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Trump’s Announcement of the Kurdish-Centric Plan to Take Raqqa

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On May 9th, the Trump administration made public its plan to provide the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with substantial heavy weaponry. The announcement signals Washington’s decision to rely on the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), for the operation to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State (ISIS) control. Ankara’s reaction to this decision, as it was to the Obama administration’s similar conclusion, will be vociferous. Turkey views, with a good deal of justification, the PYD as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliate in Syria. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for most of last 33 years. Your humble columnist dearly wishes he could be a fly on the wall listening to the upcoming meeting between Trump and Erdogan on May 16th. Mr. Trump nonetheless made the only right, and only real, choice for an administration that promised to defeat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Going with Turkey for the Raqqa operation would have been a terrible choice. The Turks were never willing to send much of their army to Raqqa, their Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies are not as good or proven fighters as the Kurds, the Turkish-aligned FSA are less numerous than the SDF/PYD, and in many cases they seem about as Islamist as ISIS. Turkish forces and their proxies would also have been fighting the Kurds all along the way to Raqqa. Naturally some policy elites in Washington appear intent on second guessing Mr. Trump’s decision on the matter. James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, argues in an April 10 Foreign Policy Magazine piece that the U.S. should have gone with Turkey on the Raqqa operation. Although this columnist has not seen any evidence for Mr. Jeffrey’s contention that local tribes want a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, the rest of his argument deserves some scrutiny. Jeffrey argues that by focusing on the short-term tactical goal of destroying ISIS, the Americans are forgetting the more important strategic contest (which he likes to a “great game” of chess) going on in the area: Efforts by Turkey, Israel and other Arab Sunni states to push back against Iranian and Russian attempts to overthrow the regional order in the Levant. Jeffrey’s then goes on to draw a misleadingly simple tradeoff, where Washington can either 1) Fight ISIS without Turkey and let Iran and Russia win the larger game; or 2) Join Turkey against the Iranian-Russian attempt at hegemony in the Levant.  Mr. Jeffrey, like many American and Turkish policy makers, appears unable to see more than a two-dimensional game of chess. He works hard to argue that Turkey is an American ally while the PKK (and its Syrian PYD sister) are proxies of Iran, Assad and Russia. Things are a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes the PKK and these actors cooperate, while at other times they fight each other. To understand what the Iranians’ and Russians’ three-dimensional chess game looks like, in contrast, one need only ask how Iran, which Jeffrey himself acknowledges to be much less economically and militarily powerful than Turkey, enjoys so much leverage and influence outside its borders? Russia as well, with an economy the size of Australia’s, seems to punch in a foreign influence weight class far beyond its real size and power. The answer has to do with both Iran and Russia’s complex policies of supporting and working with various actors internationally, adroitly applying patronage and cooperation to maximum effect. Iraqis, for instance, know very well how Iran supports myriad groups in that country including various Shiite parties competing with one another, some Kurdish political parties and even Sunni Arab parties. When Iran thus wants to get something done in Iraq, it has a lot of often mutually hostile groups it can turn to. If something occurs in Iraq that Iran opposes (such as the 2012 no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Maliki), it can use its influence to overthrow the whole process. If the Americans, either by shrewd design or by accident, are to play a similarly high level of three-dimensional strategic chess in the Levant, they might well start with more support for the PYD at the same time that they remain NATO allies with Turkey. This seems especially wise given Turkey’s own ties with Jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere (Jeffrey conveniently ignores the question of replacing ISIS with Jabhat al Nusra or Ahrar al Shams, which would hardly offer much of an improvement from the American point of view). In such a game, why couldn’t the U.S. support the PYD against ISIS and simultaneously oppose Iran? A simple rhetorical flourish might even do the trick: While leaders in Washington have repeatedly stated that American weapons given to the SDF/PYD must not end up in PKK hands or be used against Turkey, they never said anything about such weapons finding their way to the PKK’s Iranian branch, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). PJAK, of course, has been fighting a guerrilla war against the government in Tehran since 2004. This way, Ankara gets to keep supporting Hamas, Jabhat al Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria) and other American friends, while Washington can pursue its own Kurdish friendships outside of Turkey, and both can still pretend to be the best of friends at NATO summits — just like Turkey and Iran pretend to be friends at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

 

Beginning in relations between United States and Turkey

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday  that his visit to the United States next week would herald a new beginning in relations between the two countries. Relations between the NATO allies have been strained by differences over Syria policy. U.S. President Donald Trump approved a plan on Tuesday (May 9) to arm the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), a move which was strongly objected by Turkey, which sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Erdogan told a news conference at the capital Ankara that he believed the United States was still going through a “transition period”, and that decisions such as the arming the YPG dated back to policies from the previous administration. He also said he would pursue Turkey’s demand for the extradition of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says was behind a failed military coup last July. That was followed by a purge of tens of thousands of Turkish state employees accused of links to Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

 

 

Preparatory delegation visits U.S. ahead of Erdoğan-Trump meeting

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A Turkish preparatory delegation is visiting the U.S. on May 5 ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington on May 16-17, when he will meet U.S. President Donald Trump. The delegation is composed of Chief of General Staff Org. Hulusi Akar, Chief of Intelligence Hakan Fidan and presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın. Ankara and Washington want to restore ties, which have deteriorated since a failed military coup attempt in July 2016 and disagreements over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia group fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Turkey sees the group as an extension of the outlawed PKK.

