almost fallen to IS but now has been be retaken by the Kurdish forces and their allies. PERIES: Right. And finally, Edmund, what do you think the role of the Peshmergas will be now that they’ve actually gained control of Kobanî? Will they go back to northern Iraq? GHAREEB: I think a great deal will depend on where do they go from here. I think if the fight goes to reclaim some of the villages, I think we are likely to see at least a symbolic presence, Peshmerga presence, will continue. But I think the main fighting, again, is going to be done by the PYD. And perhaps we might begin to see also other elements. There has been–recently some meetings have taken place. One meeting was under Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government. And this group has met, brought together a variety of Kurdish groups, plus Syrian groups, who are supporting the Kurds, fighting alongside the Kurds, plus some Arab tribes. And there is talk that a new coalition may emerge. And if that happens, I think that would be very helpful in trying to regain control of those villages and small towns. PERIES: Right. Edmund, I want to thank you so much for joining us and giving us this quick update. And we are looking forward to further analysis from you in the coming days. GHAREEB: Thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Edmund Ghareeb

Edmund Ghareeb is an internationally recognized expert on Iraq, Kurds, the Middle East, US media coverage of the Middle East; the new media in the Arab world; Arab Americans; ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. He has taught Middle Eastern history and politics at a number of universities, including the University of Virginia, George Washington University, American University, and McGill University. He has authored, co-authored or edited a number of books, including Split Vision: The Portrayal of Arabs in the U.S. Media, The Kurdish Question in Iraq, The Kurdish Nationalist Movement, and Historical Dictionary of Iraq, Iraqi Refugees. He has also lectured and written extensively on US policy towards the Middle East and US-Gulf relations. Dr. Ghareeb is a former journalist and has been widely interviewed by Arab, American, and European television, radio, and newspapers on the Middle East, the media, and US related issues.