Ankara flexes its muscles ahead of Kurdish referendum

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, front- center, and his deputies vote to extend a new mandate at the parliament during an extraordinary session, in Ankara, Turkey, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Ankara flexes its muscles ahead of Kurdish referendum

Turkey’s National Security Council and Cabinet convened on Friday to discuss possible steps to be taken in the aftermath of Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum on Sept. 25.  
A statement after the meeting highlighted “the illegitimacy of the referendum” announced by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“It was strongly emphasized that this step, which directly threatens Turkey’s national security, was a terrible mistake that threatens Iraq’s political unity and territorial integrity, as well as the peace, security and stability of the region,” the statement said. 

Following the Cabinet meeting, Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference that “all options are on the table.”

At an extraordinary session on Saturday, Parliament mandated the government to deploy troops to Iraq and Syria for another year to protect Turkey’s national security against the possible breakup of either neighbor.

Since Monday, Turkey has been conducting a military drill along its border with Iraq, and on Saturday it deployed additional troops to the region.

Also, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Iraq issued on Sept. 21 a joint declaration to take coordinated countermeasures against Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence. 

The Iraqi Army’s Chief of Staff Othman Al-Ghanmi arrived in Ankara on Saturday for talks with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. 

Ankara “has given the necessary warning in a friendly way, but this hasn’t been heeded,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday, criticizing the referendum as “adventurism” that threatens Turkey’s security. “Those who took this decision will pay the price.” 

There are regional concerns that the vote could have a domino effect by triggering separatist sentiment in other countries with significant Kurdish populations. 

For more than three decades, Turkey has been fighting a domestic Kurdish separatist insurgency, with more than 40,000 people killed so far.

On Saturday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) launched a rocket and mortar attack from Iraq, killing a Turkish soldier and a worker.

“Turkey, possessing NATO’s second-largest army, wants to use its options for intervention against all possibilities, including sectarian conflicts in the region,” Abdullah Agar, a security expert and retired special warfare and commando officer, told Arab News.

“Turkey’s priority is to resolve all problems regarding Iraq’s territorial integrity without violating its international and bilateral agreements,” he said.

“With the outcome of the referendum, Turkey will initiate all diplomatic, political, economic and, if necessary, military instruments.” In recent days, Turkey has deployed additional aircraft near the border with Iraq, Agar said. 

Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think tank Bilgesam, told Arab News: “Turkey has the military option, but it could also hurt the KRG economically and diplomatically.” 

He said Ankara “can close its consulate in Irbil and downgrade diplomatic relations with the KRG. If it closes the Habur border crossing, through which the KRG trades with the world, and if it halts oil exports from the region, Irbil will be suffocated.” 

Semin said Turkey will not immediately initiate a cross-border operation after the referendum. 

“If Iraq’s central government opts for military intervention against the KRG, Turkey can provide the Iraqi Army and security forces with logistical support,” he added. 


Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

Updated 20 min 47 sec ago
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Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

  • Children who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting
  • The study shows 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money

JEDDAH: Children recruited as fighters by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen are beaten into submission and face psychological abuse, as well as the risk of death, injury and disability, a former child soldier said on Friday.
Those who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting, he told the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV).
The child’s testimony is part of a documentary about the recruitment of children in Yemen, which was broadcast during the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Legal expert Lisa Al-Badawi highlighted efforts to rehabilitate former child soldiers and children affected by the war in Yemen.
She said children make up a third of fighters in the Houthi militias, according to a field study by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation.
The study showed that 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money amid deteriorating economic conditions, while just 10 percent join Houthi ranks for “ideological reasons.”
Al-Badawi revealed numerous human rights violations faced by the recruits, including the risk of death and injury, deprivation of education, and exposure to sexual and psychological abuse.
She also discussed the methods used to treat and rehabilitate these children, emphasizing the importance of promoting awareness among parents.
She presented statistics on the areas covered by the rehabilitation process, which is carried out with support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said he is not surprised by the Houthis’ large-scale recruitment of children.
“By devious design, they push children onto the frontlines so that when the children become victims, the Houthis can cry foul and blame the legitimate Yemeni government for killing children,” he told Arab News.
“These are terrorist militias, and like all terrorists, they have no qualms about playing with the lives of children.”
It is easy for the militias to brainwash children, Al-Shehri said. “Grown people are difficult to convince, but children become easy prey,” he added.
“In most cases, the Houthis don’t even tell children that they’re going to the frontlines. They lure them by saying they’ll be helping their men.”
Now that the Houthis have been cornered in Hodeidah, they will use children and the civilian population as human shields, Al-Shehri said, asking: “What can we expect from such terrorists?”
Meanwhile, the Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the UN, according to sources quoted by Reuters. The port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen.
This week, UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to try to negotiate a solution.
The source, quoted by Reuters, said the Houthis indicated that they would accept overall UN management and inspections of the port.
A Western diplomat said the UN would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is that Yemeni state employees will work alongside the UN.
Griffiths on Thursday said he was “encouraged by the constructive engagement” of the Houthis, and will be holding meetings with Yemen’s internationally backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Speaking earlier at the UN, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi reiterated the Saudi-led coalition’s demand that the Houthis quit the city of Hodeidah entirely.
“What we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and to leave, to leave peacefully, and to provide information about the locations of mines and improvised explosive devices,” he said.