New ceasefire plan and Kurdish angle in any Syrian settlement

The latest Syrian ceasefire plan between the United States (US) and Russia that was hoped to form the foundations for an elusive peace deal came to an abrubt and controversial end. Much like previous ceasefires, the latest planquickly unravelled as the regime’s forces and the rebel groups violated the agreements. Consequently, any peace plan excluding any of the major components of the Syrian society, including the Syrian Kurds, will likely fail.

If the latest ceasefire was able to hold for  at least a week, the intention was to establish a Russian-US Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would see Russia and U.S. in a symbolic coordination of air strikes on Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front targets.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the joint implementation center would allow Russian and US forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition”. However, agreement on what the terrorist list would include proved a difficult proposition. Moscow and Damascus have long insisted that all groups taking up arms against the regime are terrorists.

Moreover, groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which renamed itself from the al-Nusra Front to distance itself from al-Qaeda, are deeply intertwined with so-called moderates. The task of delineating zones that are permissible for attacks by the new Russian-US command was always going to be challenging.

There are dozens of rebel groups in Syria, and the US will have a difficult job in reigning all these groups, many who are increasingly distrustful of Washington and suspicious about US plans to work directly with the Russians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had stated that if the deal could be implemented it would “provide a turning point, a moment of change.”

But the multi-pronged Syrian war is far from been straightforward. If upholding a ceasefire was difficult enough, then a long-term peace deal after five years of bloodshed is even more challenging.

And one of these vital angles to any ceasefire agreement and any long-term peace deal is the Syrian Kurds amidst Turkish anxiety.

The Syrian landscape was already complex enough before Turkey’s sudden intervention. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are key allies of the U.S. in the fight against the IS in Syria, but Turkey entered Syria with one eye on IS but with a deeper gaze on pushing back YPG forces that they deem as “terrorists.”

With Turkey venturing deeper into Syria to strike Kurdish positions south of Jarablus, increasing battles between both sides has alarmed the US.

As Russia urged the Kurds and FSA forces to halt fighting, YPG released statements that they intended to abide by the US-Russian  ceasefire agreement. This was unlikely to be reciprocal from Ankara for a group that it deems as terrorists, meaning that there is little prospect of  any calm between YPG and Turkish-backed forces.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently hit back at recent concerns raised by Washington and some European powers such as Germany over clashes with Kurdish forces.

Erdogan insisted that they would not allow a “terror corridor” on their border and refuted US claims that YPG forces had relocated east of the Euphrates, “we will not believe that the YPG or PYD crossed east of the Euphrates by listening to statements in the US.”

Turkey has stated they are not in Syria for the long haul, but the pro-Turkish Syrian rebels rely heavily on Turkish support to hold gains, making it inevitable that a “safe-zone” will remain in force.

For any real peace agreement in Syria to last, Turkey, Russia and the US must strike a deal on the Kurds. There appears to be a much better platform for a deal on Syria between Ankara and Moscow.

The recent statement from Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildrim, who stated that after normalizing ties with Russia and Israel, “Turkey has taken a serious initiative to normalise relations with Syria”, highlights this.

Other than terror corridor referred to by Ankara, Kurds rule large parts of northern Syria which Turkey deems as a “terrorist” zone. It is not clear how Turkey intends to tackle this long-term and if the US and Russia will continue to support the Kurds.

In the multi-pronged and intricate Syrian civil war, the principal elements, including the Kurds, must be appeased before any peace deal or ceasefire could ultimately stick.

Can Turkish intervention curtail growing standing of Syrian Kurds?

The already complicated Syrian landscape was given another dose of fuel as Turkish tanks rolled into Syria overrunning the town of Jarablus under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State (IS).

Western powers have long accused Turkey of not doing enough in the fight against IS and in tightening control of its porous border that has served them as a vital gateway. So why did Turkey suddenly intervene?

If the threat was solely IS, Turkey could have invaded years ago. However, Turkey’s real eyes were on curtailing the rapidly expanding territory under the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who simultaneously became United States’ (US) key ally in the battle against IS.

Hossam Abouzahr, the editor of the Atlantic Council’s Syria Source blog, told Kurdistan24, “Turkey has been planning this move for at least a year.  The fighting between the Turkish and Kurdish forces shows just how serious Turkey is about stopping the Kurds from seizing control of northern Syria.”

