Tag Archives: Turkey

Who will spearhead the Raqqa offensive?

With focus largely on the Iraqi liberation of Mosul, the Islamic State (IS) Syrian stronghold of Raqqa remains the ultimate prize for defeating the group. However, owed to a complicated regional dynamic, the battle for Raqqa is marred by a lack of consensus on the strategy to take the city.

As US President Donald Trump waits for an official review of options from US Defense Secretary James Mattis, due by the end of this month, the military picture against IS in Syria is far from idle.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised largely of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), continues to make inroads in isolating Raqqa, while coalition warplanes relentlessly pound IS targets. The SDF has been vital in pushing back IS in recent months, but this was only possible with significant US support, much to the dismay of Ankara who remains uneasy at increasing Kurdish territory and military power.

Turkey has presented its own plan to the Trump administration to take Raqqa, while at the same time Russia has offered to coordinate directly in liberating the IS stronghold. Another option on the table to accelerate the offensive is increasing the number of US troops on the ground.

With time of the essence, it remains unclear if the US-led coalition can afford to sideline the Kurdish forces in any Raqqa offensive.

Turkish Defense Minister, Fikri Isik, recently expressed optimism that the “new US administration has a different approach to the issue” of support to the YPG and the main Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), who Turkey accuses of been an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). However, there are mixed signals on the ground.

US support for the SDF has continued in recent weeks, including arms shipments. While the official line remains the US does not provide arms to the Kurds, only to Arab elements of the group, the lines remain murky.

Former US president, Barack Obama, left the controversial decision to arm the Kurds, an idea many in his administration supported, to Trump.

It remains unlikely that the Kurds will be put to one side, not because Washington is insensitive to concerns from its Turkish allies, but because the Kurds are the most effective local force and Washington cannot afford to waste time to build a strong local Arab force.

The US is mindful of the ethnic makeup of the force entering the predominantly Arabic city and has tried to calm Turkish fears of Kurds entering Raqqa, by empowering Arab elements of the SDF.

However, this conundrum cannot satisfy all sides.

It is difficult for the coalition to split their policy, such as providing arms to only Arab components of the SDF, as it creates an imbalance that hinders any assault on the city.

Lt. Gen Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, who visited a newly established logistical hub near the Turkish border to support US and SDF forces alongside head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel underlined this dilemma, “we can’t just equip parts of this force, we have to equip the entire force.”

Townsend has concluded that a combined Arab-Kurdish force will be needed “because the Kurdish component is the most effective.”

Any gap in local Arab forces can be filled with the US, Turkish or Russian boots on the ground, but none of these will be without drawbacks and risks.

The details around the Turkish-led proposal to enter Raqqa are unclear, but ultimately, even if a sizable force could be mustered, it risks a confrontation with the Kurds and a further complication of the Syrian dynamic.

Turkish entry into Syria was as much to check the growing Kurdish aspirations as to contain the IS threat on its border. Isk has openly stated that once al-Bab is liberated, they would turn their attention towards Manbij.

Any eastern advance into the Kurdish-held territory by Turkey will almost certainly see the Kurds divert their forces from the IS battle.

Underscoring the importance of keeping momentum, Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve, recently stated, “we’re now seeing signs that ISIS fighters, its leaders in Raqqa, are beginning to feel the pressure.” Meanwhile, Votel expressed his concern of “maintaining momentum.”

Ahead of the recommendations to Trump, both Dorrian and Votel stressed they would continue to work with local forces, with Dorrian emphasizing “that fundamental principle isn’t going to change.”

Major General Rupert Jones, a deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, believes “the force that looks most likely capable of conducting the liberation of Raqqa remains the SDF.” While adding, he expects the Arabs and Kurds to work in tandem to liberate the city.

Whatever Trump decides, the socio-political picture is guaranteed to remain as complex as the battle for Raqqa itself.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

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

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

Heated discussions, disagreements and distrust, and the tenuous Syrian peace talks have not even begun

The starts of the Geneva III peace talks were delayed twice last week owing to objections from the main Syria opposition represented by the Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC). The HNC finally bowed to pressure from the United States and the United Nations and agreed to attend the talks after “receiving assurances”, even then they insisted they are going “not to negotiate” with the government just yet, but lay the grounds for their demands to the UN.

