Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

Manbij has always been a key district in the relations between the US and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2018
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Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

  • Erdogan states his priority is to end Kurdish dominance across his southern border

ANKARA: Turkey will not waste time on the northern Syrian city of Manbij, but will focus on the region to the east of the Euphrates River in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday.
Addressing a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Erdogan underlined that the priority for Turkey was to clear the region of terrorists and return it to Syrian people.
He reiterated that new terror formations along Turkish borders were unacceptable and were a “red line” for domestic security.
Erdogan criticized the US for providing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia with weapons and supplies. Ankara considers this group to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by NATO, the US and the EU.
YPG, the lead group in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, controls almost all the region to the east of the Euphrates River, as well as Manbij district to the west, which was once in the hands of Daesh.
Stressing that Turkey would prefer not to enter into conflict with anyone, Erdogan warned that it was irrational for the US to choose a shady organization over Turkey.
“This is our last warning,” Erdogan also said.
Manbij has always been a key district in the strained relations between the two countries. A roadmap agreed between Turkey and the US in June requires the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, while the two countries committed to conduct joint patrols to monitor stability in the region.
Troops from the two NATO allies have recently begun training together before the start of joint patrols. The troops have been instructed on how to communicate, work and operate with each other by using the same military tactics.
According to Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, a senior analyst at Conias Risk Intelligence in Mannheim, Germany, Erdogan is using the current momentum to further reduce the influence of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the local administration and security forces.
“Given the heavy involvement of Turkey in other areas of northern Syria, another ground operation might be costly and politically risky — especially as it will increase concerns in Europe, where the question of hundreds of Western foreign fighters held in PYD prisons remains unsolved,” she told Arab News.
However, Kirchner, believes the upcoming elections in Turkey might change the country’s approach in Syria.
“It is not impossible that Turkey will escalate militarily in the border region if the increasing tensions between AKP and its nationalist ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) induce the government to enhance its nationalist profile ahead of the important local elections in March 2019,” she said.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, who previously formed an alliance with Erdogan ahead of the June presidential and parliamentary elections, announced on Tuesday that his party will not seek an alliance with AKP in the elections.
Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara think-tank ORSAM, said that Erdogan’s statement was a sign that Turkey is losing faith in the implementation of the Manbij roadmap and does not have any expectations from the agreement with the US.
“Erdogan therefore implies that the US is wasting Turkey’s time with this deal. So it is time for Ankara to focus on other parts of Syria where terror groups are consolidating their power east of Euphrates river,” he said.
Experts also noted that Turkey has taken advantage of the current status quo following the Turkish-Russian deal for a demilitarized zone in Idlib, where threats from rebel groups have been reduced for the present.
According to Orhan, Turkey would most likely concentrate on an offensive against Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa, near the Turkish border, which is currently under the control of the YPG militia.
As it is strategically located between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli, any operation against Tal Abyad would also gain the support of many Arab tribes who took refugee in Turkey during the civil war in Syria.
“The US has no military base in Tal Abyad, so there would be no risk of a direct clash with the American troops. If YPG withdraws from this town following a Turkish offensive, the geographical integrity of Kurdish regions in the north would be seriously disrupted,” Orhan noted.
“Such an operation against terror groups will also bear a psychological meaning, showing that the impunity of the eastern part of Euphrates will end for the regional actors.”


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 54 sec ago
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations.”