Friday, February 19, 2016

Irreconcilable Differences?

What to do, what to do?

Our formal ally is a total dick and it's about to go medieval on the bunch we really like, our informal ally. The dick is Turkey. The guys we like are the Kurds of Syria and Iraq.

Turkey's president, Recep Erdogan, is mightily pissed that the Syrian Kurds are positively sweeping through the north of that war-besotted land, bringing them closer by the day to control of Syrian territory at Turkey's borders.

Erdogan has a problem, several of them, most anchored in Turkish suppression of its own Kurdish minority that is now threatening to embroil Turkey in a full-blown civil war. Turkey claims its Kurds are aided and abetted by the Kurds of Syria and Iraq both of which Turkish jets have been bombing.

Turkey's NATO allies have been asking Erdogan to back off but he seems to be intent on doubling down and launching a ground war into northern Syria.

The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), was set up as a franchise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state on and off since 1984, first for independence and now for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey. Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, which serves as the political wing of the YPG, swiftly denied any connection to the Ankara blast. The YPG has never attacked Turkey before and would surely desist from any actions that put its alliance with the United States at risk.

...Turkey is adamant that the PKK and the YPG are “terrorists.” Washington half agrees. The PKK is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But the YPG is not, a fact that has paved the way for its deepening partnership in Syria, as Washington has provided the group with air support and weapons.

It remains unclear what sort of retaliatory action Turkey will take. What is certain is that Washington’s delicate balancing act between its Turkish and Kurdish allies is looking more precarious than ever.

Since Feb. 13, Turkish tanks have been shelling SDF positions near the Syrian town of Azaz, which is a vital resupply line for rebel forces in Aleppo who are allied with Ankara and doubles as a rear base against the Kurds. Turkey has vowed to prevent it from falling into their hands. Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan made Turkey’s intentions clear, saying that it wants to create a “secure” strip of territory roughly 6 miles deep on the Syrian side of the border, including Azaz. Thousands of Turkish troops have been massing in the area for weeks, prompting Russia to warnthat Turkey was planning an invasion of Syria.

...These steps have placed Turkey on the brink of a conflict with its regional antagonists. The Kurds say they will fight back against any Turkish aggression. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose own forces are inching their way toward Turkey’s border, says he will do the same. And few doubt that Russia, which is itching to avenge last year’s downing by Turkish pilots of its Sukhoi SU-24 jet, would deliver the biggest whacking of all.

Meanwhile, the SDF is skirting Azaz, punching a corridor further south — well out of Turkey’s range — and recruiting rebel groups along the way. Turkey’s demands that Washington stop aiding Kurdish “terrorists” has so far fallen on deaf ears. Rather, Washington has been calling on Turkey to stop attacking the Syrian Kurds.

Ankara may seem powerless in Syria, but it still has cards to play. It can, and already has begun to, reinforce its rebel proxies against the Kurds. More ominously, it could yet again ease restrictions on the flow of foreign jihadis into Syria.

...Syria’s Kurds have continued to thrive. Today they enjoy the rare distinction of being the sole group that simultaneously enjoys U.S. and Russian support. The YPG’s links with Washington were initially forged when U.S. planes intervened to rescue the Kurdish town of Kobani from the Islamic State in 2014. Since last year, the Kurds have teamed up with a gaggle of opposition Arab, Turkmen, and non-Muslim brigades to form the SDF, mostly as a kind of fig leaf that allows Washington to justify its support for them.

The payoff for both sides has been huge. The SDF has driven the Islamic State out of a broad stretch of territory along the Turkish border, while helping to pressure the jihadis in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. The Kurds boast they now control an area “three times the size of Lebanon.”

...Turkey wanted to organize a non-Kurdish rebel force to uproot the Islamic State from that area west of the Euphrates. But the force never materialized — and Russia’s intervention on behalf of Assad’s crumbling army has also bolstered the Kurds. Helping the SDF boot out anti-Assad rebels from the areas they covet has the added benefit, for Moscow, of poking Turkey in the eye.

But Syria’s Kurds want more. They are angling for diplomatic recognition. Russia has stepped up to the plate, hinting that it will back the Kurds’ plans for autonomy. It also insists that the Kurds must take part in the now-stalled Geneva talks. The United States also backed the Kurds’ participation in peace talks, but backed off when Ankara threatened to stay away from the talks if the Kurds were allowed to join.

The Kurds are skillfully playing the Russians and Americans off of each other to extract as much influence as possible. Kurdish threats to defect squarely to the Russian camp propelled Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, to speed up a long-mulled visit to Kobani. On Feb. 1, a beaming McGurk was photographed receiving a plaque from a YPG commander who used to be, as Turkey shrieked, a member of the PKK. Washington appears to be quietly encouraging the Kurds to grab more territory, even at the expense of moderate rebels it has aided and trained, to ensure that Assad’s Russian-backed forces don’t get there first.