What makes the situation more complicated is the disparate nature of the opposition, some 15 opposition grounds are represented in the Saud Arabian backed HNC alone, this discounts various other groups deemed too close to the regime or too hardline to play any role in the future of Syria.

The exclusion of no party is more ironic than that of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They have been pooled with other terrorists not acceptable to join talks such as al-Qaeda afflicted al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS).

Russia has long insisted on the inclusion of the PYD and other opposition parties. Whilst the Syrian Democratic Council that includes the PYD is invited, the omission of the PYD leaders is a grave mistake.

The PYD and its armed wing, People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been supported by US air power as well as Russian forces. A political settlement is unimaginable without the Kurds who control large parties of Syria with autonomous administration and a strong militia force that is spearheading the battle against IS.

Whilst the UN has not set loft goals at the start of the talks and expects the prospect of any agreement to be protracted, it remains to be seen whether it is the opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s regime that will decide the outcome or if it will be US and Russia.

Both the US and Russia have a clear role to play both now and in striking any agreement. There is no doubt that many aspects of the future Syrian framework have already been discussed and agreed between both camps such as the composition of the transitional government and state forces.

The US rhetoric over Assad may be the same but Washington has taken an increasing backseat role allowing Russia to become the dominant actor.

As US tip-toed around military action in Syria, Russia showed little hesitation as they salvaged Assad from the brink with military intervention.

If the notion that negotiation is determined by the state of the battleground, then Assad has the upper hand as he quickly recovers ground. Both Russia and Iran have shown that they will not allow Assad to fall.

The US has long abandoned the view that Assad must go before any peace talks. Ironically, it is now the US that is insisting that it is “important for these talks to continue without preconditions”.

In fact, with streams of millions of refugees streaming across Europe and IS problem becoming a more dominant issue by the day, Washington and its allies are reluctant for any wholesale changes of regime apparatus that will only fuel more chaos and bloodshed.

Without major concessions from the regime and the opposition and the inclusion of the Syrian Kurds, Geneva III will end much in the same way as Geneva II.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The regional dynamic underscoring the growing friction between Iraq and Turkey

As if the ever volatile Middle East was lacking flashpoints, Iraq and Turkey have been at loggerheads in recent weeks over the deployment of Turkish troops to a military camp in Bashiqa.

The deployment of 150 or so troops in early December that Ankara insisted was for protection of its military trainers in place since last year resulted in a U.N. Security Council meeting as well as involvement of Russia, NATO, U.S., the Kurdistan Region and other forces in past weeks.

The new low in Turkey-Iraq relations led to a phone call on Friday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan where Obama urged Erdogan “to take additional steps to de-escalate tensions with Iraq.”

This follows a similar call by Vice President Joe Biden last week who also urged Turkey to withdraw any forces deployed without the prior consent of the Iraqi government.

So why has the Turkish troop deployment caused such commotion?

In the midst of the changing strategic picture in the region, jockeying for positions in the Syrian civil war and the threat of the Islamic State, deployment of a relatively small number of troops holds symbolic value.

The frantic calls against Turkish deployment in Baghdad underline the intense pressure faced by Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi from Shiite circles and various forces mainly aligned to Iran. It is a continuation of relatively frosty relations between Ankara and Baghdad that led to various diplomatic spats between former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Erdogan.

It also outlines how difficult the concept of an “Iraqi” is. Iraq is bitterly divided and there is hardly a common stance amongst its fragmented constituents. Kurdistan Region relies heavily on Turkey for economic ties, its oil exports and regional stability. Poor relations with Ankara are simply not an ideal that can be tolerated by Kurdish leaders.

At the same time, Baghdad has an evident leaning towards Tehran and strong political ties and military influence with Iran is not a secret. Baghdad also enjoys close relations with Russia which coupled with its reliance on U.S. air power against IS puts it in sensitive waters.

With the ever changing regional dynamic, Turkey has sought to sustain an influential hand in Iraq through Kurdistan and some Sunni factions.

