How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
The actions of Erdogan “reveal the impunity, at both the domestic and international levels, with which he can behave in an authoritarian way,” Salih told Arab News. (AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2021

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
  • Deaths of 13 hostages held by the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Gara region came to light after Turkish airstrikes
  • President has used the incident to whip up nationalistic fervor and dial up pressure on opposition parties

ERBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: In the immediate aftermath of a failed cross-border, hostage rescue attempt earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened further military action against Kurdish fighters abroad and ratcheted up the rhetoric against his secularist opponents at home.

Erdogan’s latest foray against the PKK, an armed group fighting for greater political and cultural rights for Kurds in Turkey, has quickly expanded into a fresh crackdown on the pro-Kurdish HDP political party as well as a war of words with Washington over its ado-hoc alliance with a Syrian Kurdish PKK affiliate in the fight against Daesh.

It all began on February 13, when Turkey launched a raid against the PKK in the Gara region of Iraqi Kurdistan. After clashes, 13 Turkish citizens, most of them police officers and soldiers in PKK captivity since 2015 and 2016, were found dead.




Ankara said the PKK executed the hostages, but the group said Turkish airstrikes on the cave complex during the operation caused their deaths. (AFP)

Ankara said the PKK executed the hostages, but the group said Turkish airstrikes on a cave complex during the operation caused their deaths. Even as many Turks cast doubt on the government’s version of the events, security agencies arrested more than 700 people, including members of the HDP accused by Erdogan of being “official terrorist accomplices.”

Using the same questionable logic, Erdogan also accused the US of supporting terrorism. “What kind of NATO alliance is this? … They (the Americans) still act with terrorists,” he said on February 22, referring to the US alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) group in the campaign against Daesh in northeast Syria. The leading political entity in this campaign is the Kurdish PYD, which was founded as the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Many analysts view the combination of the crackdown at home and the outburst against the US as a cynical attempt by Erdogan to divert attention away from the bloody outcome of the hostage-rescue operation.

The developments also come as the Turkish people continue to struggle financially, student frustrations spill over into violence, and the country’s management of the coronavirus crisis is rated a lowly 74th out of 98 by the Lowy Institute’s COVID Performance Index.




In addition to Iraqi Shiite militia groups, many of them backed by Iran, PKK affiliates present in Sinjar will almost certainly oppose a Turkish military operation there. (AFP)

“Erdogan and the Turkish government do not view the hostage-rescue operation as a failure,” Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor Senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE, told Arab News. “The whipping up of patriotic fervour and the crackdown on the HDP are a familiar tactic employed by Erdogan to drum up support of his nationalist base for anti-PKK operations.”

She said the mileage Erdogan could get out of the crisis was not unlimited. “If the PKK did in fact kill the hostages, it will help build support at home in Turkey for more anti-PKK operations abroad and might strengthen Ankara’s case for more leeway in its Iraqi operations,” Hawthorne said. “But it won’t help much with negative Iraqi public opinion vis-a-vis the operations.”

Clashes between Turkey and the PKK in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast markedly decreased in 2020, compared with the years when the Turkish-PKK conflict (which began in 1984) flared following the collapse of a ceasefire in July 2015. Fighting now takes place mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Of late, Erdogan has been threatening new cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq, including against its Yazidi affiliates in the Sinjar area. In January, Turkish officials met with the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership and discussed, among other things, removing the PKK from that region.

However, in addition to PKK affiliates, Iraqi Shiite militia groups, many of them backed by Iran, are present in Sinjar and will almost certainly oppose a Turkish military operation there.

Under the circumstances, Hawthorne doubts that Erdogan can effectively invoke the deaths of the Turkish hostages during the Gara raid to win some support from the Biden administration for another bloody offensive against the PKK.

“The Turkish government has tried and failed for years to appeal to the US government regarding its concerns about the PKK,” she said. “It is unlikely that the US will become softer towards Turkey because of one particularly difficult and deadly operation in a decades-long struggle.”

More generally, the Turkish government has given repeated warnings of operations against the PKK. But if fresh incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan, or even a new foray into Sinjar, happen, Hawthorne anticipates that the “further south the operations are, the more complicated the issue will be with the Iraqi government.”