All of this is adding to Turkish fury, and Turkey’s Kurds say they are paying the price. The pain that Turkey would like to inflict on their Syrian brethren, their argument runs, is being meted out on them instead.

The longer the conflict continues, the more alienated — and radicalized — Turkey’s Kurds will become. For many, the borders separating them from their Syrian cousins have ceased to exist. Kurdish youths who honed their urban warfare skills against the Islamic State in Syria are now using them against security forces in Turkey. Others continue to take up arms with the YPG in Kobani. Meanwhile, Turkish nationalist sentiment has been further inflamed by the Ankara bombing. Erdogan’s polarizing politics have already divided the country. The specter of intercommunal violence looms.

The challenge now seems to be for Washington to bash Turkish and Kurdish heads together until they reach some accommodation but it's clear that American clout in that region is faltering. 

All the more reason for Canada to sit this one out. Even more reason for NATO to tell Erdogan that it won't get involved if a Turkish invasion of Syria leads to a military conflict with Russia.


Toby said...

When I was in Turkey the government was trying to accommodate their Kurdish population with policies like schooling in their own language. The PKK has long been a problem but many of the Kurds in Turkey don't agree with them. Then along came Erdogan who has gone out of his way to appeal to the worst elements in his country. (He probably got along well with Stephen Harper.) So, yes, Turkey is changing for the worse.

I'm wondering what this is going to do to Turkey's favoured industrial status. Many European heavy industries have branch plants in Turkey. Erdogan must be making a lot of people very nervous.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, how can anyone make any sense out of this much less predict what lies in store for Turkey, the Kurds, Syria or the other players in the months ahead? There is no "designated driver" this time around.

Anonymous said...

Finally a sort of "mainstream" blogsite where someone beyond Decarie recognizes what a problem Erdogan has become. His refusal to recognize the election results last summer resulting in another one on Nov 2 where he prevailed by sowing fear in the general populace, shows him for the tinpot dictator he is. And he has invited Saudi aircraft onto his airbase on the Syrian border. If you consider the House of Saud as equally unhinged as Erdogan, the omens are not good. Who really bombed those hospitals last week so close to the Turkish border with Syria? Nothing like a feint to lay blame on the Russians, particularly considering the players.

The US policy of supporting Saudi Arabia, who have none too covertly supported ISIS, has delivered US weapons and probably money to the very people the US says it is fighting. Turkey accepting ISIS oil stolen from their controlled areas of both Syria and Northern Iraq via never-ending oil-tanker-truck convoy, mildly refining it and shipping it to Israel via sea oil tanker completes the circle of devious criminals. Erdogan's son runs the oil company and has become extremely wealthy, even ordering two brand new tankers last month. Of course daddy wants this stealing to continue - people enjoy getting rich.

Meanwhile the US has sat on its hands, until Russia showed up, and then squawked it was bombing "moderate" rebels, no doubt a term invented by advertising folk. So Russia bombed that oil convoy, which was ISIS, and Turkey had a heart attack and shot down the Russian plane. Russia showing up and actually shooting up ISIS was not part of US plans for letting everyone else fight themselves to death, and then waltzing in for the win. Which is to have three weak exhausted states in need of rebuilding, a Starbucks and a Big Mac chain, and the Qatari natural gas pipeline built across Syria to Turkey and Europe. Assad had said no to that back in 2011, and then funnily enough, an Arab Spring uprising occurred and labelled him as evil incarnate.

Russia wants to sell more natural gas to Europe, particularly now it faces sanctions and the IMF has decided last month Ukraine need not pay back the $3 billion loan it has with Russia, which does not want Qatari gas competing in Europe. The IMF an instrument of US policy to ruin Russia, who would have thought? cont'd

Anonymous said...

/cont'd. So the US gives Russia a kick in the pants just because. Anyone googled how Fascist Ukraine is, how racist their soccer supporter, banned from games in Europe for calling black players "monkeys"? Happening to this day and for the last decade. The US has such nice friends. And we tag along like trained sheep.

Of course, whatever duplicitous nitwit in Washington who came up with this nefarious plan in Syria is highly alarmed at Russia's response, so we get renewed efforts to demonize Putin, and indeed he is not a savoury character, but no more so than the idiots who run Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Progressive bloggers call Putin out as well, not having spent some time checking the situation out, and assuming everything.

Mixed up in this are the Kurds, as detailed in you post, who want their own state, and being straightforward, enjoy support from the US, Russia and us, Canada. And we want to send our soldiers to train them while the unhinged nitwits battle all around them. Should be good for a body bag or two, and a trip down the Highway of Heroes, which btw is mirrored in Dartmouth, NS as well as Ontario.

If I'm approximately correct in what I've pieced together to help me understand what's going on, then no Canadian troops should be involved. Let all the backstabbers stab each other in the back and leave us out of it. Meanwhile here at home and in Parliament, we discuss the matter as if the propaganda handed out from the US is the God's honest truth, and make decisions based on that.