The jostling for regional influence is mirrored in Syria, where a triumph for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad holds great importance for Tehran and to a lesser extent Baghdad. Preservation of Alawite control of Damascus and Western Syria preserves the Shiite Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut axis.

Whilst Turkey’s insistence of protection for its troops holds some sway, after all there was a recent IS attack on the same camp, the war and the defeat of IS does not start in Bashiqa. It starts firmly in Syria, especially in the remaining border zone that IS still controls allowing it to obtain vital supplies to strengthen its state.

Turkey relies on the Iraqi Kurds as natural strategic and secular allies, but without peace with the PKK and opening of diplomatic channels with Syrian Kurds, as difficult as it may seem to stomach, Turkish foreign policy will continue to be disjointed and crisis prone.

Turkey once envisaged a “zero-problems” policy with its neighbors but this is a long gone ideal with increasing friction with Russia, Iran, Iraq and the deadly civil war in Syria.

Turkey remains a critical player in the Middle East and the fight against IS, and US and NATO will have no choice but continue to play a delicate balancing act amongst various powers in the region.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Turkey downs Russian jet, a rightful defense or a disproportionate move with a bigger picture in mind?

With the Syrian skies crowed as ever with planes from dozens of countries primarily fighting the Islamic State (IS), an “accident” was bound to happen. However, the jury remains firmly out whether Turkey was right to shoot down a Russian jet straying seconds into its airspace or if it was a disproportionate move made with a bigger picture in mind.

Jets flying at super-sonic speeds can cover kilometers in seconds and the notion of border lines and airspace zones can be a murky affair, even for Turkish jets. The downing of the Russian jet comes at a sensitive conjecture when a sense of coalition between Russia and the US-led coalition was forming and there were tentative but encouraging steps at reviving the peace process in Syria.

The vicious Paris terrorist attacks shortly after the bombing of a Russian airliner flying over Egypt had introduced a sense of a broader perspective to fighting IS as well as kick-starting talks at an elusive political transition in Syria.

Whilst the events that led to the downing of the Russian jet are widely disputed between both sides resulting in an escalating war of words between Turkey and Russia, Turkey could have easily held fire and opted for a strong diplomatic protest.

However, Turkey remains at odds with Russia over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian military intervention that has revived Assad’s fortunes, even as Russia has also attacked IS positions.

Not only was Turkey already angered by Russian attacks on Turkmen rebels close to the border but Russia has brazenly intervened literally on Turkey’s doorstep and sphere of influence.

No doubt Turkey wanted to send a strong message to Russia that it was not bluffing, it would protect its areas of interest and that it remained a strong player in the Middle East.

Turkey wants a resolution to the Syrian war but it can ill-afford a resolution which it doesn’t have a strong hand in. for example, Turkey has made it clear that it cannot accept an IS collapse at a cost of further strengthening Syrian Kurdish forces.

Syrian Kurdish forces have largely closed the border doors to IS with only one stretch of the border remaining that Turkey has insisted should be enforced as a buffer zone. With so many players in the mix, there are eyes firmly on the future ramifications as much as the short-term battle against IS and Assad.

Directly or indirectly, Turkey has a major hand in the Syrian war with the large porous border that is difficult to control acting as the gateway for so many forces including IS. The last stretch of IS border control can be easily sealed with a coalition of Syrian opposition and Kurdish forces, but of course it would effectively mean that the north of Syria would be more or less controlled by the Kurds that perhaps for Turkey poses a much bigger dilemma than the IS presence it can somewhat contain.

Turkish shooting of the Russian jet complicates NATO relations with Russia and opens the door to further escalation. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and Russian President has already vowed serious consequences including cancelling join projects and introducing a visa system between the countries.

Russia has also deployed its most advanced air defense system, the S-400, as well as deploying the Moskva cruiser just off the cost of Latakia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to downplay the incident by suggesting that Turkey would have taken a different course of action if they had known it was a Russian jet. However, any sense of reconciliation was quickly lost as Putin continued to demand an apology that Erdogan has refused and ratcheted his rhetoric.