Her views are echoed by Kurdish analyst Gunes Murat Tezcur, the Jalal Talabani Chair and Professor at the University of Central Florida, who believes the failed Gara operation is unlikely to “have any influence over the Biden administration’s current policy towards Turkey, which is characterized by a divergence of interests at multiple levels.”

These include US opposition to Turkey’s procurement of Russian S-400 air defense missiles and Turkey’s opposition to American cooperation with the SDF in Syria. Furthermore, Tezcur said it is an indisputable fact that the Gara raid was a failure since it led to the deaths of all the hostages.

“The contrast with a successful rescue operation, such as the one conducted by Israel at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976, is instructive in this regard,” he told Arab News, adding that one of the Gara raid’s negative outcomes is that Erdogan will not be able to “score any political points domestically.”




Erdogan has been threatening new cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq, including against its Yazidi affiliates in the Sinjar area. (AFP)

Even so, the opposition cannot hold the President Erdogan accountable for the loss of Turkish lives in view of “the prevailing power asymmetry” in Turkey, arising from his government’s domination over the media and the weakened state of parliament.

Analysts also say Erdogan’s relentless hounding of the HDP is part of a strategy, in play since 2015, of demonizing and criminalizing its leadership by equating it with the outlawed PKK and denying it autonomy as a political party.

“That strategy, which has had its ebbs and downs, has been very consistent for the last several years,” Tezcur said. “It keeps the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the junior partner of the ruling coalition, content, and aims to drive a wedge between the HDP and other Turkish opposition parties.”

He also noted that the HDP has become more dispensable for the government since the Turkish military and security forces have established stronger military leverage over the PKK in recent years, at least partially through technological developments such as the use of sophisticated and lethal armed drones.

“The government feels that it no longer needs the messenger/mediating role of the HDP given its relentless military operations that significantly limit the PKK’s room for maneuver,” Tezcur said.

While he foresees more Turkish incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan aimed at PKK bases throughout this year, he doubts that the Turkish military will open a new front by launching an unprecedented ground assault on Sinjar.




The Turkish government has given repeated warnings of operations against the PKK. (AFP)

At least three factors have led Tezcur to this conclusion. First and foremost is the presence of Iraqi military and Shiite militia groups in the Yazidi homeland.

Then there is the “considerable international concern and sympathy” for the beleaguered Yazidis, who were subjected to a vicious campaign of genocide by Daesh in 2014.

Finally, the distance from the border would make logistical support for a ground operation considerably more difficult for the Turkish army.

Among those who view the arrests of HDP members as Erdogan’s way of shifting blame for the Gara raid failure is Mohammed Salih, a Kurdish affairs analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

The actions of Erdogan “reveal the impunity, at both the domestic and international levels, with which he can behave in an authoritarian way,” Salih told Arab News.

“The Turkish leader will certainly continue military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan because foreign operations are now a sure way for him to deflect attention from the many problems at home.”

As for the Biden administration, Salih said it “has already made clear, with its silence over the mass arrests, and the violations of Kurdish rights in Turkey in general, that the human and democratic rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey are practically of no value.”

Twitter: @pauliddon

 

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UN: 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s Tigray face deadly hunger

A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago

UN: 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s Tigray face deadly hunger

A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
  • Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children ... are being confirmed

ADDIS ABABA: The UN children’s agency said on Friday that more than 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a 10-fold increase to normal numbers.
UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said that one-in-two pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Tigray were acutely malnourished.
“Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children ... are being confirmed,” she told a briefing in Geneva.
Spokespeople for the prime minister and a government task force on Tigray — where fighting between rebellious regional and federal forces have continued since November — did not immediately respond to requests for comment on UNICEF’s statement.
Babies like 20-month-old Aammanuel Merhawi are suffering the most. He is a third below normal weight for his age. His feverish eyes glisten and his ribs are visible as he heaves, vomiting supplementary food fed through a nasal tube. All are signs of severe malnutrition.
“My milk dried up,” his mother, Brkti Gebrehiwot, told Reuters at Wukro General Hospital in northern Tigray on July 11.
Aid agencies say they are about to run out of the formula used to treat 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

FASTFACT

Aid agencies say they are about to run out of the formula used to treat 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