KRG premier meets Erdogan in Istanbul.

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Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, three days after Turkish warplanes launched air raids in Sinjar that killed five Peshmerga. The 45-minute meeting was held at Yildiz Palace in Istanbul. Barzani held talks at Yildiz Palace in Istanbul at 4 p.m. on Friday (April 28), according to Anadolu Agency, yet the content of the meeting was not then revealed. Yeni Safak news reported the leaders discussed Turkish operations to eliminate the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar and that Turkey and the Kurdistan Region are against the PKK camps in the region. Barzani said new operations would be carried out against the PKK, Yeni Safak reported. Barzani and the KRG Minister of Natural Resources attended the two-day Atlantic Council Istanbul Summit 2017 April 28, which began on April 27. The Atlantic Council hosts world leaders for the eighth time in Turkey, focusing on regions from Syria to Africa and the Black Sea region to the eastern Mediterranean. Issues on the international agenda regarding the economy, national security, energy, trade and the Syrian refugee crisis are discussed. Erdogan said during the summit that Turkey would not allow any political party to be created in Rojava (Kurdish controlled areas in northern Syria). Turkish military jets launched airstrikes on Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and northern Syria on April 25, killing five members of Peshmerga forces, one fighter of Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) and 20 members of People’s Protection Units (YPG). The airstrikes have raised the concern of the United States, Russia and the Coalition forces as well as Iran and Egypt.

 

Iraqi Parliament to vote on draft to ban foreign armed groups

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According to a draft, if passed by the Iraqi parliament, all foreign armed groups that are posing a potential threat to the security of the neighboring countries need to be banned. Shakhawan Abdullah, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament, told BasNews that a draft is expected to be discussed in the Iraqi parliament on Thursday, according to which “no groups or parties are allowed to operate within Iraq and use its soil against another country”. Referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah said the presence of the party in Sinjar will constitute major issues for Iraq, Kurdistan Region and Turkey, noting that Turkey may continue its military operations on Sinjar. He continued to say that PKK has turned Sinjar into another Qandil, referring to the party’s main headquarter located in Mount Qandil in northern Kurdistan Region, stating that PKK is using the area against Turkey. He added that PKK has posed a threat to the security of the region

Turkish warplanes kill 6 PKK members in Zab region.

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Turkish army announced , that the Turkish air force had attacked Zab region in Kurdistan, targeting shelters of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The attack resulted in killing 6 PKK members, Turkish media reported. Zab is river which flows across the Turkish-Iraqi border. On Tuesday, The Turkish warplanes strike different areas of Shingal Mountains resulted in killing and injuring 15 Peshmerga fighters. An informed source told PUK media that in the early hours of Tuesday , the Turkish warplanes had bombarded many areas in Shingal, targeting positions of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters, the airstrikes had bombarded Peshmerga positions which resulted in killing 5 soldiers and injuring 10 others.

 

Turkish warplanes bomb Iraqi Kurdistan for third day

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Turkish fighter jets bombarded the district of Amedi in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region on Sunday for the third consecutive day targeting suspected positions of the PKK. Turkish warplanes have targeted several villages in Sangasar and Warte districts, about 130 kilometers east of Erbil. Warte Mayor Muslih Zrar told Rudaw that Turkish fighter jets intensively bombed Bokriskiyan village on Sunday, adding that fortunately it did not result in the loss of lives or material. The two districts are close to areas in Qandil Mountains under the control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a three-decade-long war against the Turkish state.

Turkey hits PKK targets in northern Iraq

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Turkish warplanes have carried out airstrikes against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in the Avaşin-Basyan and Zap regions of northern Iraq. According to a statement released from Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), weapon launching positions and shelters belonging to the group were destroyed in the airstrikes carried out on April 21. The TSK also said that two hand-made explosives were destroyed in the security operations carried out in the eastern province of Bitlis.

Turkish jets continue shelling suspected PKK bases in Kurdistan Region

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Firat News Agency released footage showing damage caused by jets shelling a cemetery for fallen PKK fighters in the Qandil Mountains. A PKK member TITLE: Turkish jets continue shelling suspected PKK bases in Kurdistan Region
said the bombardment showed the “weakness” of the Turkish government, adding that “the cemeteries of martyrs are our red line. They will pay for this”. Turkey resumed the shelling of suspected PKK positions inside the Kurdistan Region in July 2015 after a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish military and the PKK came to an end. Turkish warplanes have continuously shelled the villages and areas in the Qandil Mountains in the Kurdistan Region. The bombardments have so far killed 12 civilians in the region and caused the evacuation of several villages. The three-decade long conflict between Turkey and the PKK – which demands the creation of an independent Kurdish state – has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

President Erdoğan vows new cross-border operations of Turkey’s military operation in Syria

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the first phase of Turkey’s military operation in Syria, dubbed the Euphrates Shield, has ended while heralding that new operations will follow. “We have completed the first phase of the Euphrates Shield Operation with the cleaning of Syria’s al-Bab from terrorists. It is now over and there will be [operations] from now on. Right now, we are preparing for new operations to walk all over terror organizations in other regions. We will give new names to new operations. We have very good surprises for all terror groups, including the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] YPG [the People’s Protection Units], DEASH [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], FETÖ [Fethullahist Terror Organization], waiting for the spring. With God’s will, the upcoming months will be the dead winter of terrorists while it will be the spring of Turkey and the Turkish nation”, Erdoğan said April 3.

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