Did the West turn a blind eye to a Kurdish commander's abuses?
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The United States is openly supporting several armed groups that are part of the conflicts raging in Syria and Iraq, because it sees them as the best – or only – option in defeating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the Islamic State (IS) group. But these US-backed groups have far from clean records.
Hussein Yazdanpana, the commander of an Iranian Kurdish militia, the Kurdish Freedom Party (known by the acronym PAK) recently told the Associated Press news agency that European and American instructors “helped and trained us within the framework of the fight against Daesh.” [Editor’s note: A name used frequently in the Arabic-speaking world to describe the IS group.] The PAK has been fighting alongside soldiers from Iraqi Kurdistan, known as peshmerga, against the IS group in Iraq, the AP reported.
In 2014, Yazdanpana himself was embroiled in a scandal when a photo emerged showing him with his foot on the chest of a dead man who was sprawled on the ground, shirtless. Yazdanpana was pointing his rifle at the corpse, who the caption identified as a fallen IS group combatant. The photo was widely shared by Kurds on social media and received extensive criticism. As a result, the defence ministry of Iraqi Kurdistan reportedly detained Yazdanpana, claiming that he had caused serious damage to the image of the peshmerga forces and that he had committed crimes against humanity.
Giulio Macari, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, told the Associated Press that the PAK had “probably” received military training in weapons and explosives, because coalition advisers offered their services to all Kurdish militias controlled by the Peshmerga Ministry. He further said the coalition didn’t select which groups to train.
It isn’t the first time that a militia supported by US-led coalitions has been accused of human rights abuses. Last July, fighters from the group “Noureddine Zinki”, which had previously received US backing, were videotaped decapitating a child in the streets of Aleppo. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse the Syrian Kurdish YPG of committing war crimes and using child soldiers.