Iraqi Kurdish leader visits NE Syria, says Kurds could form 'superpower'
The head of a main ruling political party in the Iraqi Kurdistan region visited Kurdish-held northeast Syria on Tuesday to discuss joint efforts to tackle the Islamic State (IS) group, which has intensified an insurgency in northern Iraq.
Bafel Talabani, president of the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), met with Mazloum Abdi, the General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, and senior political leaders.
Talabani and Abdi also met with US Army Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.
"The meeting focused on joint efforts to combat the terrorism of ISIS cells, support stability and security in the region, and develop the dialogue between the parties to achieve common goals of political and security stability in the area," the SDF said in a statement.
The Combined Joint Task Force said in a tweet that the visit confirmed the "international coalition's commitment to support the forces as they lead the anti-ISIS operations."
This visit by CJTF-OIR leadership reflects the importance of our partnership w/ @cmoc_sdf. Our commitment to support & enable our #SDF partners in pursuit of a stabilized & secure NE Syria as they continue the anti-ISIS fight remains as strong as ever. https://t.co/z30TNnt8v1 pic.twitter.com/I8pQUJXv4b— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) December 21, 2022
Abdi also tweeted that he was pleased to meet with Talabani and McFarlan.
Pleased to meet with PUK leader @Bafeltalabani & @CJTFOIR commander Matthew McFarlane, to talk about developing anti-terror joint efforts to preserve region's stability.— Mazloum Abdî مظلوم عبدي (@MazloumAbdi) December 20, 2022
Proud of this partnerships and we work on expanding it.
Thanks for your support and friendship. pic.twitter.com/SdDLuxOBdG
"Continued coordination and depriving ISIS of security vacuums were emphasized," Talabani said in a tweet.
Later on, Talabani posted a video suggesting that if nearly 45 to 50 million Kurds from Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria unite, then they would become a "superpower that no country can face".
"We can work together for a greater goal than ourselves, I think we can do such a thing like the other countries," Talabani said, in what appeared to be a reference to calls for a "Greater Kurdistan" comprising the Kurdish parts of the four countries.
لە رۆژئاوای کوردستان و سیمبوولی بەرخۆدانەوە، لەگەڵتانبووین و بەردەوام دەبین. pic.twitter.com/X5tKGMKCTb— Bafel Jalal Talabani (@Bafeltalabani) December 21, 2022
The visit comes as Turkey threatens to launch a large ground operation against the SDF after last month’s deadly explosion in Istanbul. Ankara has blamed the SDF of being behind the blast, however, the group has denied responsibility.
The SDF mainly consists of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as well as fighters from the Arab and other communities in northeastern Syria. It is backed by the US and was the main ground force that routed IS from Syria in 2019.
Turkey views the SDF as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considering both parties as a threat to its national security.
More than 20 people, mostly Iraqi troops, were killed over the past two weeks in attacks attributed to the IS militants in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces.
After a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, IS saw its self-proclaimed "caliphate" collapse under a wave of offensives.
It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells of the extremist group still carry out attacks in both countries.