Whilst NATO and other powers will ensure calm for now, it leaves little margin for error in the future.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With eyes on a new election, Erdogan takes a dangerous gamble by attacking PKK

After decades of a bloody war between the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and Ankara, lessons are not been learnt with the peace process effectively dead in the ground and all the signs pointing to a swift return to the dark days of the past.

Decades of assimilation policies failed and now after the death of thousands on both sides of the divide, billions of dollars wasted and wounds that become more difficult to repair by the day, the lessons are been ignored. A military solution simply cannot serve either side.

But with Syrian mess becoming messier with Turkey joining fray against the Islamic State (IS) but simultaneously attacking PKK bases in Iraq, the ramifications of the renewed Ankara-PKK bloodshed goes well beyond the Turkish borders.

Many point to Turkey joining the IS fight as a sideshow to the main priority of hitting the PKK and undermining the Syrian Kurds whose territory and autonomy has grown with a series of victories over IS.

If Turkey fully commits to the fight against IS in Syria then it is no doubt a game changer, especially with the US-led coalition gaining vital access to Incirlik air base.

But the agreement poses many questions. Which force will man the proposed buffer zone? There are increasingly calls for a Syrian Turkmen force to take the lead in filling the vacuum, in which case it reinforces Kurdish anxiety that the buffer scheme is merely designed to curtail their expansion west of Kobane.

Furthermore, there are open contradictions on the role of People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the coalition campaign. Some Turkish officials have made it clear that coalition jets from Turkish bases will not be assisting YPG forces, whilst White House officials have stated to the contrary.

US is in a difficult position over the YPG who have been vital in stopping IS across the north with US air support.

It becomes difficult to differentiate the YPG and PKK forces when the PKK fighters have played a big role in Syria. Such PKK fighters may well shift their focus back to Turkey as tit-for-tat retaliation gathers speed.

It becomes clear that the “package” agreed between Turkey and US would comprise of Turkish action against the PKK as much as Washington has denied.

There have been skirmishes before between the PKK and government forces that saw the peace process intact. The decision now to open a new front has wide political connotations.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş was the main benefactor of the June 2015 national elections securing a historic 13% of the vote.

Erdogan has eyes firmly on a new election as early as November as coalition talks point to increasing failure. This gives the Justice and Development Party (AKP) party a second lifeline to readjust and take power again.

The renewed conflict opens up the nationalist debate, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to muster nationalist voters he lost with a new hardline view on the PKK. By ending the peace process, Erdogan achieves what the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) promised, potentially luring MHP voters.

HDP stands to become the biggest losers in any new election. It successfully wooed liberal, non-Kurdish votes but is increasingly taking political center of the PKK fallout. Erdogan has tried to tie a political noose around Demirtaş and fierce rhetoric emanating from the HDP camp as they defend the Kurdish position implicates them further with the PKK.

Even an investigation was recently launched against Demirtaş for allegedly provoking protesters last October over Kobane.

If HDP drop below the 10% threshold then the AKP gains dramatically in parliament. But if HDP politicians have legal cases launched against them, if any imprisonment is imposed or if the HDP is suddenly sidelined, then the bloodshed will simply intensify.

Either way, the AKP is taking a very dangerous gamble.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey, Kurds and ISIS: Who is fighting whom?

As Turkey finally comes off the fence and decides to take part in the ongoing collective fight against ISIS more actively, its decision to suspend the reconciliation process and open a simultaneous front against the PKK has costly ramifications

For many, the deadly Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) bombing of the Kurdish town of Suruç in Turkey was a long-delayed wake-up call for Turkey. Thirty-two students were killed and over 100 injured in the suicide attack that sparked public outrage. Directly or indirectly, Turkey was already a key player in the Syrian civil war. However, this week spelled a new phase in Turkey’s policy on ISIS and one that will have large ramifications in Syria and also Turkey.

Turkey largely employed a “no peace, no war” stance on ISIS, and such a standpoint was influenced by the increasing autonomy of the Syrian Kurds who have been pitched in deadly battles against ISIS forces. For the Turkish government, the threat of the Democratic Union party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), was also of a concern than an ISIS that effectively contained Kurdish ambitions. As Turkey enters a new phase against ISIS with a series of airstrikes with the agreement for the U.S.-led coalition to use the İncirlik Air Base and also the provision of a buffer zone that Ankara has so fiercely insisted, these events have long been in motion, but the bombing in Suruç was the final catalyst.

