Mystery of Erdogan’s military operation in Sinjar

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the country is conducting operations in northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels it deems “terrorists.” (AP)
Updated 26 March 2018
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Mystery of Erdogan’s military operation in Sinjar

ISTANBUL: Iraqi military chiefs denied on Sunday that Turkish troops had crossed the border into Iraq despite a claim by Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey had launched a military operation against PKK militants in Sinjar. 
“We said we would go into Sinjar. Now operations have begun there. The fight is internal and external,” the Turkish president said. 
But Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said: “The situation in Nineveh, Sinjar and the border areas is under the control of Iraqi security forces and there is no reason for troops to cross the Iraqi border into those areas.”
Sources in Sinjar said there was no unusual military activity in the area on Sunday.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. Erdogan said last week they were creating a new base in Sinjar, and that Turkish forces would attack if necessary.
Sources in northern Iraq said on Friday the PKK would withdraw from Sinjar, where it gained a foothold in 2014 after coming to the aid of the Yazidi minority community, who were under attack by Daesh militants.
Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies swept into Afrin in northwest Syria this month after an eight-week campaign to drive Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters from the region. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed PKK. Erdogan has vowed to extend the military operation along the Syrian border and said on Sunday that Turkish-led forces would take control of the town of Tel Rifaat.
Turkish troops will aim for the Menagh military airport, which was used until recently by Russia, while the Free Syrian Army will target Tel Rifaat itself, Mete Sohtaoglu, a Middle East researcher in Istanbul, told Arab News. 
But experts expect a shorter military offensive than the Afrin operation. “At the end of this operation, Turkey will surely establish a military base here to maintain its presence,” Sohtaoglu said. 
Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at ORSAM, a think tank in Ankara, said Tel Rifaat was a predominantly Arab town whose residents were close to the FSA, and Free Syrian Army fighters want to take revenge on their YPG rivals in the region over past struggles. 
“It is also a strategic town to put pressure on Aleppo,” Orhan told Arab News. 
However, he said, it was important for Turkey to have a clearly defined agreement with Moscow about such an operation, because before the Afrin incursion Ankara and Moscow had agreed that it would not be extended to Tel Rifaat. 
Fatih Yildiz, Turkish ambassador to Iraq, rejected any military operation in Iraq. He said on his official Twitter account: “I would like to inform you that there is no military operation carried out by Turkey currently against the presence of PKK in Sinjar.”


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.