Turkish forces launch operation against Kurds in Syria

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In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (AP)
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Turkey said it was ready for an offensive into northern Syria, while President Donald Trump insisted the United States had not abandoned its Kurdish allies who would be targeted in the assault. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2019

Turkish forces launch operation against Kurds in Syria

  • Turkey had been poised to enter northeast Syria since US troops started to leave
  • Erdogan said the offensive would aim to eliminate threats from YPG militia and Daesh militants

AKCAKALE, Turkey: Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on Wednesday just days after US troops pulled back from the area, with warplanes and artillery striking militia positions in several towns in the border region.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, announcing the start of the action, said the aim was to eliminate what he called a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border, but European countries immediately called on Ankara to halt the operation.
Thousands of people fled the Syrian town of Ras Al-Ain toward Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The Turkish air strikes had killed two civilians and wounded two others, the SDF said.
Turkey had been poised to enter northeast Syria since US troops, who have been fighting with Kurdish-led forces against Daesh, started to leave in an abrupt policy shift by US President Donald Trump. The withdrawal was criticized in Washington as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies.
A Turkish security source told Reuters the military offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” opened with air strikes. Turkish howitzer fire then hit bases and ammunition depots of the Kurdish YPG militia.
The artillery strikes, which also targeted YPG gun and sniper positions, were aimed at sites far from residential areas, the source said.
A Reuters cameraman in the Turkish town of Akcakale saw several explosions across the border in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, where a witness reported people fleeing en masse.
Large explosions also rocked Ras Al-Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said. The sound of planes could he heard above and smoke was rising from buildings in Ras Al-Ain, he said.
The SDF said military positions and civilians in the city of Qamishli and the town of Ain Issa — more than 30 km (20 miles) inside Syria — had been hit, and said there were initial reports of civilian casualties.
Turkish media said mortar and rocket fire from Syria struck the Turkish border towns of Ceylanpinar and Nusaybin. There were no immediate reports of casualties there.
Turkey’s lira slid 0.5%, breaking through what traders called a key support level of 5.85 against the dollar to its weakest level since August.
World powers fear the action could open a new chapter in Syria’s eight-year-old war and worsen regional turmoil. Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil.
In the build-up to the expected offensive, Syria had said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means. It was also ready to embrace “prodigal sons,” it said, in an apparent reference to the Syrian Kurdish authorities who hold the northeast.
Turkey views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey. An influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, Germany said Turkey’s action would lead to further instability and could strengthen Daesh, which the US-armed SDF helped defeat in Syria.
The SDF halted operations against Daesh because of the Turkish offensive, two US officials and a Kurdish source said. One of the officials said US training of stabilization forces in Syria had also been affected.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday at the request of European countries, who expressed alarm at the offensive, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the bloc would not fund Ankara’s plans in the region.
“If the plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the EU to pay for any of it,” he told the EU parliament.

Opinion

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“SHOW RESISTANCE“
Kurdish-led forces have denounced the US policy shift as a “stab in the back.” Trump denied he had abandoned the forces, the most capable US partners in fighting Daesh in Syria.
The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of “general mobilization” before the looming attack.
“We call on all our institutions, and our people in all their components, to head toward the border region with Turkey to fulfil their moral duty and show resistance in these sensitive, historic moments,” it said in a statement.
Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey had no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize the threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local people from what he called “the yoke of armed thugs.”
Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Daesh in Syria, he said. YPG fighters could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting our counter-Islamic State efforts,” he wrote in a tweet and in a column in the Washington Post, referring to another acronym for Daesh.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency said Syrian rebels had traveled from northwest Syria to Turkey in preparation for the incursion. They will be based in Ceylanpinar, with 14,000 of them gradually joining the offensive.
“Strike them with an iron fist, make them taste the hell of your fires,” the National Army, the main Turkey-backed rebel force, told its fighters in a statement.
RUSSIA CALLS FOR DIALOGUE
Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest foreign ally, urged dialogue between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds on solving issues in northeast Syria including border security.
“We will do our best to support the start of such substantive talks,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan.
Another Assad ally, Iran, urged Turkey to show restraint and avoid military action in northern Syria, although it said Turkey was “rightfully worried” about its southern border.
On Monday, Erdogan said US troops started to pull back after a call he had with Trump, adding that talks between Turkish and US officials on the matter would go on.
Trump’s decision to pull back troops has rattled allies, including France and Britain, two of Washington’s main partners in the US-led coalition fighting Daesh.


Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

As strikes resume in Iraq, anti-government protesters stand on a concrete wall set up by security forces in Al-Rashid district in Baghdad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Iraqi grand ayatollah: I support the people, and they want change

  • Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs and its involvement in crackdown on protesters angers Ali Sistani

BAGHDAD: A senior adviser to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has told Arab News that he does not support the continuation of the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and that the existing political forces did not press for early parliamentary elections with a new election law and an electoral commission. Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have endured mass demonstrations against the government since Oct. 1.