Turkey was content as long as IS and YPG forces were locked fighting, the former was a natural way to keep Kurdish aspirations in check.

But with growing US-led coalition support and international recognition, YPG forces have quickly taken a large swathe of territory from IS, including Manbij, west of the Turkish Euphrates red line, and had their eyes set on creating a contiguous Kurdish autonomous region.

The Russian and US support to the Kurds was in contrast to Ankara’ frosty relations with these powers leaving Turkey isolated.

In addition to the loss of territory by its Syrian proxies, and the failed coup, Turkey embarked on a policy of rapprochement with Russia, Iran, Israel and the US.

John Cookson, Chief Correspondent of Arise News, told Kurdistan24 “Turkey has now turned to look East instead of West…An incursion into Syria to crush the Kurds plays well among his base in Istanbul.”

However, Amanda Paul of the European Policy Centre told Kurdistan24 that although there is evidence of a Turkish compromise with Moscow in light of the recent rapprochement, “the Russians were clearly not expecting the scope of Turkey’s current offensive.”

Either way as history has shown, the West could betray the Kurds again.

The thawing of ties between Ankara and Moscow was a stark warning to NATO and the Americans. Now in the quest to entice Ankara, US had to appease Turkey especially with regards to the Kurds.

According to Cookson, “If America has to choose between the Kurds and Turkey, the US will ultimately back Turkey” before adding that like the uprising in Iraqi in 1991, “the Americans will sell the Kurds out.”

For Paul, “Biden’s recent visit was aimed at building bridges.  At the end of the day Turkey is a vital US strategic partner and long-time NATO ally.   While the PYD has been an important partner for the US in Syria it is not comparable to the relationship with Turkey.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made clear that “Turkish forces will remain in Syria for as long as it takes to cleanse the border of Islamic State and other militants”.


However, Kurdish control west of Euphrates is one thing, and their large and well-entrenched control of the region east of the Euphrates is another.

According to Paul, not only could Turkey become bogged down in Syria but “the current operation is not going to help Turkey’s own Kurdish issue and it is likely to spread furthers enmity toward the Kurdish people in the region.”

However, for the US and its primary focus on defeating IS, the armed confrontation between Turkish and Kurdish forces is a major headache. It can tolerate a limited incursion to appease Ankara, but the boundaries are becoming ever murky. Pentagon warned Turkey to focus on IS and not the Kurdish forces. According to Washington, the YPG had retreated east of the Euphrates as promised but an unconvinced Yildrim vowed, “operations will continue until all threats to Turkish citizens have been eliminated.”

More importantly, there is now a sense of unease between the Kurds and US that would hamper operations against IS further south.

The US spent millions on training moderate forces who quickly failed against IS; hence, it has relied heavily on the Kurds. However, will the new development change the game again?

There are already signs that Turkey will accept a grand bargain to curtail Kurdish advances.

Regardless of any deal between these powers, the Kurds of Syria remain a key component of the Syrian calculus. Their new found autonomy and military might cannot be ignored. Not without wide-scale military intervention, which is a step far for the likes of Turkey and certainly for Syria.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Frustrated by the West, Turkey looks East to mend ties and transform regional dynamics

The recent mending of ties between Russia and Turkey comes almost 9 months after the ill-fated Turkish shooting of a Russian jet that saw relations plummet to historic lows. The tune of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after the patching up of ties was a far cry from months of harsh rhetoric, economic sanctions and deep animosity.

This sudden thawing of ties has been on the card for a few weeks as Erdogan tried to mend ties with Moscow with a number of reconciliatory statements. There is no doubt that improvement of ties is linked directly with the failed military coup in Turkey last month. Erdogan, AKP and Turkey were rocked by the coup and have been vociferous in their disappointment of the EU and US response.

Ankara even made a thinly veiled threat to leave NATO owing to the lack of support since the coup, western criticism of the strong post-coup crackdown and EU threats to end Turkish EU membership bid if Turkey reintroduces the death penalty. The US on the other hand has refused to extradite exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan accuses of spear-heading the coup.

Turkey has also suffered greatly from an economic angle since the downing of the jet with bilateral trade significantly hit as a result of the Russian sanctions. At the same time, Turkey was already experiencing somewhat frosty relations with the EU and US even before the coup over developments in Syrian and the region, such as US support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey deems as terrorists but who are in fact the most effective group against the Islamic State (IS). EU and US have been consistently critical that Turkey could have done much more to stem the flow of IS fighters and arms across its porous border. Then relations with EU soured further over the migrant deal which Turkey has criticized and even now is not fully implemented.