ISIS, which was already feeling the heat from a Turkish crackdown and the onset of tighter security measures, something that the U.S. has long insisted that Turkey was not doing enough of, sent a number of messages with the recent bombing in Suruç. The tragic death of so many Kurdish youths stoked the fire among many Kurds who were already skeptical of Turkey’s Syrian stance, which they deemed as being designed to undermine the Kurds. The anger and protests that erupted was a clear message that many felt that Ankara had brought this on them with months of dithering owing to their much deeper anxiety regarding a de-facto Kurdish state developing on their southern border. The bombing in Suruç by an ethnic Kurd was orchestrated in order to warn the Kurds that ISIS ideology appeals to deeper than ethnic lines that the Kurds had used so well in their defense of Kobani and other Kurdish towns in Syria. It also stirred debate among some locals of who are the protectors of the Kurds, Ankara or the PKK?This very point was exposed as the PKK retaliated with revenge killings of police officers. ISIS aimed to relieve the heat on the Syrian battlefronts with the YPG by shifting focus further north.

Turkey has always maintained that they see no difference between ISIS and the PKK, and there is no doubt that the PKK and Syrian Kurdish ambitions were at the forefront of the “package” agreed on between Ankara and Washington that has led to the new Turkish attitude. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that safe zones would “form naturally” once the areas under ISIS control were cleared. This is firstly against ISIS, and secondly against any YPG expansion west of Jarablus, which Ankara has openly dreaded. Turkish involvement deeper in Syria will certainly focus on keeping Syrian Kurdish ambitions in check, but this leads to a series of deadly double games that may ultimately backfire. The cease-fire with the PKK has been shaky to say the least, but in spite of increasing skirmishes over the past several months it has remained intact. As Turkey launched a series of airstrikes on PKK strongholds in northern Iraq, the door was swung firmly open to a new dawn of confrontation.

Turkey has responded with a strong message to PKK attacks in recent days in conjunction with its attacks on ISIS positions to keep true to its word that it does not see any difference between the two groups. However, this is a dangerous game that could spectacularly backfire. ISIS has kept a largely neutral view of Turkey, but this has long vanished. After hundreds of arrests and now airstrikes, the building of concrete walls along its border and allowing the U.S.-led coalition to use Turkish military bases, Turkey has finally come off the fence in the fight against ISIS with all the repercussions this will now bring.

But simultaneously opening a second front against the PKK is under question. After decades of violence, thousands of deaths and great animosity, a return to the dark days of the past will lead to a new and unprecedented polarization of Turkey. The Kurdish question in the Middle East has moved on a great deal since the harrowing days of conflict in the 1990s. The reconciliation process was a bold and welcome step by Erdoğan in 2012. And only lasting peace in Turkey can ever be the way forward.

Reform packages and greater rights for the Kurds in any new constitution should not be tied to their PKK dilemma. Not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and many Kurds become trapped between alienation, harsh government policies and the PKK. Turkey can continue cutting branches, but without addressing the root of the problem the vicious PKK-Ankara struggle will continue for more decades with more bloodshed. This is also true for the Syrian Kurds. How about the dozen or so other Kurdish political parties? Kurdish autonomy in Syria is unlikely to reverse and Turkey must adjust to this new reality. Any confrontation with the YPD or continued Turkish policy against Syrian Kurds will simply turn greater Kurdish sentiment across the divide against Turkey.

