Just before the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s visit to Ankara, there have been a number of incidents and media news stories that have provocatively sought to criticise the actions of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Whilst senior Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) officials have issued strong statements voicing these concerns, the YPG has issued strong denials about an attack it is accused of having made in Sihêla in Iraqi Kurdistan. In light of the way in which accusations have been levelled, some have wondered whether the KDP has launched a ‘perception’ operation against AANES (also known as Rojava) by stating that its “YPG attacked the Peshmerga”.
Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s statement
Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and a senior member of the KDP leadership, on 16 December stated that after a group of PKK fighters were denied entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), “a large group of YPG fighters subsequently attacked the local Peshmerga base, using heavy weaponry. Fortunately, our brave Peshmerga forces responded swiftly, repelled the YPG forces and foiled the attack. I condemn this reckless, unprovoked attack by the YPG in the strongest terms. This was a clear and illegal violation of the territory of the Kurdistan Region and the authority of the KRG. I call upon our friends and partners in the Global Coalition to ensure that the YPG does not repeat this act of aggression. The YPG cannot be allowed to exploit foreign assistance to launch attacks on our territory. Any repeat would be seriously damaging to regional security”.
The Peshmerga Deputy Minister of KRI, Serbest Lezgin, also held a press conference to report on the incident but KDP media outlets were the only ones present. Lezgin claimed that the “YPG attacked a point belonging to the Peshmerga forces on the Rojava-Bashur border”.
Statement by the General Command of the YPG
YPG sources denied Lezgin’s claim and an official statement by the General Command of the YPG on 17 December stated that: “In recent years, there have been ongoing efforts of coordination between AANES and the Kurdistan Region. These continuous efforts were part of the joint fight against ISIS and to ensure peace and security in the region. As a result of this coordination, many tensions on the border were resolved peacefully”.
The General Command of the YPG added that: “Our forces did not carry out any unilateral attack on any Peshmerga bases and positions in the vicinity of Sihêla. There is no reason for our units who are responsible to protect Rojava borders to attack security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government. There are various media reports portraying the situation on the border as a chaos by false claims. In fact, what happened was the result of a lack of communication and coordination between us and the relevant authorities and institutions in the Kurdistan Region. We, as the People’s Defense Units, respect the autonomy of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to abandon their aggressive and provocative stance and rhetoric towards AANES. All issues must be resolved through dialogue between the two sides”.
Lezgin’s controversial assertions
The Peshmerga Deputy Minister of KRI, Serbest Lezgin – contrary to what the General Command of the YPG has stated – claimed that the YPG forces attacked the Sihêla region in Al Malikiyah. However, that region is 30 km from the Turkish border and as per the Sochi agreement dated 22 October 2019, there is no YPG, YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) force or presence in that region.
After adverse reactions to these assertions by Lezgin, the KDP affiliated media had to withdraw such news statements and they changed it. This time, it was claimed that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and YPG attacked Peshmergas at Sihêla.
Masrour Barzani’s meeting with Rayburn
The claims of Lezgin and the KDP media are in line with the reported stance of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani in a phone call he had with the US Special Representative for Syria, Joel Rayburn, two days ago. In his phone conversation with Rayburn, Masrour Barzani reportedly said that “the PKK attacked the Peshmerga in Amediye. The PKK organized the protests that are happening in Iraqi Kurdistan” and that “the military aid which coalition forces provided to the SDF was given to the PKK”. These are very similar accusations to those that are made by the Turkish armed forces. Soon after the news coverage of the concerns reportedly raised by Barzani with Rayburn, KDP reported about the ‘YPG attacks’ on the Peshmerga in Sihêla.
Since September, the KDP has been building up its military deployments along the Rojava border. The KDP, which has shipped a large number of heavy weapons to the region, has also installed thermal cameras along the border. Whilst the KDP was claiming that the YPG and the PKK attacked the Peshmerga, Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Fuad Hussein was visiting Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Çavuşoğlu in Ankara.
Statement by Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs
During their meeting, Çavuşoğlu said: “In Syria, the PKK and YPG are the same organizations, no matter what the names are: they began to attack our Kurdish brothers and sisters who do not obey them at the border. We will give all the support needed for Iraq to get rid of the PKK”.
Statement regarding the Sinjar Agreement
KDP’s Fuad Hussein further stated that he talked with Çavuşoğlu about the Sinjar Agreement, which has been criticized on a number of grounds by Yazidi organisations, community groups and other Kurdish political organisations and parties who fear that the autonomy of Sinjar is at stake. “The agreement is very important for the region as well as for Iraq”, Fuad Hussein said.
This statement is at odds with the views expressed by many Yazidis living in Sinjar who have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the agreement alongside the Sinjar Democratic Autonomous Assembly (MXDŞ). Protests against the Sinjar Agreement have also been organised by the Patriotic Yazidi Youth and Union of Young Yazidi Women (YCJÊ) in the Amud region of Sinjar in Iraqi Kurdistan. Protests against the agreement by Kurdish diaspora groups and people have also taken place across several cities in Europe, including Paris, Bordeaux, Rennes, Copenhagen and Brussels.
The European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E) Co-Presidency Council, which supported worldwide protest events on 5 December against the Sinjar agreement, has stated: “Everywhere is Sinjar, everywhere is resistance – in Europe, Canada, Australia and all over the world. We need to take action against the occupation and prevent a possible genocide in Sinjar”.
A ‘perception’ operation?
Several political observers and commentators view the alleged nature of the ‘YPG attack on the peshmerga’ and related charges against the YPG and AANES as part of psychological warfare – or ‘perception’ – operations. Robert Longley, writing in THoughtCo, clarifies that “psychological warfare typically employs propaganda to influence the values, beliefs, emotions, reasoning, motives, or behaviour of its targets”. Such warfare can be reflected through the use of “weaponised information”.