Turkey could not sit idle with a lukewarm West on the one hand and a bitter and powerful Russia on East. Any less favorable view of the West for Turkey, invariably means that Turkey will turn further east towards Russia. Restoration of economic ties and tourism is an obvious benefit but Turkey gets a natural leverage against NATO and the West with the revival of ties with Russia. It’s showing Western powers that Turkey does not need them that they need Turkey and that Turkish foreign policy is dynamic enough to deal with the changing socio-political picture in the Middle East.

Russia also benefits from resumption of trade and a warmer Turkey that may help to boost Russian strategic influence in the Middle East that it craves as well as diluting Western leverage in the region. It also speeds up the deal to provide natural gas to Europe via Turkey. Turkey, of course, relies heavily on Russian gas for its needs.

At a critical juncture in Syria and the Middle East, the warming of ties adds another angle to an already complicated Middle Eastern picture. However, economic and energy ties are easiest to fix. No side really benefits from loss of trade and lucrative energy deals. But on the political front it’s much trickier.

9 months of fierce rhetoric and rock bottom ties will not heal overnight. Neither will their entrenched positions on Syria. Turkey is unlikely to forgo its support of Syrian rebels and Russia is obviously a huge backer of the Syrian regime. But it may increase the chance of some compromise over the fate of Assad and certainly a closer cooperation to deal with IS as a counter weight to US led coalition efforts against the same group.

Ultimately, the biggest bargaining chips is the Kurdish forces in Syria that are enjoying a stronger autonomy and strategic standing by the day. Turkey can much more readily accept a Syrian reality that does not match their objectives and vision if the price is that Syrian Kurds are stifled and Russia gives up support for them.

Can Turkey force Russian hands on Syrian Kurdish support and autonomy? Can Turkey accept Assad to stay in power if Russian concedes on key Turkish demands?

Key bilateral relations that are dominated by two parties with different strategic agendas will have to make way for some tough compromises.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How “iconic images” of suffering become meaningless

Often within the borders of European countries, any murders, loss of life or missing children, receive broad coverage. A famous case of a missing British child in Portugal in 2007 led to a protracted search costing millions. Recently, a young child who died following a fatal dog bite in the UK was one of the headlines on BBC News and received wide media coverage.

Let’s be very clear. It’s not that such cases are not deserving or insignificant. Anyone with a child will know they will give up the world and more for their kid. Children are priceless gifts that no amount of power or riches can ever compensate.

It’s a fact that the West often narrows its focus of tragedies to internal borders. Massacres, humanitarian catastrophes and acts of genocide do not always get the full justice they deserve.

Take the thousands of Yezidi girls who remain under the brutal hands of ISIS with little media coverage, what would be the reaction if the girls were English or French?

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, recently stressed that “… it is of paramount importance that the perpetrators of these heinous acts (against the Yezidis) are fully and properly held to account.”

Unfortunately, on the second anniversary of crimes against the Yezidis, thousands of girls remain under barbaric captivity.

As the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have highlighted, the West is only alarmed and outraged only when it’s on their doorstep. The other daily terrorist attacks or atrocities in places like Iraq and Syria are seen as distant lands.

Then every so often, the West is shocked by so-called “iconic images” of war. This week it was the shocking picture of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, injured and dazed from a deadly airstrike in Aleppo. Omran, along with his three siblings and parents were pulled from the rubble of their apartment building.

According to one of the rescue workers, they tried to speak to Omran as they took him to the ambulance but he said nothing. Even iconic pictures never tell the full story. Omran was relatively calm and not tearful and screaming as we would expect. It is because Omran had already cried his lungs out from fear, pain, and solitude amongst the piles of rubble.

Mustafa al-Sarout, the Aleppo-based journalist who filmed the video of Omran, decried “these are children bombed every day. It’s not an exceptional case”.

19th August marked World Humanitarian Day that commemorates the devastating bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 mostly aid workers.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering,” as he emphasized for people to raise their voice against injustice and work for change.

However, the reflection of misery should never rise as a result of a single day or iconic images. These milestones come and go, but the suffering continues.