Immediately after the Turkish attacks on the PKK, the White House urged the continuation of the reconciliation process and a de-escalation of violence, but also stressed Turkey’s right to self-defense. But the situation becomes more complicated when the most effective fighting force in Syria against ISIS are indeed the YPG. The U.S. continues to list the PKK as a terrorist organization, and yet ironically enjoys increasing strategic ties with the YPG. Seldom does such a precarious web of inter-relations remain intact for long. Turkey is at war with ISIS and the PKK, the PKK is at war with ISIS and Turkey, the U.S. is at war with ISIS and is helped by the PKK, Turkey is helping the U.S. fight ISIS, the PKK are helping Kurdish forces in the Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey is enjoying good relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The complex map is riddled with ironies and contradictions and the scene is set for greater fallouts and casualties in these relations.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Bombing in Suruc a long delayed wake-up call for Turkey

The deadly Islamic State (IS) suicide bombing in Suruc that killed 32 and wounded over 100 others was a much delayed wake-up call for Turkey.

All the more tragic was that the gathering by the young student activists in the Kurdish town was aimed at taking part in a rebuilding mission over the border in the war-scarred town of Kobane.

Directly or indirectly, Turkey was a key factor in the Syrian civil war long before the events of the past week. The vast majority of militants and weapons, from groups supported by the US, Turkey and the neighboring countries to IS have come through Turkey?s long porous border.

Many in the west including US, have long complained that Turkey could do more to stem the flow of fighters and weapons but Turkey has preferred a policy of no peace, no war with IS. Ankara has long disputed the US led coalition?s strategy in Syria which is focused on IS and not the regime of Bashar al-Assad which Turkey deems as the real the seeds of IS.

More importantly, Turkish eyes have been firmly rooted on the deadly struggle of Syrian Kurds against IS with the Syrian Kurds enjoying greater autonomy and a strategic role as part of the campaign against IS.

Turkey refused to intervene on the side of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) when Kobane was on the brink of been overrun by IS viewing the PKK affiliated YPG forces as no different to IS.

Sooner or later, the keeping on the fence policy would backfire on Turkey and this is symbolized by the brutal bombing in Suruc.

Suruc was significant not just due to the unfortunate deaths of so many students, it was a red-line for Turks and Kurds alike across Turkey. Mass protests across Turkey placed even greater pressure on the government.

But such is the nature of Turkey?s precarious post-election political climate that even a message of unity could not be agreed. Suruc was used by various sides for political gains.

IS targeting of Suruc was not coincidental and was designed to send a number of messages. As a largely Kurdish town, IS sent a warning to the Kurds that their struggle is not limited to Syria, it aimed to shift the focus of the IS-Kurdish conflict further north after a string of IS defeats in recent weeks in Syria.

The fact that the IS bomber was a young ethnic Kurd was orchestrated to demonstrate that the IS ideology spans beyond the ethnic lines that Kurds have successfully used to spurn IS attacks.

Almost immediately after the attack, PKK linked rebels killed two policeman in Celanpinar for allegedly collaborating with IS militants.

The peace process in Turkey was already developing large cracks, with Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds serving as a major dent. IS is attempting to reignite the PKK armed struggle on a larger scale.

As town of Suruc has barely recovered from the tragedy, the message that resonates with the locals is who will be their protector? The PKK or Ankara? Just as importantly, would Ankara react differently if the attack was on an ethnic Turkish town?
Many Kurds across the border view the policies of Ankara against the YPG, not specific to Syrian Kurds but against Kurds on both sides.

Turkish sentiment in recent months has turned against IS with dozens of arrests as a part of an increased crackdown. However, as the border skirmishes between Turkish soldiers and IS militants near Kilis showed just days after the Suruc attack, Turkey has been thrusted into a new dawn against IS.

It later launched air strikes against IS border positions, the first of its kind by Turkey. Of greater significance in Turkey?s changing approach is the decision to allow the US-led coalition to us the Incirlik military base after months of resistance.

This is viewed by many in the Washington administration as a ?game changer? bringing US forces from a distance of 2000km to about 400km from IS de-facto capital of Raqqa, allowing faster and more frequent raids.

As part of the concord with Washington to use Turkish air bases, sources in Turkey also report agreement on a 90km buffer zone between Syria?s Mare and Jarablus that will be 40-50 km deep. This allows Ankara to contain IS but keep firm eyes on PYD and ensure their expansion remains in check.

In addition Turkey is planning to build concrete walls along its border with increased surveillance operations.

Whatever the next few months brings for Turkey in its new battle with IS or its old one with PKK, now that the door is ajar there is no turning back.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc