[Marxism] Town of Kobani, Scarred by ISIS, Strives to Rebuild

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 24 07:30:24 MST 2015

(In its joy over the defeat of ISIS at Kobani, the left downplayed the 
crucial role played by American air power. With Kurdish fighters 
supplying the GPS coordinates of ISIS, the city was soon liberated. But 
liberated at what cost? This article illustrates the folly of assuming 
that air power can result in a happy outcome, even when it achieves the 
"liberation" of a place like Kobani or Raqqa that is now being liberated 
by French, American and Russian bombing. As an American major said 
during the Vietnam War, "we had to destroy the village in order to save 

NY Times, Nov. 24 2015
Town of Kobani, Scarred by ISIS, Strives to Rebuild

KOBANI, Syria — From the door of her modest breeze-block home, Faiza 
Mohammed recalled what her neighborhood once was and mourned what it had 

Her children’s school has bullet holes in the walls and sandbags in the 
windows. The shops where she once bought groceries are mounds of rubble. 
The neighbors and relatives who used to live nearby and keep an eye on 
one another’s children have left.

Other than the elderly couple next door, she said, everyone is gone. Her 
house and theirs are the only two left on the street, islands in a sea 
of destruction.

“We have people next door, so we are O.K.,” said Ms. Mohammed, who was 
widowed before the Syrian civil war began. “But at night we lock the 
door and don’t open for anyone, because there is fear in the world.”

A fierce battle by Kurdish fighters to repel an invasion by the Islamic 
State last year rocketed Kobani, an obscure border town in northern 
Syria, into the world’s consciousness.

But by the time the Kurds prevailed in January, backed by hundreds of 
American airstrikes in what was lauded as a model of international 
cooperation, the town looked as though an earthquake had struck it. 
Refugees who came back had trouble even locating their homes.

The challenges the town faces are huge, illustrating the toll of driving 
out ISIS. Many Syrian cities will have to bear to cost of destruction 
when the war ends. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Kobani, known in Arabic as Ain al-Arab, is trying now to overcome the 
deep scars of war and rebuild — and there are signs of life.

The challenges the town faces are huge, illustrating the huge toll of 
driving the Islamic State from urban areas, but also the costly burden 
of destruction that many Syrian cities will have to bear when the war ends.

Around town, the crash of tractors tearing down damaged buildings 
resounds through the streets. Fleets of trucks haul off loads of rubble 
to dump outside the city in ever-expanding fields of waste.

Shops selling cellphones, cigarettes and grilled chicken have reopened 
along a few commercial streets after installing new doors and glass. And 
thousands of displaced residents are returning each month, local 
officials say. Many have reclaimed their damaged homes, covering 
blown-out windows with plastic and plugging holes in walls with bricks 
to keep out the wind until real repairs can be made.

“The city has become relatively suitable to live in again,” said Idris 
Nassan, the head of foreign affairs for the area’s new autonomous 

When the battle ended, 80 percent of buildings were damaged and the 
infrastructure had collapsed, he said. The town had long before cut any 
links with the central government in Damascus, so local leaders formed 
the Kobani Reconstruction Board with members from the Kurdish diaspora 
to solicit aid and oversee rebuilding.

Its first tasks were to restore water and sewage lines, reopen roads, 
dispose of unexploded ordnance and lay to rest the bodies of more than 
100 people found in the rubble, Mr. Nassan said.

Also destroyed were the city’s new hospital, most government offices, a 
number of schools and bakeries, and two large wedding halls.

Kobani sustained yet another blow in June, when Islamic State fighters 
dressed as anti-Assad rebels sneaked into town before dawn and went 
house to house, killing more than 250 people before Kurdish fighters 
killed them, according to Shervan Darwish, a military official here.

But the administration has kept on, working with international 
organizations to open clinics and regulating generators so residents can 
buy a few hours of electricity per day.

Its reconstruction efforts are restricted, however, by limited funds and 
the difficulty of obtaining building supplies.

Although the town is near the Turkish border, Turkey has kept its 
crossings closed to most cargo — a move widely seen as a strike against 
the area’s Kurds.

Many of Kobani’s schools are damaged, but a number of them reopened last 
month, their courtyards filling twice a day with children doing 
exercises and heading to class. The early grades now use new Kurdish 
textbooks instead of the Syrian government’s Arabic curriculum. It is 
unclear how regularly the teachers will be paid.

“If there is a salary, of course no one would say no,” said Shevin Mho, 
a teacher.

The sprawling martyrs’ graveyard outside town bears testament to the 
high human toll of the fight against the Islamic State, also known as 
ISIS. Hundreds of graves fill the site, the headstones of unidentified 
bodies bearing only numbers.

On a rainy afternoon, a bereaved mother walked through the mud, 
screaming and yanking tufts of gray hair from her head while relatives 
tried to restrain her.

Nearby, Badea Ali placed blue and red plastic flowers on the grave of 
her brother, Anwar, a Kurdish policeman who had been killed in a bomb 
attack. Ms. Ali said she had left Kobani for Iraq early in the war, then 
fled to Europe by boat last year and ended up in Germany.

It had been painful to watch the battle for her hometown on the news in 
a strange country, but like many Kobani natives, the war had taught her 
to treasure the place, she said.

“I started loving Kobani more than before because now we know its 
worth,” she said.

Her dream is to move back from Germany to open a hair salon, she said — 
but not yet. “The situation needs to settle down a bit,” she said.

The scale of the town’s loss haunts many residents.

Every morning, Muslim Mohammed, 56, returns to his damaged home and sits 
alone outside, drinking tea and thinking. The surrounding apartment 
buildings are all damaged and empty, now nesting grounds for birds.

“I don’t like to see a lot of people,” said Mr. Mohammed, a mechanic. 
“It is psychologically taxing.”

He and his wife had fled to Turkey when the battle began, but three of 
his sons had joined the main Kurdish militia here.

Ali, 17, was killed in battle, and Mohammed, 29, was shot dead during 
the Islamic State’s incursion in June, Mr. Mohammed said. So he sent 
Ahmed, 15, to Europe by raft, hoping that distance might keep him alive.

“Was I supposed to sacrifice all my sons?” Mr. Mohammed said.

Like many residents, he struggled to comprehend why the jihadists had 
poured so much into fighting for their town.

“They didn’t leave us anything,” he said. “Not our sons, our money, our 

Others, however, saw the victory as a large step toward empowerment for 
Syria’s Kurdish minority after decades of governmental neglect. “It was 
worth it,” said Sherin Ismael, a 26-year-old seamstress. “Now the world 
knows that there are Kurds.”

Her family members, too, are the only residents left on their block, and 
her 2-year-old nephew, Osman, still cries at night, saying, “ISIS is 

Some of their neighbors recently came to inspect their house and see 
what it would take to move back in.

“Destruction comes quickly,” Ms. Ismael said. “But building takes time.”

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