Kurdistan is no stranger to such a predicament. It suffered decades of repression and genocide in Iraq culminating in the unforgivable chemical bombing of Halabja. Pictures of dead mothers and fathers holding on to their babies symbolized the grave murders.

While the event was largely forgotten as the population continued to suffer physical and mental trauma. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell when visiting a cemetery filled with lines of headstones of Halabja victims in 2003, stated “What can I say to you? I cannot tell you that the world should have acted sooner, you know that.”

Closely connected with Western view of iconic images of war is effect of Western foreign policy itself. For example, in Syria, the US and EU response was too tentative as the Syrian crisis deepened and the Syrian regime crossed various red lines. Then action against ISIS was only taken after they had had long established their influence, overran cities such as Mosul and killed thousands of Christians and Yezidis.

European powers became more entrenched against ISIS when they witnessed terror first-hand on home soil.

The view of Bradley A. Blakeman in News Max echoed many others, “ISIS should have never been able to attain the power and gain the territory it has…Why did they not build a coalition earlier to stop them? Why did we not have a strategy? Why did we not stop them?”

Ultimately, the West is too often swayed by the aftermath of events. Just like in Kurdistan, Srebrenica and Rwanda, there is a post mortem on western foreign policy and how such crimes were allowed to be perpetrated when it is too late.

Iconic images change little when cities are left to rubble, communities remain starving under siege and millions of people are left displaced.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Turkey mend ties with Russia, what now for the changing dynamics in the region?

With a strong geopolitical standing, Turkey has historically been a keen lever between the East and West. After increasingly lukewarm relations with its NATO allies in the West in recent years and a bitter feud with the biggest Eastern power in Russia, Turkey could not sit idle as its regional leverage was diluted and new events at home unfolded.

The mending of ties between Moscow and Ankara comes almost 9 months since the fatal downing of a Russian jet that propelled relations to historic lows. Now the tune of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could not be more different.

The patching of ties has a number of angles but is certainly fuelled by the recent failed military coup in Turkey. Turkey was already at loggerheads with the US over support of Syrian Kurdish rebels whom Turkey accuses of been terrorists but who have proved by far the most effective group against the Islamic State (IS) and then there is the continuous friction with the EU over a migrant deal that even today is not fully implemented.

The failed coup rocked Erdogan, the AKP and Turkey leading to severe crackdown of opponents in various circles that has been criticized by the US and EU, not to mention the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty which would all but end any lingering hope of EU membership.

Erdogan has been heavily critical of US refusal to hand over exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen whom he accused of orchestrating the coup with thinly veiled threats that Washington would soon need to choose between Gulen and Turkey.

For the US and EU, Ankara remains a key ally but they have also grown frustrated in recent years as Ankara has driven a hard bargain over the migrant crisis, access to Turkish airbases and the lack of direct action against IS.

By papering over ties with Russia, there is obvious economic benefit as Russian sanctions took their toll on Turkey. However, Turkey is clearly showing their Western and NATO allies that Turkish foreign policy is dynamic enough to deal with the changing sociopolitical picture in the region. Turkey is demonstrating that they are not short of options and that the West is more in need of Turkey than any carrot of EU membership or ties with its western allies.

The thinly veiled threat from the Turkish Foreign Minister that they could leave NATO owed to lack of US and EU support in the aftermath of the coup reinforces this point.

Russia, of course, gets numerous benefits of its own with a Turkey that is disappointed with their allies and turns to their shoulder. It boosts Russian quest to play a stronger strategic role in the Middle East and at the same time as diluting Western influence.

However, at the same time, months of animosity will not just evaporate overnight. Not without tough compromises from each side. For example, Ankara can stomach most Syrian realities, even if it includes Assad, if it somehow curtails the increasing strategic and powerful Syrian Kurdish forces who enjoy a great deal of autonomy.

But it remains to be seen if Russian would drop their support of Syrian Kurdish forces or on the other hand if Turkey could drop its strong support of Syrian opposition.

Either way, a Turkey that is leaning increasingly towards the East, transforms an already complicated Middle Eastern picture. The extent of any new reality depends on US action on Gulen, whether EU will continue to appease Turkey to shore up the migrant deal and whether Russian and Turkey can bridge their differences over Assad and the Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The liberation of Mosul rest on the Kurds

If the liberation of Ramadi, Tikrit, Sinjar and more recently Manbij in Syria proved painful and tricky leading to streams of refugees, then Mosul will prove much worse.

