Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and ex-President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani greet people during a ceremony in Diyarbakir. (Reuters/file)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

ANKARA: The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is reportedly attempting to recover its relations with Turkey by contributing to Ankara’s anti-terrorism efforts.
According to Turkish press reports, Irbil is planning to establish security along its border with Turkey, often used by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists to infiltrate Turkey from northern Iraq and conduct terror attacks. As a practical step, the KRG has some plans to declare security zones in regions near Turkish borders.
Consequently, civilians will not be permitted to cross into the security zones, and those trying to enter these zones will be considered terrorists and be prevented from crossing.
Northern Iraq has been a long-time hub for terrorist activities against the Turkish state. In early November 2017, Turkish security forces clashed with PKK terrorists who were trying to cross the border from northern Iraq, resulting in the death of eight Turkish soldiers.
The bilateral ties between the KRG and Turkey shattered following the independence referendum the KRG held on Sept. 25, 2017, despite all regional and international warnings against it.
After the referendum, international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan were canceled at the request of Baghdad, but Turkey did not close its land border with the region.
And now, with the deteriorating economic conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan, its lose of control of the oilfields in Kirkuk and the high rate of unemployment leading to protests in Sulaymaniyah last month, the Irbil government has become obliged to reconcile with regional countries.
Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, thinks that apart from this latest step, it is plausible to expect a gradual mending of ties between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The fact that the KRG leadership has visited Europe through Turkey points to such a prospect,” Dalay told Arab News.
In the first two weeks of December, KRG officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Qubad Talabani, paid visits to France and then to Germany by crossing by land into Turkey, and then taking a flight from there to discuss regional issues, including the fight against Daesh and the deadlock on Irbil-Baghdad relations.
Nevertheless, Dalay noted that this rapprochement process between Irbil and Ankara would be slow and gradual, and a swift recovery of relations is unlikely.
“Beside foreign policy projections, Turkey’s domestic politics will define the momentum of such a rapprochement. In this respect, if KRG’s recent decision is materialized, this will contribute to giving a positive momentum to the relationship,” he said.
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, said this latest move by Irbil to forge a relationship with Turkey is the outcome of the isolation of the KRG following the independence referendum, both regionally and internationally.
According to Semin, the KRG cannot afford further deterioration with Turkey under its current international isolation, and the decrease in Turkish investments in the region has further contributed to its economic difficulties.
But the plan is not feasible without adequate human resources, he said.
“Currently Irbil, due to the dire economic state of the region, cannot pay the salaries of its Kurdish Peshmerga forces and civil servants. So such a plan will mostly fail unless it is supported by Turkey’s contributions with its own soldiers or launching a military training camp in this region, similar to Bashiqa camp in Mosul,” Semin told Arab News.
Although it was later considered by Iraq’s central government a move against “national sovereignty,” Turkish troops have been stationed in Bashiqa in northern Iraq following an invitation by Baghdad in 2014 with the mission of training Peshmerga forces in the fight against Daesh.
Semin also noted that the KRG began seeing the PKK as an imminent security threat to itself after the terror group recently declared autonomy in five regions in northern Iraq.
Turkey has recently launched sweeping aerial operations against PKK hideouts following the terror group’s recent attacks from northern Iraq to Turkish territories with rocket launchers.
“The KRG leadership is also concerned that central government’s security forces might conduct an operation in the region if the PKK gains regional clout,” Semin noted.


Al-Qaeda man linked to 9/11 attacks on US captured by Kurdish militia in Syria: Pentagon

Updated 20 min 38 sec ago
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Al-Qaeda man linked to 9/11 attacks on US captured by Kurdish militia in Syria: Pentagon

  • Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national, was captured more than a month ago by the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces).
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces are an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria.

Washington: A man linked to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, who was said to have praised “violent jihad,” was captured in Syria by US-backed forces more than a month ago, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
“We can confirm that Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national, was captured more than a month ago by SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) partners as part of their ongoing operations to defeat ISIS inside Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces are an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria.
“We are working with our SDF partners to obtain additional details,” Pahon said.
The 9/11 Commission report, a Congressional account on the 2001 attacks, said Zammar was an “outspoken, flamboyant Islamist” who extolled “the virtues of violent jihad.”
It said Zammar reportedly had taken credit for influencing Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of wiring money to September 11 hijackers and passing information to Al-Qaeda operatives, and Mohammed Atta, who led the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
US officials have said that there are hundreds of foreign fighters and thousands of Syrian militants who belong to Daesh in SDF custody.