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Kurds in Middle East Hope Trump Will Change US Policy

US-backed Syrian Arab alliance say already getting more support

The new Trump Administration has already given a US-backed coalition of Syrian Kurdish Arab fighters US armored vehicles for the first time, and a promise of more American support in their fight against Islamic State, according to a spokesman for the coalition.

“Before we used to receive light weapons, ammunition…with these armored vehicles we’ve entered a new phase in the (US) support,” spokesman Talal Sello told reporters. “We have had meetings with representatives of the new administration and they promised us extra support.”

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is made up of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters along with some Arab members. They have been a key partner of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria. In the past, Washington has sent the coalition light weapons as well as US special forces as “advisors.” The US-led coalition has also backed the SDF with heavy air strikes targeting Islamic State fighters.

The US support to the SDF has sparked tensions between Washington and Turkey, which is a member of NATO. Turkey has protested that the main component of the SDF, the YPG, has ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which Turkey says is a terrorist organization. In the past the US has not wanted to strain relations with Turkey.

“We estimate that over 20 percent of the population in Syria are Kurds,” Sherkoh Abbas, the DC-based Chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly told The Media Line. “Many have been driven from their homes. They have undergone a process of Arabization but they would become Kurdish again if they could.”

Other estimates put the Kurdish population of Syria at 10 – 15 percent of the population, but they are the largest ethnic minority there. The Kurdish militias could play an important role in driving Islamic State from its de facto capital in Raqqa. Some in the US say that President Trump should arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters even if Turkey protests. The goal of retaking Raqqa form Islamic State is more important than angering Turkey, they say.

The main Kurdish populations are in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. In Iran, there are twelve million Kurds, activists from the community say, and they hope that the new US president will reassess American policy.

“We were disappointed with the last few years of the Obama Administration,” Salah Bayaziddi, the US representative of Komala party of Iranian Kurdistan told The Media Line. “It was a policy of appeasement, and they tried to minimize any contact with us. Trump has specifically talked about the Kurds, and he has said he is going to review the Iranian nuclear deal. We see it as a new opportunity to assist us.”

In 2009, he says, millions of Iranians, including many Kurds, went out into the streets to demonstrate against the regime. The response was brutal, and the US quickly backed away from any criticism of the Iranian government. Iran’s Kurds, he fears, have been forgotten.

“These days everyone talks about Iraqi Kurds, Turkish Kurds, and Syrian Kurds, and nobody is talking about Iranian Kurds,” he said. “We have been facing twelve years of oppression and human rights abuses. The US should not close its eyes to this.”

Ultimately, Kurds would like to see an independent Kurdish state carved out of parts of Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Middle East is in flux, they say, and President Trump could shake things up further.