Islamic State (IS) has held Mosul for over two years. If the liberation was anything other than bloody and complicated, then it would not have taken months of planning.

The battle for Mosul raises more questions than answers for Baghdad. IS would not have rolled into Mosul with such ease if it did not have support of some locals and various other armed Sunni groups. Without addressing the sectarian discord that plagued Mosul and Sunni heartlands long before IS was even established, the post-liberation of Mosul will provide much trickier to manoeuvre.

Then there is the thousands of civilians that will flee the city, mostly like to the relative safety of Kurdistan. Kurdistan already houses 1.8 million internally displaces persons at a great financial burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

The Iraqi Defence Minister Khalid Obeidi recently warned that the Iraqi government will not allow the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate the city of Mosul. This was compounded by threats from Shia Popular Mobilization Units for Kurdish forces not to enter Mosul.

Ironically, the Shiite militias are likely to play a more effective role than the actual Iraqi army in any battle for Mosul. If Peshmerga are deemed as too sensitive to be deployed within the mainly Sunni city, then the presence of these militias will hardly soothe sectarian tensions. At least, there is a large population of Kurds in Mosul.

For all these warnings, there is no way that Mosul can be liberated without the support of the Peshmerga regardless of any coalition firepower. This was acknowledged by Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who stated that Mosul operations without the Peshmerga will be impossible. However, Barzani stressed that “they will have supportive role but will not enter the city”.

The importance of the Peshmerga is not lost on the United States who relies heavily on the Kurdish forces. This culminated in a recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between US and Kurdish officials in recent weeks that included provisions of military support to the Peshmerga forces.

Too often US has tip-toed around Baghdad when dealing with the Kurds due to political sensitivities but with the huge sacrifices of the Peshmerga, their critical role both now and the future and the much changed socio-political landscape in Iraq across the Middle East, the Kurds must be dealt with in their own right.

It’s disrespectful to Kurdish sacrifices to deal with Kurdistan through Baghdad when both zones are separated from each other and the Kurds have been all bu

Terror in Europe and the Middle East is one and the same

With Europe still recovering from the Nice massacre a little over a week ago that saw 84 people killed and 303 injured when a French-Tunisian terrorist chillingly drove a 19-tonne lorry into large crowds watching fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice, Germany was coming to terms with a shocking attack of its own on Friday.

An 18-year old German-Iranian gunman went on a shooting rampage in a busy Munich shopping centre killing 9 people and wounding 16 more. The motives of the gunman are not clear and he is believed to have acted alone but nevertheless the end outcome is the same.

Such attacks in France, Belgium and now Germany naturally strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of the population. IS have already threatened Nice-style attacks on popular parts of central London

The Munich attack comes just days after an Afghan teenager wounded four people in an axe and knife attack on a train near Wuerzberg.

Whether any act is done in the name of the Islamist State (IS) or not, these shooting attacks are clearly influenced by the mass terror that is perpetrating across Europe and the Middle East.

The fact that many of the attackers are not migrants from Iraq, Syria or beyond but citizens of the country they attack only makes the matter worse as it intensifies Islamaphobia and increases the ethno social divide.

Whilst the European governments are increasingly rattled by each attack leading to stronger security measures as well as airstrikes on IS targets, the seeds of this problem were sown long ago. Hardline groups were largely unhindered in Syria as the civil war spiraled from 2011 and in some cases even tolerated as a card to defeat Bashar al-Assad.

IS did not just dominate huge swathes of territory, possess thousands of fighters and advanced weaponry or revenues of millions of dollars a month overnight.

Now many yearn for the stable rule under Assad than the continued chaos and suffering gripping Syria whose outcomes are clearly felt across the globe.

Too often conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East are seen as battles in distant lands. Whilst the increasing attacks on the West were always going to dominate the media and unnerve the populations, it should not be viewed differently from attacks across the Middle East that often receive much less attention.

In the run up to the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr, at least 200 people were killed as an IS suicide bomber struck a bustling market area in Baghdad. The Baghdad attack on the heels of massacres in Bangladesh, Turkey, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan

The war on terror does not end or begin in Middle East or Europe, it’s one and the same and the devastation should not be viewed differently by any part.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Failed military coup only tip of the ice-berg for a highly polarised Turkey

The dramatic failed military coup that sent shockwaves across Turkey and the world may have quickly subsided but the aftermath of the events will be felt for much longer.

