By Claude Salhani —
While still a predominant factor in the war being waged by the so-called Islamic State, oil is taking a back seat as the full brunt of Middle Eastern styled politics is unleashed on and around the small Syrian border town of Kobani. It is oil that is extracted from this region that in a large part helps the IS finance the war.
The battle for control of Kobani has indeed witnessed some of the heaviest fighting to date as fighters loyal to the Islamic State, IS or ISIS, have launched renewed attacks on Kurdish Peshmerga defenders, hitting them with mortars and car bombs, according to wire agencies quoting sources in the besieged town.
The Kurds, who are autochthonous to the region where the heavy fighting is unfolding in a manner are representative of the West’s last line of defense in the region. If the Kurds fail they have nowhere to fall back. The next line of conflict between ISIS and the Western-led powers will be fought inside Turkey, a NATO country.
Already Turkish border towns and villages have suffered much from the ongoing violence that is carving up Syria and Iraq. One report spoke of 44 mortars being fired at Kurdish positions, however some of the shells fell inside Turkey.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that four more mortars were fired on Sunday.
The town has become strategic as both sides now look at it as a point of significant psychological importance and a symbol for their cause. Suddenly oil and business sense take a back seat to “saving face,” a characteristic of the region that has claimed more lives than the faces it has saved.
For the fighters of the Islamic State, Kobani represents remaining steadfast in the face of the far superior military onslaught, the aerial bombardment being waged by the United States and its European and Arab allies.
For the Western-led alliance, allowing Kobani to fall would give the enemy a public relation edge in the war, allowing it to recruit more volunteers into their ranks and would be a terrible blow for the Kurds and other groups engaged in fighting the radical Islamists. Since U.S. President Barack Obama launched a campaign aimed at defeating the IS fighters, bombing raids against the terrorists have been carried out with renewed vigor. But will it be enough or will the United States be forced to eventually put reluctant boots on the ground?
Indeed, the fate of the beleaguered town will reflect much on the level of the Obama administration’s resolve of dealing with the threat posed by the Islamists. Amidst the confusion of war, there is further opaqueness over the role of Turkey, a NATO member country who seems to be playing both sides of the fence; Turkey, has its armed forces – the most powerful military force in the Middle East — deployed along its border with Syria, yet Turkish authorities have been reluctant to intervene.
Turkey is ruled by a moderate Islamist party — the Justice and Development Party – known by its Turkish acronym, AKP. Yet, Turkey is also a member of NATO and as such needs to comply by certain directives issued from NATO HQ in Brussels. But Turkey, who has long had its own share of problems with the Kurds is reluctant to offer too much help to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani, lest it encourages its own Kurds to get any funny ideas. At the same time the country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a personal vendetta against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and as such has been trying to connect any cooperation by Turkey in the fight against ISIS to stepping up efforts to oust Bashar. Given the geography of the region, Turkey’s participation on the fight against ISIS remains vital to the success of the campaign.
Don’t be fooled; oil remains very much at the center of the conflict, even though it comes camouflaged by religious and/or political overtones.