Jordan’s King Abdallah receives Moqtada Sadr

Sadr with Jordan’s King Abdallah in Amman on Monday. (AP)
Updated 24 October 2017
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Jordan’s King Abdallah receives Moqtada Sadr

AMMAN: King Abdallah of Jordan met Moqtada Sadr, the head of Iraq’s Islamic Sadrist Movement, on Monday — the day after receiving Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.
Al-Abadi visited the king on Sunday, following a high-level Saudi-Iraq summit attended by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, said that, during Monday’s meeting at Al-Husseiniya Palace, King Abdallah and Sadr focused on the importance of cementing economic and trade ties “in a manner to serve the common interest of the two countries and peoples.”
King Abdallah reportedly stressed how important it was “to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity and safety,” and praised the Iraqi army's victories against Daesh.
He also commended Sadr's nationalist and pan-Arabist approach, noting, in this context, the “positive improvement in Iraq's relations with Arab countries,” according to Petra.
Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told Arab News that Jordan’s invitation to Sadr to meet with the king is part of a regional effort to distance Iraq from Iran.
“Moqtada Sadr is a Shiite Arabist and is opposed to Iranian hegemony,” Rantawi explained. He added that Sadr had taken a “strong position against” Iraq’s previous Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who was widely perceived as pro-Iranian.
Sadr’s visit, Rantawi said, “fits neatly within the new Saudi strategy, which is aimed to bring Shiites who are against Al-Maliki closer to the Arab Sunni position.”
Sadr, Rantawi added, is “one of the few Iraqi leaders who can move the masses quickly.”
The Sadrist Movement currently holds 35 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, and his militia, Saraya Al-Salam is, Rantawi said, “very popular.”
Jordan’s interest in the meeting, Rantawi believes, is due to the proposed Iraqi-Jordanian pipeline — a crucial development for the energy-poor kingdom.
“Oil is pumped in Shiite-controlled areas and transported through Sunni-controlled areas; therefore Jordan’s interest is to have good relations with all components of Iraq,” Rantawi said.
Bassam Al-Amoush, former Jordanian minister of parliamentary affairs and former ambassador to Iran, told Arab News that this was not Sadr’s first visit to Amman.
“Jordan has good relations with all political components in Iraq, including the various Sunni tribes in Ramadi, Prime Minister Al-Abadi, and the Kurds,” Al-Amoush said.
He added that Jordan’s interests are not only related to oil: “Jordan has geopolitical interests in Iraq and is concerned about Iranian influence there, which some say constitutes Persian hegemony.”
The visits of Al-Abadi and Sadr appear to be part of a post-Daesh political reorganization of the region.
“Everyone wants to fill the empty space that they have left,” Rantawi said.


Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

Updated 22 September 2018
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Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

  • The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc
  • Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey is gearing up for a military offensive on Tal Abyad in Syria, according to some news reports, with video footage showing the Turkish military deploying troops near its border town Akcakale. 

Experts interviewed by Arab News noted that the military deployment to the Syrian border with many tanks and howitzers was aimed at putting additional pressure on the US to accelerate the implementation of a roadmap endorsed by Turkey and the US in June for the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

A recent agreement between Ankara and Moscow that forestalled a full-scale Syrian regime offensive against the Syrian province of Idlib also triggered Turkey’s ambitious military activities along the border. 

Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as a domestic security threat to Turkey due to their links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades. 

And the Manbij roadmap between Turkey and the US consists of the withdrawal of the YPG from the city to stabilize the region.

Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa city and near the Turkish border, was captured from Daesh in 2015 by the YPG in an offensive supported by US-led airstrikes. The YPG remains a reliable American partner in Syria. 

A potential operation in Tal Abyad, if it happens, would likely mark a new phase in Turkey’s military intervention in Syria by directly clashing with the YPG on the ground. 

Mete Sohtaoglu, an analyst on Syrian politics, expects Turkey’s operation in Tal Abyad to start by March 2019. 

“Turkey’s main objective is to wipe out all YPG presence in the east of the Euphrates. The details of the operation, if it occurs, will become clear following an upcoming meeting between Turkish and American presidents,” he told Arab News. 

“The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc, then will specifically include the zone between Tal Abyad and Kobani cantons,” he said. 

Although not officially confirmed, Trump and Erdogan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session, which will begin on Sept. 25. 

According to Sohtaoglu, the prime condition for the US to address Ankara’s concerns and withdraw its support for the YPG would be a change of policy by Turkey about Iran. 

Ankara recently gave the green light for military cooperation with Washington in Syria. Since June 18, US and Turkish troops have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” to the north of Manbij as part of the roadmap. 

In a press conference on Friday, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced that Turkey would soon start joint training and patrols with the US in the Syrian Kurdish-held town of Manbij, but said Washington’s continuous arms support of the YPG was unacceptable.

The US State Department omitted the YPG and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released on Wednesday.

However, some experts do not expect any decrease of US support to its local partner YPG, while mobilizing the forces alongside the border is a tactical move. 

“I don’t expect an imminent and direct military operation to Tal Abyad. I think the recent military reinforcement intends to put pressure on the US to quickly operationalize the joint roadmap on Manbij, another Kurdish-held province,” Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, told Arab News. 

Orhan thinks that Turkey’s tactical move would change the local balance in Tal Abyad. 

“It would create a sense that the Turkish army wants to enter the area and would incite some rebels. The removal of YPG from this province would undermine the terror group’s aim to create an integrated zone in this region because it will break the geographical continuity between the cantons,” he said. 

Further increasing its geographical importance, Tal Abyad is located on an intermediate point between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli. 

Orhan said that Turkey already had the support of Arab tribes that took refuge in Turkey from Tal Abyad, and Ankara’s ability to rally this support in an Arab-majority town would force the US to reconsider its alliance with the YPG. 

“In the past, the Arab tribes that took shelter in Turkey often expressed their willingness to take part in an Turkish operation to Tal Abyad if Ankara supports them,” he said. 

Last year in March, Turkey convened a meeting of about 50 Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the Turkish southeastern province of Sanliurfa that lies to the north of Tal Abyad, and their position against the YPG was put on the table.