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Rivalry between Iraqi Kurdistan’s PUK and KDP over Kirkuk oil grows.

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Iraqi Kurdish politicians deny an incident involving armed men taking over oil company headquarters recently, has anything to do with political rivalry. But insiders say it does – and the problem is serious. But now that Kirkuk appears as good as in Kurdish hands, it is clear there are also internal tensions between the Kurds themselves. The rivalry between the region’s two major political parties over Kirkuk was recently highlighted when, on March 2, armed men entered the headquartersof the Iraqi oil company, North Oil, in Kirkuk. The office is in charge of sending the oil produced in Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey through the Ceyhan pipeline, from where it is exported to the rest of the world. On the surface, it seemed that it was the same old gripe, with Iraqi Kurdistan saying that Baghdad was not giving them enough return on oil produced in the northern region. But in reality this was also about an old gripe between the region’s two largest political parties, who basically share power in the region, splitting territory, military forces and parliamentary powers between them: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP.

 

Turkey: New energy is needed in ties with the U.S.

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New energy is needed in ties with the U.S., the Turkish government has said during U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official visit to the capital Ankara, voicing hope for “concrete steps” particularly in the fight against jihadists in Syria and the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. “It’s vital for us to give a new energy to the Turkey-U.S. relationship. Turkey and the U.S. have an important role to play regarding the challenges they face. Our area of responsibility is not limited to our respective regions, it is about all problems and opportunities across the world. That’s why the Turkey-U.S. friendship should be stronger than ever”, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a joint press conference with Tillerson in Ankara on March 30.

Russia’s Gazprom plans to build Turkish Stream pipeline by end of 2019

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Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said in a statement on March 29 that the company aims to finish construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline by the end of 2019, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency and Russia’s TASS have reported. Gazprom plans to start laying Turkish Stream undersea pipes in the second half of this year, according to the statement. It has also set up a branch of South Stream Transport B.V. in Istanbul to coordinate work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project in Turkey, Miller told reporters. The drilling of the first section of the micro tunnel has been completed on the Russian stretch. The second micro tunnel is 98.5 percent ready.

US secretary of state due to visit Turkey with ‘interim zone of stability’ on agenda.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will pay a visit to Turkey on March 30 to discuss the case of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup, and the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The secretary of state also plans to discuss an “interim zone of stability” in Syria based on cease-fires. Tillerson will discuss “interim de-escalation zones based on cease-fires or other means” with Turkey, a State Department official said March 27. The deal there is that Turkey has an agreement, a commitment to deliver elements of the opposition, and critically, Russia has a commitment to deliver the regime to make sure that these cease-fires hold”, the official said

PYD leader: After ISIS, Raqqa can be part of federal project in Syria.

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Even before the expected battle for the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa, a politician from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has said that Raqqa could be a part of a “democratic federal” system in northern Syria. “We in al-Raqqa Civil Council thank SDF that fulfilled its promise of liberation, and today we see that a big part of al-Raqqa countryside has been liberated by virtue of the martyrs’ sacrifices and the heroic resistance of SDF with all its factions”, a statement from RCC Co-Chair Layla Mostafa read. The YPG, the PYD’s military arm, is one of the groups fighting ISIS under the SDF banner in northern Syria. No decisions have been announced about what force will ultimately enter the city of Raqqa, ISIS’s so-called capital and the largest city it still controls in Syria. The spokesperson for the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS spoke to Rudaw TV in mid-March about Raqqa operations. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in February the local Raqqa population should be supported by the international community, while “Turkey, US, and other elements can give logistic support to this city,” according to Anadolu Agency. Raqqa “should not be left in the hands of other terrorist organizations”, he added, referring to YPG.

 

Some 130 illegal rifles and 30 pistols were discovered in a shop clothes in Istanbul

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Some 130 illegal rifles and 30 pistols were discovered during a raid on a shop selling circumcision clothes in Istanbul’s Bayrampaşa district late on March 27. Bayrampaşa police found unlicensed pump rifles when carrying out examinations on weapons vendors in the district. The police then tracked down the owner of the vendor and determined that illegal arms sales were occurring. After two months of technical and physical surveillance, police staged an operation on a shop selling circumcision clothes late on March 27, seizing 130 rifles and 30 pistols.

Kurdish leader: Syria's Raqqa expected to join Kurdish-led federalism.

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The northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is freed from Islamic State, a leading Kurdish politician told Reuters on Monday. The political project is causing deep alarm in Turkey, which sees the YPG and its political affiliate, the PYD, as an extension of Kurdish groups that are fighting an insurgency on Turkish soil. Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, said it would be up to the people of Raqqa to decide their future once the city is freed from Islamic State, but he thinks the city will join the “democratic federal” system. He added that Raqqa needed to be in “friendly hands” otherwise it would form a “danger to all Syria, particularly northern Syria, the federal system of northern Syria, the areas of self administration”.

Erdoğan blasts ‘delusional’ one-man regime accusation ahead of referendum.

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Claims that the constitutional change shifting Turkey to an executive presidential system will introduce one-man rule are “delusional”, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said. “This accusation is a fallacy, a delusion that arises from having nothing to say to the public”, Erdoğan said in a speech in the capital Ankara on March 23, addressing words from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. “Let’s assume that the president goes astray and tries [to establish] one-man rule. Before all, the nation will come down on him. We will be asked to give an account by two: The people and God”, Erdoğan said.

Fierce clashes persist in Syria ahead of renewed peace talks.

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Jihadists and other rebel groups made advances against the Syrian army north of Hama on Thursday, a war monitor said, part of their biggest offensive for months, underscoring the bleak prospects for peace talks which resume later in the day. The assault coincides with clashes in the capital Damascus, where rebels and the army are fighting on the edge of the city center in the Jobar district for a fifth day amid heavy bombardment, state media and the war monitor reported. Increased fighting, despite a ceasefire brokered in December by Russia and Turkey, casts further doubt on peacemaking efforts in Geneva, where talks resume on Thursday after making no progress towards peace in recent rounds. “We hope to see some serious partner on the other side of the table”, Salem al-Muslet, spokesman for the opposition’s High Negotiating Committee (HNC), said in Geneva.

 

The refugees in a limbo: a year of "pact of shame" between Turkey and the EU.

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The current situation counts 60’000 refugees trapped in Greece, living in limbo without end and about nine hundred returned in Turkey from Greece, because of the “pact of shame” signed between Brussels and Ankara, which came into force a year ago and that President turkish Erdogan threatens to break. MSF warns: “The life of asylum seekers in the Greek islands remain at risk, with insufficient access to services and high risk of fires, riots and violence”. Amnesty International warns about the secrecy with which the Turkish government processes the returns on migrants, using the agreement as a weapon against European pressure, periodically threatening to “open borders”.

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