More than 300 demonstrators have been killed and 15,000 others have been injured, mostly in Baghdad, due to bloody crackdowns led by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iranian-backed allies.
Al-Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and the most influential cleric in Iraq and has been the godfather of the political process since 2003. No government or prime minister can survive without Al-Sistani’s support and blessing.
Protesters, initially protesting against corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic services, were brutally repressed in the first week of October by Abdul Mahdi’s government and his Iran-backed allies, killing more than 147 demonstrators and wounding more than 6,000 others with live ammunition and tear gas canisters, which stopped demonstrations for two weeks.
But demonstrations resumed on Oct. 25 after Al-Sistani announced his support and the Iraqi government vowed not to use live ammunition.
The return of the protests was accompanied by increasing demands to overthrow Abdul Mahdi’s government and the holding of early national parliamentary elections preceded by the change of the election law and the electoral commission.
Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of Abdul Mahdi or early elections.

PM’s survival
The prime minister’s allies insist on his survival, accompanied by a significant increase in killings, kidnappings and arrests of activists and journalists, with the promotion of news that they have an agreement with Al-Sistani that allows the continuation of Abdul Mahdi’s government, new ministerial and constitutional amendments and a set of important laws, without holding early elections.
Al-Sistani’s office denied that they had concluded such an agreement or that they had anything to do with it.
“The real conviction is the conviction of the people. We have no guardianship over the people, but we support it because the constitution says they are the source of powers,” Sistani’s top aid told Arab News.
“We support peaceful demonstration because it is the right of the citizen … If it remains peaceful, it will affect the state’s convictions.
“We have no confidence that those (political forces) will be able to solve the problem. We see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution and unless there is a real change within the constitutional items, the problem will remain the same.”

FASTFACTS

• Abdul Mahdi and his allies from the political forces announced their agreement to meet the demands of the demonstrators except the dismissal or resignation of the government, or early elections. 

• Ali Sistani’s top aid tells Arab News that the grand ayatollah does not suppport the continuation of the present government in Iraq.

Iraq ranks high on the list of the most corrupt countries. The system of political, sectarian and ethnic quotas adopted by Iraqi politicians since 2004, which includes the three presidencies and ministries and advanced positions in all state institutions, contributed to the spread of financial and administrative corruption and provided the required protection for corrupt politicians.
“There have been no real treatments for corruption over the past years. Corruption is rampant ... because of the weakness of the judiciary and the regulatory authorities, some of which have sought to use corruption cases to blackmail and enrich themselves.
“Officials are getting rich at the expense of the people. Corruption whales became powerful, while the qualified people have left Iraq and the graduates do not find jobs.
“We have no hope in the existing political forces and the chances of continuation of this government are very small. “They should all leave. This political class must leave.”
Al-Sistani has recently intervened in major events, as happened when the Iraqi Army collapsed and Daesh overran one-third of Iraqi territories in the western and northern parts of the country in the summer of 2014 and advanced toward Baghdad, when he issued an edict (fatwa) demanding that people take up arms and volunteer to support Iraqi forces in their fight against Daesh. Sistani’s intervention this time appeared gradually and through Friday sermons.

Strongest sermon
The last Friday sermon was the strongest to date, as Al-Sistani’s told his followers: “If those who have power (now), think they can evade real reform, with procrastination, they are delusional. The aftermath of these protests will not be the same as before. They should be careful.”
This was understood by most politicians and observers as a yellow ultimatum, which could soon be followed by a warning of expulsion or paralysis of civilian life.
“We do not interfere with particles. We have constitutional mechanisms that we do not want to get out of, but when we found that these mechanisms were tailored to the size of the existing political forces, we demanded a new electoral law that would ensure a genuine representation of the people and a new electoral commission that people trust will safeguard their choices,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“We will not allow things to descend into chaos. This is not an option. Our biggest concern is that the law will weaken further, which means slipping into infighting.”
Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs, reflected by the statements of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was publicly demanding an end to the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and the involvement of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in the crackdown on protesters, has angered Al-Sistani. This was evident in his three previous speeches.
“We have a real problem: Iraq is negatively affected by the (regional) environment. We will not allow Iraq to be a battleground for any regional or international party ... we will not allow anyone to interfere in the affairs of Iraq, whether it is a friend or an enemy, because all interventions are aimed at serving special ambitions,” Al-Sistani’s aid said.
“He will not leave the people. If the people’s demand is for early elections, then we support early elections, and if they want to change the (political) system, we support it … and if they say that they do not want this government, we support it.
“Our position is clear and unambiguous. We are with the people in what they want ... and Al-Sistani has not used its strongest weapons yet.”