Turkey vows operation against Kurdish militia, when time is right

Turkey’s planned military operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria does not depend on an American withdrawal from the region, Ankara said. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Turkey vows operation against Kurdish militia, when time is right

  • While the pull-out has been clouded by mixed messages from both Trump and his administration, on Friday the US-led coalition against Daesh began the process of withdrawing, a spokesman said

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s defense minister on Friday pledged to wage a campaign against a US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, sharpening focus on a potential conflict the US has sought to prevent.

The comments from Hulusi Akar, on an unannounced visit to inspect troops stationed near the Syrian border directly opposite territory held by the US-backed Kurdish YPG, appeared to be aimed at both Washington and its Kurdish allies.

Turkey and the US, although NATO allies, are deeply divided over the implementation of President Donald Trump’s plan to bring home about 2,000 troops stationed in Syria. The plan hinges on Turkish cooperation to secure a swathe of northeast Syria as the US departs.

While the pull-out has been clouded by mixed messages from both Trump and his administration, on Friday the US-led coalition against Daesh began the process of withdrawing, a spokesman said.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, this week tried to make the case for guarantees that Turkey would not harm the YPG after the withdrawal. That earned a stiff rebuke from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and sees Washington’s support for it against Daesh as a betrayal.

“When the time and place comes the terrorists here will be buried in the ditches they have dug, as was done in previous operations,” Akar said in a speech to military personnel at a brigade command center in the province of Sanliurfa, referring to two other cross-border campaigns that Turkey has carried out in Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. The Kurdish groups that control a vast swathe of northern Syria have now turned to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of striking a political deal that will stave off Turkey and shield their autonomy in the north.

Ankara has repeatedly expressed frustration over a deal with the US for the withdrawal of the YPG from the city of Manbij, just west of the Euphrates River.

“Before us we have Manbij on one side and the east of the Euphrates on the other,” Akar said, underscoring the scale of a potential operation. “Important preparations and planning have been made in connection with this. Our preparations are continuing intensively.”

Turkey’s planned military operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria does not depend on an American withdrawal from the region, Ankara said on Thursday.


From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 34 min 48 sec ago
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From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”