Turkey walks political tightrope

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to supporters during a rally in Istanbul on April 14, 2018. (Yasin Bulbul/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 15 April 2018

Turkey walks political tightrope

  • Erdogan welcomeS coalition air strikes in response to Assad’s “inhumane attacks”
  • Turkey also wants to push ahead with Astana talks on Syria

ANKARA: The coalition strike against Syrian targets has made Turkey’s policy of balancing Russia and the Western powers more challenging. 

Having welcomed the airstrikes, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Ankara considers the operation by the US, Britain and France to be an appropriate response. 

“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime,” the statement said, adding that crimes involving the use of chemical weapons should not go unpunished. 

Turkish Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar spoke to his US counterpart Jim Mattis before the strikes. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also welcomed the coalition’s air strikes in response to Assad’s “inhumane attacks.”

Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, described Turkey’s response as “more of a moral reaction ... than a political reaction with practical consequences.” 

“Under normal circumstances, Turkey would have supported any anti-Assad action wholeheartedly and would have sought to take part in it. Yet it isn’t sure of the US commitment as regards the regime change agenda,” he told Arab News. 

Nevertheless, experts believe the airstrikes will not disrupt the Astana de-escalation process in Syria that was brokered last year between Ankara, Moscow and Tehran. 

Dalay said Turkey seems reluctant to part ways with its Astana agreement partners over any action that would not have a dramatic impact on the regime’s hold of Syria.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at Orsam, an Ankara-based think-tank, agreed. “Turkey will manage the situation diplomatically as long as the scope of the operation remains limited. If the conflict turns into one between the US on the one hand and Iran and Russia on the other, then it will become more difficult for Turkey to maintain this position. In such a case, Turkey will need to take a more clear stance,” he told Arab News. 

According to Orhan, the current level of the operations is in Turkey’s interest by sending a message to Assad and Iran, creating pressure on them for a political settlement and counter-balancing Tehran. 

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, announced on Saturday that the Incirlik air base, which also holds US nuclear weapons, was not used in the airstrikes on Syria. 

Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

Updated 24 April 2018

Daesh threatens Iraq polling stations ahead of parliamentary vote

BAGHDAD: Daesh has threatened to attack Iraqi polling stations and voters during parliamentary elections next month.

In a message posted to the Telegram messaging app on Sunday, Daesh spokesman Abu Hassan Al-MuHajjir called on Sunni Iraqis to boycott the May 12 polls, the first since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared victory over Daesh in December.

Extremist groups in Iraq have targeted every election since the 2003 US-led invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein and paved the way for Shiites to dominate every government since.

Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority.

An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating Daesh are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.

Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.

The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.

The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over Daesh in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.

An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.

As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.

Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq. 

The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.

“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.

Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”

His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating Daesh.

During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.