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.”


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 54 sec ago
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.