I fear I'm going mad at the abject dimwittedness our government and institutions exhibit, and the right wing attack media's attack response calling us all wimps for not bombing ISIS back to the stone age, when they seem to be clueless at what's going on! Emphasis mine.

What a mess.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, we're totally out of our depth on this sort of "new war" warfare which enmeshes state actors, quasi-state actors, non-state actors and miscellaneous militias and criminal gangs all operating in a confusing and rapidly shifting mix of ethnic, religious and national rivalries.

I wrote a piece a few days ago trying to count how many wars are being played out simultaneously in Iraq and Syria. I believe I came up with six but there may be others.

Anonymous said...

Lets start with The Corruption Perceptions Index.

Meaningless figures until you compare them.

1 – Denmark
9 - Canada
16 – United States
58 – Greece
66 - Turkey

Question: NATO. How did a country with more problems than Greece join NATO and thus gain automatic NATO military backing?

Then there's the Man Himself. Mr Erdogan. Mr Erdogan's perception of himself is unique.

In public statements he has described himself as The New Saladin. This means, he says, he has a holy mission.

1/ To establish a regional Caliphate. Which is ISIS mission, as well.
2/ To take Jerusalem back from Israel. How is that accomplished peacefully?

Meanwhile, the Kurds, his sworn enemies but also the most lethal foes of ISIS, are being attacked and their forces pulverized, especially where they are succeeding at beating ISIS.

As more evidence accumulates it appears that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey all covertly back ISIS. Why? Let's remember that if Syria falls to ISIS it has lots of oil. That oil ceases to be Syria or Russia's property and can be divided as spoils of war.

Turkey's membership in NATO, under Erdogan's Vision, raises a very interesting problem. If while restoring Jerusalem to Islam Israel declares war on Turkey – who does NATO back?

Finally, that awkward choice of Saladin as heroic role model?

Saladin was Kurdish.

Anonymous said...

Again, here we have the prime minister, with Erdogan, declaring the Islamic desire to conquer Jerusalem. This desire to retake Jerusalem is the same sentiment that the Muslims of the Middle Ages were fighting to fulfill. Now that Turkey wants to pursue this very same conquests, it is obvious that we are going back to Medieval Times. They are praising Saladin who fought a very fierce battle with Richard the Lionheart in the Battle of Acre, in which the Christians won, and who defeated the Christians in the Battle of Jerusalem, and they are also speaking of the Battle of Gallipoli, in which the Muslims defeated the Christian English.

Erdogan made more revealing statements on going back to the Crusades, declaring that he communicates with the soul of Saladin (which is necromancy), going so far as to say that he was in the presence of Saladin. The Turkish media outlet, Anadolu, quoted the statement of Erdogan from his speech:

"I am sure the great commander [Saladin] is bringing together all the people of the Middle East into the one army that defeated the Crusaders. He [Saladin] is currently witnessing what we are doing here spiritually. I was in his spiritual presence and I am addressing him [Saladin] here in Hakkari with the mighty men, be it eastern, brave south eastern, valiant Anatolian, in old Turkey, they all promise you, O Saladin, if you united the brothers in the Middle East and so will we. You [Saladin] said, ‘Jerusalem is not for the Crusaders.’, Saladin you witness this, Allah witnesses this."

A somewhat awkward flaw in the Saladin Reborn Hypothesis?

Saladin was a Kurd.

The lawyer of Bilal Erdoğan, the son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has denied accusations that his client is involved in any money laundering, after Italian media reported that an investigation has been launched against him.

The basic argument, first presented by the Russians, is that Mr. Erdogan's extraordinarily wealthy offspring managed his windfall by accepting oil stolen by ISIL\ISIS. The loot was hauled back to Turkey through a protected corridor and sold to Europe.

Anonymous said...

Finally a classic tale of life in today's [moderate] Turkey

Turkish husband sues wife for ‘insulting Erdogan’

Ali D, 40, who married GD three years ago, warned his wife repeatedly not to curse at the president when he appeared on television, Yeni Safak newspaper reported on its website.

But her wife defied his warning and challenged her husband, saying: "Record and lodge a complaint."

The man duly recorded his wife's "insults" as evidence for the case and lodged a complaint with Izmir prosecutors. It was not immediately clear if and when the case would go to trial.

"I kept on warning her, saying why are you doing this? Our president is a good person and did good things for Turkey," Ali D was quoted as saying by Yeni Safak.

In return, the 38-year-old woman opened a case against her husband for divorce, according to the report.

The Mound of Sound said...

Erdogan certainly has destabilized his own country, pitting Islamist Turks against secular Turks, the Kurdish issue and now the Sunni versus Shiite conflict.

He shoots down a Russian aircraft for the briefest intrusions in Turkish airspace yet he regularly dispatches Turkish warplanes to violate Greek and Iraqi airspace.

The man is a snake. And, like many snakes, he's dangerous.