Daesh in desperate attempt to save Albu Kamal, last Syrian bastion

Iraqi forces are seen on November 4, 2017 in the centre of the city of al-Qaim, in Iraq's western Anbar province near the Syrian border after retaking it from Daesh group a day earlier. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
0

Daesh in desperate attempt to save Albu Kamal, last Syrian bastion

BEIRUT: Daesh terrorists conducted a blistering counterattack on Albu Kamal in eastern Syria Friday in a desperate bid to cling to the last urban bastion of their imploding “caliphate.”
The terrorists punched back into the town they had lost a day earlier and swiftly retook several northern neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“IS (Daesh) started counterattacking on Thursday night and retook more than 40 percent of the town of Albu Kamal,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP.
Albu Kamal was the last significant town to have been under full Daesh control and lies at the heart of what used to be the sprawling “caliphate” the group declared in 2014 over swathes of Iraq and Syria.
“The terrorists went back in and retook several neighborhoods in the north, northeast and northwest,” Abdel Rahman said. “IS is trying to defend its last bastion.”
The terror group has in the space of a few weeks seen its caliphate shrink to a small rump and lost major cities such as Mosul, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
The observatory said most of the fighting was done by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and elite forces from its backer Tehran, as well as militia groups from Iraq.
Losing the town, where IS leaders used to meet and were once considered untouchable, would cap a process which has seen the group relinquish any ambition as a land-holding force and return to the desert to fight a clandestine guerrilla war.
Many of the group’s top leaders have been killed as Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from Russia, Iran and a US-led coalition rolled back the territorial losses that saw the terrorists declare a “caliphate” roughly the size of Britain in 2014.
But the whereabouts of the first among them, self-proclaimed “caliph” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, remains unclear. He has been reported killed or wounded many times but Daesh has never offered any confirmation.
In Deir Ezzor province, which used to be the heartland of their proto-state, the group’s remaining fighters only control about 30 percent of territory, most of it desert.
On the other bank of the Euphrates, coming from the north, the Kurdish-led US-backed forces that retook the Daesh “capital” of Raqqa last month were also advancing on Daesh positions.
According to the observatory, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retook four villages from Daesh there on Friday.
Observers have predicted the regime may seek to retake towns and cities wrested from Daesh by the SDF, such as Raqqa which the terrorists had used as their main Syrian hub.


Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

Updated 19 June 2018
0

Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces the biggest ballot box challenge of his 15-year grip on Turkey, seeking to overcome a revitalized opposition against the background of an increasingly troubled economy.
A self-styled heavyweight champion of campaigning, Erdogan has won successive elections since his Islamic-rooted ruling party came to power in 2002, transforming Turkey with growth-orientated economic policies, religious conservatism and an assertive stance abroad.
But he appears to have met some kind of match in his main presidential rival Muharrem Ince, a fiery orator from the left of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has been unafraid to challenge Erdogan on his own terms.
The intrigue is deepened by the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day under controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by Erdogan which will hand the new Turkish president enhanced powers and scrap the office of prime minister.
The vote takes place almost two years after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, a watershed in its modern history which prompted Turkey to launch the biggest purge of recent times under a state of emergency that remains in place.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown whose magnitude has sparked major tensions with Ankara’s Western allies.
Only a knockout first round victory for Erdogan and a strong parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be seen as an unequivocal victory for the Turkish leader.
And many analysts believe Ince can force a second round on July 8, while AKP risks losing its parliamentary majority in the face of an unprecedented alliance between four opposition parties.
“This is not the classical opposition that he has been facing for 15 years and which he more or less succeeded in managing and marginalizing,” said Elize Massicard of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“It’s a new political dynamic that has grown in magnitude,” she said.
The opposition was already boosted by the relatively narrow victory of the “Yes” campaign in the April 2017 referendum on the constitutional changes.
Most opinion polls — to be treated with caution in Turkey — suggest Erdogan will fall short of 50 percent in the first round.
Erdogan remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician and inspires sometimes near-fanatical support in the Anatolian interior, where he is credited with transforming lives through greater economic prosperity.
“A great Turkey needs a strong leader,” says the slogan on election posters of Erdogan plastered across Turkey.
But the elections come at a time when Turkey is undergoing one of its rockiest recent economic patches despite high growth, with inflation surging to 12.15 percent and the lira losing 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Erdogan brought the elections forward from November 2019 in what many analysts saw as a bid to have them over with before the economy nosedived.
The opposition has sought to play on signs of Erdogan fatigue and also echoed Western concerns that freedom of expression has declined drastically under his rule.
For the first time, Erdogan has been forced to react in the election campaign as the opposition set the pace.
He had to deny quickly when Ince accused him of meeting the alleged architect of the 2016 failed coup, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan promised to lift Turkey’s two-year state of emergency only after the CHP had vowed the same.
“The opposition is able to frame the debate in the election and this is a new thing for Turkish politics,” Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said.
“A party that has been in power for so long is, in an economic downturn, going to experience a loss (in support) and lose its hegemony over politics,” she added.
While the CHP sees itself as the guardian of a secular and united Turkey, Ince has also sought to win the support of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who make up around a fifth of the electorate.
A rally held by Ince in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir in the southeast attracted considerable attention. “A president for everyone,” reads his election slogan, over a picture of the affably smiling former physics teacher.
The opposition, which argues that Erdogan has been given a wildly disproportionate amount of media airtime in the campaign, has sometimes resorted to creative and even humorous campaign methods.
The Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener, once seen as a major player but lately eclipsed by Ince, put out humorous messages on Google ads and even devised a computer game where light bulbs — the AKP symbol — get destroyed.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), has campaigned from his prison cell following his jailing in November 2016. He made an election speech on speaker phone through his wife’s mobile but was allowed give a brief election broadcast on state TV, albeit from prison.