Whether it was just a faction of the military or not, it was no small matter. The coup forces ranged from low-ranking soldiers to senior officers demonstrating the broad nature of the move. Furthermore, it was not a handful of troops but several hundred that were able to deploy tanks and helicopters and carry out their moves with a degree of confidence and clear planning.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged triumphant by early Saturday morning but was clearly as shocked as any as the events initially unfolded with the government simply unable to comprehend the size and support of the coup. A president speaking by Skype on his mobile to address the nation speaks volumes.

Helicopters and fighter jets roaring above the sky, sound of heavy gunfire and explosions and tanks rumbling through the streets in Istanbul and Ankara hardly paint a picture of an isolated incident. However, the tide of the coup clearly turned as thousands of Erdogan supporters heeded his call and took to the streets.

The mass of supporters confronted the rebel soldiers and surrounded tanks. At time of reporting the government had stated that 104 coup plotters had been killed and over 2800 arrested whilst more than 90 people had died and over 1100 were injured.

Yet, it could have been a much worse bloodbath. Popular support against the rebel soldiers helped to quickly take the steam out of the coup attempt and any heavy handed retaliation against the supporters would have quickly turned into much wider scale of violence.

But the crisis is far from over and the post-mortem is likely to be painful and protracted. Erdogan was quick to blame the “parallel structure” in clear reference to influential exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen who denied any involvement but regardless of who takes the rap for the coup, the dramatic events shows the highly polarised nature of Turkey.

Erdogan may have strong support but he equally has many foes. Then there is battle of ideology, identity and nationalism seeing a deepening divide between Islamists and secularists, reformists and conservatists and not forgetting the great divide between Kurds and Turks with the PKK and government continuing to wage war.

A highly paranoid Erdogan has been swift to consolidate power and banish opposition voices. Now it seems that the failed coup justifies to Erdogan his instincts based on suspicion, distrust  and a sense of anxiety.

This means that Erdogan now holds even more ammunition to continue with policies against Gulen, dissident voices and those who he deems as terrorists. As Erdogan dramatically arrived in Istanbul on the morning of the coup he decried that “What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price.”

The number of arrests in Turkey quickly accelerated and is likely to yield thousands more in the coming days.

The fact that Erdogan urged his followers to remain on the streets and in key public places in case of a second coup demonstrate the fragile nature of the state. Erdogan and the AKP clearly realise that the coup attempt goes much deeper than those soldiers and generals involved.

The post-mortem will be harsh and messy and may only lead to a deeper polarisation of opposing camps. Erdogan called the failed coup a divine gift so that certain conspiring forces can be weeded out. And ironically, the coup strengthens Erdogan’s hand than really weaken his grip, allowing him to move more confidently towards the strong presidential system he craves.

The coup against a democratically elected government, whatever the scale of the country’s polarisation, was always going to be denounced by European and global powers.

The West have always looked at Turkey as a model of democracy in a fiery region but Turkey is much of a powder-keg as any.

The polarisation of Turkey into many camps naturally weakens the fight against the Islamic State (IS) or attempts to ferment regional stability.

Many of the battles between the Islamic, secularists, nationalists and reformists span many decades and has never really subsided but only contained. One of these old battles is of course the Kurdish issue. For decades, Ankara has been cutting the branches and not dealing with the root of the problems that has led to vicious cycle of war.

Hundreds of people have been killed in south east of Turkey in recent months but this has received little coverage than any event in west of Turkey as it has simply become normal to accept bloodshed in Kurdish parts of Turkey and accept them as by-products of terrorism and not as one of the many imbalances in the setup or health of the state.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Failed coup attempt provides Erdogan with new ammunition

The failed military coup in Turkey was intended to usher a new order, however, in the end it was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that emerged with a stronger hand and a great opportunity.

Dramatic footage as the coup unfolded of heavy gunfire, tanks and helicopters resembled a war zone. A weary looking Erdogan addressing the nation via FaceTime on his mobile summed up the uncertainty and desperation of the government as the coup unfolded.

Thousands of Erdogan supporters heeded his call and took to the streets effectively blunting the coup and eventually allowing the pro-government forces to wrestle back control.

As a sense of normality seemingly returned to Turkey, the aftermath of the dramatic events will echo much louder.