At least three children have died in Wukro hospital since February, nurse Tsehaynesh Gebrehiwot said.
She provided their medical records: Four-month-old Awet Gebreslassie weighed 2.6 kg, a third of normal weight; one-year-old Robel Gebrezgiher weighed 2 kgs, less than a quarter of normal weight; and Kisanet Hogus, also a year old, weighed 5 kgs — just over half of normal weight.
All died within days of admission.
In Adigrat General Hospital further north, Reuters saw medical records confirming the death of three more malnourished children.
Doctors in both hospitals said they saw between four to 10 severely malnourished children monthly before the conflict erupted in November. Now numbers have more than doubled. The UN says that around 400,000 people are living in famine conditions in Tigray, and more than 90 percent of the population needs emergency food aid.
In a statement on Thursday evening, the Ethiopian government blamed Tigray regional forces for blocking aid and said it had stockpiled reserve wheat in the region.
It gave no details on the stockpile’s location or plans for distribution.
The TPLF was unavailable for comment but has previously said it welcomes aid. The UN says Tigray needs 100 trucks of food daily to prevent mass starvation; only one 50-truck convoy has gotten through in the past month.


Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
Updated 28 min 23 sec ago

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
  • Rached Ghannouchi says President Kais Saied's locking of parliament's doors was a "very serious error"
  • Saied took over executive powers last week "to save Tunisia" as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and economy faltered

TUNIS: Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired party Ennahda, has warned that “if there is no agreement on the return of parliament, on the formation of a government and its presentation to parliament, the Tunisian street will undoubtedly mobilize.”

Ghannouchi, who is also the parliament speaker, claimed that President Kais Saied had “put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.”

He was speaking after the president froze parliament and took over executive powers, saying he had to save Tunisia, which is suffering from a coronavirus outbreak and a failing economy.

Ghannouchi said: “Since the start, we have called on the people to fight the coup d’etat with all peaceful means, and this resistance will continue with peaceful means.”

Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to Ennahda.

FASTFACT

Ghannouchi claimed that President Kais Saied had ‘put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.’

Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.

The probes follow Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.

Ghannouchi admitted there had been “mistakes in the economic and social fields, and Ennahda bears a part of the responsibility, which corresponds to the part of power it has held.”

He said the parties in parliament had made the mistake of not managing to establish a constitutional court and that Saied had used the absence of a constitutional court “to monopolize the interpretation of the constitution and to make himself the constitutional court, and that’s an error in which we all bear a part of the responsibility.”

Ghannouchi voiced regret at the lack of dialogue with the presidency. “We are ready to make all concessions so that democracy can return to Tunisia,” he added.

“There is no dialogue today with the president nor with his advisers. But we think we need a national dialogue. We are trying to use all peaceful means — dialogue, negotiations, street pressure, pressure from organizations ... internal and external pressure — to bring back democracy.”


German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 min 52 sec ago

German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT: German NGO Sea-Watch said on Friday it had rescued nearly 100 migrants in the Mediterranean, many of whom were injured, some with severe “fuel burns” — chemical burns caused by exposure to gasoline mixed with seawater.
Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.
Late on Thursday, the vessel Sea-Watch 3 rescued 33 migrants from two boats which had been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in the search and rescue zone of the Mediterranean assigned to Malta, the NGO said.
Among them were nine unaccompanied minors, of which three were very small children, and a woman who was seven months pregnant.  The rescued came from South Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali, according to a Reuters witness aboard the Sea-Watch 3.

BACKGROUND

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.

Many migrants were already on a coast guard ship but jumped into the sea when they saw the NGO vessel approach, according to the witness. All were brought onboard the Sea-Watch 3 by its crew.
In a second operation at dawn on Friday, Sea-Watch 3 rescued over 60 people from an overcrowded wooden boat within the Libyan search and rescue zone. Most of the rescued were Libyans, the Reuters witness said.
Among the migrants being treated for their injuries on board the Sea-Watch 3 on Friday were a father and son who suffered burns after a fire broke out on their boat, while others suffered fuel burns.
“As it is often the case with such boats, many of the people suffered fuel burns, some of them severe,” Sea-Watch said in a statement.


Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 51 min 22 sec ago

Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
  • It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here. Seif Al-Islam

TRIPOLI: Seif Al-Islam, the son of slain leader Muammer Qaddafi, wants to “restore the lost unity” of Libya after a decade of chaos and does not exclude standing for the presidency.
He spoke in a rare interview, given to the New York Times at an opulent two-story villa inside a gated compound at Zintan in the west of the North African country.
For years, mystery had surrounded the precise whereabouts of a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The 49-year-old, who before 2011 had been seen as his father’s presumed successor, said politicians in the decade since have brought Libyans “nothing but misery.”
“It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here,” Seif Al-Islam said in his first appearance in years.
After four decades in power, Muammer Qaddafi and his relatives were the target of a popular uprising in 2011.
Three of the dictator’s seven sons were killed, but the fate of Seif Al-Islam was unknown.
He was captured by a Libyan militia in November 2011, days after his father was killed.
Four years later, a Tripoli court sentenced him in absentia to death for crimes committed during the revolt.
The ICC has repeatedly asked for him to be handed over for trial.
Until the interview, Seif Al-Islam had not been seen or heard from since June 2014, when he appeared via video link from Zintan during his trial by the Tripoli court.
Seif Al-Islam said in the interview that he was a free man organizing a political return, and that his former captors “are now my friends.”
He told the paper the militiamen eventually realized he could be a powerful ally.
In recent years, Libya has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.
In October, after forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) routed those of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the two camps agreed a cease-fire in Geneva.
The security situation has been slowly improving since.
A provisional government was agreed in March, and general elections are expected to take place on December 24.
Any possible return by Seif Al-Islam to Libyan politics would face hurdles, including his conviction by the Tripoli court and the ICC warrant for his arrest.
But the Britain-educated son of Muammer Qaddafi seems undeterred, according to the New York Times.
Seif Al-Islam said “he was confident that these legal issues could be negotiated away if a majority of the Libyan people choose him as their leader.”
The paper quoted him as saying: “I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years. You need to come back slowly, slowly. Like a striptease. You need to play with their minds a little.”
Asked if it felt strange to seek shelter in Libyan homes when he was on the run in 2011, he was as enigmatic as some of the opinions expressed in his late father’s ‘Green Book’.
“We’re like fish, and the Libyan people are like a sea for us,” Seif Al-Islam replied.
“Without them, we die. That’s where we get support. We hide here. We fight here. We get support from there. The Libyan people are our ocean.”


At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
Updated 56 min 36 sec ago

At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
  • More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces o
  • Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help

ANKARA: The death toll from wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for the fourth day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas.

At least four people are reported to have died and dozens have been hospitalized.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

“We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Turkey’s civil aviation agency has come under public criticism for its handling of the crisis. 

Although wildfires during summertime are common in Turkey, this year the fires have reached an unprecedented level.

The mayor of the southern resort town of Marmaris blamed “sabotage” for the fires and said an investigation had been launched. A number of buildings and hotels in tourist zones of Marmaris and Bodrum were evacuated after separate fires.

Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help. Three planes, nine drones, 38 helicopters, 680 firefighting vehicles, and more than 4,000 personnel have been deployed to put out the fires.

Turkey has only three planes available to fight forest fires, but all are leased from Russia for 1.3 million liras ($154,350) per day.

Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from the southern Mersin province and a member of the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), told Arab News: “We have been monitoring the situation on the ground since the beginning. Fortunately, they contained the fire from reaching the settlements. But this tragic case has shown once again the weakness of state apparatus in such emergency situations.”

He, along with other opposition parliamentarians, have been lobbying the Turkish government for a year to upgrade the country’s firefighting capacity.

“Nobody replied to our parliamentary inquiries, and we all witnessed the result of this incapacity. The Turkish president has 13 private planes in his possession, but why couldn’t they buy one single firefighting plane so far?” Antmen said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Tolga Ozbek, general coordinator of the aviation sector website kokpit.aero, told Arab News that Turkey had increased its annual water carrying capacity to 148,000 tons this year from 80,000 tons in 2018.

“Fighting wildfires requires an integrated approach, using different types of planes and helicopters based on the geographical conditions. Turkey has been leasing its firefighting helicopters for the last 35 years. This has turned out to be costlier than buying some,” he said.

He pointed out that Turkey needed a permanent fleet of firefighting planes and should allocate a reasonable budget for such emergency situations.

“Whatever you invest in fighting fires, it always falls short because the fires can erupt anywhere anytime. While formulating specific policies in this regard, one should always consider the implications of global warming and the ongoing drought in the country,” Ozbek added.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.