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L’evoluzione di Idlib, la guerra silenziosa che inizia a far rumore in Europa

MEDIO ORIENTE/REGIONI di

Ad Idlib lo stallo apparente si è infuocato fino alla tregua di oggi, ma è sempre più alta la posta in gioco. Dal rischio di una strage fino alla crisi umanitaria che bussa all’Europa, tutto ciò è nelle mani di Erdogan.

 

Il precario equilibrio di Idlib ha subito nella scorsa settimana una svolta disastrosa.

Qui, nella provincia più a nord-ovest della Siria, ultima zona di conflitto tra le forze lealiste di Assad e i ribelli filo-turchi, la notte del 27 febbraio i caccia siriani Sukhoi Su-24 assieme ai loro omologhi russi Su-34 hanno portato a termine una serie di raid aerei su degli avamposti turchi, uccidendo nel complesso 33 soldati; si tratta della perdita più ingente che la Turchia abbia mai subito dall’inizio del conflitto. Ad oggi lo scontro tra le due parti si riduce in un fazzoletto di terra; le forze governative di Assad il 19 dicembre hanno lanciato un’offensiva che ha costretto nei mesi i ribelli a ritirarsi dietro al confine che era stato garantito loro, durante l’accordo di Sochi nel settembre 2018. Dall’inizio dell’assalto l’esercito siriano, grazie al supporto russo, ha riconquistato un’area di 4.000 km² lasciando la restante, di pari dimensioni, alle file dei ribelli, area in cui peraltro vi è il concreto rischio di un massacro dato che in questo territorio grande appena quanto il Molise sono concentrate circa 3 milioni di persone, di cui profughe un milione.

Ciononostante pochi giorni prima dell’attacco siriano e russo i ribelli erano riusciti, grazie anche al supporto dell’esercito turco, a prendere il controllo della città di Saraqib, snodo fondamentale da cui passano le autostrade M4 ed M5, che congiungono Aleppo a Laodicea e a Damasco; inoltre poche ore prima del raid siriano alcuni media russi avevano riportato degli attacchi ai loro caccia, resi bersaglio di alcune postazioni antiaeree turche.

La risposta di Erdogan e la sua solitudine
La reazione del presidente turco non si è fatta attendere e nella stessa notte ha chiamato d’urgenza una riunione con i vertici della difesa, a cui sono seguite dichiarazioni molto forti: “Le nostre operazioni in Siria continueranno fino a quando le mani sporche di sangue che hanno di mira la nostra bandiera saranno infrante. E’ stata presa la decisione di ritorcersi con maggior forza contro il regime illegittimo che ha puntato le armi contro i nostri soldati”. Poche ore dopo la stessa conferenza il ministro della difesa turco Hulusi Akar ha annunciato l’avvio della quarta operazione in territorio siriano tramite cui la Turchia da qui in poi applicherà il diritto di autodifesa sui suoi territori in Siria. Denominata ‘Spring Shield’, la manovra secondo i vertici militari turchi ha già neutralizzato (ovvero ucciso, ferito o imprigionato) circa 2.800 soldati siriani; dopo gli eventi di questa settimana appare quindi chiara ormai la frontalità dello scontro tra Ankara e Damasco, Erdogan non vuole che Assad esca da questo conflitto vincitore ed è pronto a non cedere il passo su Idlib, del resto ha fornito fin qui un ingente aiuto ai 30.000 ribelli tramite la dotazione di blindati, missili anti-tank e missili anti-aerei, nonché il supporto dell’esercito turco nei 12 avamposti.

