Kurds hope to establish a federal region

syriaSyrian Kurdish parties are working on a plan to declare a federal region across much of northern Syria, several of their representatives said on Wednesday. They said their aim was to formalize the semiautonomous zone they have established during five years of war and to create a model for decentralized government throughout the country.

If they move ahead with the plan, they will be dipping a toe into the roiling waters of debate over two proposals to redraw the Middle East, each with major implications for Syria and its neighbors.

One is the longstanding aspiration of Kurds across the region to a state of their own or, failing that, greater autonomy in the countries where they are concentrated: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, all of which view such prospects with varying degrees of horror.

The other is the idea of settling the Syrian civil war by carving up the country, whether into rump states or, more likely, into some kind of federal system. The proposal for a federal system has lately been floated by former Obama administration officials and publicly considered by Secretary of State John Kerry, but rejected not only by the Syrian government but by much of the opposition as well.

What Syrian Kurdish officials described was likely to alarm many of the other Syrian combatants: a federal region on all the territory now held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group supported by the United States military against the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Some of the officials said the zone would even expand to territory the Kurds hope to capture in battle, not only from ISIS but also from other Arab insurgent groups — some of them, like the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the United States.

But Syrian Kurdish officials sought to play down the move, portraying it as nothing radical and calling it an effort to keep an already tattered and divided Syria from disintegrating further.

“Federalism is going to save the unity of a whole Syria,” said Ibrahim Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Democratic Union Party, or P.Y.D., the leftist Syrian Kurdish party that plays a leading role in the Kurdish areas of Syria.

The discussion is about the possibility of a federal system not only for Kurdish-majority areas but for all of Syria, according to Mr. Ibrahim and three other officials and P.Y.D. members, who were all briefed on the talks or participated in them.

They emphasized that the entity would not be called a Kurdish region but rather a federal region of northern Syria, with equal rights for Arabs and Turkmens.

And they strongly hinted that it was not their idea, but that it was being pushed by the Americans and other powers. A former senior administration official, Philip Gordon, and others recently floated a proposal to divide Syria into zones roughly corresponding to areas now held by the government, the Islamic State, Kurdish militias and other insurgents.

The Kurdish discussions about northern Syria are becoming public just as a new round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks, heavily promoted by the United States and Russia, begins in Geneva, aiming to broker a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

 

The Syrian Kurdish move — still under discussion by Kurdish and other parties in the area — would fall well short of declaring independence. But it is still likely to rile the Syrian government and the main Arab-led opposition group, the High Negotiation Committee. They have both declared opposition to federalism, seeing it as a step toward a permanent division of the nation. (Courtesy New York Times)

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