Kurdish recapture of Sinjar

Originally commissioned November 2015

The recapture of Sinjar represents a blow to Daesh’s image whilst being an image-making success for Kurdish forces, who have enjoyed a year of positive messaging that has been crucial to maintaining US support.

  • Recent recapture by Kurdish and US forces of Sinjar from Daesh is a powerful blow to Daesh both logistically and in terms of its propaganda value.

  • Bolsters Kurdish forces’ public image, who are redoubling efforts to expand US backing in the face of claims of ethnic cleansing of Arabs.

  • Kurdish forces are a powerful partner for the US but follow their own agenda, concerned more with consolidating Kurdish gains than moving on Raqqa or Mosul.

The recent recapture of Sinjar from Daesh control by Kurdish and US forces represents a morale and logistical blow to Daesh. Located on Route 47, which links Daesh’s Iraqi and Syrian territories, the disruption to Daesh’s territorial continuity further damages its claims to statehood. This is part of an apparent push southwards by Kurdish forces to disrupt Daesh supply lines and consolidate Kurdish territory. Additionally, as images and reports emerge from the site of Daesh’s massacres and mass enslavement of Yezidi women and children, the capture will bolster the Kurdish forces’ image. Kurdish groups in Turkey, Syria and Iraq have been riding a public relations high over the last year.

Kurdish elites in both Iraq and Syria know that maintaining US support and its requisite public sympathy require them to sustain their carefully crafted public image, which paints the Kurds as champions of democracy and women’s rights. This image is troubled by Amnesty International and othersrecent accusations of Syrian Kurdish forcesethnic cleansing of Sunni Arabs in a bid to form an ethnically homogeneous, and territorially unified Kurdish homeland. Moreover, many actors in the region are opposed to a more consolidated Kurdish territorial entity, and are uncomfortable with US-Kurdish cooperation.

The recent offensive saw another example of successful cooperation between US airpower and Kurdish ground troops, and inter-Kurdish and inter-ethnic cooperation, with Peshmerga receiving support from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Yezidi militias. The capture of Sinjar opens up the route to Mosul and disrupts Daesh’s supply lines. However, while these partnerships in various constellations have proven effective for the US, locations for offensives appear to be dictated largely by Kurdish strategic aims, of which Mosul is not one.

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