Diversamente dall’approccio che Ankara ha con Damasco il presidente turco si guarda bene dall’inasprire il conflitto con la Russia di Putin, il vero leader della guerra, che ha saputo risollevare Assad quando tutta la comunità internazionale lo dava ormai per finito. Erdogan sa bene che deteriorare i rapporti con Putin potrebbe essere fatale, proprio per questo motivo nelle dichiarazioni congiunte al vertice della difesa il presidente turco evita di menzionare la Russia come nemico, ma tutt’al più come un nazione di rispetto con cui Ankara ha rapporti di parità e a cui ha chiesto “di togliersi di mezzo da Idlib e fare i suoi interessi”. Il rapporto fra i due paesi è incerto; nei mesi passati Ankara ha acquistato da Mosca quattro sistemi missilistici antiaerei S-400 per un totale di 2,5 miliardi di dollari contro il parere dei vertici NATO, i quali non hanno gradito l’affare e fin’ora hanno negato alla Turchia l’acquisto degli F-35, tuttavia su altre questioni di primaria importanza come la Libia i due paesi siedono sui fronti opposti: Erdogan appoggia il governo di Tripoli di Serraj, al quale ha inviato anche delle truppe di supporto, mentre Putin supporta il generale Haftar.

Se Erdogan si trovasse a fronteggiare le forze di Assad da sole avrebbe certo più possibilità di muoversi, ma la forte presenza russa gli impone un’estrema cautela; la Russia è padrona dello spazio aereo di Idlib e nelle scorse settimane ha ripetutamente negato alla Turchia la possibilità di sorvolare i cieli siriani. Fin’ora l’unica mossa di Ankara oltre all’esercizio dell’autodifesa è stata chiedere il ripristino dei confini come erano stati garantiti a Sochi nel 2018, ma è quasi impossibile che vengano concessi da Assad a meno che Erdogan non riesca a persuadere il suo “amico” Putin. Una sorta di immobilismo quello turco, molti analisti paragonano la situazione della Turchia a quella di un vicolo cieco da cui Erdogan sta cercando di uscire in tutti modi.
Effettivamente l’ex Impero Ottomano soffre di una certa solitudine a livello internazionale, complice anche il fatto di aver agito in solitaria nella questione siriana e spesso non rendendo chiari i propri intenti, basti pensare che dopo l’attacco subito Erdogan ha fatto appello “alla voce di aiuto del popolo siriano, il quale chiede di essere protetto dal regime e dal terrore” quando però nel territorio di cui ha il controllo, appena a 5 km dai confini turchi, è stato trovato lo scorso novembre dall’intelligence americana Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader dell’ISIS. Il presidente allora ha necessariamente bisogno di supporto dalla comunità internazionale per aver più peso al tavolo con il Cremlino, e vorrebbe che i suoi partner, che sono tali perlomeno sulla carta come la NATO e l’Unione Europea, lo appoggiassero nelle sue azioni.
La questione profughi, un’arma nei confronti dell’Europa

A questo scopo Ankara dispone di un asso nella manica pesantissimo che è riuscito a gestire nel tempo ed è pronto a utilizzare contro l’Europa se questa non dovesse mostrare il suo appoggio. Nel marzo 2016, a 5 anni di distanza dallo scoppio della guerra e in piena crisi umanitaria, l’Unione per evitare l’acuirsi del fenomeno migratorio dei siriani e combattere l’insurrezione delle destre nei rispettivi paesi membri, aveva deciso di concordare con la Turchia il blocco della rotta balcanica prevedendo il ritorno in territorio turco di tutti quei migranti trovati in viaggio verso la Grecia; l’accordo prevedeva il pagamento di 7 miliardi complessivi fino al 2020.

