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Inside the threatened Kurdish proto-state that holds the keys to defeating Isil

On one end of Qamishli’s main street flies the two-starred Syrian national flag. On the other, that of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party.

Before the civil war, it would have been unthinkable for the Kurdish minority to openly pledge allegiance to anything other than the Syrian Arab Republic. But they have used the cover of their fight against Islamic State to forge something of a proto-state in this corner of northeastern Syria.

“One flag represents our past oppression, the other our freedom,” says Mahmoud, who owns a clothing shop which sits between the two.

The city of Qamishli has become the centre of the Kurds’ ambitious self-administration project.

Preoccupied by the armed opposition in…

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