Middle East, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Syria’s Kurdish YPG fighters hire their first lobbyist

The Syrian Kurdish military forces have hired their first Washington lobbyist as they continue to battle the remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS) in their autonomous region of northeast Syria.

Republican political operative James Dornan has registered his firm Jim Dornan Strategies as a foreign agent of the “Kurdish Defense Forces/YPG SDF.” The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They are considered a terrorist group by Turkey, contributing to the tensions between the US and its NATO ally.

Dornan is to be paid $7,000 to serve as a strategic consultant and help “set up and facilitate meetings” with members of Congress “for the purpose of thanking them for their support.” He reports to Nowruz Ahmed, the general commander of the Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) militia, the YPG’s all-female counterpart.

Dornan is to arrange meetings with “various American legislators, non-governmental organizations, educational organizations and if needed, media outlets” for visiting YPG officials, according to a contract filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The contract states that Dornan may be engaged to provide other services in the future. Spokesman Nuri Mahmoud signed on behalf of the YPG.

A separate filing under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) shows Dornan will lobby on “US/KDF (Kurdish Defense Forces) cooperation regarding ISIS.”

Dornan is a longtime Republican campaign operative and former congressional staffer who notably served as chief of staff to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) when Burr served in the House of Representatives. Dornan declined to discuss his lobbying work for the YPG.

The registration comes as Kurdish military commanders have been pressing the Joe Biden administration to stay engaged in the fight. President Donald Trump declared that the Islamic State had been defeated in Iraq and Syria back in March 2019, but the Kurds have been warning of its return. Kurdish fighters have also continued to sporadically clash with Turkish-backed Syrian forces in the region since Ankara invaded northeastern Syria in the fall of 2019 to push YPG forces away from the Turkish border.

“ISIS is not finished yet, and recently it has intensified its attacks,” Gen. Mazlum Abdi Kobani, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, said in an interview with Voice of America – Kurdish in February. “I can say that the threat is continuing, the terror organization is trying to revive itself. They come to our region from areas under the control of the Syrian regime and from Iraq. With our allies in the coalition under US leadership, our operations against ISIS sleeping cells are moving forward successfully.”

Kobani went on to advocate for the US to formally recognize the Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria, known as Rojava, as an autonomous region.


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“We welcome the new Biden administration,” he said. “We are hopeful that the mistakes of the previous administration will be corrected. We hope that the new administration will play an important role in solving the conflict in Syria. Within the context of Syria, a status must be accorded to this region that we liberated from ISIS in collaboration with the [US-led] Coalition. The rights of Kurdish people, the rights of other people in our region must be protected by legal means, and the problem in Syria must be solved in a comprehensive way. We hope that Washington will pursue an effective policy on this issue.”

The Syrian Kurds’ political wing has also been ramping up its lobbying presence. Last summer the Washington office of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) hired longtime Kurdish lobbyist Ayal Frank and his firm AF International for $6,000 per month for help “advising client on communications strategies, preparing draft communications with government and media, and by arranging for meetings and activities with government and media.”

Update: This post was updated on May 1, 2021, with additional information about the YPG’s lobbying engagement with James Dornan.