Turkish troops, Kurdish militia clash in Idlib

A member of the Syrian pro-regime forces flashes the victory gesture from the hatch of a tank before advancing towards rebel-held positions west of Aleppo, near Abu al-Zuhur military airport in the Idlib province countryside, in this November 11, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Turkish troops, Kurdish militia clash in Idlib

ISTANBUL: The Turkish army and Kurdish militia exchanged fire Monday in the northern Syrian province of Idlib where Ankara’s troops are stationed as observers, the first report of such an incident in the area, state media said.
Kurdish militia fighters fired five mortars at an observation post in Idlib staffed by Turkish troops, the Anadolu news agency said. No casualties were reported and the mortars did not hit their target, it added.
In response, the Turkish army fired toward Kurdish militia-held positions around the town of Afrin, it added.
Turkish troops are deployed in Idlib as part of of an agreement with Iran and Russia to implement four so-called de-escalation zones in flashpoint areas around Syria.
Up until the deployment of Turkish troops in mid-October, Idlib had largely been controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
The incident comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host Turkish and Iranian counterparts Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani for summit talks on Syria in Sochi on Wednesday.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch a military operation on Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia considered by Turkey to be a terror group.
Ankara views the YPG as the Turkish branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Turkish troops have repeatedly clashed with the YPG in Aleppo province, especially during Ankara’s incursion last year, but this is the first time such an incident has been reported in Idlib.
Russia, along with Iran, is the key supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Turkey has backed the opposition seeking Assad’s ouster.
But Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian war plane over Syria.
Analysts say that Erdogan will be keen to discourage Putin from backing the YPG in Syria at the Sochi talks, as Ankara seeks a say in post-war Syria after over six years of conflict.


Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.