A van carrying 17 undocumented illegal migrants crashed on the Trakia Motorway at 4:20 a.m. on Sunday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said in a press release. Ten persons (the driver and nine passengers) were killed in the accident, and eight were injured. The driver was identified as a 16-year-old Bulgarian national with a criminal record. He did not a driving licence. The hospitalized illegals said they were citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Police are yet to find out whether the illegals crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey or Greece. The Interior Ministry Chief Secretary said that between 20 and 50 aliens are attempting daily to cross illegally Bulgaria’s border with Turkey and Greece. Two such attempts were foiled last night, and 13 illegal migrants were found in a heavy-duty truck on the Bulgarian-Greek border.
Iran would continue its current missile policy which is defensive and for deterrence, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi said. Speaking in a press conference, Qasemi noted that Iran has a transparent missile policy and its missile program does not violate any UN resolution. Iran plays an advisory role in Iraq and Syria upon a request from their legal governments, the official said, noting that Islamic Republic aims to help these two countries to expel terrorists and establish peace in the war-torn regions. Elaborating on Iran stance on new US congress bill to increase Iran’s sanctions, he said that the US practical actions and policies are important to Iran and Tehran is ready to counter any US measure. Speaking on Qatar and Kuwait reactions to US President Donald Trump visit to the region, Qasemi said that presence of foreign powers in the region has always disrupted regional security and unity. There was no consensus among countries that took part in the Riyadh summit on the summit declaration, he added. Qasemi noted that Iran has been always in talk with regional states including Kuwait, Qatar and Oman to resolve differences. “Before the Riyadh summit, we cautioned the Arabic-Islamic countries of Israel plot for sewing discord among Islamic countries”, he added. Elsewhere in his remarks, the spokesman hailed huge turnout of Iranians residing abroad in the May 19 presidential election. He said also that Iran is pursuing martyrdom of two of its border guards in the joint border with Turkey.
The United States might ban laptops from aircraft cabins on all flights into and out of the country as part of a ramped-up effort to protect against potential security threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on Sunday. In March, the government imposed restrictions on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins on flights from 10 airports, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey. Kelly said the move would be part of a broader airline security effort to combat what he called “a real sophisticated threat”. He said no decision had been made as to the timing of any ban.
Chairman of the Syrian Democratic Council Rezan Hiddo said that the council is awaiting for the reaction of Syria and Russia to Turkey’s alleged training of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants to launch an operation in the Northern Syrian city of Afrin, in the wake of the US’ decision to arm the Syrian Kurds. “According to the received intel, Turkey is training FSA forces in order to carry out an operation in Afrin. Turkey decided to conduct the operation after the United States made the decision to supply weapons to the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey cannot conduct ground operations in Kobani and Qamishli, as there are US troops there, but there are none in Afrin, that is why Turkey plans to carry out the operation here… We are waiting for the reaction of the Syrian and Russian governments in response to the Turkish plans,” Hiddo told Sputnik.
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.
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.
The Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament have cited “three conditions” for their continued support for Turkey’s membership of the EU, after the head of the group, Gianni Pitella, met with main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and CHP members in Ankara. One of the conditions is the demand that the president give up his authority to annul parliament. The second condition demands a restriction in the scope of the decree laws, on the ground that excessive usage of decree laws narrows the jurisdiction of parliament. Thirdly, they state that the death penalty should not be reinstated”, Yılmaz added.
Police forces detained a former lawmaker from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ahmet Tevfik Uzun, early on May 8th in the southern province of Mersin over suspected links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). Teams carried out searches in Uzun’s house and office, during which documents were seized. Uzun represented the province of Mersin in Turkey’s 24th parliament and served as a lawmaker from 2011 until 2015.The Mersin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the former AKP lawmaker as part of an investigation into the Gülen movement, which has been blamed for the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
It is unacceptable for Turkey to see double-digit inflation rates, a top official has admitted, adding that the government’s food committee would soon hold a meeting to take immediate measures to ease skyrocketing food prices. “This is an unacceptable situation”, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek said at a meeting in Istanbul on May 5. “The main reason behind the rise in inflation has been food prices. I have called the food committee for a meeting. We need to take serious measures to curb prices and we will”, noted Şimşek, while also thanking the Central Bank for its tight stance to maintain price stability.
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.