Lo scenario di collaborazione in questi 4 anni è totalmente cambiato; dai tempi dell’accordo la Turchia è diventata protagonista attiva nella guerra siriana, prima nella provincie di Afrin e di Rojava per fermare l’espansionismo delle forze curde delle SDF, e poi ad Idlib tramite il rifornimento e la partecipazione diretta contro il regime. Inoltre ad Erdogan la questione migranti (si stima un bacino di circa 3,6 milioni di profughi siriani in territorio turco) ha causato un “crollo” di popolarità a favore del partito rivale CHP, il partito popolare-repubblicano, il quale ha conseguito la maggioranza nelle principali città. Quindi, ora che è da poco terminato l’accordo di trattenimento dei profughi, la Turchia sta facendo pressione all’Europa, specie dopo che la morte dei 35 militari turchi il 27 febbraio non ha trovato eco di sostegno da parte di Bruxelles.
Il presidente turco all’indomani dei raid ha denunciato la situazione in Turchia, ormai incapace di trattenere i civili siriani, e avvisato l’UE di aver già aperto i propri confini con la Grecia e la Bulgaria: “Gli ufficiali turchi hanno già caricato più di 600 migranti su dei pullman diretti in Europa, in questi giorni se ne riverseranno a milioni”. Non è nemmeno valsa l’offerta da parte dell’Europa di un miliardo di euro per trattenerli in attesa di una soluzione definitiva, che in questi giorni si sono già riversati migliaia di profughi sia nelle città di confine lungo il fiume Evros che sull’isola di Lesbo, dove d’altronde l’UNHCR già attesta la presenza di 16 mila profughi. L’Unione Europea ha offerto il pieno sostegno alla Grecia, in questi giorni il commissario europeo Ursula von der Leyen e il presidente del parlamento David Sassoli saranno nelle zone di confine per valutare la possibilità, ormai quasi certa, di un intervento di Frontex, l’agenzia di difesa di confini europei.
Arriva intanto, oggi 6 marzo, l’ennesima tregua, concordata dopo numerose ore di negoziati; Putin ha ricevuto al Cremlino Erdogan e i due hanno stabilito il cessate il fuoco, dei pattugliamenti congiunti al confine e un corridoio di sicurezza lungo sei chilometri in prossimità di Saraqib e dell’autostrada M4. Nonostante i leader al termine dei colloqui si congratulino reciprocamente per la vittoria diplomatica emerge sempre più un fatto, ovvero la precarietà delle tregue in Siria; difatti Erdogan ribadisce che qualsiasi violazione da parte delle autorità siriane verrà vendicata mentre gli interessi di Putin sono sempre più contrastanti con quelli turchi, la base russa di Khmeimim ad esempio è stata ripetutamente resa bersaglio di attacchi da parte delle milizie jihadiste dei ribelli. Si tratta pur sempre di una guerra che dura da 9 anni, eppure nemmeno gli ultimi episodi riescono a cedere il passo al futuro della Siria in silenzio.

Syria strongly condemns terrorist attacks in Iran

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Syria strongly condemned the two terrorist attacks which took place in Iran earlier today, stressing that such terrorist attacks that are backed by well-known countries will not discourage Syria and Iran from continuing to fight terrorism. In a statement, Foreign and Expatriates Ministry voiced Syria’s full solidarity with the leadership, government and people of Iran and its condolences to the families of the victims. Syria stresses that such “terrorist attacks backed by well-known countries and circles will not discourage Syria and Iran from continuing their fight against terrorism that is supported by countries and parties known in the region and beyond”, the Ministry added.

Threat of Chemical Weapons-Related Provocations in Syria Still Remains

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The threat of provocations related to use of chemical weapons in Syria still remains, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, adding that terrorists might possess toxic substances. “There was repeated information about possible provocations with usage of toxic substances. And, of course, making it public was likely to help to avoid such provocations”, Peskov added. On Friday, Putin said at the International Economic Forum in Russia’s St. Petersburg (SPIEF) that Russia foiled planned chemical attacks’ reiteration on the Syrian territory by making public the intelligence data on the plot in early May. The Russia leader also refuted the reports of Syrian President Bashar Assad having stockpiles of toxic substances, and people having allegedly suffered from the chemical weapons and called them a “provocation”.

 

Syrian army advances south toward rebel-held area

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The Syrian army said it had retaken a swathe of territory from Islamic State in southern Syria on Thursday in a rapid advance near areas held by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels at the border with Jordan and Iraq. Tensions flared in the southern region last week when the U.S.-led coalition mounted an air strike against pro-government forces that U.S. officials said posed a threat to U.S. and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the area. Washington described the forces as Iranian-directed. The Syrian army on Thursday declared the capture of areas to the south of Palmyra and to the east of Qaryatayn in southeastern Homs province. An official with one of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups operating in southern Syria told Reuters that government forces appeared to be trying to preempt any rebel move toward Deir al-Zor, another priority target for the government.

 

Iran Urges War on Cyber Capabilities of Terrorists

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A ranking Iranian security official warned against a major shift in the methods and approaches used by terrorist groups, calling for concerted global action to curb terrorists’ cyber capabilities and counter their modern tactics. Addressing the 8th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues in Moscow on Wednesday, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani warned of the shifting nature and geographical distribution of terrorists in the world. Pointing to the cyber-infrastructures and modern communication systems that terrorist networks employ to recruit, organize, train and control forces in different countries, Shamkhani stressed the need for serious international determination to restrict such modern capabilities and counteract terrorists’ Internet-based activities. He further noted that Iran, with years of experience in combatting terrorism and its military, security, and cyber threats, could play a significant role in the global initiatives against terrorism. Shamkhani then attributed the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group’s acquisition of advanced communication systems, modern arms and weapons of mass destruction to the double standards adopted by certain “infamous governments” which sponsor terrorist groups. The top official further deplored the UN’s weak performance in dealing with regional crises, and urged certain states to end their “failed and dangerous policies” toward Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Security officials from 95 countries around the world have gathered in Moscow for the 3-day conference to coordinate efforts in ensuring cyber security, addressing the regional and international threats, and countering the issues leading to crises.

Riyadh summits embodied keenness to achieve security, stability, says King Salman

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King Salman has thanked all authorities of member states of GCC and also Trump, for their participation to this summit, where they had the opportunity of discussing about several and noteworthy challenges in various fields. This has led to signing an important agreement between GCC countries and USA, and also the establishment of Center for countering Terrorism in Riyadh. The aim of Global Center for combating extremist Ideology is prevent families from spreading of terrorism and extremism. The ability of Saudi Kingdom of hosting this summit reflects the importance of bolstering international relations, to achieve common goals. The Cabinet has also thanked King Salman for his help, but it has also reminded the importance of eradicating terrorism and extremism in several States and interviewing in some situations such as war between Palestian and Israelian people and also interviewing in Syria. It was established by Public Investment Fund the establishment of Saudi Military Industries, which localize 50% of military expenses. The Cabinet has also thanked King Salman of supporting and giving efforts to Yemeni people, to contain disease. In conclusion, Saudi Government has signed a MoU with Japan, in compliance with Vision 2030 and others are going to be signed with Azeri and Sweden Government, to implement their economic relations.

 

It Has Brought In Riyadh With Bensalah Trump Greets Bouteflika

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The President of National Council met Donald Trump during the summit to Ryhad. He brought President’s respectful. Trump remembered the bilateral cooperation between two Countries and auspicated a major cooperation. President of National Council agrees with Trump, and remembered the historical relationship between two Countries, with the recognition of independence of United States in 1783 and the sustain of USA to the independence of Algeria during the decolonization. He then talked about Libya, Mali, Syria and Sahara and said that military solutions are unsuccessful, the only way is the diplomatic way. President of National Council expressed his sustain to the relations between United States and Muslims Countries and added that he want a new Middle East based on union. He then talked about the situation affirming that there won’t be peace without an official recognition of the Palestinian State with capital Jerusalem.

Turkey calls for removal U.S. envoy to counter ISIS over Kurdish policy

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Coalition Forces to counter Islamic State (ISIS), Brett McGurk, of supporting Kurdish forces in Syria, and called for the removal of McGurk from his position. “Brett McGurk, the USA’s special envoy in the fight against Daesh [Islamic State], is definitely and clearly giving support to the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and YPG [People’s Protection Units]. It would be beneficial if this person is changed,” Cavusoglu told NTV television on Thursday (May 18). Turkey sees the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as “terrorist organizations” as it says they have ties with the PKK, which is designated as a terror group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. The comments by the Turkish foreign minister came after McGurk, along with officials from the State Department, paid a visit to Syrian Kurdish controlled areas on Tuesday (May 16) in order to meet Kurdish officials there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he told U.S. President Donald Trump that Turkey would not hesitate to attack if it faced any sort of attacks from the YPG, according to Turkish media. “We clearly told them this: if there is any sort of attack from the YPG and PYD against Turkey, we will implement the rules of engagement without asking anyone”, Erdogan said being cited by Sabah newspaper. In the battle to free Raqqa from ISIS, the U.S. has actively supported the YPG-led SDF, but was initially wary of allying directly to the YPG due to concerns from NATO ally Turkey. U.S. ties with the Syrian Kurds have grown deeper despite the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its links to the PKK.

Ceaseless Middle East wars forcing change in approach to medical care

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The Middle East’s protracted conflicts have caused a region-wide health crisis that goes beyond war wounds to heightened resistance to antibiotics and a collapse in vaccination drives, leading to a resurgence of diseases tamed in peacetime. Health threats are so varied that one of the Middle East’s main teaching hospitals, the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), has introduced a conflict-medicine program to equip students to cope in an environment afflicted by chaos. As fighting has engulfed Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya since 2011, doctors and nurses have had to adjust not only to treating terrible injuries but to a faster spread of disease and growing threats to their own safety from combatants. Doctors, universities and aid agencies must respond by sharing experience and expertise, and by adapting research and medical practices, said participants at a conflict medicine conference at AUBMC, pointing out that Lebanon’s doctors have had their share of experience in conflict medicine due to the 1975-1990 civil war. The conference was held a few hundred meters from the iconic Beirut building that is witness to the war with its riddled facade. One growing problem is the disruption of vaccinations. Ali Batarfi, dean of the Hadramawt College of Medicine in Mukalla, Yemen, described a recrudescence of dengue fever that had been comparatively rare before the war there. Yemen is suffering from a cholera outbreak after more than two years of a war that has crippled public services, fostered malnutrition, hindered the import of adequate medical supplies and hobbled hospital capacity with war injuries. The collapse in national health systems has accelerated resistance to antibiotics because of drug usage in excess of prescribed limits. At the same time, infections have spread as war has destroyed sanitation and clean water systems and triggered chaotic population movements. The impact ripples beyond countries at war. Lebanon’s health system has grappled with the extra patients from around the war-ridden region attending its hospitals, including some from the more than one million Syrian refugees now in the country. A fifth of patients at AUBC are from Syria and Iraq, of whom the overwhelming majority suffered from war wounds, though the burns department noted a big rise in cases among children because of tent fires in refugee camps. Doctors in war zones have had to radically alter their approach, rationing resources, operating in primitive conditions and changing the way they treat trauma injuries. Surgical treatment of injuries is very different when those wounds have been caused by high-velocity bullets or shrapnel – something traditionally trained surgeons must learn as war has spread in the Middle East. Increasingly, warring sides in conflicts are targeting medical facilities, seemingly aiming to reduce their enemies’ stomach for battle by aggravating the suffering of civilians. “When I started for MSF, my MSF jacket was my bullet-proof vest”, said Dr Anja Wolz, emergency coordinator at Medecins Sans Frontieres in Brussels, who has worked recently at the MSF field hospital in Mosul. “Now you feel like a target”. The ICRC has warned that the drawn-out crises plaguing the Middle East “could lead to the total collapse of health systems”.

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.

 

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