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As Turkey Waits Out Battle, ISIS Intensifies Attacks On Kobani

Islamic State members claim these twin explosions on October 8 in southeastern Kobani was not caused by airstrikes but was executed by the suicide bomber Abu Talha al-Ansari.
Karl-Ludwig Poggemann
Islamic State members claim these twin explosions on October 8 in southeastern Kobani was not caused by airstrikes but was executed by the suicide bomber Abu Talha al-Ansari.

On Friday UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura warned that hundreds of civilians will likely be massacred if Kobani falls under the control of ISIS. The UN announcement came after weeks of intense fighting between ISIS and besieged Kurdish forces in the Syrian city.

Despite international calls for intervention, Turkey has refused to allow its military or its Kurdish citizens to go fight to defend Kobani. Located on the border between Syria and Turkey, the city is home to 250,000 people.

Syria Comment blogger and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma Joshua Landis says that Syrian border city has become very important symbol.

“It's a sign of our inability to get along with Turkey to agree on what we're doing in Syria,” Landis says. “It's our first major challenge in Syria and it’s not working.”

Coalition airstrikes have not driven ISIS forces back, Landis says. In order to save Kobani, forces are needed on the ground. However, Turkey has said that it will not get involved in Syria as long as the U.S.-backed coalition refuses to attack the Assad regime.

Many Syrian rebels also want the United States to attack Assad as well as ISIS.

“The Syrian rebels who we said we're going to partner with, are furious with us,” Landis says. “They say, ‘Why aren't you attacking Assad? You're attacking Sunni Arabs. And you're helping Assad.’”

Landis says the United States is unlikely to attack the Assad regime because it would further destabilize the region.

“America does not want Assad to be overcome by the rebels because there are 1,500 rebel militias,” Landis says. “If they were to descend on Damascus … there would be millions more refugees flowing out of Syria. They would go to Lebanon and Jordan and those two countries could collapse. And America does not want the chaos and disorder to expand in the Middle East, because that would lay the foundations for ISIS's and Al-Qaeda's spread in much more of the Middle East.”

Turkey is also in a difficult position with its Kurdish minority. Kurdish protests have turned violent across the country as Turkey struggles with the issue of Kobani.

“The Kurds of Syria are controlled by and allied with the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party of Turkey which is led by [Abdullah] Öcalan,” Landis says. “It has led the struggle for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for 40 years. 30,000 people have been killed in this low-grade insurgency. The head, Öcalan, of this movement is in jail in Turkey, and Turkey does not want to reward these people. They see them as terrorists, America and the whole world has them listed as terrorists.”

Landis says that there will be no easy answers to Kobani or to the crisis in Syria. The gridlock with Turkey and the United States may be a sign of things to come.

“It's a conundrum,” Landis says. “And it underlines how difficult this entire operation in Syria is going to be.”

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