Erdogan has long tried to dampen dissident voices and stifle opposition circles. Erdogan can now clearly argue that his suspicion and distrust of the so called “parallel infrastructure” was not so far-fetched after all. He now has strong grounds to consolidate power, move towards his ambition of a presidential system and deal with long-time foe and influential exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen who he accused of perpetrating the coup.

Gulen was quick to deny any involvement but the AKP strongly pressured Washington to extradite him.

As the arrests quickly stacked up in the aftermath of the failed coup, thousands more can be expected in the coming days. There is even talk in Turkey of reinstating the death penalty. Either way, the government will come down hard and will point to the thousands of supporters on the streets as testimony to the endorsement of his policies.

However, do the thousands of supporters that ultimately helped the government emerge triumphant really paint the full picture?

The simple answer is that a highly polarised Turkey has been on the edge for some time. There are conflicting camps of Islamists, secularists, nationalists, reformists and not to mention inter-ethnic strife with the Kurds highlighted by a raging war against the PKK and unrest in the south east.

Erdogan may enjoy strong support but this should not mask his many opponents either. The fact that Erdogan and the AKP urged their supporter to remain vigilant in the face of any secondary coup attempt highlighted the vulnerabilities and uncertainties that remain.

Whilst the failed coup gives the government a strong card, it hardly means that the polarisation is about to disappear. For example, any arrest of Gulen or his extradition to Turkey will quickly expose loyalties.

Furthermore, to just point to the coup as a work of a small minority is short-sighted. The coup plotters involved hundreds of figures from senior generals to low ranking soldiers. They clearly must have enjoyed support and encouragement from non-military circles. A coup doesn’t just come about at a moment’s notice without careful planning.

The coup plot may leave Erdogan with a stronger hand but not necessarily a stronger Turkey. It has too often skimmed over the hostility of rival camps or stifled dissident voices. With so many conflicting sides having different interests in the makeup and future of the country, further turmoil is only a natural by-product.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Aftermath of Chilcot Report – Iraqi invasion through narrow lens and overlooking inhumanity

The obsession with the legitimacy, legality and value of the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein from power in 2003 was renewed with the release of the Chilcot Report.

The much anticipated report by John Chilcot gave fresh fuel to sceptics of the invasion in the UK and the West with mass media focus on the anarchy and mass suffering unleashed by the decision to remove Saddam by George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

However, the war is been viewed with narrow lens and without any real perspective.

Can the numerous fires raging across Iraq and the Middle East really be ascribed to the downfall of Saddam and were Iraqis better off under Saddam’s rule?

It is often overlooked why Iraq enjoyed relative stability under Saddam. It was not due to charismatic and popular leadership but owed to his iron-fisted rule and zero tolerance to the various uprisings launched by the Kurds and Shiites.

This week, US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, even went as far as praising Saddam for his stance against terrorists. Yet, these same “terrorists” were Kurds who were battling decades of repression, campaigns of genocide and even chemical attacks.

Saddam was not in power for a year or two by the time he was toppled, he had ruled since 1979. Mass graves from Saddam’s tenure are still been unearthed. These graves did not discriminate between men, women or children – it was all the same to the Baathist regime.

Regardless of flawed Western intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) capability at time of invasion, Saddam had already expressed his ease in deploying such weapons in Halabja as well as on Iranian forces.

Moreover, anyone who can raze thousands of villages, murder thousands of civilians and repress and torture en-mass does more damage than any WMD could ever do. Dictators such as Saddam are no different to any WMD.

Then there is the notion that the overthrow of Saddam started the anarchy that is rife across the Middle East and even led to the rise of the Islamic State (IS). An invasion of a country cannot be attributed to centuries of sectarian animosity or ethnic strife. Western and regional foreign policy mistakes since 2003 such as those that led to IS, cannot be masked every time by the Iraq invasion.

The seeds of discontent were sown in the Middle East long before Saddam was even born. The Sykes-Picot agreement that selfishly carved the Middle East was the real precursor to the flames of today.

Just because the effects of such arbitrary borders were masked by successive dictators across the Middle East does not justify the methods for the so-called stability of those regimes.

Sooner or later dictators fall and the injustice of the Middle Eastern landscape was always going to bite with or without Saddam.

One of those nations chained by history were the Kurds who have flourished under post-Saddam rule. Does the iron-fisted “stability” provided by Saddam justify holding a nation hostage to their human rights and freedoms?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc